Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Non-Resident Fathers' Engagement with Their Children: The Salience of Leisure

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Non-Resident Fathers' Engagement with Their Children: The Salience of Leisure

Article excerpt

Introduction and Background

In many countries the increasing instances of divorce, de-facto separation, non-marital childbirth and incarceration are among a number of factors that have led to more and more fathers not sharing the same home address with their children. Despite increasing evidence that fathers can be central to their children's education, health and well-being, and that for many non-resident fathers contact with their children is important and highly desirable but inadequate, research on non-resident fathers, fatherhood and family as aspects of contemporary western society and family life is lacking (Fletcher et al. 2004, Smyth 2004a,b). In particular, few investigators have explored the qualitative dimensions of non-resident parent-child contact. Leisure is one such dimension.

The social analysis of leisure unearths social relationships and phenomena that might otherwise go unnoticed (Rojek, 1997). The freedom experienced within a leisure context actually affords non-resident fathers opportunities to spend quality time with their children, engaging in a range of mutually beneficial activities (e.g., Caruana and Ferro, 2004). It is also within the context of leisure that the constraints associated with such matters as limited and affordable contact are likely a reality, and the responsibilities and commitments set by individuals, families, communities and the law are often negotiated (see Sorenson, 1997; Smyth 2004a).

This paper critically examines the nature of the leisure that takes place between non-resident fathers and their children. Non-resident fathers are defined as biological fathers of children with whom they do not share the same home address. As well as those fathers who are divorced or separated and those who were never married to (or have never lived with) the child's mother, this potentially includes those fathers who are incarcerated, and those who are refused contact with their children because of court orders. The paper reports on a pilot study based on in-depth interviews with eighteen non-resident fathers residing in the Hunter region, New South Wales, Australia.

Non-resident Fatherhood in Australia: An Overview

In Australia, non-resident fathers now number approximately 400,000. The ABS Survey of Family Characteristics (2004) showed that in 2003 there were 1.1 million children aged 0-17 years (23 per cent of all children in this age group) who had a natural parent (in 84 per cent of cases their father) living elsewhere. Of these children, 50 per cent saw their other parent at least once per fortnight, while 31 per cent saw their other natural parent either rarely (once per year, or less often) or never. Of the 283,000 children who saw their other natural parent less than once a year, or never saw them, 23 per cent had some indirect contact. With great constraints to contact, many non-resident fathers find it difficult to maintain a normal parent-child relationship. Specifically, this may be attributed to fathers' inability, to spend time with their children on a daily basis, their lack of involvement in day-to-day decision-making and lack of information about their children's activities and progress at school, and the fact that they may no longer be regarded as a family member (Bailey, 2002). Other reasons for fathers losing or failing to maintain levels of contact with their children include: fathers may be marginalised if their worth to the children's lives appears to be undermined by courts, counsellors or the children's mother; fathers simply do not care and refuse to support their children; fathers cannot afford to support their children and subsequently withdraw; fathers are rejected by the children or others; fathers give up if they feel incompetent or find contact difficult; the geographical distance between fathers and their children is great; either of the parents re-partners (Green 1998: 66). …

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