Male-only care is the most frequent parental care behaviour in teleost fishes, but little is known about its evolutionary origins and patterns of diversity in species-rich lineages. Darters are a clade of North American freshwater fishes that contain both nonparental care species and species with male-only care. In darters, paternal care takes the form of egg-guarding and other egg-tending behaviours that are dependent on the female mode of egg deposition. Male care has been hypothesized to evolve independently in darters at least three times, and it has been thought to be irreversible. We investigated the diversification of egg-deposition behaviours and the evolution of complex male care using published descriptions of darter reproductive behaviours and a multilocus molecular phylogeny that included all 146 species for which reproductive behaviours are known. We find support for two origins of male-only care behaviour. One origin of paternal care occurred relatively early in the radiation of Etheostoma and is characteristic of a recently discovered clade, Goneaperca. The other origin of male-only care occurred much more recently in a derived clade of Nothonotus. Our analyses of character diversification demonstrate reversals from care to noncare and multiple transitions between egg-deposition behaviours that are not associated with parental care.