Fathers’ narratives of arranging and planning: implications for understanding paternal responsibility

Fathers’ narratives of arranging and planning: implications for understanding paternal responsibility

Jeffrey L. Stueve

This study examines 40 fathers’ narratives of arranging and planning for young children from Midwest and Southwest U.S. samples. Arranging and planning is seen as an aspect of the responsibility component of Lamb, Pleck, Charnov, and Levine’s (1985) widely used three-part conceptualization of paternal involvement. Based on four themes observed, different types of paternal “responsibility identifies” are distinguished: 1) deferred-responsibility identity, 2) conjoint-responsibility identity, 3) mixed deferred/conjoint-responsibility identity, and 4) contextualized solo-responsibility identity. The importance of understanding fathers’ responsibility identity and considerations for future research are discussed.

Key Words: father-child interactions, fathers’ responsibility identity, father involvment


Hi, this is Jane, Michael’s mom from soccer. [Pseudonyms used

throughout.] I was calling to see if I was, or you were, bringing

snacks to the game tomorrow. I can’t remember. If I’m supposed

to be doing snack tomorrow, would you do me a huge favor and

switch with me? I can do it next Saturday. I’m going to be out of

town tomorrow and might not make it back in time for the game.

And I don’t trust my husband to bring them. If you can bring it,

that would be great. I’ll talk to you tonight….

This phone message was received shortly after starting this paper. The father referred to in the message attended every game and most practices, even helping to coach. Yet, according to his wife, he could not be counted on to remember to bring snacks to the next game. This paper examines the aspect of paternal involvement that she is concerned about: responsibility, in Lamb, Pleck, Charnov, and Levine’s (1985) widely used three-part conceptualization of paternal involvement.

The goal of this analysis is to increase understanding of paternal responsibility, the least studied of involvement’s components. In this study, responsibility is interpreted as an aspect of paternal identity. Further, individuals’ stories about their experience are considered, theoretically, to be an especially valuable way to explore identity. Using fathers’ narratives about ways in which they have–or have not–arranged and planned things for their children, we thus seek to identify themes and patterns in how fathers construct responsibility as part of their parental identifies.



While many studies have examined aspects of the first two components, engagement (i.e., direct interaction with the child) and accessibility (i.e., availability to the child), fewer have investigated responsibility. Lamb et al. (1985) defined responsibility as

[T]he role a father takes in making sure that the child is taken

care of and arranging resources to be available to the child. For

example this might involve arranging for babysitters, making

appointments with pediatricians and seeing that the child is taken

to them, determining when the child needs new clothes, etc. (p. 884)

In a review of the literature, Pleck (1997) reported that fathers’ average share of responsibility is substantially lower than mothers’ (Leslie, Anderson, & Branson, 1991; McBride & Mills, 1993; Peterson & Gerson, 1992) and lower than fathers’ share of engagement or accessibility (McBride & Mills, 1993). Recent studies have focused particularly on responsibility for selecting non-parental child-care arrangements (Leslie et al., 1991; Peterson & Gerson, 1992). Research has yet to identify any child-care task for which fathers have primary responsibility. While there is evidence that the disparities between mothers’ and fathers’ activity in engagement and accessibility have decreased over the last three decades (Pleck, 1997), there is less to suggest a similar shift in the responsibility component.

In other important reviews, Parke (1995, 2002) likewise found that fathers are substantially less responsible than mothers for what he terms the managerial tasks of parenting. He defined managerial as referring to “the ways in which parents organize and arrange the child’s home environment and set limits on the range of the home setting to which the child has access and the opportunities for social contact with playmates and socializing agents outside the family” (1995, pp. 29-30). Parke’s managerial role is similar to Lamb et al.’s responsibility component of paternal involvement. Parke emphasized that the managerial role is critical, in that the time children spend outside direct interaction with parents far exceeds the time engaged with parents.

Daly’s (2001) research most closely parallels the current study. Daly examined family scheduling using interviews with 17 Canadian dual-earner couples, all parents of children in a university-based, childcare center. The interviews were analyzed from a perspective that focused on the gender politics of family time. The findings of this study revealed that mothers were the predominant family “scheduler.” Many fathers reported a combination of guilt and relief when recognizing that their partners were largely responsible for arranging and planning their families’ time and activity. Many mothers reported some resentment about having this responsibility, and in general, most families experienced tension at some point due to the gendered nature of family scheduling.

Other family scholarship has also recognized the importance of parents’ arranging and planning. For example, McBride and Mills (1993) developed the Parental Responsibility Scale. Both mother and father respond to items on parenting activities rating who is responsible for them on a 1 to 5 scale (1 = mother always responsible, 5 = father always responsible). Bruce and Fox (1997) include a subscale that assesses what are termed fathers’ executive functions (e.g., “taking measures to insure child’s safety”) in their Paternal Involvement Inventory. Items are rated on a 1 to 4 scale (1 = never or hardly ever, 4 = almost daily). Other related research includes Coltrane’s (1996) examination of childcare (and household) responsibility.

In reviewing this past work, paternal responsibility appears to have a fundamentally different nature than the two other components of paternal involvement. Engagement and accessibility are primarily behavioral. Responsibility does include a behavioral dimension, and indeed the available questionnaire measures for it concern the father’s performance of specific behaviors like “taking measures to insure child’s safety,” yet most of these behaviors may not involve interaction with or availability to the child. Even more important, responsibility connotes something beyond the realm of specific behavior. Pleck and Stueve (2001) argue that responsibility actually encompasses two related but distinct elements: an executive role in organizing and managing arrangements for the child, and performance of “infrastructure” tasks, things that need to be done for the child, but are most often not done with the child, such as arranging doctor visits.

Pleck and Stueve (2001) further propose that this “organizing” (as opposed to “doing”) dimension of responsibility be conceptualized in terms of the symbolic interactionist conception of identity (LaRossa & Reitzes, 1993), that is, as an aspect of the “self-meaning” that fatherhood has to the father.

Interpreted in identity terms, being high on this “executive”

dimension of responsibility means that being a parent holds a

significance to oneself such that one thinks about and arranges for

the things the child needs besides only what one provides oneself,

and especially besides only what one is doing right now. It means

not just acting in the present, but in doing so, anticipating

relevant future circumstances … and remembering past ones…. In

a larger sense, it means having a cognitive and affective schema

that closely links oneself and one’s children [a “big picture”],

within which today’s particulars with one’s child fit, and future

ones are anticipated. (Pleck & Stueve, 2001, p. 219)

In summary, the limited available data indicate that fathers’ participation in arranging and planning is generally low, certainly much lower on average than mothers. Although the responsibility component of paternal involvement is a critical aspect of parenting, it has been the least studied. Finally, responsibility has a fundamentally different quality than the other two components of paternal involvement. Recent theoretical work has suggested that it may be fruitful to conceptualize paternal responsibility as an aspect of paternal identity.


In recent years researchers have increasingly drawn from identity theory in the study of parenthood, especially fatherhood. Within identity theory varying formulations have been developed, including those by Stryker (1980, 1987) and Burke (1991; Burke & Reitzes, 1991). There is general consensus on the definition of identity as self-meanings in a role (LaRossa & Reitzes, 1993). Individuals may have numerous role identities (e.g., caregiver, breadwinner, teacher, planner, etc.) related to a social position such as father. Therefore, role identities are defined as the self-meanings attached to a position and its associated roles (Burke & Tully, 1977; Ihinger-Tallman, Pasley, & Buehler, 1995; see also Marsiglio, 1995, 1998).

Quantitative research on parenting conducted using this framework generally focuses on the overall intensity of parental role identity, employing concepts such as identity salience, commitment, or centrality. Assessing the overall intensity of parental identity clearly provides understanding of one important aspect of parenting’s self-meaning to an individual. However, the quantitative, intensity approach to parental identity does not give much insight into the content of parental self-meanings or the process of constructing self-meanings. The narrative approach to understanding identity fills this gap. The narrative approach offers, both conceptually and methodologically, a way to better understand what parenting means to an individual.

Gergen and Gergen (1997) identified potential strengths of examining identity as a self-narrative. While identity theory’s dominant formulations emphasize how social inputs shape identity, they give less consideration to how individuals actively shape their own self-conception. Humans have the ability to reconstruct self-understanding, an ability expressed in their self-narratives. The narrative approach gives emphasis to individuals as “historically emerging beings” (Gergen & Gergen, 1997, p. 162; see also Gergen & Gergen, 1987). Identity is dependent on being able to relate occurrences across time. One function of identity links past experiences and memories to the present; identity also incorporates anticipation and plans for the future. It is through one’s self-narrative that the past is interpreted and the future anticipated. In this way identity serves to give coherence to one’s life.

McAdams (1988, 1990, 1993) is a leading proponent of the use of a “life story” narrative approach to study identity. McAdams believes that identity can best be thought of as a “life story” that gives meaning and purpose to life. Because identity can be understood as a life story, analyzing the components of the story gives us a way of understanding important aspects of identity. McAdams distinguishes five story components: nuclear episodes (key events), imagoes (idealized role models), ideological settings (the context of personal belief and value), a generativity script (plans for how the story may continue), and thematic lines (recurrent content). Nuclear episodes are of special significance as important indicators of identity. Key meaningful experiences can capture what a person sees as evidence of who he or she is. The idea that narratives of meaningful life experiences are important expressions of identity is central to the research we report here.

In summary, a narrative approach holds great promise for understanding paternal identity. A narrative approach captures the “storied” nature of identity and in doing so allows participants to bring together meaningful memories of the past and anticipations for the future, as well as important ongoing experiences. Since a key aspect of paternal responsibility can be conceptualized in terms of identity, a narrative approach may be particularly valuable in understanding this component of paternal involvement. (For a more extensive discussion of the theoretical perspective that underlies this study, see Pleck & Stueve, in press; Stueve & Pleck, 2001.)


In a prior study of parents of children aged one to six, the Parenting Project, we collected fathers’ and mothers’ narratives of meaningful experiences at different times in their parental experience (Pleck & Stueve, in press; Stueve & Pleck, 2001). Our study also collected stories of meaningful experiences in five domains or areas of parenting, which we formulated as (1) caregiving, (2) promoting development, (3) breadwinning, (4) arranging and planning, and (5) the parent’s relationship with the child. This conceptualization was based on a review of prior analyses of the component roles or domains within parenting (e.g., Bruce & Fox, 1997; Palkovitz, 1997; Small & Eastman, 1991).

This paper investigates in more depth the themes in the arranging and planning narratives generated by fathers in the Parenting Project, as well as in an additional new sample of fathers. In planning the Parenting Project, we had not consciously formulated the arranging and planning domain as the direct analog to the responsibility component of paternal involvement. As we conducted interviews and analyzed fathers’ responses, however, the potential conceptual linkage between the two emerged. In conducting interviews with fathers, the arranging and planning area seemed to have relatively low salience to a substantial number of fathers. Though certainly not true for all fathers, the arranging and planning domain was often a difficult domain for fathers to generate a meaningful narrative. In addition, many fathers were likely to voluntarily share that the child’s mother was generally more responsible for this domain, something the fathers did not report in other domains.

Fathers’ stories in the arranging and planning domain may not capture every aspect of paternal responsibility, viewed as an aspect of fathers’ parental identities. Nonetheless, these narratives may provide important data about how fathers subjectively construct their experience in making plans and monitoring arrangements for their children that the available questionnaire measures of responsibility do not. The research questions investigated in this study, then, are, “What themes are present in fathers’ narratives of meaningful experiences of arranging and planning for their children, and what insight do these themes provide about paternal responsibility as a component of fathers’ parental identities?”



Illinois fathers. The Illinois fathers come from a sample of parents of two- to five-year-old children enrolled in an on-campus laboratory preschool. Both university and community families were represented. All fathers reported on were married. The average age of the 28 fathers was 36.7 years (SD = 6.2), with a mean education level of 18.0 years (SD = 2.2). Average monthly income was $4,846 for fathers (SD = $5,028; minimum $0, maximum $20,000). If parents had more than one child (64.3%), they were asked to complete the instruments with respect to the oldest child in the preschool. Of the 28 target children, 13 (46.4%) were boys and 15 (53.6%) were girls. The children’s average age was 4.3 years (SD = 0.78). Seventeen of the 28 target children were oldest or only children (60.7%). Twenty-three were White (82.1%). Four of the 28 target children were adopted, and three families reported that their children had special needs. The Illinois interviews were conducted in 1999. Fathers each received $20 in compensation for their participation.

New Mexico fathers. The New Mexico fathers are also coupled parents with children under six. They are, however, much less likely to report being married, with only four of the 12 doing so. They were recruited from Native American Pueblos in New Mexico and at a Southwest university. Three of the fathers were students. Six fathers identified themselves as Native American, five fathers identified themselves as Hispanic, and one father reported being Native American and Hispanic. The New Mexican fathers had a mean age of 25.0 (SD = 2.9), with a mean education of 12.8 years (SD = 2.0). The fathers’ monthly income averaged $1,619 (SD = $1,001; minimum $0, maximum $3,500.) Of the 12 target children, five were girls (41.7%) and seven were boys (58.3%). The average age of the children was 2.8 years (SD = 1.57). Eight of the 12 target children were oldest or only children (66.7%). None of the children were adopted or identified as having special needs by parents. The New Mexican fathers, besides being exclusively from minority ethnic backgrounds, were also younger and had lower income and education, on average, than the Illinois fathers. New Mexican fathers were interviewed in 2001, and each received $25 in compensation for their participation. This second sample was added for practical reasons, the location of the researcher, and because of the value of including a group of fathers that are generally understudied. While an extensive analysis on sample differences and similarities was not the focus of this study, there was an interest in seeing if similar themes were present in both samples.


Interviews, using the Parenting Narrative Interview (PNI) were conducted in the fathers’ homes, at their work place, or on campus. Thirty-seven of the 40 interviews were conducted in the fathers’ homes. Males interviewed the fathers, with three exceptions in New Mexico. All interviewers were trained in the use of the PNI. The first author conducted the majority of interviews. Interviews were audiotape-recorded and summary notes were kept. Interviews took from 45 to 90 minutes. Transcripts of the interviews were entered into The Ethnograph software program to aid in coding and analysis (Seidel, 1998). Following the interview parents completed a self-administered questionnaire, the Parenting Questionnaire (PQ). Parents were given the option of having the interviewer assist them with the PQ. In Illinois, parents were given the option of completing the PQs as soon as possible and returning them to the child-care center. Parents were instructed not to talk to their partners about the PNI or PQ until the questionnaires were returned.


The PNI features parents’ personal stories of parenting, with a focus on the parenting of a targeted preschool child. Development of the PNI was guided by a small pilot study with 10 fathers. These initial interviews were loosely structured, and the questions were of a general nature. For example, fathers were asked to share meaningful parenting experiences, but questions were not organized by specific parenting domains. In the pilot study, fathers were encouraged to explore areas of interest and importance to them. These initial interviews, as well as a review of relevant literature, led to the more structured PNI. In addition, because of the number of interviews planned for the present study, and because of its use by multiple interviewers, a fairly structured format was judged to have methodological advantages. Questions were open-ended, but responses were kept to the targeted question, in this case sharing meaningful experiences in arranging and planning for children.

This study focused specifically on the arranging and planning domain, but the PNI has different sections that focus on a variety of aspects of parenting. Meaningful experiences from a variety of periods of parenting were elicited. Questions were asked about becoming a parent, early experiences, recent experiences, and anticipations of future experiences. In addition to arranging and planning, fathers were asked questions about four other parenting domains: caregiving, promoting development, breadwinning, and their relationship with the target child. In the domains section of the interview, fathers were given a show card that described each domain. The arranging and planning domain was described as, “Things like making doctor’s and dentist’s appointments, arranging childcare or transportation for your child, or educational planning.” The last section of the PNI focuses on parenting models and beliefs. Questions about future experiences and plans ended the interview (see Stueve & Waynert, in press, for examples of PNI questions).

Analysis in this study focused on fathers’ responses to the question, “Can you tell me about a meaningful experience related to arranging and planning things for (child’s name)?” Interviewers were guided to encourage fathers to explain their answers and ask follow-up questions. Standard follow-up questions were, “Do you find arranging and planning difficult or easy?” and “What makes arranging and planning easy or difficult for you?” However, the focus of analysis is on fathers’ narratives of their experiences arranging and planning for the target child. The earlier pilot study, as well as much of the literature on fathering and parenting, made it clear that focusing on how fathers represented the mothers of their children in parenting narratives would be worth pursuing.


Three predominant themes emerged from the arranging and planning sections of the interviews: (1) Joint, (2) Defer/Default/Depend (on the Mother), and (3) Solo or Lead. Several narratives combined themes of Defer/Default/Depend with Joint and were coded as a fourth category, Mixed. Fathers shared about an equal number of Joint and Defer/Default/Depend narratives. There were relatively fewer Solo or Lead narratives. The proportions based on the two different samples of fathers were remarkably similar (see Table 1).

The three predominant categories, (1) Joint, (2) Defer/Default/Depend, and (3) Solo or Lead, emerged from following themes that we had explored in previous studies. These themes include co- or solo- “parenting voices” and conjointness of partnered parents’ parental identity (Pleck & Stueve, in press; Stueve & Pleck, 2001). The first author developed the four coding categories (the fourth being the Mixed category) and coded the 40 Arranging and Planning narratives. A research assistant then independently coded the 40 fathers’ Arranging and Planning narratives using these four codes. There was agreement on 36 of the interviews. The first author made final coding decisions on the other four, taking into consideration the assistant’s comments. Disagreement focused on whether the predominant theme of a narrative was Mixed or not.


In a Joint narrative, the father tells of experience that is jointly shared with the mother of the child. An Illinois father shared the following. In this narrative he even explicitly mentions the joint nature of arranging and planning experience from his perspective.

Most of the meaningful experiences have been related to my wife,

because the two of us tend to do all that together. She does most of

the medical planning and, umm, we tend to work around her

schedule ’cause mine tends to be much more flexible. But it’s just

been nice. It really makes a marriage a partnership when you got

someone like I do to work with. It also makes life a lot easier….

We do them all together. There is no one specific area, you know,

like I said, the only place that we tend not to discuss more

together on is the medical end of it. She is a healthcare

professional, and I bow to her on that score. Everything else is

discussed, and it’s all joint. You know, sometimes one of us will

plan something; sometimes another will. It just depends on how it

goes, but because we have such a varied schedule and complicated

schedules, we tend to have to keep in very close touch and plan

things together. (a 39-year-old father, White, with a 5 1/2-year-old

son as the target child)

Another father, a White Illinois father, 38, also shared a Joint narrative. It illustrates the importance of joint planning to this father. Job flexibility was a key factor in carrying out the arrangements that the couple had planned.

I can’t think of anything specific, but in general my wife and I

talk about it virtually every night, who is going to pick him up the

next day, whether she’s got a meeting after school, or whether I’ve

got to be out of town to look at another job for an estimate, things

like that. We decide just about each and every night exactly what’s

gonna happen the next day. And usually on Sunday or like today,

when Monday is a vacation day, at the end of it, we’ll go over the

whole week in general you know … which days … and then it’ll be

just like a reminder each night who’s gonna take care of him,

who’s gonna pick him up, who’s gonna take him to the doctor. I

mean … more often than not I do, because I don’t have to ask

anybody for the time off. But sometimes I have deadlines that I’m

supposed to meet, too. And if we get close to them, and I really

need to work, then she’ll take off, sick days, to take him or to

stay home with him, whichever the case is.

But most important for this father was that he and his wife had a shared vision regarding arranged and planned things for their child.

It’s fairly easy, because my wife and I see it as, in the same way.

We put the same value on it. So it’s not like one of is doing it and

trying to get the other one involved. We feel about it very

strongly, and all the childrearing, very much the same way.

The following father focused on educational plans for his one-year-old daughter. Probably not coincidently, he was going to be graduating with a university degree the following semester, and his girlfriend, the mother of his daughter, was attending a community college.

Um, probably education. Right now we’re looking at the long term

of how she’s going to maybe work for her degree, when she gets

older, in 18 years…. We’re already talking about saving up

money. You know, planning, investing.

He, too, noted the benefit of having a flexible schedule since he was a full-time student.

Um, it’s pretty basically easy, yeah. You know certain things have

to be done. We can, we have that, because we have no connection

to work. We have that free time to go about our business with her.

If she needs a doctor’s appointment, if she needs to go somewhere,

we have that availability. (a 22-year-old Native American father

with a one-year-old daughter)


The next category includes narratives in which, the father reports deferring to, defaulting to, or depending on the mother in the arranging and planning parenting domain. Several fathers used these specific words to describe their arranging and planning experiences, something that was not true for narratives in the other parenting domains. The next father shared the following, after he had shared experience in caregiving and breadwinning domains.

Well, here we’re getting into the definite gender differences. Here

my wife does that stuff, I must admit. I think I’m a pretty good

father in the sense that I try to help with all aspects of the

childrearing, but for some reason this area maybe I by default have

let my wife take care of, and she seems willing to take care of it.

But I will say that, every now and then, I will say that I, I do,

um, help with two things…. One, I take my son to childcare every

day, basically because it is at the university, and I’m going there

anyway. And I pick him up, and I help get my daughter off to school

in the morning.

… If it was up to me, I would have to learn how to do that

(arranging and planning)…. And educational planning, she is always

on top of when we are suppose to register for kindergarten, and I

just have not. She has done it, and I think I have just gotten in

the mode now that I just assume that she will take care of it. And

it would be a huge problem if she ever decided not to (laughs). The

kids would probably not be enrolled in school. (a 28-year-old

White father with a three-year-old daughter as the target child)

One noticeable response from several fathers to the question about a meaningful arranging and planning experience was an extended pause. The following father paused before responding:

Um, my wife is usually the one who makes the doctor’s appointments.

I take him to the doctor’s sometimes, and he talks to the

doctors, and he’s real nice to the doctor.

It was clear that he perceived that he depended on his wife, because when asked what makes arranging and planning difficult, he responded:

When my wife goes to work. (a 28-year-old Hispanic father with a

two-year-old son as the target child)

Another father couldn’t think of a meaningful arranging and planning experience.

… No. The only time–I only do what I’m told. She arranges it,

and I might transport, or I might babysit, while she takes another

appointment; maybe our son has to go to the dentist or something.

But, other than that, I really don’t have a problem. Because like I

said, I’m flexible in my schedule, so if she needs help in arranging

and planning, she tells me more than 24 hours in advance, and I

can arrange my personal arrangement to fit her arrangements for

the children…. I defer to her arranging and planning, and then I

arrange and plan to coordinate. (a 32-year-old White father with a

three-year-old son)

The following father had much to say about depending on his wife for arranging and planning for his four-year-old daughter.

Gosh! You know I’m not … this is one area where I’m not nearly as

involved, especially now that Sandi is staying home; most of these

things happen during the day. I do take my daughter to school and

back when she has daycare. And that’s kinda nice to have that time

with her. But this is certainly an area where I do less. In the

beginning I went to lot of doctor’s appointments. We had to go to

the hospital where she was born to follow up on some preemie tests.

And luckily she’s had no problems based on her preemie experience.

When she was born she was like 1 lb. 12 oz. In the beginning

I sort of went to everything. Now that we have three kids, and it’s

been four years … 4 1/2 years, I’ve slacked off a lot…. I’ll

come home for lunch and take her to daycare, and we often share a

dessert, like a cookie, and we’ll share it…. But I have a hard

time … you know for childcare. I don’t have a good sense for what

a good childcare situation is. I don’t have a good sense for, if

she’s coughing, or if she’s feeling sick, you know, when do you call

the doctor? And this is an area where Sandi is particularly strong

so I tend to defer to her, because I can. And so I get worse at

it…. I appreciate it. I don’t know if she gets frustrated with it,

but I certainly appreciate it. Our daughter didn’t like her daycare

at one point. And Sandi was really freaked out by it. And I, you

know, just basically sat back and watched her deal with it. I

offered support, but I didn’t do any of the calling around to

daycare centers and so forth to find the best thing. Of course this

is her area, daycare. (a White adoptive father, 35, with

African-American children)

Finally, an example illustrates a father who clearly saw himself depending on his wife.

I kind of see that this whole area for me and the kids goes over to

my wife. I’m terrible at arranging and planning. I can barely do it

in my professional life. These examples, these are things my wife

had taken over with my blessings. I’m just not very good at it. (a

33-year-old White father with a four-year-old target son)


Mixed narratives have aspects of both Joint and Defer/Default/Depend narratives. The following is an example of how a father’s response may include a combination of themes.

Oh, well educational planning, that’s the thing we are both

involved in. Me and my wife, um, we really try to get the best

affordable education we can get for our child. With doctor and

dentist appointments, that’s a little more my wife’s role, because

she’s home more than I am. So I’m the one who comes (home) at

6 o’clock, and basically learns about things from the day from my

wife and child. So my wife makes most decisions regarding doctors’

appointments. (a 28-year-old Polish father with a three-year-old

daughter as the target child)

Another father went into a lengthy discussion about how his wife and he dealt with decisions related to his daughter’s developmental delays. He concluded his arranging and planning narrative in a way that suggested that in some contexts he was a planning partner with his wife, but in others, he relied on his wife.

So, we’ve done a lot of visiting schools and visiting preschools to

figure out what would be best the best fit for her. So, we spent a

fair amount of time doing that. To be quite honest, my wife is

much better at the planning and arranging than I am, and so she

lays the groundwork, but we do a lot of talking about it. (a

40-year-old White father with a four-year-old daughter who has

special developmental needs)


There were significantly fewer narratives in which fathers described meaningful arranging and planning experiences from a solo-parenting perspective. A stay-athome father shared the following experience in which he describes an arrangement that he made. While the motive was arranging a break for himself, it involved arranging things for his daughter and had implications for her.

Um, hmm … one nice arrangement that I had in terms of helping

me get some time to myself was to switch one day a week with

another mother who had a child exactly the same age. She was from

the same center as ours. This was more of an issue of convenience

at first. But it grew and we did that for a year and a half. And

they got to see each other twice a week, and they got to be good

friends, and I got to be good friends with the mom and dad. We all

did. (a Hispanic Illinois father, 32, with a four-year-old


Though clearly in the minority of the fathers interviewed, a young Hispanic New Mexican father, 21, said that he took the lead in arranging and planning. Though only 21, he had graduated from business school and was working for a large insurance company. The target child was a 16-month-old boy, but he also had a four-year-old stepdaughter. He explained the lead role he saw himself playing as attributable to his business sense and work experience.

Yeah. I do that; we do that a lot. And a lot of that is because of

my job. Um, I specifically deal with education planning, retirement

planning, investment and insurance planning. So a lot of the stuff

that I work with other people I can apply to my own family. We’re

going to do investment funds for the kids, us, for our future. As

far as doctors’ and dentists’ appointments, um, I know usually the

norm is for the wife to do all that; I’m usually more responsible as

far as planning than Sarah is. Sarah, she forgets dates, she forgets

amounts, she forgets the checkbook. She forgets a lot of things.

Whereas me, and I think it’s because I have a business degree, I

don’t know what it is. I’m “business sensed.” I always have dates

right. I can remember the amount on a check stub from two months

ago. I just have a real good business sense as far as conducting

business appointment setting. A lot of those things are in my

business. It’s just natural I do that. Now she usually takes

them [to appointments]. But I’m usually the one that does it,

that makes it.

When asked if he found arranging and planning difficult or easy:

Easy. Very easy. I think it’s because of my background. I think it’s

more difficult for Sarah because she’s got a lot going through her

head. Sometimes a doctor’s visit isn’t on the top of her list.

Whereas me, it is.

The narrative of another father, a 26-year-old Native American, was coded as Solo. His son was a one-year-old, but he was already planning for his dancing outfit for native ceremonies.

Meaningful stuff? Oh, yeah, it’s like, in another way I want him to

be adapted with our articles. I want him to like that. And I want

to, because I want to get his, I want to get his dancing stuff, I

want to get him fitted for that, so that’s the arrangement I want

to make. So he won’t be left out of anything. You have to find the

right stuff to fit your child. Like, if I get him this, you know,

is he going to use it? Or is later on, you know, is he going to be

fit for that too, you know?

Though coded as Solo, it is important to note the narrow focus of the meaningful experience. In his interview, it was not apparent that any other aspect of arranging and planning was meaningful to him.


These narratives indicate some of the range of the fathers’ descriptions of meaningful arranging and planning experiences. These narratives suggest that fathers have varied identities in this parenting domain. A large majority of the narratives fell into two distinctive themes. In the first, fathers told of meaningful experiences that were shared with the mother of the child. These were coded as Joint. The second predominant theme was of fathers relying on mothers to arrange and plan; that is, fathers often referred to deferring to, depending on, or defaulting to mothers. The participants were about equally likely to share a narrative of arranging and planning experience that reflected either theme. There were also a number of fathers who combined these two themes in their narratives.


While the specific content areas of the narratives are not the focus of this analysis, it is worth noting some similarities and differences between the two samples of fathers. There was considerable overlap between the two samples of fathers, particularly related to issues of education and childcare, and especially transporting children to childcare and educational settings. Often these narratives were not so much about arranging and planning care for the child as carrying out the transporting of children. Fathers who were transporters generally found this to be an important part of their day.

But there were also differences. While narrative content about transportation was included by many of the fathers from both Illinois and New Mexico, several New Mexican fathers raised issues related to having a means of transportation. This seems to be related to the lower income of these fathers and because of the much larger distances families need to travel in New Mexico, particularly families in the rural Pueblos. An example of a difference in the narrative content related to culture is that two of the eight Native American fathers focused on planning to pass traditional ceremonial experiences to their children. In both cases, the target child was a boy. One of these narratives was shared in the Solo or Lead Arranging and Planning Narratives section.


We perceive the narratives analyzed in this study as reflecting important aspects of paternal identity in arranging and planning for children. These narratives help us to better understand the ways fathers view themselves in this specific parenting domain. Though not explicitly prompted in the interview, these partnered fathers’ responses indicate that their arranging and planning identity is strongly influenced by their relationship with the mothers of their children. While these narratives focus on descriptions of meaningful experience, we believe that from an identity perspective we can gain insight into cognition and affect, as well as behavior, by what respondents choose to describe as meaningful and how they narrate the experience. In this section we first consider limitations of the study. Next, we consider implications of our findings in relationship to the responsibility component of paternal involvement. Finally, we focus attention on the importance of better understanding fathers’ involvement in arranging and planning for their children.

The fathers who participated in this study are obviously not representative of all fathers, nor was that the intent of this study. It is good to keep in mind the fathering context of these narratives. These fathers lived with the mothers of their children, and most were married. The young age of the children likely strongly influenced the fathers’ narratives. Another limitation is related to the language of the interviews. Interviews were conducted in English, and for several fathers, a higher proportion in New Mexico, English was not their first language. We judged that the value of including ethnic minority fathers in this study made up for this limitation. A final point is not so much a limitation as a reminder, that while the narratives focus on meaningful experiences, we see these narratives as reflective of fathers’ identity, as much or more so than their overall arranging and planning behavior. It would be taking findings from this study too far to make reliable assessments of the daily arranging and planning behavior of the fathers.

Nonetheless, these results provide some insight into how partnered fathers construct responsibility as an aspect of their parental identities in a range of socioeconomic and cultural contexts. In analyzing fathers’ reports of experiences in arranging and planning things for their children, our analysis focused on the degree and kind of responsibility fathers reported taking for activities, rather than on the kind of activities. This is consistent with Lamb et al.’s (1985) conceptualization of responsibility, and indeed, the variation we observed in fathers’ narratives concerned the former rather than the latter. Many fathers describe arranging and planning as a domain in which they simply defer to, default to, or depend on the mothers of their children. In many fathers’ narratives, deferral is the only codable theme. For other fathers, deferral co-occurs with descriptions of arranging and planning as a joint responsibility, in which the roles of the two parents are not distinguished. The relatively high frequency of deferral, alone or combined with a conjointness theme, is consistent with prior theory and research suggesting that fathers are relatively low in the responsibility component of paternal involvement. None of these partnered fathers described the mothers of their children acting as gatekeepers who kept them from arranging and planning for their children.

Slightly more frequent than deferral of responsibility to the mother is the theme of responsibility as conjoint. Conjointness was often evident as the only codable theme in fathers’ narratives. Fathers’ narratives often alluded to factors that facilitated joint responsibility such as the couple allowing each other mutual flexibility so that each could make a contribution; mother and father holding a shared “vision”; and being planful and “keeping in touch” with each other. In several Joint narratives fathers mentioned the importance of job or school flexibility in allowing them to work with mothers in arranging and planning for their children. However, conjointness could occur in combination with deferral as well. We make no assumption, of course, that the conjointness expressed in these narratives meant that these fathers truly had a level of responsibility comparable to their partners’. Our narrative data reveal only how fathers experience their paternal responsibility in the “self-story” of their parental identities. Indeed, the frequent co-occurrence of deferral and conjointness in the same father’s narratives may suggest that conjointness is a way that some fathers may represent their paternal responsibility within their parental identities that is functionally equivalent to deferral.

Finally, in a small subgroup of the study’s fathers, the arranging and planning narratives had a solo or lead theme. As in the examples presented, solo or lead responsibility themes seemed associated with a special circumstance (being a stay-at-home father, having a “business sense” applicable to parenting), or the parenting for which the father was responsible had a narrow focus. These Solo or Lead narratives, along with at least a proportion of the Joint narratives, suggest that for some fathers, in some contexts, the responsibility for arranging and planning for their children is a salient part of their paternal identity.

As illustrated by existing quantitative scales for paternal responsibility as a behavior (Bruce & Fox, 1997; McBride & Mills, 1993), prior research has implicitly conceptualized responsibility as a dimension of paternal involvement on which (like engagement and accessibility) fathers range on a continuum from low to high. The mean scores of fathers on these scales are relatively low, and variance appears restricted, reinforcing the interpretation that fathers are simply low on responsibility (Lamb, 2000). This study, however, suggests that underlying low responsibility in behavioral terms, fathers may have varying ways of experiencing responsibility within their parental identities. Based on the themes observed, we distinguish four different types of paternal “responsibility identities” among the fathers studied here: 1) deferred-responsibility identity, 2) conjoint-responsibility identity, 3) mixed deferred/conjoint-responsibility identity, and 4) contextualized solo-responsibility identity. While paternal identity is defined as the self-meanings in the father role, we perceive fathers constructing paternal self-meaning in the context of the dynamics of their relationships with the mothers of their children.

While further research is needed to more fully understand fathers’ responsibility identities, identity theory would suggest that doing so would have implications for also better understanding fathers’ behaviors in the responsibility component of involvement and perhaps paternal involvement overall (Ihinger-Tallman, Pasley, & Beuhler, 1995; Pleck & Stueve, 2001, in press.) There is also a need to investigate similarities and differences in how mothers construct their responsibility identities, and in how partners (and others) influence parents’ responsibility identities.

Though not requested, many fathers offered explanations for their low levels of arranging and planning that are relevant for further exploring responsibility identity and behavior. Some fathers reported that because they spent more time in work outside the home than their wife or partner, it was more practical or efficient for the child’s mother to do the arranging and planning for the child. A few fathers felt it was “natural” for mothers to do it. And several fathers said that they did not arrange and plan because they just were not good at it. Several fathers, upon reflection, recognized that they were not aware of much of the arranging and planning that was going on in their families, with a couple of fathers noting that they had “slacked off” over time.

Daly’s (2001) research suggests that how fathers and mothers negotiate (or do not negotiate) this parenting domain is important. When the responsibility for this area is not negotiated or organized to the satisfaction of both parents, there is a risk of conflict or resentment. An important first step would be recognition of this domain and appreciation for the parent (usually the mother) who is predominantly assuming responsibility. Regardless of how families decide to arrange and plan for their children, it seems worthwhile to recognize and value this important parenting task.

As previously noted, Parke (1995, 2002) highlights the importance of the managerial role of parenting, analogous to the responsibility component, to children’s lives. There is much to learn about how fathers’ participation in this role affects children. But besides impacting mothers and children, it seems clear that fathers’ arranging and planning has consequences for fathers themselves. We know little, however, about what these consequences might be. While there is the potential of conflict with the mother in this domain, shared arranging and planning may also be something that parents value and even enjoy. As one father said in a Joint narrative, “(I)t’s just been nice. It really makes a marriage a partnership when you got someone like I do to work with. It also makes life a lot easier.” It also seems likely that being involved in the arranging and planning for children may qualitatively change fathers’ experience when they are engaged with children. For example, planning for an activity, such as a child’s birthday party, and then carrying it out, is likely to be experienced differently than just attending it. A recent focus of fatherhood scholarship has been on the connection between fatherhood and men’s development of generativity (Hawkins & Dollahite, 1997, Snarey, 1993). Hawkins, Christiansen, Sargent, and Hill (1995) raise intriguing questions about the connection between fathers’ involvement in caring for children and fathers’ development of generativity. They suggest that “perhaps accepting full responsibility for a child’s well-being and ‘managing’ childcare (as opposed to performing assigned tasks) is essential to generativity” (p. 55). It would seem worthwhile for future research to explore this question.


While it is the least studied of Lamb, Pleck, Charnov, and Levine’s (1985) three-component conceptualization of paternal involvement, the responsibility component clearly has significant implications for children, mothers and other family members, and for fathers themselves. It is important that fatherhood researchers, practitioners who work with fathers, and fathers and families themselves recognize and value this critical component of involvement. Learning more about fathers’ identity in this area and how it influences their responsibility in activities like arranging and planning for their children seems an important pursuit.

Table 1

Frequency of Arranging and Planning Narratives by Category

Number of Narratives

Category Illinois New Mexico

Fathers Fathers

(n = 28) (n = 12)

Joint 11 (39.3%) 4 (33.3%)

Defer/default/depend on mother 9 (32.1%) 3 (25%)

Mixed joint and defer/default/

depend on mother 4 (14.3%) 3 (25%)

Solo or lead 4 (14.3%) 2 (16.7%)

Note. Percentages refer to number of narratives

within groupings of participants by state.

This study was conducted with support from The Research Allocation Committee and the College of Education at the University of New Mexico to Jeffrey Stueve and with support from the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under Project No. ILLU-45-0329 to Joseph H. Pleck. We would like to acknowledge the following for their contribution to this project: Dave Hansen and Trent Maurer at the University of Illinois and research assistants Catherine Archuleta, Amber Carr, Judy Grassbaugh, Nick Kadlec, Adoree Russell, and Marjorie Waynert at the University of New Mexico. We also wish to thank two anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful suggestions.


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Correspondence concerning this paper should be sent to Jeffrey L. Stueve, Simpson Hall, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87131-1246. Electronic mail: stueve@unm.edu.


University of New Mexico at Albuquerque


University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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