Envisioning Fatherhood: A Social Psychological Perspective on Young Men without Kids

Article excerpt

Envisioning Fatherhood: A Social Psychological Perspective on Young Men without Kids*

Using in-depth interviews and a purposive sample of 32 men ages 16-30 who have not yet fathered a child, our grounded theoy study examined how men envision aspects of fatherhood. Informed by symbolic interactionist and life course perspectives, our interpretive data analyses yielded two interrelated substantive dimensions: fatherhood readiness and fathering visions. We introduce five interrelated theoretical themes to sharpen our understanding of these dimensions, and discuss how' these dimensioirs, and discuss how the se dimensions and themes inform intenentions aimed at heightening young men's procreative responsibility.

Key Words: fatherhood, grounded theory, male responsibiity, paternity, social psychology.

Interest in the social psychology of fatherhood has grown significantly in recent years (Marsiglio, 1998). Much of the scholarship in this area focuses on how individuals construct meaning in relation to paternity, fathering, and the negotiation of family roles. Research on men's evolving identities as fathers, and their commitments to their children, is critical for understanding these social processes and the micro-level dimensions to the fatherhood terrain. This work is particularly vital when considering the diverse paths men take on their way to acknowledging and embracing their fecundity, paternity; and father roles, respectively.

While much of the research germane to this area focuses on men who have already become fathers, we extend this literature by studying young single men's subjective experiences who have not yet, to their knowledge, sired a child or, in the case of most of our participants, impregnated a woman. Our analyses build upon earlier work with these data that focused on how males become aware of their perceived fecundity, experience themselves as procreative beings once they become aware, and view responsibility issues while orienting themselves toward their sexual and potential paternal roles (Marsiglio, Hutchinson, 8e Cohan, in press. We now focus on several issues that relate more directly to the social psychology of fatherhood. In particular, we highlight two main interrelated dimensions associated with men's efforts to envision aspects of fatherhood: sense of readiness for becoming fathers (fatherhood readiness); and views about the ideal fathering experience, images of the good or ideal father, and visions of future fathering experiences (fathering visions). In a more limited fashion, we discuss men's fantasies about what their children might be like and the comparative appraisals they use to organize their thinking about fatherhood.

Throughout our discussion, we also emphasize how gender and relationship commitments can influence the way some men perceive specific issues. Because paternity, and in many instances social fatherhood, can be viewed as joint accomplishments involving a man and woman, we explore how men's orientation to prospective fatherhood is sometimes influenced by their involvement with particular romantic partners. We examine young men's thoughts about the prospects of fatherhood codependent of specific romantic relationships as well.

Consistent with our grounded theory perspective, we have read our data with an eye toward capturing distinctive features of the way men express their thoughts about procreation, social fathering, and children. Our analyses revealed, for example, several preliminary themes that appear to cut across the dimensions listed above that characterize men's efforts to envision fatherhood. We introduce and define these themes when we analyze men's sense of being "ready" for fatherhood. These themes provide an explicit organizational structure for this section. Further, because we suspect that men's sense of readiness is linked to their image of what represents a good or ideal father, we then selectively use three of these themes to illuminate men's views about fathering in general, and more specifically, their visions about how they themselves plan to act as fathers. …