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The Emotional Lives and Legacies of Fathers and Sons in Britain, 1945-1974



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Hall, Richard 


My doctoral dissertation is an oral history of men who respectively became fathers, or experienced childhood and adolescence, in the generation after the Second World War. Histories of the family have tended to focus on women’s roles in the home; but recent work by historians of masculinity has sought to re-establish men’s places as attentive, even devotional fathers. Putting ‘sonhood’ on an equal footing with fatherhood, I assess the traction of such narratives for men and boys in post-war British families by examining how masculinity was reproduced generationally. Focusing on age and the life-course, my analysis cuts across boundaries of social class and regional background, drawing on a range of common emotional expressions, from love, pride and reverence to guilt, resentment and fear. I assess fathers and sons’ changing experiences of parenting, education, work and leisure, as well as society and culture more broadly, all of which, I argue, contribute to the way post-war filial relationships unfolded in families.

My main conclusions are fourfold. First, I argue that men’s ongoing – and in many respects revivified – breadwinning obligations after 1945 combined with persistent cultural expectations to ensure that fathers’ attention towards their families remained partial and conditional. Second, even when at home, men were frequently inclined to spend their leisure time alone rather than in the company of their families. Third, that post-war fathers’ expectations and aspirations for their children tended to be more generalised and open-ended than in earlier generations. I argue that this change coincided with a cultural shift towards the valuing of individuality and self-fulfillment for the younger generation, which was negotiated with a variety of outcomes. Finally, I suggest that in so far as fathers and children were becoming closer in the post-war decades, they were becoming so chiefly over the course of familial and biological, rather than socio-cultural chronologies. Consequently, their intergenerational relationships were heavily influenced by particular interpersonal dynamics, the consideration of which leads to a wider picture of emotional ambiguity and ambivalence.





Delap, Lucy


Masculinity, Family, Emotions, Social History, Cultural History, Oral History, Childhood, Parenthood, Generations, Fathers, Sons, Memory


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge