Abstract Current national data-bases in South Africa do not reveal the number or profile of fathers in the country. It is only possible to derive an estimate of fathers by making a series of inferences from other information contained in these data sets. In this paper, we argue that it is important for national surveys to directly identify which men are fathers. Internationally, research shows that engaged forms of fatherhood benefit children, fathers themselves and domestic relationships. In South Africa, research on fathers is limited. A major explanation for this is that, until recently, the interests of children were considered inseparable from those of the mother. The context of childcare in South Africa is changing. The legal framework is paying more attention to the rights of fathers and the numerous parental AIDS deaths are confronting fathers with more care-giving responsibility than ever before. Fathers are a potential resource to children but this is currently under-appreciated and not properly tapped. A start to remedying this situation is for national surveys to gather information on fathers.