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Fatherless Homes

The assumption that boys learn to be masculine by following the example of their fathers is a myth, according to Dr. James Turnbull, a psychiatrist at the University of Texas Health Science Center. Fathers in middle-and lower-income families spend only about 25 minutes each week in direct one-to-one relationships with their growing sons. “The images on TV and in advertising showing boys and their fathers playing touch football, fishing and building model aircraft...simply don’t reflect real life,” said Turnbull.

Turnbull’s studies of fatherless homes in middle- to lower-income brackets found the key to personality development was based upon the sons’ relationships with their mothers. “Fathers are certainly important in shaping their son’s behavior, but mothers, peer groups and other adult males usually have more contact with the boys,” he said. “If a father is present, he tends to modify the mother’s influence with comments such as ‘You’re spoiling the boy,’ or ‘Boys don’t play with dolls’ and other reactions to behavior. The father’s treatment of the mother serves as an example for the son of how to interact with members of the opposite sex.”

In fatherless homes, Turnbull said, the mother’s attitude toward men and her degree of protection toward her son seem to be keys to a boy’s development. The most critical times are between the ages of 30 months and 5 years and during early adolescence.

Encounter, Vol 15, #3, February, 1980