The perceptions and practices associated with fathering are
changing rapidly in India. Traditional Indian notions endorsed the
father s role as a provider, protector, teacher, and moral guardian to
children (Kane, 1974; Krishnan, 1998). Within the patriarchal family
system in India, everyday care of young children remained primarily the
mother's responsibility. Fathers maintained a distant,
authoritative role, rather than an affective one (Kakar, 1981). After
revisiting earlier writings, Roopnaraine and Suppal (2003) conclude that
Indian fathers are more centrally involved and capable of responding to
children than previously asserted. With more middle-class women entering
the workforce and the Indian constitution and worldwide media promoting
gender equality, the demand for a man who has the knowledge, attitude,
and skills to share co-parenting responsibilities is growing in
dual-earner families (Bharat, 2002; Datta & Maheshwari, 1997;
Rajadhyaksha & Smita, 2004). Children and women now have higher
expectations of men in terms of warmth, care, understanding, and
support; and many fathers also endorse the importance of these traits
(Kumari, 2008; Sriram, Karnik, & Ali, 2002).
Beginning in the mid-1990s, the changing roles for men made their
way into popular magazines with such articles as "Can Fathers Be
Better Mothers?" or "A Father's Touch" that describe
how supportive spouses and fathers can promote children's
achievement, self-confidence, professional values, and more (Bhatia,
1996; Parsuram, 1996). Due to changing socialization processes, the
child has emerged as a focal point in parents' lives. Parents,
particularly in the middle class, are extremely concerned about ensuring
a successful and secure future for their children, with an eye toward
upward mobility in a globally competitive society. They are extremely
conscious of their parental role to ensure the best for their children
(Datta, 2007; Gore, 2003; Sinha, 2003; Sriram, 2003). Therefore, there
is much pressure and demand on positive participation of men/fathers in
all aspects of family life.
This article presents an overview of the nature and extent of
fathers' involvement in their children's lives in middle-class
families, drawing from published work and integration of presentations
and graduate research projects. It further highlights a few voluntary
initiatives undertaken to promote fathers' involvement, in the
absence of strong policy directives or large-scale programs for father
involvement. The article concludes with practical suggestions for
teachers and practitioners to promote father involvement in the school
system in multiple ways.
ROLE OF FATHERS IN INDIA: RESEARCH REPORTS
Fatherhood and fathering as an area of research has just begun to
receive attention. Results from available studies have been reported in
terms of fatherhood ideals, the nature and extent of father involvement,
and difficulties and barriers faced by fathers.
Most fathers in the urban contexts of western India (Mumbai,
Baroda, and Jaipur) today expect an ideal father to be aware of and
address their children's needs, and to be a friend, teacher, and
guide to their children (Saraff & Srivastava, 2008). In addition,
fathers think it is their duty to create a conducive environment for
their children's growth, address their children's health
needs, support both present and future security of their children, and
maintain healthy loving and close relationships with their children.
Research studies with Indian fathers report a host of positive fathering
ideals, such as guiding children's education, becoming more open
and expressive, adopting less strict discipline measures, assigning more
importance to children and to their fathering role, prioritizing
communication with their children, and engaging children in
extracurricular activities (Mathur & Mathur, 2006; Sandhu, 2008;
Sriram, 2003, 2008).
The Nature and Extent of Involvement
Research studies in India indicate that fathers are participating
in children's lives in many ways, and are far from being
uninvolved. In a sample of 120 middle-class fathers of 8- to 14-year-old
children, Sandhu (2008) reported that 64.2% showed moderate levels of
involvement with their children across various domains, 18.3% showed
high involvement, and 17.5% showed low involvement. They obtained the
highest mean as a provider (M = 3.19 on a scale of 4), being most
involved in saving and planning for their children's education and
future. They were highly involved in guiding and mentoring children (M =
3.16), wanting to protect their children from developing bad habits and
help them become good human beings. Fathers provided practical and
emotional support (M = 3.10), mainly to ease stress and pressure for
their children and solve everyday problems. The lowest involvement score
(M = 4.27) was found in availability and shared activities, although
about two-thirds attended school events and meetings and watched some
television programs with children in order to guide them during viewing.
Only one in four read to their children or had outdoor time with their
children. Mothers' involvement scores were a little higher than
fathers in all domains, except in terms of planning and providing for
children. There was positive correlation between fathers' and
Kumari's (2008) study shows that fathers inspired
children's performance, and children acknowledged the high level of
fathers' contributions, especially in the areas of positive
emotional responsiveness and providing and planning for meeting their
needs and wishes. A study conducted by Mathur and Mathur (2006) report
that adolescent children rated fathers high on such factors as being
protective, loving, and using symbolic rewards; moderate on use of
symbolic punishment, demands, and object rewards; and low on neglect,
indifference, and rejection. These ratings indicate a shift toward
friendliness in fathers. In addition, a study of adult professional
women indicated that fathers support their children's education and
career choice (Ahluwalia, 2009). Sriram, Karnik, and All (2002), in
their sample of urban, dual-earner households, observed the most changes
in the father's role as an educator in terms of beliefs and
behaviors in comparison to their own fathers. Based on a series of
studies on middle-class fathers with 6- to 8-year-old children, Sriram
(2003, 2008) found that fathers' participation in daily caregiving
was done more out of necessity rather than choice, and is more frequent
when the mother was not available. Fathers were also less involved in
such daily tasks as dropping off and picking up children from school and
other places or supervising homework.
Satisfaction, Difficulties, and Barriers
Across studies conducted in the city of Baroda, fathers reported
that their participation in their children's lives led to their
children's success, made fathers happy, and positively impacted
their own self-esteem and pride (Sriram, 2008). While reflecting on
their involvement, about 40% of fathers wished to be involved even more
to support teaching and extracurricular activities, and about 35%
desired more communication with the child (Sandhu, 2008).
According to Datta (2007), fathers are also overextending
themselves through a desire to provide more opportunities and ensure a
secure educational and financial future for their children. This limits
their actual participation in the family. An AC Nielsen survey revealed
that about 74% of men did not want work to be all-consuming, and 50%
craved more time with family (cited in Datta, 2007). As reported by
Sriram (2008), however, about 70% of fathers talked of obstacles
preventing their ideals from being realized. Eighty percent faced
difficulties in fulfilling children's physical and psychological
needs, as well as in creating a conducive environment for
children's optimal growth (50%), inculcating good values and habits
in children (35%), and providing guidance for the future while helping
their children become independent (40%). The most obvious factor was the
conflict between the traditional orientation of fathers (i.e., that of
automatically having power and complete authority in family matters and
over children) and the current demands compelling fathers to become more
of a friend with their children.
Men also experienced more conflict between their job and their
spousal roles (Rajadhyaksha & Smita, 2004). Sixty-two percent of
fathers felt guilty and frustrated when they were unable to be present
during illness or emergencies, spend enough time with children, provide
for needs of their children, or make correct decisions. Both fathers and
mothers report lack of time, work pressure, family role demands, lack of
skills, and an unsuitable temperament as personal and practical barriers
to their involvement, and thus feel guilty about being unable to
participate fully in their children's lives (Sriram, 2008).
Sriram's (2004) survey with staff of child care and educational
institutions also reinforced these barriers. The staff suggested ideas
for enhancing paternal involvement, such as holding meetings and
workshops for fathers, mothers, and staff (45%); appreciating and
recognizing fathers' efforts (25%); and providing individual
PROGRAMS To SUPPORT FATHERS' PARTICIPATION IN CHILDREN'S
In India, social services have been developed to ensure the
survival, health, nutrition, education, and optimal development of
children. There is a focus in recent times on seeking male partnership
to ensure reproductive health and prevent child marriage or violence
against women (International Council for Research on Women, Deepak
Charitable Trust, Men Against Violence, OXFAM) (Gujarat, personal
communications, 2005-2008; Engle, 1997). Other initiatives focus on
redefining issues of masculinity though films; dialogues (Aakar, 2005);
literature, such as "A Little Book on Men" (Roy, Chaterjee,
& Dastaur, 2007); and community involvement efforts in child care
and education. Workshops (sample titles include "Gender and the
Care Regime," organized by Indian Social Sciences Trust and Unicef
, and "Fathers and Families--Responsibilities and
Challenges" , organized on the International Day of Families
at New Delhi in 2008) highlighted responsible fatherhood and the role of
men in care as an objective.
Looking at policy changes, the Fifth Pay Commission in 1997
increased the amount of maternity leave from 90 days to 135 days while
introducing 15 days of paternity leave for male central government
employees, teachers of private schools, and university employees. It is
offered with full pay, to be taken at the birth of a child (for up to
two children), and can be combined with any other kind of leave; it
cannot be denied under normal circumstances ("HC Allows Paternity
Leave," 2009; "Maternity Leave Extended," 2004; Sharma,
2007). Many multinational and local private companies offer 3-15 days of
leave with full pay for a new father when a child is born (Majmudar,
n.d.; "Paternity Leave," 2009). How many use the leave is not
COLLABORATIVE EFFORTS BETWEEN UNIVERSITIES, SCHOOLS,
NONGOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS (NGOs), AND THE CORPORATE SECTOR
The author is involved in a network of child care providers called
"Shishu Palak Vrund" (SPV), which was started under the Alumni
Association of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies,
Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. Since 2005, it has been
implementing paternal involvement programs for parents and teachers,
organized in collaboration with local schools. A few of the programs
have been organized through the community welfare unit of the local
corporate sector. Programs for frontline workers and grandparents are
carried out through NGOs focusing on the elderly. The focus has been to
seek partnerships between fathers and teachers to promote their
Discussions also highlight the personal, familial, and social
barriers that prevent fathers' involvement, and consider what
everyone can do to remove these obstacles and move toward positive
Awareness Programs for Parents and Grandparents
About 10 different father involvement programs have been organized
in the last several years through local schools and preschools,
industries, and NGOs. These programs have reached out to more than 2,000
parents. Each of the program sessions begins with a dialogue about the
need for and importance of father involvement from multiple
perspectives. The program planners invite religious/spiritual scholars
to share their views and involved fathers to share their reflections,
and the planners present information from research. Opportunities also
exist for sharing participants' experiences and queries, as well as
ways to improve the nature and quality of father-child interactions and
develop an effective parenting partnership between mothers and fathers.
Training Workshops for Preschool Teachers, Teacher Trainees, and
Such programs begin with understanding participants'
perspectives about father involvement through group work and exercises,
followed by interactive presentations highlighting the role of fathers
and the multiple ways in which they can be involved in children's
daily lives. Trainees proceed through a process of critical
self-evaluation of their own programs to assess the level of father
friendliness. Discussions are carried out to highlight the variety of
approaches to encourage fathers to participate in children's lives.
Training Workshops for Frontline Workers of Health and Education
These programs are carried out in partnership with local
nongovernmental organizations that run preschools or integrated programs
reaching out to poor children and families in both urban and rural
communities. The content of the program is similar to those for
teachers, but conducted in the vernacular and filled with such
innovative strategies as drama, stories, and songs to highlight the role
of fathers' involvement.
Preparation and Distribution of Materials
All programs provide participants with different types of
materials, such as a brochure titled "I Am an Involved
Father," which combines research evidence and practical suggestions
for fathers' involvement. A checklist is developed to assess
"father friendliness" within one's institution. We are
attempting to create some songs and stories for children thorough
participatory methods, which may project the image of an involved
father, so that they can be edited and published for use with teachers
PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONS FOR PROMOTING FATHER INVOLVEMENT
The school system plays an important role, and teachers and
practitioners are important partners in encouraging and supporting
fathers to be positively involved with their children. We provide some
general strategies that have emerged from discussions with teachers and
Maintain Active Communication With Fathers
* Ask children to get the homework diary signed by the father; tell
the child to inform the father about everyday activities and get his
feedback; obtain answers from fathers for specific queries regarding the
child for school records.
* Plan parent meetings when most fathers are available to attend
and specifically put both the father's and mother's first and
last names on the invitation; make a special request for the
father's attendance and ask fathers to submit questions or concerns
if they are unable to attend. Arrange some activities only involving
* Consider using technology (e.g., cell phones, e-mail) to improve
information exchange, encourage involvement, or send notes expressing
appreciation for participation. Keep a record of father participation
and recognize fathers who participate.
Classroom Strategies To Encourage Father-Child Activities
* Children can write or narrate what they did with their fathers at
home and outdoors over the week.
* Ask children to keep separate records of what they learned from
their fathers and mothers on a weekly basis, and to bring
stories/episodes from when their fathers were children. Give a debate or
discussion topic related to fathering issues, for which they need to
consult their parents.
* Ask children to do a project with the support exclusively coming
from their fathers or other males in the family. If fathers live outside
the home, encourage children to consult them over phone, e-mail, etc.
* Involve fathers in organizing picnics or field trips or to visit
the classroom to talk about their profession or area of work.
* Organize activities that are directed exclusively at fathers and
children, like dances, sports events, or cooking a meal together, to
encourage fathers' participation.
Workshops and Information Support
* Discuss barriers faced by fathers and offer practical tips to
mothers and fathers for balancing work with family.
* Help mothers to recognize, and curb, their own maternal
* Disseminate brochures, articles, and assessment tools, such as
"What kind of or how involved a father are you?," to generate
questions and discussion. One could even collect stories of involved
fathers and the benefits to children and families.
Use these workshops as a platform to help parents understand the
child's perspective and his needs, and avoid unrealistic
expectations and putting too much pressure on children to achieve.
Socialize Children to GenderNeutral Roles and Activities
* Help children to carry out experiments exploring
the idea of "feminine activities." * Ask children to
write short essays on such topics as "How is my father different
from my grandfather?" or "How will I be when I become a
father?" This activity may help them understand the changing
demands of fathering over time.
* Expose children to a worldview of gender equity in family/social
life and parenting, through appropriate literature, audio-visual
programs, and good role models in everyday experiences.
Due to changing social conditions, both the desire and demand for
father involvement is high in Indian society. Indian fathers, the
majority of whom are moderately involved, can play a key role in
ensuring the healthy development of their children by increasing their
involvement in the right direction. Educational institutions and
practitioners can play a crucial role in actively supporting and
encouraging fathers' involvement, because their voices are
respected in the community and they can reach out to a large number of
people. Since fathers in India have the power to make decisions in the
family, society and schools can seek partnerships with them to advocate
for the well-being of the nation's children and involve them in
ensuring a gender-equitable and democratic family life.
Aakar. (2005). Exploring masculinities. A South Asian travelling
seminar. Retrieved February 7, 2010, from
Ahluwalia, T. (2009). Fathers' involvement in daughters'
life and career choices. Unpublished master's dissertation,
Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Maharaja Sayajirao
University of Baroda, Baroda.
Bharat, S. (2002). Women, work and family in urban India: Towards
new families? In J. W. Berry, R. C. Mishra, & R. C. Tripathi (Eds.),
Psychology in human and social development (pp. 155-169). New Delhi:
Bhatia, R. (1996, March 8). Can fathers be better mothers? Femina,
Datta, D. (2007). Overstretched dads. India Today, XXXII(23),
Datta, V., & Maheshwari, P. (1997). Working parents and family
life in Mumbai. Mumbai: Tat Institute of Social Sciences (mimeo).
Engle, P. L. (1997). The role of men in families: Achieving gender
equity and supporting children. Gender and Development, 5(2), 31-40.
Gore, M. S. (2003). Keynote address. In R. Bhatti, M. Varghese, A.
Raghuram (Eds.), Changing marital and family systems: Challenges to
conventional models of mental health (pp. 1-6). Bangalore: National
Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences.
HC allows paternity leave in private schools. (2009, September 2).
Times of India. Retrieved on January 30, 2010, from
Kakar, S. (1981). The inner world: A psychoanalytic study of
childhood and society in India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Kane, P. V. (1974). History of Dharmasastra. Ancient and medieval
religious and civil law (2nd ed., Vol. 2). Poona: Bhandarkar Institute
Krishnan, L. (1998). Childrearing: The Indian perspective. In A. K.
Shrivastava (Ed.), Child development: The Indian perspective. New Delhi:
Kumari, A. (2008). Father involvement: As children view it.
Unpublished Master's Dissertation, Department of Human Development
and Family studies, Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Baroda.
Majmudar, D. (n.d.). Paternity leave as applicable. Eden City Group
of Companies. Retrieved January 31, 2010, from
Maternity leave extended. (2004, December 1). The Hindu. Retrieved
January 30, 2010, from
Mathur, M., & Mathur, M. (2006). Between fathers and children:
Experiences and expectation of Indian adolescents. Unpublished
master's dissertation, Department of Human Development, University
of Rajasthan, Jaipur.
Parsuram, A. (1996, November). A father's touch. Parenting,
Paternity leave, a boon for new dads. (2009, February 26). Deccan
Chronicle. Retrieved January 31, 2010, from
Rajadhyaksha, U., & Smita, S. (2004). Tracing a timeline for
work and family research in India. Economic and Political Weekly,
Roopnarine, J., & Suppal, P. (2003). Kakar's
psychoanalytic interpretation of childhood: The need to emphasize the
father and multiple caregivers in the socialization equation. In D.
Sharma (Ed.), Childhood, family and socio-cultural change in India:
Reinterpreting the inner world (pp. 115-137). New Delhi: Oxford.
Roy, R., Chaterjee, A., & Dastaur, S. (2007). A little book on
men. New Delhi: Yoda Press.
Sandhu, G. (2008). Father involvement in supporting children's
achievement in the context of co-parenting. Unpublished master's
dissertation, Department of Human Development and Family studies,
Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Baroda.
Saraff, A., & Srivastava, H. (2008). Envisioning fatherhood:
Indian fathers' perceptions of an ideal father. Population Review,
47(1). Retrieved January 20, 2010, from
Sharma, A. (2007). In a first, Mumbai cop takes paternity leave.
The Times of India. Retrieved Januaray 30, 2010, from
Sinha, D. (2003). Some changes in Indian family in the context of
development and their psychological implications. In R. Bhatti, M.
Varghese, & A. Raghuram (Eds.), Changing marital and family systems:
Challenges to conventional models of mental health (pp. 7-20).
Bangalore: National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences.
Sriram, R. (2003). Subjective experiences of fatherhood and
motherhood: Realities and Reflections. Unpublished doctoral
dissertation, Department of Human Development and Family Studies,
Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Baroda.
Sriram, R. (2004). Father involvement: View from institutions
(unpublished research paper). Department of Human Development and Family
Studies, Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda.
Sriram, R. (2008, August). Evidence of change and continuity in
fathering: The case of western India. Paper presented at Conference on
Resilience and Transformation of Families in Asia, organized by Asia
Research Institute, National University of Singapore.
Sriram, R., Karnik, R., & Ali, R. (2002). Social construction
of fatherhood and motherhood: A view from within families (Research
Report) [Mimeo]. Baroda: Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda,
Women's Studies Research Centre.
Rajalakshmi Sriram is Professor, Department of Human Development
and Family Studies, Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Baroda,