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Life with Father

, 256 pages
August 1998


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Life with Father

Parenthood and Masculinity in the Nineteenth-Century American North

Who was the Victorian patriarch, and what kind of father was he? In this richly documented study, Stephen M. Frank presents the first account of nineteenth-century family life to focus on the role of fathers. Drawing on letters, diaries, memoirs, and other primary sources, Frank explores what fathers thought about their family responsibilities and how men behaved as parents.

His findings are often surprising. Beneath the stereotype of the starched Victorian patriarch, he discovers fathers who were playful, demanding, uncertain of their authority, and deeply anxious about their children's prospects in a rapidly changing society—men with strikingly modern attitudes toward parenthood. Focusing on Northern, middle-class families, he also uncovers the social origins of the "family man" ideal and explores how this standard of middle-class propriety found its way into practice.

Life with Father looks beyond the well-known nineteenth-century fascination with motherhood to discover a social order that valued a "father's care" no less than a "mother's love" as a basis for stable family relationships. This compelling social history engages readers with the story of how families in the past struggled with economic and social changes that required fathers to reassess themselves as parents and as men.

Stephen M. Frank is the Curator of Collections at the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia. He received his Ph.D. in American history from the University of Michigan.

"Frank's concise and nicely argued study of fatherhood further compromises the line between behavior, responsibilities, and perceptions in domestic lives of men and women."

"Frank's portrait of middle-class fatherhood is subtly and engagingly presented."

" Life with Father bridges the gap between the traditionally gendered public and private spheres of nineteenth-century life. It links public, male work-places with the female, domesticated environments of the home. In one sense, Frank provides a more complete picture of nineteenth-century family life by reintegrating fathers back into the whole."

" Life with Father offers numerous insights into the evolution of fatherhood in the northern middle class. It is well researched, nicely organized, and logically argued."

"Stephen Frank offers a compelling portrait of middle class American fatherhood that makes a major contribution to our understanding of manhood and masculinity in the nineteenth century. Frank brilliantly explores not only advice to fathers but how actual men struggled to make sense of one of life's great responsibilities. It is the rare work that has great analytical power and the ability to stir emotion, particularly among today's fathers who cannot help but empathize with the paternal efforts of our ancestors."