This book explains the unbending ideal of the nuclear family and how it has seeped so deeply into American society and consciousness without ever becoming the actual norm for most people in the nation. It presents the rich diversity of family lives in American history from the American Revolution to the twenty-first century and at the same time the persistence and normative power of the nuclear family model. American society—one of the major arguments—is “governed through the family,” and to govern, in this sense, is “to structure the possible field of action.” To make this broad examination of the discourse and practice of the family in American life more accessible, this book focuses on the relations of fathers, families, and society. Throughout American history “the father” has been posed as provider and moral leader of his family, American society, and the nation. At the same time power and difference were established around “the father,” and fatherhood meant many different things for different people. To tell this history of fatherhood, families, and American society, the author presents biographical “close-ups” of twelve iconic characters, embedded in contextual “long shots” so that readers can see the enduring power of the family and father ideals along with the complexity and varieties of everyday life in American history. Each protagonist covers a crucial period or event in American history, presents a different family constellation, and makes a different argument with regard to how American society is governed through the family.