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Intimate Fatherhood: A Sociological Analysis


[...] the fathers she interviewed placed such importance on conversation with children that even sporting activities could be primarily valued for the conversational opportunities afforded. The routine, physical, obligation-based care of babies and young children is not presented to men as an opportunity, let alone a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, to develop intimacy. [...] fathers are never made to regard failure to engage in substantial amounts of routine physical care as a serious loss for themselves.

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									                                     Book Review

Intimate Fatherhood: A Sociological Analysis by Esther Dermott. London: Routledge,
2008, 170 pp.

      In Intimate Fatherhood, sociologist Esther Dermott sets out a new framework for
thinking about men’s parenting. Her aim is to facilitate productive discussion, while
also resolving the gulf between “culture” and “conduct”: that is, contemporary fathers’
aspirations towards substantially greater connectedness with their children, which often
stands in stark contrast to the relatively small measurable increases in behaviour iden-
tified through research.
      In service of these aims, the term “intimate” fatherhood is to be used instead of
“new” or “involved” fatherhood. “New” fatherhood Dermott regards as a “messy” cat-
egorization that “requires continual re-evaluation” and comprises a “mixed bag of be-
haviours from changing nappies to not living with children.” Although this reviewer has
never in fact seen “new fatherhood” used to refer to non-resident fatherhood, the term
is clearly indistinct and troublesome, relying as it does on temporal schema. “Involved”
is also problematic. From Lamb and Oppenheim (1989) this has implied (and often
been measured as) men’s participation in childcare. However, since “good” fatherhood
is clearly something more than this, attempts at redefining “involvement” have been
made periodically – to include the cognitive elements of fatherhood, for example, and
even financial provisioning. Dermott’s attempt builds on this trend to define the es-
sential nature of contemporary fatherhood.
      Why choose the term “intimate” to describe men’s involvement with their chil-
dren and its affective nature? Sociologists have recently carefully explored the con-
cept. Beck’s Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity (published in German in 1986
and in English in 1992) and followed rapidly by, for example, Giddens’ The Transfor-
mation of Intimacy: Love, Sexuality and Eroticism in Modern Societies (1992) tell a
“new story of the nature and significance of intimacy” (Jamieson, 1998) in a post-mod-
ern world.
      Duty and instrumentality in close relationships are being eschewed (claim Beck &
Giddens) in favour of the “pure” or “good” relationship, the hallmarks of which are
“closeness” and being “special” to another person. The mechanisms by which this is
achieved are primarily verbal: speaking and listening, disclosure and self-disclosure.
The “interiority” of relationships is fore-grounded untarnished by social conventions,

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