chapter
16 Pages

Introduction

In recent years, the idea of declining paternal authority has become central to the way we think about fathers. It is generally assumed that fathers no longer have the time or talent to rear children, nor do they have the authority to govern as they once did. A few highly publicized countertrends have surfaced, like fatherhood support groups and stayat-home dads, and perhaps even the growing number of single fathers, but these are seen as eddies in the current of decline. More often we hear of absent breadwinners, dead-beat dads, and abusive fathers. In comparing cultural icons such as the Victorian father and Homer Simpson, one gets a sense of the radical shift that has occurred in American perceptions of fatherhood over the past two centuries. The popular mind has discarded fathering images of power and nurture for views of anachronism, powerlessness, violence, and absence. The con­ cept of fatherhood’s waning significance resonates widely across American culture.1