A Conceptual Ethic of Fathering as Generative Work
OverviewAlthough the area of fathering has received increasing scholarly attention in recent years, as yet, not a great many attempts at systematic theory-building have been done in this area. Concepts have been proposed and empirical relationships between variables have been explored, but it has only been fairly recently that scholars are beginning to present more formally articulated conceptual frameworks on fathering. A couple of recent examples of more systematic frameworks include the model on responsible fathering done by Doherty, Kouneski, and Erickson (1996) and the conceptual ethic of generative fathering proposed by Dollahite, Hawkins, and Brotherson (1997). This paper will briefly present the major ideas which serve as context and foundation for the framework and provide a brief overview of the most recent version of the concepts in the model which include several significant revisions from the published version. This framework is presented in the interest of strengthening the linkages between theory, research, and practice on fathering in the family sciences (Lavee & Dollahite, 1991).
Major Ideas in the Conceptual Ethic of Generative FatheringDollahite, Hakwins, and Brotherson (1997) proposed a conceptual ethic of fathering as "generative work" which draws from the developmental conceptual work of Erik Erikson (1950, 1982) and John Snarey (1993). Their conceptual ethic was presented as an example of a non-deficit perspective of fathering rooted in the proposed ethical obligation for fathers to meet the needs of the next generation. Erikson (1950, 1982) coined the term generativity to refer to adults caring for and contributing to the next generation. He saw generativity as a developmental crisis or imperative in which adults try to attain a favorable balance of creativity, productivity, and procreation over stagnation and self-absorption (Snarey, 1997). Snarey (1993) found strong empirical evidence to support the deep and abiding value of fathers being generative with their children and grandchildren.
A Generative Conceptual Ethic(a) fathers are under the obligations of an ethical call from their children and their communities to conduct the multidimensional work of caring for the next generation in ways which attend to the fundamental conditions and constraints of children's lives within families, (b) generational ethics, rather than adult relational ethics should be preeminent when considering the needs of children, (c) fathers have contextual agency in their relationships with the next generation, (d) a responsibilities-based and capabilities-based perspective which asserts that fathers should and can connect with and care for their children in meaningful ways (Dollahite, et al., 1997, p. 19).
Beyond Deficit PerspectivesAnother fundamental idea of generative fathering is that it moves beyond what Hawkins and Dollahite (1997) called a "deficit paradigm" of fathers and fatherhood in general and, in particular, the "role-inadequacy perspective" (or RIP) which Aemphasizes fathers' lack of adaptation to sociohistorical change, their lack of involvement in caring for children, and their lack of interest in changing the status quo" (p. 15). While acknowledging that far too much fathering is deficient or harmful, Hawkins and Dollahite (1997) critique the role-inadequacy perspective because (a) it overemphasizes fathers' inadequacies and ignores their strengths, (b) it is too focused on rescripting social roles rather than facilitating personal transformation and is therefore nondevelopmental, (c) it ignores that most fathers have strong desires and motivations to both be a good father and to improve their fathering, (d) it creates barriers to change by maintaining low expectations for fathers and unwittingly supports maternal gatekeeping, and (e) it restricts the conceptualization of care for children by not challenging an assumption implicitly held by many that the parenting practices typically associated with mothering fully meet the needs of children. Hawkins and Dollahite (1997) call for scholars and practitioners to create "new frameworks that simultaneously emphasize the desires men have to do the work of good fathering, the capabilities they bring to their parenting, and the ethical responsibilities they must assume to care for the next generation" (p. 16).
Needs of the Next GenerationThe generative framework emphasizes meeting children's deep and abiding, though varied and changing, needs, rather than responding to changing societal expectations. They believe that emphasizing working to meet children's needs "places fathering on the firm foundation of the needs of the next generation rather than on the shifting sands of societal role expectations, the fragile fault line of adult gender relations, or the engulfing quagmire of expressive individualism" (p. 34).
Generative WorkThe conceptual ethic of generative fathering conceptualizes fathering as generative work, rather than as a social role embedded in a changing sociohistorical context and argues that the metaphor of work rather than the image of social role has some conceptual and practical advantages including that (a) it reconnects the concepts of family and labor for fathers as well as for mothers, (b) it places fathering in a familiar context for men, and (c) it evokes more helpful, transformative images. Dollahite et al., (1997) present four areas of work that fathers can and should be involved in with the next generation, ethical work, development work, relationship work, and stewardship work. Fatherwork is a term Dollahite et al. (1997) used to describe the conduct of generative fathering but the term is also used as a general term to refer to fathering. They use the terms "fatherwork" and "generative fathering" interchangeably.
In summary, some of the major assumptions of the perspective include:
(Adapted from Dollahite, Morris, & Hawkins, 1997)
Support for Empirical and Practical Applications of Generative FrameworkTwo indications of the value of family conceptual frameworks are (a) their ability to generate meaningful family research and (b) the extent to which they can be utilized in forming helpful applications for professionals working with families. This section briefly describes some research and applications flowing from a generative perspective.
Empirical Support for Generative FrameworkSome initial empirical research using narrative methods has provided some support for the major ideas of the conceptual ethic of fathering as generative work. Borrows (1996) used the framework as the conceptual basis for a qualitative, narrative study of 14 Canadian Chippewa (Ojibway) fathers who had alcoholic fathers and were transitional characters, or generational buffers, in their own fathering. She found support for the major concepts for that sample in that context and also suggested how the framework could be adapted to be used with Native North American fathers. Brotherson (1995) and Brotherson & Dollahite (1997) used a narrative approach to explore the validity of the framework with 16 Latter-day Saint (Mormon) fathers of special needs children and found support for its use with fathers who have children with disabilities and also suggested some refinements of concepts from this research. Ongoing research at BYU is exploring the relationship between religious belief and practice and generative fathering in fathers of various faiths with children with special needs. While We believe that narrative methods may be most effective in exploring generative fathering, we have begun developing a survey instrument that can be used as well.
Educational and Clinical Applications of the Generative FrameworkIt is also hoped that the conceptual ethic of fathering as generative work will be useful in educational and clinical settings with fathers. Palm (1997) incorporated the four concepts of generative fathering work into a framework of goals for parent and family education with fathers. Dollahite, Hawkins & Brotherson (1996) demonstrated how the framework could be used in family life education using a narrative approach to illustrate concepts. Dollahite, Morris, and Hawkins (1997) proposed various activities and questions for college and university educators to use to incorporate concepts of generative fathering into courses. Dollahite, Hawkins, and Associates (1997) have used the framework as the basis for a narrative-oriented web site family life education program for the past year. Informal written feedback from users of the site and some initial quantitative findings from module evaluation surveys suggest that users find the ideas and stories helpful. Dienhart & Dollahite (1997) have suggested that the conceptual ethic of fathering as generative work has important implications for therapeutic work with fathers and they present an approach to therapy which combines the ideas of generative fathering with narrative therapy to form what they call Agenerative narrative therapy." Dollahite, Slife, and Hawkins (in press) have used the major concepts of a generative approach to develop the concepts of "family generativity" and an approach to intergenerational clinical work with families called "generative counseling."
In the original articulation of the framework, Dollahite et al., (1997) suggested that the conceptual ethic needed ongoing development and mentioned that additional areas of work beyond the four first presented would likely be proposed. They also mentioned the need to revise and refine the ideas in the framework. The rest of the paper illustrates a number of conceptual revisions, refinements, and additions. Rather than attempting to discuss the specifics of the original model as well as the revisions, refinements, and additions, this paper will simply discuss the framework as it is now constituted.
Presentation of Conceptual Ethic of Fathering as Generative WorkFigure 1 includes the full model but presents the ideas in a fairly linear fashion. The ideas are carefully related to one another and build on each other, and are organized in a way as to emphasize those relationships. Careful exploration of Figure 1 can allow the reader to have a snapshot of the major ideas and can be helpful for both scholars interested in studying generative fathering and practitioners interested in applying the ethic of generative fathering in their teaching and therapy. We believe much can be gained from considering the conceptual ethic is this way.
For example, in each of the seven pairs of "capabilities and responsibilities" the first concept (e.g., commit, consecrate, care, cooperate, confirm, commune, consult) has to do with meeting the child where she/he is at or connecting with them, while the second concept in each pair (e.g., continue, create, change, challenge, counsel, comfort, contribute) deals more with extending one's self or one's child or challenging. (The capabilities and responsibilities of generative fathering all start with the same letter to emphasize their centrality and as a pneumonic device to aid practitioners and family members.) Both connecting and challenging are thus proposed as important activities for each area of work. Some fathers are better at connecting and others at challenging, but the conceptual ethic suggests that both are important and futher suggests that in most cases it is better to connect and then to challenge. Traditional gender roles could be framed in the following way: women are to connect (be affiliative with) with their children (nurture, care, support, etc.) and men are to challenge (be instrumental with) their children (push, encourage, test, etc.). The conceptual ethic of fathering as generative work presents both ways of relating to children as important for fathers to engage in.
However, this is only one way to see the ideas and there are some advantages to other types of models. Thus, Figure 2 is also included to provide a different way of seeing the relationship of the ideas. Figure 2 illustrates that all types of work are happening at all times and the centrality of ethical work. In fact, without a commitment for continued involvement in the child's life not much of the other types of work would get done. For those who enjoy metaphorical visual imagery, the honey-comb shape of Figure 2 can also allude to the idea that fathering is "sweet work" and is centered in the home (alas, all metaphors have limitations so we won't stretch connotations of the honey comb model much further since then you get a male deficit model with the queen bee, the female worker bees, and the male drones--not at all consistent with the idea of hard-working, involved, responsible fathers!).
The framework is based on the idea that the human context creates needs in the next generation that fathers have the ethical responsibility and capability to meet and that both fathers and children both benefit and grow from this work. Thus, there are four types of linked concepts presented in the conceptual ethic found in the four columns headings (a) challenges of the human condition, (b) attendant needs of the next generation, (c) types of generative work--fathers' capabilities and responsibilities, and (d) desired results of generative fathering for fathers and children.
All of the human challenges, attendant needs, types of generative work, and desired results of generative work are present at all stages of the life cycle. (The model does include some broad developmental ages but by no means is the model simply an age-oriented stage model.) Thus, all of these issues are always present but it is believed that different challenges, needs, and types of work take center stage at different times in the child's and father's development. And, the type of dependency, scarcity, change, stress, perplexity, isolation, and obligation people experience changes across time and differs across contexts. Likewise, the nature and intensity of human needs varies over time and across time, and, because a need is met or a challenge overcome at one point in time does not mean it ceases to be an issue or potential issue. Our basic human challenges and needs seem to be always with us to some extent or at least can quickly come up again. And, of course, because of differing temperament, life situations, experiences, parenting styles, and decisions made, some face extreme challenges and/or have extremely strong needs in comparison to others. Thus, although the framework assumes that all people experience these challenges and have these needs, there is great variation in the mix of challenges and needs. Generative fathering is defined as working to meet the needs of the next generation and those needs are both universal in the aggregate and also the mix of needs is highly personalized thus, generative fathering must be tailored to situations, contexts, developmental stages, persons, types of interests and abililities of father and child and many other factors. The concepts in the model are intended to be broad and abstract enough to include all these diversities.
This framework should be thought of as a tightly connected foundation for generative fathering and is therefore best viewed from above as readers would with the model on the desk (rather than as a linear, hierarchal model as readers would see by holding the framework in front of them in the air). There is no thought that these seven sets of concepts exhaust all the challenges, needs, types of generative work, capabilities, responsibilities, and desired results of good fathering for fathers and children that are important. However, it is believed that these seven are critical and together form a coherent set of ideas that suggest many important areas to attend to in research and practice with fathers. Thus the seven rows in the framework consist of a set of concepts which provide a Acenter stage" developmental model in which the order is partly temporal and partly ontological and are consistent with Erik Erikson's developmental model, though not simply derived from it.
Brief Articulation of Concepts in the Ethic Generative Fathering
But first, a note on the term, "recreation work." Many may question the logic of the seeming oxymoron "recreation work." They may argue that working at play may not relieve stress and that, for many people, linking play with work so closely "takes the fun out of recreation." Those points are granted. However, in our framework, work does not have the connotations often associated with work (drudgery, oppression, boredom, etc.) but rather includes the sense of calling, purpose, sustained effort, and also an element of joy (Dollahite, et al., 1997). And meaningful recreation (rejuvenation, renewal, and relaxation) is not always or necessarily "fun" in the sense of being light and amusing. Even so, sustaining appropriate, enjoyable, affordable, safe, and challenging recreational activities for a child (much less more than one and usually their peers at some point) over the life span is hard work. For many people, fun does not necessarily come naturally and easily and they have to work at taking time away from other types of work, or try to bring humor and play into their parenting. Many fathers (and mothers) need to work at winding down from their serious and stressful jobs to have fun with their children. Some fathers have to work at resisting the urge to over-correct while teaching a child a game or work at avoiding being sarcastic or otherwise insensitive in their humor. Others have to work at getting down at the child's level and playing what they want to play. Some must work to "lighten up" when they are trying to teach beliefs and behaviors very important to the father. Sustaining an appropriately playful relationship with certain aged children (teens) or with children with certain temperaments (e.g., sober, serious, sensitive) may require some real effort. Most people find that many kinds of child-desired vacations are as much work as fun for the parents, yet they are still recreational and important in building strong family ties. Many fathers find it helpful to combine fun with working around the house and yard with their children and so are doing recreation work. Also, another part of recreation work is playfully challenging one's child in ways that they will enjoy learning new competencies and it is often hard work to come up with activities that are age appropriate, fun but not "stupid" from an older child's perspective, challenging but not discouraging, and to avoid the bane of many father/child recreational/athletic activities--damaging competition (e.g., The Great Santini "playing" basketball with his son).
Some Hoped-for Strengths of the FrameworkHere we'll mention some of the aspects of the framework that we believe are strengths:
Some Possible and Probable Weaknesses of the FrameworkHere are some possible and some probable weakness or criticisms of the framework (along with some brief responses to them):
ConclusionThe conceptual ethic of generative fathering focuses on the ethical nature of fathering, the developmental nature of fathering, the generative nature of fathering, and the hard work of fathering. The framework is based on the assumption that most fathers have the desire to meet their children's needs, the ability to meet those needs, and the ethical responsibility to do so. The framework grounds itself in two fundamental realities of human and family life, the challenges of the human condition and the attendant needs of the next generation which arise from those challenges. Some research has begun to provide some empirical validation for the theory and there have been some attempts to construct educational and clinical applications consistent with the framework. We invite researchers and practitioners to derive benefit from the framework, re-work, refine, develop, and critique it. Most of all, we hope it helps us to help others to be responsible, generative fathers.