Fathers' beliefs were examined as mediators between multiple risk factors and involvement practices with children age zero to five enrolled in Head Start or Early Head Start. A diverse sample of 101 fathers, living in rural Midwestern communities of the USA completed questionnaires assessing mediators (i.e. parenting efficacy, role beliefs, and responsibility to an intervention program), barriers (e.g. lack of time, energy, work constraints), and father involvement (i.e. physical play, didactic engagement, caregiving, socialisation, involvement in the program, and accessibility). In each of the regression models, father efficacy and beliefs reduced the influence of barriers and were significant unique predictors of father involvement. Findings suggest that fathers' beliefs are more proximal to parenting practices than is family context, which have implications for early intervention programs serving children in at-risk families.