Doing fatherhood, doing family: contemporary paternal perspectives
Osborn, Sharani Evelyn
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Research in recent decades has identified a conception among fathers, and others, of a widespread qualitative change in the potential nature of fatherhood for men. This widely circulated ideal of contemporary, participatory fatherhood is characterised as new, intimate, involved and productive of new practices of ‘masculinity’ (Henwood and Procter, 2003). A belief that fathers play a major part in family life and family a major part in fathers’ lives may, first, change the nature of the life course transition entailed in becoming a father. Second, ‘new’ fatherhood is new in that it is distinguished from a model of authoritarian distance associated with ‘traditional’ fatherhood. What is new is that the primary focus of fatherhood is intimate relationships with children. Third, intimate relationships are generated through fathers’ involvement in family life alongside mothers in a more equitable sharing of the responsibilities of parenting. Finally, as distinctions between maternal and paternal are blurred, some of the lines between ‘masculine’ and ‘not-masculine’ are redrawn. These aspects which the ideal of ‘new’ fatherhood constructs as arenas of change correspond to the domains in relation to which diversity among contemporary fathers are explored in this thesis. Accounts of becoming and being fathers were generated in semi-structured qualitative interviews with a diverse sample of 31 fathers. The first dimension of fatherhood analysed is the place of visions of family and fatherhood in the process of becoming a father. Participants’ situated their orientation to fatherhood in the life course and in the partner relationship. In examining how participants construct family’s needs and parents’ responsibilities, I argue that imagined and lived family relationships are significant for men’s orientations to fatherhood, for their attitude to having further children and for evaluating the resources, material and otherwise, for doing so. The second dimension considered is intergenerational legacies. Participants with different experiences of the father-child relationship engage with their parenting heritage and characterise the legacy they would like to pass on. Connections and breaks with the previous generation of fathers are understood in terms of parent-child relationships, biographical narratives and the relational and discursive resources and constraints of the present. The relation of fatherhood to motherhood is the third dimension explored, through analysis of the different ways in which participants in couples construct, first, the relation between their own practice and their partner’s in the parenting partnership and, second, the relation between caregiving, provision, paid work and career in their own practice. I argue that fathers’ practice is worked through in the lived relationship with their partner, in terms of the division of labour and responsibilities and in the negotiation of similarity and difference, equality and authority, and with reference to a range of discursive resources. Many fathers seek to balance their commitments to the different dimensions of fatherhood in relation to paid work, but in other dimensions of personal life. The fourth aspect of the analysis examines accounts where fathers speak of co-existing contradictory orientations, to freedom and commitment, for example, and moments of ambivalence in relation to the normative articulations of ‘masculinity’ and fatherhood. On the basis of this four-fold analysis of diversity in contemporary multidimensional fatherhood, I argue for a plural focus on the practices of doing family, doing fatherhood and un/doing gender makes conceptual space for engaging critically with the diverse practices through which fathers sustain the relationships and fulfil the responsibilities of multi-dimensional fatherhood.