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Young African American Fathers: An Exploratory Qualitative Research Study
Transcript of Young African American Fathers: An Exploratory Qualitative Research Study
The researcher met with each potential participant of the sample. The researcher introduced himself and provided a brief overview of the study. Each was given consent forms to complete. The first 10 males to return their consent forms were selected to participate in the study and a date to complete the interview was scheduled. A waiting list was established for those who submitted consent forms after the first 10 men. In the event that someone selected for the study was unable to be interviewed, the researcher pulled from the waiting list in the order that forms were received.
The researcher collected each consent form completed by the participants. The consent form explained the purpose and procedures for participation, risk and benefits of the study, confidentiality and limits to confidentiality, and provided contact information for all individuals affiliated with the study. (See Appendix C.) The consent form also explained that the study is completely voluntary and participants had the right to decline participation at any time during the interview process. The consent form also asked for permission to audio record the interview, although participation was not conditioned upon consent and participants could decline audio taping the interviews with no penalty.
Once all the interviews were conducted, this researcher used the Strauss and Corbin (2008) method of analyzing the data. This method does not use statistical procedures or other quantification methods to interpret findings. Their method is based on grounded theory, in which the research generates hypotheses based on the data collected from the interviews.
The responses from the interviews were broken down first by specific concepts (open coding), then these concepts were developed into more refined categories (axial coding), and finally, themes of the interviews were identified (selective coding).
A network sampling approach was used in order to acquire participants. The subjects of this study were young African American fathers, between the ages of 18 and 27 years of age. The participants were 10 African American males between the ages of 22 and 27 years old.
The purpose of this study is to explore the experiences of young (age 18-26) African American fathers and their transition into fatherhood. Learning more about young African American fathers’ thoughts, feelings, and experiences may provide mental health, social work, and child health agencies with a clearer idea of their strengths, what they may lack, and supports that may benefit this population. Males who participated in this study discussed their experiences as fathers, identified who they turned to for help, and related the parenting skills, if any, they learned prior to becoming a parent. By understanding the experiences of young African American fathers, agencies may be better able to support them. Furthermore, this is a population about which little is known and it needs to be studied. Consequently, this dissertation will guide future mental health providers in the process of creating a sustainable program for a unique population’s needs. For those interested in culturally appropriate methods of intervention, it will model how to reach out into the community for resources to address the psychological needs of clients, and expand the scope and delivery of psychological services to those who would not otherwise seek mental health services.
This information is alarming because younger parents tend to experience more stress and young fathers tend to be less involved, whether due to financial difficulties or feeling ill-equipped to fulfill the role of fatherhood (Fagan & Bernd, 2007).
The transition to fatherhood and family formation is a major developmental period that first time fathers are expressing that they feel underprepared for (Deave & Johnson, 2008)
Parenting programs designed to assist with decreasing adolescent fathers’ stress and increasing their involvement with their children (Fagan & Bernd, 2007) are likely to prove to be successful, since most young fathers are motivated to maintain a relationship with their children and their children’s mother after the children’s birth (Deave & Johnson, 2008; Deslauriers et al., 2012).
The responsibility of the father in contemporary times has expanded from primarily an economic role as breadwinner to encompass nurturing as well. Fathers play a significant role in shaping family life and greatly shape the developmental trajectory of infants (Hinckley et al., 2007).
A father’s interaction with his children will influence how his children in turn interact with their own children (Forste, Bartkowski & Jackson, 2009).
Unfortunately, the growth in single-parent households over the past several decades suggests that an increasing proportion of men may not be performing either the traditional or contemporary functions associated with fatherhood—they do not live with their offspring, pay any or adequate child support, or even maintain contact with their children (Nelson, 2004).
The media commonly engages in portraying African American fathers as “absent,” “non-residential,” “non-custodial,” “unavailable,” “non-married,” “irresponsible,” and “immature.” While this stereotype is not true for all African American families, demographic data reveal that the majority of African American children in contemporary society do not live in the same households as their biological fathers, or reside with them only periodically (Connor, 2004).
A critical turning point in life occurs when a man becomes a father (Connor & White, 2007). Guiding and caring for children is not only developmentally and psychologically important to the child, but is central to the father’s psychological growth and well-being (Deave & Johnson, 2008). Pruitt (as cited in Connor & White, 2007) uses the term “fatherneed” to describe the powerful physical, psychological, and emotional force that pulls men to children (related or not) just as it pulls children to men to shape, enrich, and expand each other’s lives.
For the past 15 years, academic fields such as psychology, social work, anthropology, and economics have paid close attention to fathers and issues related to fatherhood (Nelson, 2004), yet little research exists discussing how males prepare for becoming a father, identifying their needs as expectant fathers, or analyzing the factors that distinguish males who are willing to take on the responsibility of fatherhood from those who are not (Hinckley, Ferreira & Maree, 2007).
Qualitative data suggests that even when an unplanned pregnancy occurs, low-income minority expectant fathers greet the news of a potential child with some degree of excitement (Nelson, 2004).
Child Trend’s study (as cited in Fagan & Bernd, 2007) found recent data suggesting that 18% of children are born to women younger than 20 years of age. In addition, the younger the man is when he becomes a father, the more likely it is that the transition to fatherhood is unplanned (Astone et al., 2010).
The literature has shown that involving both parties can have a more sustainable effect on parenting (Fagan & Bernd, 2007). While there is no lack of existing programs to prepare expectant parents for their new role, fathers can be treated as an after-thought: neglected and left out of these preparations, efforts, and prevention interventions. Manifestations of the neglect can come in the form of gender-specific brochures or language geared towards the mother, or relegating the father to passive participation in prenatal or postpartum classes.
When childbirth education fails to acknowledge the needs of men and recognize their role, everyone misses out—fathers who are deprived of knowledge, couples who lose an opportunity to strengthen their relational bond, children who suffer as a result of lack of father involvement, parenting educators, and society (Lemay, 2010).
More interventions are being created to educate expectant and new parents in parenting skills, coping with stressors, promoting positive interactions between partners, and stimulating child development (Pinquart & Teubert, 2010).
Twenty percent of fathers who participated (two fathers) had two children, while the majority of participants (eight fathers, 80%) fathered only one child. Most participants (six fathers, 60%) fathered daughters, while the other 40% (four fathers) fathered sons.
Many of the men can be considered of low socioeconomic status; some were jobless, live with parents, and/or receive public assistance, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), etc. Lastly, these men all valued some aspect of the role of being a father and were open to improving their skills as parents.
When asked what their experiences with children and childcare were prior to becoming a father, the majority of fathers (six responses, 60%) stated they had little to no experience taking care of children prior to having their own.
Experience with Children Prior to Becoming a Father.
Four participants (40%) stated they had experience taking care of children due to babysitting.
Four interviewees (40%) had experience taking care of children, such as their siblings or family members.
Three respondents (30%) stated they did not like interacting with children other than their own.
Five of the fathers (50%) reported that they did not prepare physically for fatherhood.
Two fathers (20%) stated that they exercised for physical preparation.
Respondents 2 and 4 (20%) stated they prepared physically by improving their money management skills.
Respondent 10 reported he prepared for fatherhood by searching for a job.
Four fathers (40%) stated that they did not have any emotional preparation. Although fathers reported that there was no emotional preparation, most fathers used words which would imply that emotions were involved when thinking about their fatherhood role. Some emotions reported included joy, fear, anxiety, and excitement.
Three respondents (30%) stated that they became more reflective of their past and thought about preparation for the future. They also expressed a sense of heightened emotions.
Two respondents (20%) who sought out support from family and friends indicated that this support was beneficial, yet still found emotionally preparing for fatherhood to be tough.
Three respondents (30%) stated they did not prepare for fatherhood mentally. Those who stated they did not prepare often described themselves feeling nervous and unable to grasp the magnitude of their new role.
When preparing for fatherhood mentally, three respondents (30%) stated they became more reflective about life. These same three respondents (30%) also stated that they became more self-aware.
Two respondents (20%) stated they turned to family for support.
Parenting Advice for Expectant Fathers
When asked what advice respondents would give young African American expectant fathers, four fathers (40%) stated that young expectant fathers should “get focused.”
Of these responses, three fathers (30%) also described an increased level of responsibility and need for support from others.
Three respondents (30%) described the importance of being involved in their family’s life.
For respondent 7, it was important to identify a support system to assist him through the process.
Respondent 5 stressed the importance of staying calm and learning how to take care of your child.
Advice for Current Fathers
When asked what advice they would give current young African American fathers, seven fathers (70%) stated that their advice to fathers would be to “be there” for their child.
Of those responses, four fathers (40%) also stressed the importance of taking care of one’s responsibility.
Three fathers (30%) went further with their advice and stated that current fathers should not just be involved in their child’s life, but should set a positive example for their children.
Respondent 10 provided advice for those fathers who are in financial hardship or having difficulty interacting with the mother of their children.
Fathers were asked if they made a conscious decision to have a child. Almost all (eight responses, 80%) stated that they did not intend to get the mother of their child pregnant. These fathers often attributed pregnancy to the lack of use of contraception or the misuse of contraception.
Few fathers (two responses, 20%) stated that they planned their fatherhood.
Half of the participants (50%) stated they would include a workshop on managing one’s finances.
Respondent 6 also identified job preparation and money management as important topics for a fatherhood program.
Two respondents (20%) described mentoring as an important area to include within a program on fatherhood.
Two participants (20%) identified prioritizing as an important topic for fathers.
Respondent 2 identified strengthening the relationship between the mother and father of the child as a potential topic.
Respondent 10 stated he would like to include technology as a topic within the program
Respondent 5 discussed breaking stereotypes as a potential workshop.
When asked to provide a definition for the word father, all of the participants provided a list of words which described the responsibilities of the role, the most common of which was that a father is one who supports and/or provides. This is consistent with the literature finding that men believe that they should be providing for their families, in many cases financially, as fathers. There was also a frequent variation of the distinction between being a “father” and being a “dad,” i.e., any man could impregnate a woman and become a biological father, but it takes commitment, involvement, and support for that father to be a dad.
Almost all of the fathers within this study greeted the news of fatherhood with excitement. Being a father has proved to be a developmental process for the participants, just as much as growing up is for their children. When asked what they enjoyed most, almost every father stated he enjoyed watching his child grow up. They enjoy seeing their child smile, hearing their voice, get excited when they like or do things that are similar to their father, and take pride in the fact that they dispel negative stereotypes and provide their children with a safe and loving home.
Parenting and fatherhood programs
Mental health agencies
This study sought to provide young African American males with the opportunity to talk openly about their experiences of becoming a father and how it has impacted their lives. The interview method comprised a number of questions and offered participants the ability to explain their experiences freely in their own voice, from their perspective, in order to provide professionals and future fathers knowledge and insight.
Although this is a small study that cannot be generalized to the majority of young African American fathers, it is clear that the participants in this study have a strong sense of self, and awareness of what peers similar to them will find useful.
A final conclusion is that one striking aspect of this study was the realization that the young fathers of today are interacting with their children in ways that are drastically different from previous years. The importance of fathers and the encouragement for fathers to be connected with their children has received both national and international attention. Consequently, more fathers are making a conscientious decision to “man up” and be the best father they can be to their child.