Between stoicism and intimacy: the social construction of paternal love
Macht, Alexandra Georgiana
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In the current sociological literature, there is very little research on the subject of the love shared between parents and children, and contemporary intimate father’s role in connection to Scottish and Romanian masculinities. Drawing from the aesthetic theory of emotions postulated by Ian Burkitt (2014) and from Esther Dermott’s (2008) reframing of modern fatherhood according to intimacy theory, the present research has looked at a specific group of men’s experiences of love. As such, it sees involved fathers as embedded in an intimate network of relationships: to their children, their partner and their own parents. Presenting results from 47 qualitative semi-structured interviews with a sample of middle-class and working-class, resident and non-resident, Romanian and Scottish fathers, the study explored fathers’ embeddedness in a particular class, culture and family configuration in relation to what guides them to adopt certain forms of emotionality. Results show that involved fathers understand love primarily as an activity (it is something they do), in which both love and power are intermingled, as power in the context of fathering is deeply relational, and socially-constructed as much as love is. In order to maintain loving relationships to their children, involved fathers also do emotion work in discursive and embodied ways. Providing is influenced by the intimate father’s discourse, which has permeated both cultures due to globalization and is increasingly commodified, but fathers can also resist this discourse. The cultural perspective of their fathering has more similarities in common than differences, while class differences appear more prominently, further emphasizing structural inequalities in how love can then be practised. Therefore, the ways in which fathers express their emotions are balanced between the masculine emotional demands of stoicism and the novel discursive prerogative for intimate self-disclosure (or between love and detachment). To help us understand how these tensions are created and then resolved, I have developed the concept of ‘emotional bordering’ from Barrie Thorne’s concept of gender borders (1993). Ultimately, it is argued that investigating love in relation to culturally-diverse masculinities as they interact with the intimate father’s role can offer sociologists a fresh perspective on intimate inequalities by further enhancing the vulnerability of the concept of ‘hegemonic masculinity’. It can also give a different understanding to the role of ideals in the nexus of family practices, into which practices of love and of fathering are embedded.