There is a need for greater understanding of the characteristics of abusive fathers and appropriate interventions as fathers perpetrate a substantial portion of child physical abuse in North America. The present study examined differences between abusive and non-abusive fathers on a broad range of demographic, cognitive, and affective factors Twenty-four abusive fathers, all with a record of perpetrating child physical abuse, were compared to twenty-five non-abusive fathers recruited from the same community. All fathers completed several self-report measures on mental health status, parenting stress, anger, empathy, and perceptions of child emotions.
Abusive fathers reported significantly more experiences of childhood maltreatment than non-abusive fathers, and this maltreatment was largely comprised of multiple forms of severe and degrading maltreatment. Abusive fathers reported more mental health concerns such as depression and hostility, more parenting stress, and more verbal and physical expressions of anger. They also rated themselves as having less empathetic concern for their child and as being less likely to consider their child’s perspective. Abusive fathers also tended to perceive children’s emotional displays as more negative and threatening compared to non-abusive fathers.
These findings underscore a need to provide increased and comprehensive therapeutic treatment for fathers who abuse their children. Limitations of the study include low response rate, possible under-representation of severely abusive fathers, and a lack of available measures validated for use with abusive fathers.