A Father’s Influence
In a time of stalled revolution—when women have gone to work, but the workplace, the culture, and most of all, the men, have not adjusted themselves to this new reality—children can be the victims. Most working mothers are already doing all they can, doing that extra month a year. It is men who can do more.
Fathers can make a difference that shows in the child. I didn’t administer tests to the children in the homes I visited nor gather systematic information on child development. I did ask the babysitters and daycare workers for their general impressions of differences between the children of single parents, two-job families in which the father was uninvolved, and two-job families in which the father was actively involved. All of them said that the children of fathers who were actively involved seemed to them “more secure” and “less anxious.” Their lives were less rushed. On Monday, they had more to report about Sundays events: “Guess what I did with my dad. . . .”
But curiously little attention has been paid to the effect of fathers on children. Current research focuses almost exclusively on the influence on children of the working mother. A panel of distinguished social scientists chosen by the National Academy of Sciences to review the previous research on children of working mothers concluded in 1982 that a mothers employment has no consistent ill effects on a child’s school achievement, IQ, or social and emotional development.6 Other summary reviews offer similar but more complex findings. For example, in charting fifty years of research on children of working mothers, Lois Hoffman, a social psychologist at the University of Michigan, has concluded that most girls of all social classes and boys from working-class families, whose mothers worked, were more self-confident and earned better grades than children whose mothers were housewives. But she also found that compared to the sons of housewives, middle-class boys raised by working mothers were less confident and did less well in school. But what about the influence of the fathers?
Apart from my study, other systematic research has documented a fact one might intuitively suspect: the more involved the father, the better developed the child intellectually and socially. Professor Norma Radin and her students at the University of Michigan have conducted a number of studies that show that, all else being equal, the children of highly involved fathers are better socially and emotionally adjusted than children of noninvolved fathers and score higher on academic tests. In Professor Radin’s research, “highly involved” fathers are those who score in the top third on an index composed of questions concerning responsibility for physical care (e. g., feeding the children), responsibility for socializing the child (e. g., setting limits), power in decision making regarding the child, availability to the child, and an overall estimate of his involvement in raising his preschooler.
In one study of fifty-nine middle-class families with children between the ages of three and six, Professor Radin found that highly involved fathers had sons who were better adjusted and more socially competent, more likely to perceive themselves as masters of their fate, and had a higher mental age on verbal intelligence tests.7 A 1985 study by Abraham Sagi found Israeli children of highly involved fathers to be more empathetic than other children.
A 1985 comprehensive and careful study by Carolyn and Phil Cowan, two psychologists at the University of California, Berkeley, found that three-and-a-half-year-old children of involved fathers achieved higher scores on certain playroom tasks (classifying objects, putting things in a series, role-taking tasks) than other children. When fathers worked longer hours outside the home, the Cowans found in their observation sessions, the three-and-a – half-year-olds showed more anxiety. The daughters of long-hours men were, in addition, less warm and less task oriented at playroom tasks, although they had fewer behavior problems. When fathers worked long hours, mothers tended to compensate by establishing warm relations with their sons. But when mothers worked long hours, husbands did not ‘compensate” with their daughters. In spite of this, the girls did well in playroom tasks. When fathers or mothers worked more outside the home, the parent established a closer bond with the boy}
Finally, the results of active fatherhood seem to last. In one study, two psychologists asked male undergraduates at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, to respond to such statements as “My father understood my problems and worries and helps with them, hugged or kissed me goodnight when I was small, was able to make me feel better when I was upset, gave me a lot of care and attention.” They were also asked to describe his availability (“away from home for days at a time, . . . out in the evening at least two nights a week, . . . home afternoons when children came home from school” and so on). The young men who ranked their fathers as highly—or even moderately—nurturant and available were far more likely to describe themselves as “trusting, friendly, loyal, and dependable, industrious and honest.”9
In the end, caring for children is the most important part of the second shift, and the effects of a mans care or his neglect will show up again and again through time—in the child as a child, in the child as an adult, and probably also in the child’s own approach to fatherhood, and in generations of fathers to come. Active fathers are often in reaction against a passive, detached father, a father like Seth Stein. But an exceptionally warmhearted man, like the stepfather of Art Winfield, could light the way still better. In the last forty years, many women have made a historic shift, into the economy. Now it is time for a whole generation of men to make a second historic shift—into work at home.
As Urbanizing Peasant
tion of our time. It embraces the lifetimes of Nancy Holt, Nina Tanagawa, Anita Judson, their mothers and grandmothers. Nancy Holt is a social worker and mother of Joey. Her mother was a Nebraska housewife and mother of four, and her grandmother raised five children on a wheat farm. Nina Tanagawa is an executive and mother of two. Her mother ran the house, raised three children, and helped keep the books in her father’s hardware store. Her grandmother raised chickens and cows on a farm. Anita Judson is a billing clerk, mother of three. Her mother worked two jobs as a domestic and raised four children. Her grandmother worked a farm in Louisiana. Working from the present generation back, there is often this pattern of working mother now, urban housewife thirty years ago, farm woman fifty years ago. Sometimes two generations of urban housewives follow the farm woman, sometimes none. All these women worked. Whats new is that, in taking paid work outside the home, masses of women live a life divided between two competing urgency systems, two clashing rhythms of living, that of the family and the workplace. What’s new, in scale at least, is childcare for pay, the massive spread of the double day, and the struggle within marriage to equalize the load at home. What’s new is the pervasive effect of the struggle on the rest of family life, as the Holts’ story of “Joey’s problem” suggests.
This recent change is an extension of an earlier industrial revolution. Before the industrial revolution in America, most men and women lived out their lives on the private family farm— where crops were grown and craft work done mainly for domestic consumption. With industrialization, more crops and goods were produced and distributed to wider markets for money. But industrialization did not affect men and women at the same time or in the same way. It has affected men and women at different times and in different ways. In a sense, there is a “his” and a “hers” to the history of industrialization in America.
Painting the picture in broad strokes, the growth of factories, trades, and businesses in early American cities first began to draw substantial numbers of men and women away from farm life around the 1830s. Many single girls worked in the early New England textile mills for four and five years until they married, but mill girls represented a tiny fraction of all women and less than ten percent of all those who worked for wages.1 In I860, most industrial workers were men. Only 15 percent of women worked for pay, most of them as domestic servants. As men entered factory work, they gradually changed their basic way of life; they moved from open spaces to closed-in rooms, from loose seasonal time to fixed industrial time, from life among a tight circle of kinsfolk and neighbors to a life of more varied groupings of kin and neighbors. At first, we might say, men did something like trying to “have it all.” In the early New England rural factories, for example, men would work in these factories during the day and go home in the evenings to work in the fields. Or they moved in and out of factory work depending on the season and the crop ready for harvest. But over time, the farmer became an urban worker.
On the whole, the early effects of industrial employment probably altered the lives of men in a more dramatic and immediate way than it altered the lives of women, most of whom maintained a primary identity at home. To be sure, life changed for women, too. Earlier in the century, a young mother might churn butter and raise chickens and hogs. Later in the century, a young mother was more likely to live in the city, buy her butter and eggs at the grocery store, take in boarders, be active in the church, and subscribe to what the historian Barbara Welter has called a “cult of true womanhood” centered in the home, and based on the special moral sensibility of women. Through this period, most women who married and raised children based their role and identity at home. “Home” changed. But, as the historian Nancy Cott argues in Bonds of Womanhood, throughout the nineteenth century, compared to men, women maintained an orientation toward life that was closer to what had been. Thus, if we compare the overall change in the lives of married women to the overall change in the lives of married men, we might conclude that during this period men changed more.
Today, it is women whose lives are changing faster. The expansion of service jobs has opened opportunities for women. Given that women have fewer children now (in 1800 they gave birth to about eight and raised five or six to adulthood; in 1988, they average less than two) and given that their wage has been increasingly needed at home, it has become “the womans turn” to move into the industrial economy. It is now women who are wrenched out of a former domestic way of life. If earlier it was men who tried to combine an old way of life with a new one, now it is women who are, by trying to combine the duties of the housewife and full-time mother with an eight-hour day at the office.
In the early nineteenth century, it was men who began to replace an older basis of power—land—with a new one—money. It was men who began to identify their “manhood” with having money in a way they had never done before. Through the great value on a mans purchasing power, the modern worship of goods—or what Karl Marx criticized as a “commodity fetishism”— became associated with “being a man.”
Today, it is women who are establishing a new basis of power and identity. If women previously based their power mainly on attractiveness to men or influence over children and kin, now they base their power more on wages or authority on the job. As Anita
Judson, the billing clerk married to the forklift driver, commented, “After I started earning money, my husband showed me more respect.” Given the wage gap, and given the greater effect of divorce on women, the modern woman may not have a great deal more power than before, but what power she has is based differently.
Altering her source of power, earning money also gives some women, like Carol Alston, a new basis of identity. As Carol, the systems analyst whose husband did carpentry around the house and helped a lot in a “male” way, described her reaction to quitting work after the birth of her first child, “I really discovered how important it was to my identity to earn money.” While earning money didn’t make Carol feel more like a woman in the same sense that earning money made Ray Judson feel more like a man, earning money was more important to her identity than it had been to her mothers. Furthermore, the greater autonomy that often comes with working outside the home has probably changed the identity of women such as Carol to the same extent that it earlier changed that of men.
Housewives who go out to paid work are like the male farmers who, in an earlier era, left the country for the city, farm for factory. They’ve made an exodus “for the city.” If earlier it was men who changed the social patterns of their fathers faster than women changed those of their mothers, today it is women who are changing these faster.
Paid work has come to seem exciting, life at home dull. Although the most acceptable motive for a woman to work is still “because I have to,” most of the working mothers I talked to didn’t work just for the money. In this way they have begun to participate in a value system once exclusively male and have developed motivations more like those of men. Many women volunteered to me that they would be “bored” or would “go bananas just staying home all day,” that they were not, on any permanent basis, the “domestic type.” This feeling held true even among women in low-level clerical jobs. A nationwide Harris poll taken in 1980 asked women: “If you had enough money to live as comfortably as you’d like, would you prefer to work full time, work part time, do volunteer-type work, or work at home caring for the family?” Among working women, 28 percent wanted to stay home. Of all the women in the study, including housewives, only 39 percent wanted to stay home—even if they had enough money to live as comfortably as they liked. When asked if each of the following is an important reason for working or not, 87 percent of working women responded “yes” to “providing you with a sense of accomplishment and personal satisfaction,” 84 percent to “helping ends meet,” and 81 percent to “improving your family’s standard of living.”2 Women want paying jobs, part-time jobs, interesting jobs—but they want jobs, I believe, for roughly the same complex set of reasons peasants in modernizing economies move to the cities. (In the United States we speak of farmers, not “peasants.” The term farmer connotes free ownership of land, and a certain pride, while the term peasant suggests the humility of a feudal serf. I draw the analogy between modern American women and the modernizing peasantry because women’s inferior social, legal, educational, and economic position had until recently been like that of peasants.)
In many ways, the twentieth-century influx of married women into an industrial economy differs from the earlier influx of men. For one thing, through the latter half of the nineteenth century up until the present, women’s tasks at home have been reduced. Store-bought goods gradually replaced homespun cloth, homemade soap and candles, home-cured meats, and home-baked bread. More recently, women have been able to buy an array of preprepared meals, or buy “carry-out,” or, if they can afford it, to eat out. Some send out clothes to a “wash and fold” laundry, and pay for mending and alterations. Other tasks women used to do at home have also gradually come to be done elsewhere for pay. Day care for children, retirement homes for the elderly, homes for delinquent children, mental hospitals, and even psychotherapy are, in a way, commercial substitutes for jobs a mother once did at home.
To some extent, new services and goods have come to be preferred over the older domestic ones. Products and services of the “native” housewife have given way to mass production outside the home. Store-bought clothes, utensils, and foods have come to seem just as good if not better. In the two-job couple this trend moves even faster; working couples do less at home and buy more goods and services instead. A womans skills at home are then perhaps also less valued. One working mother remarked: “Sometimes when I get upset and want to make a point, I refuse to cook. But it doesn’t work. My husband just goes and picks up some Colonel Sanders fried chicken; the kids love it.” Another mother said, “When I told my husband I wanted him to share the laundry, he just said, ‘Let’s take it to a laundry.’ ” The modern industrial versions of many goods and services come to be preferred over the old-fashioned domestic ones, even as colonial cultures came to prevail over old-fashioned “native ways.” Just as the First World has raised its culture over the Third World’s indigenous culture, so too the store-bought goods and services have marginalized the “local crafts” of the housewife.