Presented as a collection of 17 short chapters (each by a different author), and arranged into four thematic sections, this anthology of opinions and experiences is primarily concerned with issues of male parenting, with an emphasis upon how and why the role of father in so important in child-rearing. However, to the current reviewer, this is not so much a `philosophy of parenting', but the application of philosophical thinking as may be applied to optimise parenting behavior, the book sharing in this regard many similarities with its sister volume Motherhood: The Dao of Mummy (Linttot, 2010) (see Metapsychology Reviews 16 (2), 2912). One way in which this book significantly differs from it sister volume, is that each of Fatherhood's contributors are themselves male, all but one is a father himself (at least at the time of writing), and that each writes in a way which combines their own philosophical understanding(s) with their own reflections of personal accountability (as a father, and/or a son themselves) in raising their own child(ren) towards adulthood.
Despite this source of significant variation (in each chapter's content, approach, and indication of preferred fathering `styles', respectively), there are clearly emergent themes for the reader to take away. Plato and Aristotle are oft cited as sources of both historical and contemporary parenting wisdom, and the `Dao' of the book's subtitle is well exemplified by Komasinski's very welcome discussion of Confusionist thinking as applied to fatherhood (Ch.10). But perhaps the most practical theme to emerge, is the almost unanimous acclaim for the need of any father to pay attention to the nurturing of personal autonomy in developing children. Although only short philosophical soundbites attest to the significance of the problems still underlying the definitions and characterisations of personhood, the meaning of life, and the distinctions between what one may believe by, or about, oneself (and how me might know/be certain of such !), every contributor appears to reject the approach of both the strictest dictatorial pater, and the more laissez-faire paternal nurturist.
The collective message of advice contained in this volume (if it may be conceived there be such) would appear to be that, in being a `good' father, one is demonstrably able to guide (rather than direct) one's child(ren) to become a law unto themselves (within the boundaries imposed by their cultural norms and legal systems), whilst conducting themselves according to their own personal reasons, their own values, and resulting from their own personal decision spaces. In this sense, autonomy is not to be confused with simple notions of `independence', although these two phenomena are necessarily related (with various chapters addressing this same categorical exemplar issue). The reader is thus frequently obliged to entertain the philosophical underpinnings of existentialist thinking (tho' its literature is poorly cited here), and is situated well away from the paths of Freud in explaining idealisations of fatherhood and its purported failings, and their instead more esoteric psychoanalytic imaginings. Another very important (and in my view critical) consideration, as alluded to (if not directly voiced) by almost half of the contributors, was to remind the reader of the significance of parents as role models of the required/optimum behaviour for their children to then emulate. As someone working with both human infants and non-human animals for many years now, it is very clear to me that, although I still can know little about the philosophical thoughts being developed in the minds of either (if any), the most critical early learning experiences that they evolve are derived from (and scaffold by) their ability to explore and imitate the successful actions of their more competent peers, whether or not they be in a social environment at the time. What any given father may be seen to do in a given situation (by their child(ren)), will possibly thus be taken by them as providing a legitimate course of action for their own expression in the future. If there is a message here, therefore, it is not that we should worry that our child(ren) is/are not listening to us (a common complaint heard from many a parent), but that our children are watching us, and are doing so a lot more of the time than we might realise !
As with any edited volume, some chapters will appear to be too short in capturing their reader's full attention, or engage the reader so much that their premature ending will fail to satisfy a thirst for more (either possibly according to the interest of the reviewer at the time of reading), but there were a few contributions worthy of special mention in influencing my own current thinking this time around. With a view to updating my parenting skill notebooks, I will be likely be rereading the works of St Augustine again (Father Time - Fatherhood, chapter by Scott Davison), and definitely checking out new translations of `The Analects' of Confucius sometime soon (Maybe Happiness in Loving Our Father (Komasinski)), whilst also revising my .ppt text and h/o for the next `Fathers and Daughters' workshop that I may be asked to deliver (Wisdom for a Winding Road (Austin).
As with other books in this series, this is neither an academic text, nor does it contain (or rarely reference) much in the way of any research-based empirical work, but I will nonetheless be recommending it to parents (both mothers AND fathers wishing to be provoked by others' thoughts, when finding themselves inwardly soul-searching for justifications of their intentions to `father' in a particular way, and at a particular time, especially when also `knowing' that other members of their family or community may wish to question their current approach/decision in nurturing their child(ren)'s development.
Dr. Anthony R. Dickinson
Academic Research Laboratory (ARL, HK).