In some biparental mammals, paternal care is important for offspring development and survival. We investigated the influence of the early post-natal environment on the development of paternal care in the naturally paternal desert-dwelling African striped mouse (Rhabdomys pumilio). Our aim was to establish whether the expression of paternal care in adult sons is influenced by their experience of paternal care. Offspring were raised in one of three conditions: both parents raised young; mothers raised young alone; and mothers raised young alone but were separated from the father with a barrier. The paternal care behaviour of sons was investigated when they were adults. Contrary to expectations, adult sons raised by the mother alone displayed greater levels of huddling behaviour of their own pups compared to sons raised by both parents. This response appears to be influenced by the early mother–son relationship, because mothers raising pups alone compensated for the absence of fathers by increasing the time spent with pups compared to mothers raising pups with fathers. The mechanisms underpinning the development of paternal care are not apparent in our study. Nonetheless, the development of paternal care is condition-dependent in male striped mice, indicating that the potential for greater levels of care occurs in the absence of the father and concomitant compensation of maternal care during early development.