The Meaning of "Good Fatherhood:" Low-Income Fathers' Social Constructions of Their Roles

Jean Ann Summers, Kimberly Boller, Rachel F. Schiffman, Helen H. Raikes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Objective. To gain a better understanding of how low-income fathers of young children think about their role as fathers, we conducted a qualitative inquiry into the beliefs of fathers of 24-month-old children about what "good fatherhood" means to them. Design. The 575 open-ended interviews, collected in 14 Early Head Start Fathers of Toddlers Qualitative Interview Substudy sites around the United States were analyzed using NUD*IST qualitative software to code and categorize the various roles fathers identified as important to them and their children. Results. Four broad types of roles were identified: (1) providing a stable environment (e.g., providing a living, "being there" emotionally and physically), (2) teaching (e.g., giving guidance, exposing their child to the world), (3) physical interaction (e.g., play, caregiving), and (4) emotional support (e.g., providing love, building self-esteem). Conclusion. The beliefs of these men are considered in the context of historical perceptions of fatherhood, as well as their implications for generative theories of fatherhood. Overall, fathers articulated a strong sense of commitment and intentionality in their plans for interactions with their children. Our findings provide opportunities for service providers and policymakers to develop positive strategies to ensure fathers' ability to carry out their intentions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)145-165
Number of pages21
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - May 1 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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