Academic journal article Michigan Family Review

Provisional Balances: Fathers' Perceptions of the Politics and Dynamics of Involvement in Family and Career Development

Academic journal article Michigan Family Review

Provisional Balances: Fathers' Perceptions of the Politics and Dynamics of Involvement in Family and Career Development

Article excerpt

4. Christian Dunn is an undergraduate student, Department of Individual and Family Studies, University of Delaware.

Contemporary literature often emphasizes the new "culture of fatherhood" (LaRossa, 1988), highlighting care giving and nurturant interactions between fathers and their children (Robinson & Barret, 1986; Rotundo, 1985). Because work and family compete for a father's time and attention (Cohen, 1993; Lamb, Pleck & Levine, 1987; Levine & Pittinsky, 1997), a father's investment in paid employment can be portrayed as an escape from involvement at home (Hochschild, 1997). While this may be true in some cases, this view neither captures the complex interactions between the multiple roles that fathers fulfill as they care for the needs of their families nor the struggles men face in balancing career development and involvement as fathers.

This qualitative study represents a selected portion of an open-ended, structured interview with 40 demographically diverse men ranging in age from 22 to 45 years (mean age 34.68 years, s.d. 6.88 years). Men were interviewed concerning their perceptions of changes in their life course and personality attributable to fathering. This report examines the balances between paternal involvement in child rearing, commitment to work, career trajectories, company policies toward father involvement in family matters, and men's perceptions of supports and obstacles to involvement represented in the interface between the home and the workplace. Of particular interest are fathers' perceptions of the dialectics of involvement in family and workplace.

To qualify for inclusion in the sample, fathers could have children of any age and the children could be biological, adopted, stepchildren or fictive kin. The fathers could be either co-resident or living in another household. The sample represented diversity in ethnicity, education, occupational achievement and status, degree of paternal involvement in child rearing, and father's age at time of first child's birth. The average father in the sample had two biological children (mean = 1.98, s.d. .83). Ten of the forty men fathered a total of 19 stepchildren (range 1-4, mean 1.90 stepchildren per stepfather). The average age of firstborn biological children was 10.00 years (s.d. 6.23), and the average age at the time of men's transitions to fatherhood was 26.15 years (s.d. 5.03 years). For further demographic information, please refer to Table 1.

Table 1. Demographic Characteristics Summary


20-25 5

26-30 6

31-35 10

36-40 9

41-45 10


African American 8

Caucasian 31

Hispanic 1


Less than High School 1

High School/G.E.D. 7

Some College 15

2 Year College Degree 4

4 Year College Degree 5

Graduate Course work 3

Masters' Degree 3

Doctoral Course work 1

Doctoral Degree 1


Catholic 8

Christian 7

No Preference 6

Methodist 5

Baptist 3

Pentecostal 3

Agnostic 1

Assemblies of God 1

Charismatic 1

Evangelical Free 1

Lutheran 1

Orthodox 1

Presbyterian 1

Protestant 1


$ 0-10,000 4

$10-20,000 4

$20-30,000 5

$30-40,000 7

$40-50,000 8

$50-60,000 3

$60-70,000 3

$70-80,000 3

$80-90,000 2

$90-100,000 0

$100,000+ 1

A series of structured open-ended questions concerning the relationships between work and father involvement was asked during the course of 1.5- to 2-hour face-to-face interviews exploring a wide range of fathering issues. Questions concerning work occurred approximately 15 to 20 minutes into the interview. The first work-related questions were open-ended with more focused follow-up questions following. Although the interviewer used a flexible interview schedule, the general flow of questions was as follows:

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