Academic journal article The Journal of Men's Studies

Faithful Fathering in Trying Times: Religious Beliefs and Practices of Latter-Day Saint Fathers of Children with Special Needs

Academic journal article The Journal of Men's Studies

Faithful Fathering in Trying Times: Religious Beliefs and Practices of Latter-Day Saint Fathers of Children with Special Needs

Article excerpt

This paper presents the findings from an exploration of religious beliefs collected from narrative accounts from 16 Latter-day Saint (LDS or Mormon) fathers of children with special needs. Six themes were created to organize the narratives as a result of coding. The first three are M explicitly religious in nature: (1) choosing to care, (2) dealing with today's challenges, and (3) building love through play. The second three themes were explicitly religious: (4) having faith in God's purposes, (5) giving priesthood blessings, and (6) accepting help from the church. These themes are connected to the literature on special-needs children and are related to the conceptual ethic of generative fathering (Dollahite, Hawkins, & Brotherson, 1997).

While there has been no shortage of scholarly work on fathers and fathering in recent years, relatively little research has been done on the influence of religious beliefs and practices on fathering (Dollahite, 1998, this issue). Indeed, religion has rarely been included as a variable of interest in studies of fathering (Marciano, 1991). When religion is studied, it is typically limited to quantitative assessments of "religiosity" (frequency of church attendance) rather than more personal or familial beliefs and practices (Michello, 1988; Sorensen, 1989). Given the abiding importance of religious belief and practice in American life, it is surprising that scant scholarship has been done to ascertain whether religious beliefs and practices can be beneficial in helping parents raise children, and if so, which are most beneficial.

This paper presents the findings of an exploration of religious beliefs and practices from a collection of narrative accounts from 16 Latter-day Saint (Mormon) fathers of children with special needs. We begin with brief reviews of the literature on faith and fathering and special-needs children. Next, we present the conceptual ethic of generative fathering (Dollahite, Hawkins, & Brotherson, 1997) that serves as a theoretical framework for the study. We then present the narrative accounts and discuss them in the context of Latter-day Saint religious belief and practice, findings from research on stress and special-needs families, and ideas from the generative fathering perspective. Finally, we discuss the implications of our findings for fathering and faith.

CRITICAL REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE ON FAITH AND FATHERING

Scholarship that has treated fathering and faith can be loosely categorized into three genres: (a) theological discussion and pastoral counsel found primarily in religious journals, (b) psychological and philosophical critiques, and (c) quantitative research in family studies that examines intergenerational transmission of religiosity.

Theological and pastoral work. Hundreds of articles exist in religious magazines and journals that approach fathering from a theological and pastoral perspective (e.g., Falwell, 1987; Heinrichs, 1982; McCoy, 1986; Stolt, 1994). Christian theological discussions typically center around God's "divine fatherhood" and the relationship of this doctrine to earthly paternity. Pastoral articles relating to fathering typically include admonition that encourages fathers to incorporate various facets of religious beliefs and ethics into their father-child relationships.

Psychological and philosophical critiques. Psychological and philosophical explorations of the influence of religion on fathering that are either neutral or positive are somewhat sparse (Abramovitch, 1997; Kass, 1994; Miller, 1983; Vergote, 1980). Critiques of religious fathering are more abundant (e.g., Eilberg-Schwartz, 1995; Foster, 1994; Hook & Kimel, 1995, Schwartz-Salant, 1987). Freudian and subsequent pyschodynamic thought has impugned religion as "an obsessional neurosis" that spawns the "oppressive religious father" (Vergote, 1980) and is harmful to mental health. This view is highly problematic in light of Matthews, Larson, and their colleagues' (1993a, 1993b, 1995, 1997) four-volume review of nearly four hundred empirical studies on religion and health that shows religious faith to be either neutral or beneficial to physical, mental, and relational health. …

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