What Fatherhood Means to Men

Active Fatherhood Benefits Fathers Themselvestree11

Research shows that fathers gain richly from being more involved in their children’s lives. Involved fathers are more likely to:

  • Enjoy closer, richer and more satisfying father-child relationships 
  • Feel more self-confident and effective as parents ;
  • Feel more important to their child  and feel encouraged to be even more involved;
  • Feel connected to their family;
  • Feel happily married, ten to twenty years after the birth of their first child;
  • Express greater satisfaction with their lives  and experience a greater sense of well being;
  • Exhibit greater psychosocial maturity;
  • Experience less psychological distress ;
  • Be able to understand themselves, empathically understand others, and integrate their feelings in an ongoing way; and
  • Participate in the community, socialise, and serve in civic or community leaderships positions.
  • Despite the documented short-term costs of active fatherhood, such as stress and greater work-family conflict; over the long-term, involvement has a modest but positive impact on occupational mobility, work success and social contributions.
  • In fact, men’s emotional involvement with their children has been found to be a buffer against work-related stresses.
Fatherhood as a Life-Change

Various studies have also highlighted the impact of parenting on adult development, in particular, the impact of fatherhood on how men view themselves and their life experiences.

  • Key themes identified in a qualitative study of fatherhood stories included “settling down” after being in trouble, being more giving of oneself, accepting greater responsibility, and experiencing a “jolt” in one’s life course, requiring change and/or refocus (especially young fathers).
  • Fatherhood can be a positive transformation in identity for adolescent males .
  • Disadvantaged men reported a transformation of identity and sense of purpose through fatherhood, which provided them with a second chance to overcome a difficult past.
  • Young offender fathers often see fatherhood as an important motivator for change. A study of 18-20 year old male offenders – 30% of whom were fathers, or about to become a father – identified fatherhood as one of the top six factors they believed would help them reintegrate successfully upon transiting out of prison.
Themes of Transformation and Growth

“It has changed my life because before I became a father I used to think love revolved around me, it is only me. It has to be me and now I have two little ones and I have to look after them. …. Not me, you know.”– Young Dad

This theme of redemption was a common one that emerged in a qualitative Canadian study conducted through 200 individual interviews and focus groups with dads, including 35 young dads, and many unmarried, divorced, or separated dads.

The study asked participants questions such as what they get out of being a father; what the child gets from them; and their positive and negative experiences of fathering.

Other themes of transformation identified in the study include:

  • Finding purpose: “It changed a lot of things. From one day to the next, I had to take care of somebody else, not just myself… Becoming a father gave me a goal, and I didn’t feel like everybody else anymore.” This theme was especially prevalent among young dads.
  • Maturing and settling down: “I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t like the world I was in (drugs) before J. It’s stupid to say, but if something happened to J., I would definitely go back to that world. Not because I want to, but because that’s how it would be, without J. There’d be nothing holding me back.” This theme of maturation was common across dads of all ages.
  • Overcoming hurt: “It has changed my life. In a way, it has given me motivation. I grew up without a father and I created this little girl and I would never want her to go through what I went though emotionally. And it has just given me a reason to change my life, to become someone more responsible and more successful for her benefit.”less predominant among young dads, compared to the previous two. This theme was

Some men described more gradual changes, characterised at the same time by the stresses of fatherhood, rather than finding an entirely new purpose. A gradual transition was more typical in older dads. A smaller group reported feeling that fatherhood had meant little change in their lives.


Fatherhood is a complex and often challenging journey that yields different experiences for different dads. For those men typically described with negative stereotypes or deficiencies, fatherhood – and the experience of transformation and growth that sometimes accompanies it – heralds new resources and opportunities to re-engage and reintegrate.


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Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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3. Lamb, M.E. (Ed.). (1997). The role of the father in child development (3rd ed.).

New York: Wiley.

4. DeLuccie, M. F. (1996).

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Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

7. Eggebeen, D. J., & Knoester, C. W. (2001).

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11. Heath, D. H. (1994). The impact of delayed fatherhood on the father-child relationship. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 155 (4), 511-530.

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13. Eggebeen, D. J., & Knoester, C. W. (2001).

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16. Barnett, R. C., Marshall, N. L., & Pleck, J. H. (1992).

17. Palkovitz, R. (2002). Involved fathering and child development: Advancing our understanding of good fathering. In C.S. Tamis-LeMonda & N. Cabrera (Eds.), Handbook of Father Involvement: Multidisciplinary Perspectives (pp. 119–140). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

18. Frewin, K., Tuffin, K., Rouch, G. (2007). Managing identity: adolescent fathers talk about the transition to parenthood. New Zealand Journal of Psychology.

19. Roy, K., & McAdams, D. (2006). Second chances as transformative stories in human development: An introduction. Research on Human Development, 3, 77-80.

20. Farrant, F. (2006). Out for Good: resettlement needs of young men in prison. London: Howard League for Penal Reform.

21. Pratt, M., Dienhart, A., Lawford, H. & Devault, A. (2008). Fatherhood as life transformation: Comparing young and mature fathers on themes of generativity and identity change. Canada: Father Involvement Research Alliance

About the Author: The Dads for Life Resource Team comprises local content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals, dedicated to developing useful resources for dads.

First published on 28-04-2011.