Academic journal article Fathering

"Being Man Enough": Fatherhood Experiences and Expectations among Teenage Boys in South Africa

Academic journal article Fathering

"Being Man Enough": Fatherhood Experiences and Expectations among Teenage Boys in South Africa

Article excerpt

Through a socio-psychological lens, this study aimed at exploring how South African school-boys of low socio-economic status experienced interacting with men and fathers about the transition to manhood and how they visualised their own role as fathers in the future. These questions were explored against the backdrop of the socio-economic conditions for boys negotiating their way into manhood in economically disadvantaged contexts. A sequential triangulation of qualitative methods was employed. The findings indicated a huge discrepancy between their experiences of being fathered and future aspirations for "responsible fatherhood". Guiding children about personal issues into manhood was seen as the most important father-responsibility, yet the legal framework presented obstacles to initiate future responsible fathering.

Keywords: school-boys, identity formation, fatherhood, responsibility, South Africa, values of children


This paper focuses on boys' understanding of fatherhood in their transition to adulthood. The transition from boyhood to manhood takes different forms in different societies and is closely linked to socio-economic circumstances (Connell, 1998; Morrell, 2007). Hence, a psychological understanding of boys becoming men must integrate cultural and social perspectives. It is cross-culturally acknowledged that the stages from late adolescence to early adulthood involve the development of a more autonomous sense of self and choices of suitable social roles and values (Eriksson, 1968; Kroger, 2000). Identity development at this stage rests on a meaningful life philosophy and a sense of sex role identification (Eriksson). Furthermore, the path into adulthood involves learning to take on responsibility in one way or another (Kroger).

Conceptualisation of responsibility varies greatly in different settings (Morrell, 2007). Likewise, the way adulthood (Marcia, 1993) and manhood is negotiated (Morrell) varies cross-culturally. According to Morrell, aspirations to become a parent signify willingness to take on responsibility. He argues that in resource-poor settings with limited opportunities for education and work, the aspiration of fatherhood is a particularly important expression of willingness to take on responsibility. In line with Connell (1998) who argues that fatherhood is a prism to understand youth masculine identities, particularly in resource-poor settings, this study looks at how poor boys understand fatherhood in South Africa, where recent history is rooted in inequality between racial groups and different classes. Morrell argues that African men, particularly if living in a socio-economically disadvantaged setting, often weave race, ethnicity and kinship into their masculine identity differently than non-African men or urban middle-income men (Morrell, p. 67). In resource poor settings men tend to hold a marginal position both at work and at home and as Roy (2008) argues, it is crucial to learn more about how families and fathers in such settings develop strategies to secure men's involvement with children. Through a socio-psychological lens of family change (Kagitcibasi, 2007), this paper aims to explore how teenage boys of low socio-economic status (SES) in Mankweng in the Limpopo Province experience and imagine fatherhood.


Socio-Psychological Perspective on Family Change

The theory of family change (Kagitcibasi, 2007) offers an innovative way of viewing school-boys who are living in a resource-poor setting and their understanding of fatherhood. The core argument of this theory is that socio-economic development forms a major underlying dimension of variability in family values across cultures. This builds upon a contextual perspective where the self is seen within the family and the family within culture. This framework springs out of the values of children (VOC) studies (Arnold & Fawkett, 1975; Bulutao 1975; Hoffman & Hoffman, 1973; Kagitcibasi, 1982a) initiated in the early 1970s. …

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