chapter  6
32 Pages

Fathers and Children's Transition to Adulthood

A t the age of thirty-five, Daniel S. Dickson, a self-taught lawyer who later became a United States Senator from New York, found himself in the unusual position of experiencing the final phase of the fathering role much earlier than most fathers. The “caprice of fortune” had placed in his care a parentless niece considerably older than his own children, which meant that she came of age early in his fathering years. Dickson accepted this role dutifully, as a man of his class was expected to do in the antebellum era, and came to identify himself as Louise’s father with an obligation to see her marry well. At times he felt the weight of this duty; a “ father who has a daughter arrived at women’s estate,” he wrote to Louise, “ has a fearful respon­ sibility to discharge.” And like most fathers he felt a twinge of sorrow at the prospect of losing his daughter to another man. “ I shall soon cease to be your guide and counselor, or to number you with those that look up to me for protection; to wait your return to the domes­ tic threshold with a solicitude so peculiar to my nature, or to direct your footsteps.” 1 Although “ not bound by ties of consanguinity,” Dickson loved Louise and experienced many of the same feelings that biological fathers had for children who were taking the first steps into their adult years. More importantly, Louise’s coming of age precipi­ tated a shift in his fathering role. As sons and daughters made lifechanging decisions about career and marriage, fathers like Dickson found themselves with less influence over them. Fathers had to become reconciled to the replacement of their governing role by the


less authoritative positions of advisor and supporter. If men lived long enough, they faced the changes that invariably came with this stage in the fathering cycle.