Fathers are at once everywhere and nowhere in the historiography of eighteenth-century England. They interact with children in family history, bear authority in histories of women, gender and marriage, use the role to demonstrate virility, and the capacity for household mastery and citizenship in the history of masculinity, and are metaphors in political culture. Yet there is little sustained work on what constituted the key attributes of fatherhood before 1830. This article shows that the ideal father in the period c.1750 to 1830 was tenderly affectionate, sensitized and moved by babies; he provided hugs, material support and a protective guiding hand. Engrossed in his offspring to the exclusion of much else apart from his wife and national duties, he offered his children a moral example and instruction and possessed a deep understanding of his children's personalities. The genesis of this imagined fatherhood lay in fundamental eighteenth-century concerns about social, class, gender and familial relationships, and national strength. His form and the language used to describe him owed much to the combined forces of the culture of sensibility and of general Christian ideals antedating Evangelical revival.