Academic journal article Fathering

Fatherhood Harmony: Polyphony, Movement, and Subjectivity

Academic journal article Fathering

Fatherhood Harmony: Polyphony, Movement, and Subjectivity

Article excerpt

We propose a reconceptualization of the metaphor of harmony to illuminate the contexts of fatherhood. This conceptualization is based upon an inductive analysis of narrative transcripts of expectant fathers (N = 42), who were telling stories that illustrated what it meant to them to be a good father. Harmony focuses our attention on three elements of social context: that there are many contexts surrounding fatherhood (polyphony), that they are changing over time (movement), and that their relationships can be understood in various ways depending upon the situation of the observer (subjectivity). We hope that this metaphor will guide future work on fathers.

Keywords: fatherhood, expectant fathers, metaphor


Fatherhood is more complex than sometimes assumed by the models family scholars use. For example, our models have often led us to think of fatherhood as primarily direct father-child interaction. And when we note that fathers spend less time in father-child interaction than do mothers, our attention is directed toward conflicts between work and family that lead fathers to spend more time away from home (Lamb, 2000). This line of reasoning has given us important insights into how work and family relate to each other, but it does not entirely capture how ordinary men and women understand fatherhood (Dermott, 2005; 2006). Ordinary people often understand fatherhood as involving many life domains, and to be a father as grappling with multiple, shifting, overlapping, and interrelating contexts. We think of contexts as places and institutions within which fatherhood is embedded or with which it is linked. Sometimes theory development is hindered by "adherence to traditional metaphors that are too narrow, too static, or too out of touch with lived reality to be useful" (MacDermid, Roy, & Zvonkovic, 2005, p. 494). The purpose of this article is to develop a metaphor for fatherhood that is based on the understandings of men as they reflect upon the meaning of fatherhood.

To build a multicontextual, dynamic model of subjective perceptions of fatherhood, we modify the metaphor of harmony proposed by Hill and colleagues (Hill, 2001; Hill, Hawkins, Martinson, & Ferris, 2003). In discussing the relationship between work and family, Hill proposed the metaphor of harmony instead of the metaphor of balance. His purpose in doing this was to move away from a conflict approach to life domains: The goal of work and family policies is to make different life domains work well together, and the goal of scholarship is to investigate the ways in which family can support work and work can support family (Hill, 2001). We break from Hill, however, in noting that musicologically, the opposite of harmony is not dissonance; the opposite of harmony is unison. A harmonic combination includes two or more simultaneous components, which could be either concordant or dissonant with each other. Thus, we do not imply that different life domains fit together without conflict for men who are fathers. (We are not using "peaceful coexistence" as a definition of harmony.) Indeed, men may be conflicted about the difficulties of reconciling different expectations.

Still, we wish to retain the metaphor of harmony because of the theoretical utility of drawing in musicological concepts to our understanding of fatherhood. Harmony draws our attention to multiple social contexts in addition to multiple paternal activities (polyphony). We agree that harmony is a better metaphor than balance because balance implies two domains while harmony suggests an indeterminate number of related domains. Harmony also implies change over time, since very few musical pieces are composed entirely of a single sound (or of complete silence) sustained over time. Instead, in many musical traditions various notes are deployed in varying combinations and in temporal sequence (movement). Thirdly, harmony draws attention to the subjective experience of the musical (or social) object, suggesting that we need to investigate and validate the particular understandings ordinary people have of fatherhood (subjectivity). …

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