An alternative perspective of fathering

If alternative assumptions were adopted, fathering would be seen in a different light. The new picture recognises that men often want to father differently from how they were fathered, and that good fathering is something that is necessary to their own wellbeing (fundamental motivation). It also suggests that a father’s care for his children is a ‘central feature of his life’s work and you would expect him to strive for competence in this arena’ (Hawkins&Dollahite, 1997).

The adoption of a non-deficit perspective influences program development. Instead of instructing fathers about their shortcomings and the things they are not doing, the fathering program validates different aspects of what fathers already do well. It is at this point, that greater freedom is generated in the group to explore the barriers that prevent men from achieving what they desire.

King (2005) states that many men identify fathering as something which is active, challenging, creative, irreplaceable, hard work and a central part of their life, regardless of their family relationships. This is the cornerstone of understanding fathering as a generative experience, where men often re-evaluate their life and work towards the care and protection of their children throughout their whole lifetime.


1 - Generativity, boyhood and the authentic self


Peter is a father in an intact relationship, where he has two children. His first child died as a toddler from a respiratory problem before Peter commenced attending the father’s group. He had loved the little girl so much he was heart broken. He and his partner attended only one session of grief counselling. Throughout the following years, the stress of fathering other children through the toddler years and his fear for their safety took its toll on his relationship with his wife. This was also exacerbated by his imminent retrenchment from work. By being in a father’s group, Peter was able to talk for the first time about his grief about his first child. He was also able to remove much of the pressure that had been building inside of him. Over six months, Peter successfully moved back home and continued to play the vital role in the family that he had played previously.

 Men and adult relationships

Building on Erikson’s stages of human development, Vaillant suggests that adult development for men and women progresses through a series of stages (as detailed in the table below). No theoretical approach to ageing is entirely accurate, but they can provide predictability for motivation and behaviour. Valliant’s research indicates that successful ageing means giving to and receiving from others joyously whenever one is able.


Discover who we are as individuals separate from our family of origin and as members of a wider society. It is no surprise that our most significant relationships are with peer groups



Find mutually satisfying connections, primarily through relationships and friends. If negotiating this stage is successful, we can experience intimacy on a deep level


Career consolidation

Experience success in how we survive within the world



Influence others and learn from them important messages


Keeper of the meaning

Capturing and passing on for the longer future these key messages and learning



Acceptance of our one and only life cycle as something that is to be, and that permits no substitution.

Source: (Vaillant, 2002)

Vaillant identifies three concepts of normal ageing:

Again, building on Erikson’s stages of human development, the last major theme of Vaillant’s book is that people can change. This is based on the belief that adult character development is not set in concrete. Poor development is associated with either alcoholism or major depression. Studies of inner city men showed that coping well in adolescence predicted successful old age (Vaillant, 2002). Vaillant wisely points out that life is a paradox of change and conformity. By age 70, early life factors are no longer relevant. Rather, character-based choices (e.g. spouse, drinking alcohol and lifestyle) influence the ultimate outcome. Vaillant destroys the myth that early childhood conflict haunts us forever and says that ultimately what went right is more important than what went wrong.

2 - Generativity and the child within


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