A study investigated the characteristics of fathers whose children are participating in the Early Head Start program, their level of involvement with their families and children, and how and why involvement changes over time. Two interviews and associated observations were conducted with 108 men, identified by mothers as involved in their child's life, within the first 14 months of their children's lives. Findings indicate almost all of the fathers were the biological fathers and most were living with their children. The fathers were involved in multiple ways with their children, including: participating in many activities before the children were born; being present at the birth or visiting shortly after; spending time caring for their children; engaging in caregiving activities such as diapering, putting children to bed, and dressing their children. Fathers who accompanied mothers on a prenatal visit were found to be more likely to engage in father-child activities later. Videotapes of structured father-child interactions when the children were 6 and 14 months old showed fathers were positive in affect, flexible, and rarely intrusive when interacting with their children. Results from the study indicate fathers faced many stressors, but also had many supports. Fathers reported moderate satisfaction with financial and material aspects of their lives, although many reported symptoms of depression. More than half reported high levels of parenting distress at the first and 14-month interviews, and parent-child dysfunctional interaction scores increased over time. Overall, however, fathers reported very positive interpersonal relationships and high support from others for their role as a father. Positive past experiences with their own fathers were associated with more frequent father-child activities. Recommendations for Early Head Start programs are provided. 17 tables, 4 figures, and 32 references.
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