Last updated

Parental Advice by Josephus Laurentius Dyckmans, created 1831-1888 Josephus Laurentius Dyckmans - Paternal advice.jpg
Parental Advice by Josephus Laurentius Dyckmans, created 1831-1888

A father is the male parent of a child. Besides the paternal bonds of a father to his children, the father may have a parental, legal, and social relationship with the child that carries with it certain rights and obligations. An adoptive father is a male who has become the child's parent through the legal process of adoption. A biological father is the male genetic contributor to the creation of the infant, through sexual intercourse or sperm donation. A biological father may have legal obligations to a child not raised by him, such as an obligation of monetary support. A putative father is a man whose biological relationship to a child is alleged but has not been established. A stepfather is a male who is the husband of a child's mother and they may form a family unit, but who generally does not have the legal rights and responsibilities of a parent in relation to the child.


The adjective "paternal" refers to a father and comparatively to "maternal" for a mother. The verb "to father" means to procreate or to sire a child from which also derives the noun "fathering". Biological fathers determine the sex of their child through a sperm cell which either contains an X chromosome (female), or Y chromosome (male). [1] Related terms of endearment are dad (dada, daddy), baba, papa, pappa, papasita, (pa, pap) and pop. A male role model that children can look up to is sometimes referred to as a father-figure.

Paternal rights

The paternity rights of a father with regard to his children differ widely from country to country often reflecting the level of involvement and roles expected by that society.

Paternity leave

Parental leave is when a father takes time off to support his newly born or adopted baby. [2] Paid paternity leave first began in Sweden in 1976, and is paid in more than half of European Union countries. [3] In the case of male same-sex couples the law often makes no provision for either one or both fathers to take paternity leave.

Child custody

Fathers' rights movements such as Fathers 4 Justice argue that family courts are biased against fathers. [4]

Child support

Child support is an ongoing periodic payment made by one parent to the other; it is normally paid by the parent who does not have custody.

Paternity fraud

An estimated 2% of British fathers experiences paternity fraud during a non-paternity event, bringing up a child they wrongly believe to be their biological offspring. [5]

Role of the father

Father and child, Dhaka, Bangladesh Father and child, Dhaka.jpg
Father and child, Dhaka, Bangladesh

In almost all cultures fathers are regarded as secondary caregivers. This perception is slowly changing with more and more fathers becoming primary caregivers, while mothers go to work or in single parenting situations, male same-sex parenting couples.

Fatherhood in the Western World

A father and his children in Florida Aiden-Seth-Haley-Singleton.jpg
A father and his children in Florida

In the West, the image of the married father as the primary wage-earner is changing. The social context of fatherhood plays an important part in the well-being of men and all their children. [6] In the United States 16% of single parents were men as of 2013. [7]

Importance of father or father-figure

Involved fathers offer developmentally specific provisions to their children and are impacted themselves by doing so. Active father figures may play a role in reducing behavior and psychological problems in young adults. [8] An increased amount of father–child involvement may help increase a child's social stability, educational achievement, [9] :5 and their potential to have a solid marriage as an adult. Their children may also be more curious about the world around them and develop greater problem solving skills. [10] Children who were raised with fathers perceive themselves to be more cognitively and physically competent than their peers without a father. [11] Mothers raising children together with a father reported less severe disputes with their child. [12]

The father-figure is not always a child's biological father and some children will have a biological father as well as a step- or nurturing father. When a child is conceived through sperm donation, the donor will be the "biological father" of the child.

Fatherhood as legitimate identity can be dependent on domestic factors and behaviors. For example, a study of the relationship between fathers, their sons, and home computers found that the construction of fatherhood and masculinity required that fathers display computer expertise. [13]

Determination of parenthood

Paternal love (1803) by Nanette Rosenzweig, National Museum in Warsaw Rosenzweig Paternal love.jpg
Paternal love (1803) by Nanette Rosenzweig, National Museum in Warsaw

Roman law defined fatherhood as "Mater semper certa; pater est quem nuptiae demonstrant" ("The [identity of the] mother is always certain; the father is whom the marriage vows indicate"). The recent emergence of accurate scientific testing, particularly DNA testing, has resulted in the family law relating to fatherhood experiencing rapid changes.

History of fatherhood

Painter Carl Larsson playing with his laughing daughter Brita BritaAndI Selfportrait.jpg
Painter Carl Larsson playing with his laughing daughter Brita

In medieval and most of modern European history, caring for children was predominantly the domain of mothers, whereas fathers in many societies provide for the family as a whole. Since the 1950s, social scientists and feminists have increasingly challenged gender roles in Western countries, including that of the male breadwinner. Policies are increasingly targeting fatherhood as a tool of changing gender relations. [14]


In early human history there have been notable instances of patricide. For example:

In more contemporary history there have also been instances of father–offspring conflicts, such as:


Biological fathers

Paternal bonding between a father and his newborn daughter Paternal bonding between father and newborn daughter.jpg
Paternal bonding between a father and his newborn daughter
Father and son Father and son 27.jpg
Father and son

Fatherhood defined by contact level

Non-human fatherhood

For some animals, it is the fathers who take care of the young.

Many species,[ citation needed ] though, display little or no paternal role in caring for offspring. The male leaves the female soon after mating and long before any offspring are born. It is the females who must do all the work of caring for the young.

Finally, in some species neither the father nor the mother provides any care.

See also

Related Research Articles

Parent caregiver of offspring of their own species

A parent is a caregiver of the offspring in their own species. In humans, a parent is the caretaker of a child. A biological parent is a person whose gamete resulted in a child, a male through the sperm, and a female through the ovum. Biological parents are first-degree relatives and have 50% genetic meet. A female can also become a parent through surrogacy. Some parents may be adoptive parents, who nurture and raise an offspring, but are not biologically related to the child. Orphans without adoptive parents can be raised by their grandparents or other family members.

Behavioral ecology Study of the evolutionary basis for animal behavior due to ecological pressures

Behavioral ecology, also spelled behavioural ecology, is the study of the evolutionary basis for animal behavior due to ecological pressures. Behavioral ecology emerged from ethology after Niko Tinbergen outlined four questions to address when studying animal behaviors that are the proximate causes, ontogeny, survival value, and phylogeny of behavior.

Polygynandry is a mating system in which both males and females have multiple mating partners during a breeding season. In sexually reproducing diploid animals, different mating strategies are employed by males and females because the cost of gamete production is lower for males than it is for females. The different mating tactics employed by males and females are thought to be the outcome of stochastic reproductive conflicts both ecologically and socially. Reproductive conflicts in animal societies may arise because individuals are not genetically identical and they have different optimal strategies for maximizing their fitness; and oftentimes it is found that reproductive conflicts generally arise due to dominance hierarchy in which all or a major part of reproduction is monopolized by only one individual (wasp). In the Polistes carolina, the dominant queen amongst female wasps is determined by whoever arrives at the nest first rather than the largest foundress, who is expected to be the best at fighting (wasp). In a study of Prunella collaris, the close proximity and sharing of ranges on the mountain tops of the French Pyrenees led to a polygynandrous mating system, where two to four males would mate with a range of two to four females within the same vicinity. Polygynandry is another way to describe a multi-male and multi-female polygamous mating system. When females have multiple mating partners, it is known as polyandry and when males have multiple mating partners, it is known as polygyny; and each sex has their benefits in being promiscuous. Females, especially those with genetically 'inferior' social partners, have the chance to increase the genetic quality of their offspring. While males are able to fertilize the eggs of many other mates. Essentially the ideal mating behavior for males is to be promiscuous rather than monogamous—when they only have one mating partner because this leads to multiple offspring and these males monopolize their female partners by physically preventing them from copulating with other males. On the other hand, females benefit through polyandry as they have more sired offspring.

Parental investment parental expenditure (time, energy etc.) that benefits one offspring at a cost to parents ability to invest in other components of fitness, and is thus a form of sexual selection

Parental investment, in evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology, is any parental expenditure that benefits offspring. Parental investment may be performed by both males and females, females alone or males alone. Care can be provided at any stage of the offspring's life, from pre-natal to post-natal.

Pipefish subfamily of fishes

Pipefishes or pipe-fishes (Syngnathinae) are a subfamily of small fishes, which, together with the seahorses and seadragons, form the family Syngnathidae.

Partible paternity or shared paternity is a cultural conceptualization of paternity according to which a child is understood to have more than one father; for example, because of an ideology that sees pregnancy as the cumulative result of multiple acts of sexual intercourse. In societies with the concept of partible paternity this often results in the nurture of a child being shared by multiple fathers in a form of polyandric relation to the mother, although this is not always the case.

Telegony is a theory of heredity holding that offspring can inherit the characteristics of a previous mate of the female parent; thus the child of a woman might partake of traits of a previous sexual partner. Experiments in the late 19th century on several species failed to provide evidence that offspring would inherit any character from their mother's previous mates. It was superseded by the rediscovery of Mendelian inheritance and the Boveri–Sutton chromosome theory.

Monogamous pairing in animals refers to the natural history of mating systems in which species pair bond to raise offspring. This is associated, usually implicitly, with sexual monogamy.

Sexual conflict term in evolutionary biology

Sexual conflict or sexual antagonism occurs when the two sexes have conflicting optimal fitness strategies concerning reproduction, particularly over the mode and frequency of mating, potentially leading to an evolutionary arms race between males and females. In one example, males may benefit from multiple matings, while multiple matings may harm or endanger females, due to the anatomical differences of that species.

Extra-pair copulation (EPC) is a promiscuous mating behaviour in monogamous species. Monogamy occurs when an individual has only one sexual partner at any one time, forming a long term bond and combining efforts to raise offspring together; extra-pair copulation occurs when one of these individuals mates outside of this pairing. Across the animal kingdom, extra-pair copulation is common in monogamous species, and only a very few pair-bonded species are thought to be exclusively sexually monogamous. EPC in the animal kingdom has mostly been studied in birds and mammals. Possible benefits of EPC can be investigated within non-human species, such as birds. In males, a number of theories are proposed to explain extra-pair copulations. One such hypothesis is that males maximise their reproductive success by copulating with as many females as possible outside of a pair bond relationship because their parental investment is lower, meaning they can copulate and leave the female with minimum risk to themselves. Females, on the other hand, have to invest a lot more in their offspring; extra-pair copulations produce a greater cost because they put the resources that their mate can offer at risk by copulating outside the relationship. Despite this, females do seek out extra pair copulations, and, because of the risk, there is more debate about the evolutionary benefits for females.

Scissortail sergeant species of fish

The scissortail sergeant or striptailed damselfish is a large damselfish. It earns its name from the black-striped tail and sides, which are reminiscent of the insignia of a military Sergeant, being similar to those of the sergeant major damselfish. It grows to a length of about 16 centimetres (6.3 in).

Infanticide (zoology) Killing of young offspring by an adult animal of the same species

In animals, infanticide involves the killing of young offspring by a mature animal of the same species, and is studied in zoology, specifically in the field of ethology. Ovicide is the analogous destruction of eggs. The practice has been observed in many species throughout the animal kingdom, especially primates but including microscopic rotifers, insects, fish, amphibians, birds and mammals. Infanticide can be practiced by both males and females.

Parental care behavioural and evolutionary strategy adopted by some animals, making a parental investment into the evolutionary fitness of their offspring

Parental care is a behavioural and evolutionary strategy adopted by some animals, involving a parental investment being made to the evolutionary fitness of offspring. Patterns of parental care are widespread and highly diverse across the animal kingdom. There is great variation in different animal groups in terms of how parents care for offspring, and the amount of resources invested by parents. For example, there may be considerable variation in the amount of care invested by each sex, where females may invest more in some species, males invest more in others, or investment may be shared equally. Numerous hypotheses have been proposed to describe this variation and patterns in parental care that exist between the sexes, as well as among species.

Evolutionarily speaking, offspring have a greater bond to mothers than fathers; women are universally known to be the direct caregivers in a parent-offspring relationship, whereas males are seen as material resource providers or involved only with their own reproductive success. Women have the "maternal instinct" to aid, assist, embrace and invest in their offspring. Males are evolutionarily known to invest less due to paternal uncertainty and therefore seek as many sexual partners and seek for an increase of their genes amongst society.

Monogamous pairing refers to a general relationship between an adult male and an adult female for the purpose of sexual reproduction. It is particularly common in birds, but there are examples of this occurrence in reptiles, invertebrates, fish, amphibians, and mammals.

Polyandry in fish is a mating system where females mate with multiple males within one mating season. This type of mating exists in a variety of animal species. Polyandry has been found in both oviparous and viviparous bony fish and sharks. General examples of polyandry occur in fish species, such as green swordtails and Trinidadian guppies. Specific types of polyandry have also been classified, such as classical polyandry in pipefish cooperative polyandry in cichlids and convenience polyandry in sharks.

In biology, paternal care is parental investment provided by a male to his own offspring. It is a complex social behaviour in vertebrates associated with animal mating systems, life history traits, and ecology. Paternal care may be provided in concert with the mother or, more rarely, by the male alone.

The Evolution of biparental care in tropical frogs is the evolution of the behaviour of a parental care system in frogs in which both the mother and father raise their offspring.

Polyandry in nature

In behavioral ecology, polyandry is a class of mating system where one female mates with several males in a breeding season. Polyandry is often compared to the polygyny system based on the cost and benefits incurred by members of each sex. Polygyny is where one male mates with several females in a breeding season . A common example of polyandrous mating can be found in the field cricket of the invertebrate order Orthoptera. Polyandrous behavior is also prominent in many other insect species, including the red flour beetle and the species of spider Stegodyphus lineatus. Polyandry also occurs in some primates such as marmosets, mammal groups, the marsupial genus' Antechinus and bandicoots, around 1% of all bird species, such as jacanas and dunnocks, insects such as honeybees, and fish such as pipefish.

Parental care in birds

Parental care refers to the level of investment provided by the mother and the father to ensure development and survival of their offspring. In most birds, parents invest profoundly in their offspring as a mutual effort, making a majority of them socially monogamous for the duration of the breeding season. This happens regardless of whether there is a paternal uncertainty.


  1. HUMAN GENETICS, MENDELIAN INHERITANCE retrieved 25 February 2012
  2. What is paternity leave?
  3. Mapped: Paid paternity leave across the EU...which countries are the most generous? Published by The Telegraph, 18 April 2016
  4. Fathers 4 Justice take their fight for rights across the Atlantic Published by The Telegraph, 8 May 2005
  5. One in 50 British fathers unknowingly raises another man's child Published by The Telegraph, April 6, 2016
  6. Garfield, CF, Clark-Kauffman, K, David, MM; Clark-Kauffman; Davis (Nov 15, 2006). "Fatherhood as a Component of Men's Health". Journal of the American Medical Association. 296 (19): 2365–8. doi:10.1001/jama.296.19.2365. PMID   17105800.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  7. "Facts for Features". Archived from the original on April 24, 2013. Retrieved October 25, 2013.
  8. McLanahan, Sara; Tach, Laura; Schneider, Daniel (2013), "The Causal Effects of Father Absence", Annual Review of Sociology, 39: 399–427, doi:10.1146/annurev-soc-071312-145704, PMC   3904543 , PMID   24489431
  9. Karberg, Elizabeth; Finocharo, Jane; Vann, Nigel (2019). "Father and Child Well-Being: A Scan of Current Research" (PDF). fatherhood.gov. National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse. Retrieved October 17, 2019.
  10. United States. National Center for Fathering, Kansas City, MO. Partnership for Family Involvement in Education. A Call to Commitment: Fathers' Involvement in Children's Learning. June 2000
  11. Golombok, S; Tasker, F; Murray, C (1997). "Children raised in fatherless families from infancy: family relationships and the socioemotional development of children of lesbian and single heterosexual mothers". J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 38 (7): 783–91. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.1997.tb01596.x. PMID   9363577.
  12. MacCallum, Fiona; Golombok, Susan (2004). "Children raised in fatherless families from infancy: A follow-up of children of lesbian and single heterosexual mothers at early adolescence". Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 45 (8): 1407–1419. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2004.00324.x. PMID   15482501.
  13. Ribak, Rivka (2001). ""Like immigrants": negotiating power in the face of the home computer". New Media & Society. 3 (2): 220–238. doi:10.1177/1461444801003002005.
  14. Bjørnholt, M. (2014). "Changing men, changing times; fathers and sons from an experimental gender equality study" (PDF). The Sociological Review . 62 (2): 295–315. doi:10.1111/1467-954X.12156.
  15. 1 2 Fernandez-Duque, E; Valeggia, CR; Mendoza, SP (2009). "Biology of Paternal Care in Human and Nonhuman Primates". Annu. Rev. Anthropol. 38: 115–30. doi:10.1146/annurev-anthro-091908-164334.
  16. Mendoza, SP; Mason, WA (1986). "Parental division of labour and differentiation of attachments in a monogamous primate (Callicebus moloch)". Anim. Behav. 34 (5): 1336–47. doi:10.1016/s0003-3472(86)80205-6.