In celebration of Father's Day, Springer Publishing Company is highlighting the importance of fatherhood and the relationships between fathers and their children. The following article is adapted from Men in Relationships by Victoria Hilkevitch Bedford and Barbara Formaniak Turner.
The father-son relationship matters not only for sons, but also for fathers. Men’s experiences with fathering (with both sons and daughters) are related not only to changes in their personalities (e.g., they become less self-centered and more responsible) but also to changes in their work lives, their marriages, and their relationships with other family members (particularly their own fathers).
The union between father-child pairs is permanent, and it is primarily involuntary. The permanence of familial ties is important because it often allows them to withstand changes in communication patterns that may shake the heartiest of friendships. Indeed, fathers and their adult children may go for long stretches of time without communicating and may report very low levels of relationship satisfaction at points during their life course; although friendships or other less permanent relationships might falter under such circumstances, familial relationships are more likely to endure. Similarly, people can choose their friends but not their fathers.
Compared to friendships and fraternal relationships, however, the father-son pair is more likely to undergo more dramatic evolution over the life span because of the developmental changes of the son. During the son’s childhood, most father-son pairs exhibit close emotional relationships and early identification of the son with the father. The adolescent desires for individuation and separation heighten conflict, as the father is seen as possessing greater power and status.
During the son’s adolescence, the relationship between father and son is often inhibited, and physical interaction initiated by the father tends to decrease. As the son ages, however, the power difference is often attenuated or even eliminated, leading to a peer-like relationship; indeed, fathers and sons often become close friends after the son reaches adulthood.
Fathers continue to be involved in their children’s lives throughout adulthood and even increase their paternal involvement in some dimensions over time. Fathers have strong ties with their children even in late life, supporting the notion that fathers are important not only to young children but to adult children as well. The influence of fathers’ characteristics on paternal involvement has to be balanced against the influence of adult children’s characteristics. Styles of fathering should reflect life stage differences in adult children over time.
Thus, a man’s style of fathering can change across the life course, especially with life transitions, such as sending children to college, becoming divorced and/or married, retiring, and reaching midlife or old age.