The generative framework and men

Generativity involves the capacity to care for the next generation and demands the ability to give something of yourself to another person. It includes community building and is historically reflected in the strong support that people give to service clubs, Lifeline, the SES and the Rural Fire Services etc. Generativity can mean serving as a guide, mentor or coach to kids, young people or adults. Research indicates that between 30 to 45 years, our need for achievement decreases and our need for influence or community increases (Vaillant, 2002). Vaillant writes along with Martin Seligman in advocating a positive psychology approach to practice and understanding people’s behaviour.

 Besides being applied to human development for men, women and fathering, generativity has had a significant contribution to ageing. The Harvard Study of Adult Development reviewed societal trends in the last 50 years and concluded that generativity is the best indicator for healthy ageing. The study concluded that ‘the old were put on the earth to nurture the young’ (Vaillant, 2002). However, this learning is not about just giving to others but is found also in the receiving. A key question they used was ‘what have you learnt from your children?’ even though some people found it hard to answer or even ridiculous to consider.

Generativity is powered by the motivation to ‘invest one’s substance in forms of life and work that will outlive the self’ (Vaillant, 2002). The following story outlines how one father put generativity into practice. The following DVD is a good example of how generativity is expressed in a program called 'Mate helping Mate'. Many of the men discovered that through helping someone, they actually helped themselves to deal with depression and the crippling drought in Australia. 

19. Mate helping Mate

Another story

David is a father who has not had much meaningful contact with his two sons throughout their 12 years of life. Having experienced a great deal of trauma in his younger years, he has a limited ability to socialise or play with his children.

His great desire is to be a better father than his father was to him. He finds this difficult as he has survived intense violence all his life and has resorted to violence many times to deal with any conflict in his adult years. During his participation in the group, David was enduring an ongoing court drama with the Department of Community Services, in order to have a meaningful role in the life of his children.

The children were being removed from their mother and he was struggling to put a case forward to become their full-time carer. David desperately wanted their life to be better than his own. One of the New Parenting Infant Network (NEWPIN) educational sessions covered a concept outlining the limitations of what we can control, as compared to what we can influence, and letting go of what is outside our control and influence.

 David left the group that night enthusiastic about how he could use this idea at his next court date. The following week, he returned to the group a very different man wearing cleaner clothes, holding his body more erect, taking more pride in his appearance and being much happier. He told the group the following story of the situation preceding his attendance at court:

 The mother of his children had attempted to engage him in a conflict in the Court grounds by being verbally abusive and aggressive and he had refused to engage with her. He had acknowledged to himself that he could not control her, or what she was saying, so he had walked away. This was an achievement.

When court was sitting, the mother again attempted to engage him in conflict by staring and mouthing swear words at him. He continued to ignore her. When the court proceedings were not going his way and inaccurate information about him was being put forward, he did not react as he had in the past, trying to use threats and loud language to control the court. Rather, he decided to let it go (as best he could) as he could not control it and instead attempted to influence the court by his ‘good’ behaviour. Although quite proud of himself for the change in his behaviour in a very stressful situation, the best for David was yet to come.

The case was adjourned. Before he left the court, David approached the solicitor acting for his children and said, ‘I know you do not like me and that is OK’. He then added, ‘I’ve been watching and listening to you and you seem like a good person who has the best interests of my sons at heart. I just want to let you know I appreciate what you are trying to do for my boys’. The solicitor, in a spontaneous gesture, offered David the opportunity to spend a short time with his eldest son.

Not having seen his son in over four weekends, David accepted enthusiastically. He spent 20 minutes with his boy which he otherwise would not have had. David was ecstatic at this good fortune. This generous gesture by the solicitor continues to have a positive impact on David’s life as he has experienced the rewards of learning new ways of dealing with conflict.


There are many reasons that men are not often seen in health/community welfare centres. Most significantly, appointment times are during the day when it is difficult for men or women to have time off from work. Also many men question and are wary of involvement with external community welfare agencies. King (2005) recognises that many men have a strong suspicion about people who influence their family life. Besides trusting family members, many men have little trust and question the relevance of new ideas about relationships until some change is required.

From boyhood, competitiveness is nurtured as young men are taught not to ‘be walked over by other people’. This process continues as the child grows into manhood with entrenched values of independence and autonomy. For many men, a suggestion that they need to change what they are thinking or doing is met by a high degree of resistance. Especially when a suggestion contains a deficit assumption like ‘men should show more of their feelings’. This assumption is that something needs to be fixed; the father has to learn to act differently. Due to this, professionals need to work harder at the pre-engagement stage (discussed further in this guide) when working with men to find an alternative way to deal with any suspicion and defensiveness.

The generative approach is relevant for men, women and young people. However, it is valuable for understanding male behaviour as they tend to define themselves by a narrower set of roles. These roles often involve having an impact on the world around them through work, sport, their family or friends. The framework is easily applied to fathering (Fleming, 2002; King, 2000, 2001, 2005; King&Sweeney&Fletcher, 2004).

Erikson considered parenthood to be the primary developmental task of adulthood that includes both the moral obligation to attend to the needs of the next generation and the recognition that caring for children is central to personal and societal well being (Erikson, 1975). The non-deficit perspective, an approach to understanding and working with men (King, 2000, 2001, 2005; King&Sweeney&Fletcher, 2004), suggests that most fathers are interested in family life and that their engagement with support services is influenced by a variety of relationship challenges. These challenges can impact in a phenomenon called ‘generative chill’ that is discussed later in the next topic on skills used when working with men (King, 2001).

The main concepts in the generative framework are based on two core ideas. The first is that the human context creates needs in the next generation that fathers have an ethical responsibility to meet, and the second is that fathers and their children both benefit and develop from this process of interaction’ (Hawkins & Dollahite, 1997 as cited in Fleming, 2007). Generative fathering involves the next generation and also recognises that it is beneficial both to the child and the father.

 The non-deficit assumptions (Hawkins&Dollahite, 1997; King, 2000) recognise that fathers have the desire and ability to:

9 - Engaging and working with men with children aged 0-5 years

The generative framework involves caring for or influencing someone external to you or supporting the development of the next generation. Hawkins and Dollahite believe that practicing generativity is central to men’s own sense of self esteem and growth (Fleming, 2007).

 How the deficit perspective assumption is expressed

Hawkins and Dollahite (1997) emphasise that deficit assumptions are expressed in the following contexts:

The ‘abusing’ father

Russell, Barclay, Edgecombe, Donovan, Habib, Callaghan & Pawson (1999) identified that 48 per cent of community welfare professionals believe that up to 24 per cent of fathers physically abuse their children and 31 per cent of professionals believed that 24 per cent of fathers sexually abused their children. These figures are higher than the national statistics on child abuse and neglect and could influence how professionals develop a trusting relationship with most fathers.


The ‘emotionally challenged’ father

Many labels used formally and informally to describe fathers include: incompetent, unaware, fear of intimacy, emotionally constricted, emotionally constipated etc. ‘Clinicians are divided on whether these emotionally challenged fathers are in need of a strong, adult male mentor or a skilled and patient therapist who can guide them through their dangerous inner journeys to healthy and responsible manhood. Then this assumption is embraced, men are seen as being emotionally and relationship deficient and in need of therapy’ (Hawkins&Dollahite, 1997)


Fathers with under-involvement in household activities

Russell at al (1999) found that men are spending a similar proportion of time on household activities as they did 10 years ago. While this statistic is regrettable, it suggests that men are uninvolved, selfishly resisting change and greater involvement (Hawkins&Dollahite, 1997). This tension is better understood by recognising that a gender based difference in perception can exist concerning the timing and standards surrounding household duties. It needs to be recognised that men and women often have different perceptions of the timing and standards that surround household tasks. This is also accompanied with long travelling times to and from work.


Fathers have little interest in professional feedback about their children

When health/community welfare professionals provide feedback to families regarding issues that affect their children, they often favour delivering this information to the mother. This assumption reinforces other assumptions that fathers are deficient in their interest and knowledge about the basic health needs of their children.



One articulate father, in a community workshop stated that in 13 years of having a child with a disability, he has never been approached or had the opportunity to discuss this issue with a professional. All these assumptions highlight the deficiencies of men at the expense of acknowledging that the basic motivational force for many men is a deep love for their family and the desire to be a good father. While the deficit assumption may adequately describe the behaviour of some men, it lacks the potential for engaging them and creating life change.

 According to Hawkins and Dollahite, deficit assumptions create little change in fathers because they:


Tim is 32 years old. He had a horrific childhood during which he was kicked, beaten, ridiculed, teased, and everything he valued was removed and given away. When growing up, Tim’s only comfort was conversing with a teddy bear that he imagined responded back to him, until that too was removed. Tim’s anger is immense, but significant new strength is found through being able to talk about his life, knowing that others are finally listening. It is important for him that the other group members do not pity him or feel sorry. The value is being heard, for this is what he failed to experience during his childhood. Throughout the group his attention is drawn to how he feels now, when a group of people listen and accept him. He also identifies that he is a survivor and can share something of his life story with a quiet confidence.


No Very

Captcha Image

National Training Calendar26-Feb-2020

Groupwork Solutions specialises in dynamic training, mastery of practice skills, working with me..

Transformative group work - Discussing family role changes25-Nov-2018

This is an exercise from a book to be released in early 2019 - Generative Fathering: Engaging fa..

More announcements