"The Good and the Bad?" Childhood Experiences with Fathers and Their Influence on Women's Expectations and Men's Experiences of Fathering in Rural Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa

Article excerpt

Using qualitative data from Project SIZE--a study that explores child and family well-being in the context of HIV/AIDS and poverty, we interviewed the female caregivers of 20 9- to 10-year-old children and 16 of the father-figures nominated by children. We consider how childhood experiences with fathers are associated with women's expectations and men's experiences of fathering. Data were analysed thematically in pairs of the focal child's caregiver and father-figure. Data from four women who were not paired were analysed individually. Results generally support both the modelling and the compensatory hypotheses to explain intergenerational influences on men's fathering attitudes and behaviour. Our results go a step further to acknowledge that fatherhood is dynamic and, in rural KwaZulu-Natal, it is influenced also by socio-cultural and economic factors, societal expectations, father-mother relationship and individual characteristics of men.

Keywords: fathering, childhood experiences, women's expectations, men's experiences, father-child involvement, South Africa

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Despite an increasing literature on fatherhood, there are few studies that have focused on retrospective perceptions of fathering (Dalton, Frick-Horbury, & Kitzmann, 2006; Finley & Schwartz, 2004; Guzzo, 2011; Krampe, 2009; Krampe & Newton, 2006; 2012), with no studies published using data from an African context. This study focuses on adult women and men's experiences with their own fathers or father-figures and explores how these experiences influence women's expectations and men's experiences of fathering in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Ninety-five percent of the population in this study area is Zulu. In this rural area, characterized by high HIV prevalence and low socio-economic status resulting from high rates of poverty and unemployment, a number of distinctive family and household characteristics--albeit not unique or universal--have implications for fatherhood (Hosegood & Madhavan, 2010).

Retrospective understanding of fatherhood is defined as adults' reflections on their relationships with their fathers when they were growing up. North American studies that explore retrospective perceptions of fathering argue that adults' (both men and women) experiences and expectations of fathering are influenced by their relationships and experiences with their own fathers (Doherty, Kouneski, & Erickson, 1998; Guzzo, 2011; Lamb, 2010; Pleck, 2010). Doherty, Kouneski, and Erickson argue that "a father's relationship with his own father may be a factor--either through identifying with his father or compensating for his father's lapses--in contributing to his own role identification, sense of commitment, and self-efficacy as a father" (p. 288).

These views are underpinned by the modelling hypothesis which holds that men who experienced involved fathers when they were growing up tend to see involvement in their children's lives as important and natural, and that men who had less involved fathers usually have less favourable attitudes towards fatherhood (Forste, Bartkowski, & Jackson, 2009). The modelling hypothesis is based on theories of socialization and social learning, which emphasize that an individual's attitudes and behaviours are learned from and modelled upon behaviours of key people in their life (Thorn & Gilbert, 1998). In this regard, children's socialization is influenced by the attitudes and behaviours of their fathers, and when male children are older, their internalised "mental model" of their father influences their own attitudes towards parenting. This acts as a template for their relationship with their children (Nicholson, Howard, & Borkowski, 2008). Consistent with the modelling hypothesis, attachment literature indicates how father-child involvement impacts the parenting practices of the next generation (Belsky, 1999; Bowlby, 1988).

In contrast, the compensatory hypothesis suggests that men who have adverse experiences with their fathers are likely to avoid recreating that experience for their own children by acting differently from their fathers (Daly, 1993; Townsend, 2002). …

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