Without question, the relational dynamic experienced by men within the father-son dyad is a source of significant and long-lasting influence on a host of important psychosocial and developmental issues in the lives of men. For most men, the father-son relationship has an enormous influence on several developmental issues in nearly every area of their lives (Bochner, 1976). For example, the father-son relationship reportedly is an important predictor of sons' future communication behaviors (Buerkel-Rothfuss & Yerby, 1981; Fink, 1993), their relational success and communication with their spouses (Beatty & Dobos, 1993; Berry, 1990), their attitudes toward sexuality (Fisher, 1987), their academic achievement (Snarey, 1993) and educational attainment (Harris, Furstenberg, & Kramer, 1998), their future in come levels (Duncan, Hill, & Yeung, 1996), their parenting style (Simons, Beaman, Conger, & Chao, 1993; Simons, Whitbeck, Conger, & Wu, 1991), their potential for delinquent behavior (Harris, Furstenberg, & Kramer, 1998), and their overall emotional health (Berry, 1990). For a father, the relationship experienced with his son influences the father's emotional health (Berry, 1990), adult development, and psychosocial adjustment (Snarey, 1993).
Recent research has indicated that fathers who choose to be actively involved in the lives of their sons help to develop young men who are less aggressive, less overtly competitive, and more emotionally expressive and empathic (Brody, 1996). Further, fathers who play a direct role in parenting their sons help to raise individuals who subsequently are better able to resolve conflict, who are more caring and better able to share intimacy, and who appear to be more relaxed concerning gender role expectations of traditional masculinity (Pollack, 1998; Pruett, 1989). Other scholars have focused on the positive outcomes associated with fathers taking an active role in raising their sons, such as the communication of affection (Morman & Floyd, 1999), relational satisfaction (Beatty & Dobos, 1992; Martin & Anderson, 1995), intimacy (Buerkel, 1996), and confirmation (Beatty & Dobos, 1993). Clearly, a growing body of research indicates that men who are actively involved in raising their sons can have an overwhelmingly positive impact on the life course their sons pursue.
An even larger body of literature has focused on what one might classify as the negative outcomes associated with poor, ineffective, or distant fathering behaviors, however. This body of work provides the foundation for the common assumption that most men have dysfunctional, contentious, and emotionally distant relationships with their fathers, relationships that produced emotionally disabled, angry, and resentful young men destined to fail in their attempts at fathering their own sons (Doherty, 1991; Gerson, 1993; Levant, 1992). Hawkins and Dollahite (1997) called this view the "role-inadequacy perspective"; Kindlon and Thompson (1999) referred to it as the role of the "disqualified dad," and Larson and Richards (1994) concluded that fathers appear to be the "weak link" in the emotional life of the family. Whatever the description, ineffective fathering ostensibly is central to a host of negative and socially dysfunctional outcomes associated with many American young adult men, adolescents, and boys in contemporary culture (Kindlon & Thompson, 1999; Pollack, 1998).
One study revealed that 23% of fathers were physically absent from their sons' upbringing, 29% were psychologically absent, and 18% were totally uninvolved with raising their sons (see Osheron, 1986, p. 7). Streiker (1989) reported that over 12 million children in the United States do not live with their fathers, whereas 88% of children who are part of divorced families end up living with their mothers (Osheron, 1986). A study of 300 male executives and midlevel managers dealing with what single factor they would alter in their relationships with their fathers while growing up at home showed a majority as wishing that they could have been closer to their fathers and that their fathers had expressed more emotion and feeling toward them (DeLong & DeLong, 1992). Unfortunately, Osheron (1986) concluded that the primary experience of the father-son relationship is one of distance, estrangement, pain, and sadness.
Kindlon and Thompson (1999) discovered that most men want to do a good job raising their sons and want to do it better than their fathers did. These same men also expressed aggravation, disappointment, and discontentment with their sons' behavior or personality, communication styles, and decision-making abilities, however. Similarly, many of their sons reported frustration with fathers who do not listen, do not understand, and demand respect without offering it. These sons felt shortchanged by their fathers, not only in terms of affection and emotional-support, but also in the amount of time their fathers spent with them. It also appears that fathers and sons do not share perceptions of family reality. When asked to record their observations of the same event being experienced by both father and son, fathers and sons offered completely different accounts nearly 50% of the time (Larson & Richards, 1994). The overwhelming observation sons made about life with their fathers was that the father-son relationship is a significant source of conflict, competition, criticism, and lack of understanding (Kindlon & Thompson, 1999). Not surprisingly, Youniss and Smollar (1985) determined that of all the people in a boy's life, sons most frequently identified their fathers as the persons to whom they are least likely to confide their true feelings.
We believe that one reason fathers and sons may find it increasingly difficult to maintain positive, emotionally available relationships with each other as the sons become teenagers and young adults results from the demands both feel to meet the expectancies of the masculine gender role. The traditional masculine gender role is often characterized by restrictive emotionality, a preoccupation with successs, the inhibited expression of affection, a need for control and power, and a competitive orientation to life (O'Neil, 1981; Pleck, 1987). The father-son relationship is not only a union between two family members; it is also a relationship between two men. As such, to the extent that either the father or the son feels motivated to adhere to the demands of traditional masculinity, the relationship will be influenced accordingly. For example, several studies have indicated that male-male relationships are generally less affectionate, less close, and less intimate than female-female or opposite-sex relationships (e.g., Caldwell & Peplau, 1982; Williams, 1985). In this light, the lack of emotional connection between fathers and sons may be due to the masculine gender role demands for restricted emotionality between men. When confronted with opportunities to express love or affection to a son, many fathers find themselves at a loss for how to respond and typically fall back on what they have been taught to do with other men, namely, to avoid such emotional expressions out of a fear of appearing feminine …