Academic journal article Family Relations

"I've Fixed Things Up": Paternal Identity of Substance-Dependent Fathers

Academic journal article Family Relations

"I've Fixed Things Up": Paternal Identity of Substance-Dependent Fathers

Article excerpt

This study deals with how substance-dependent men perceive their paternal identity. Data were based on in-depth semi-structured interviews with 12 Israeli fathers who were enrolled in methadone maintenance treatment. Content analysis revealed that participants had undergone a process of parental identity formation composed of four distinct stages: absence, awakening, taking responsibility, and resolution to re-form oneself as a father. The discussion highlights the developmental nature of this process. Also discussed are the effects of three factors on the formation of paternal identity: the treatment for addiction, the subjects' newfound identity as "clean addicts," and social perceptions and discourses about fatherhood and addiction.

Key Words: fatherhood, Methadone maintenance treatment, paternal identity, substance-dependent men.

In these times of rapid social change, fatherhood is at once an identity, a practice, a social structure, and an individual life experience (Henwood & Procter, 2003; Lamb, 2010; Palkovitz & Palm, 2009). Paternal identity is complex and varied. Its formation is influenced by social perceptions of masculinity (Brandth & Kvande, 1998), by paternal roles (Doherty, 1997; Lamb & Tamis-LeMonda, 2004), and by intergenerational relations between father and son (Lamb, 1997). It binds together past events, present experiences, and thoughts about "my future self."

Most of the literature on parenting and addictions has focused on the mothering practices of substance-abusing women (McMahon, Winkle, Luthar, & Rounsaville, 2005) and the effect of their substance use on the child (Loukas, Fitzgerald, Zucker & Von Eye, 2001) and less so on the issue of substancedependent men as fathers. The little that is known in this field suggests that substanceabusing fathers value their paternal status and are involved in their children's lives more than is commonly assumed (McMahon & Rounsaville, 2002), albeit accompanied by feelings of guilt and uncertainty about their relevance to their children's lives (Arenas & Greif, 2000). The paternal identity of substance-abusing men is still largely unexplored, so the purpose of the present study was to broaden what is currently known about this subject. The terminology in the literature on fathering and addictions is somewhat inconsistent in its use of the terms addiction, drug abuse, substance abuse, and drug dependence. In this article, we define the population at hand as substancedependent fathers, in keeping with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV; American Psychiatric Association, 2000).

Fatherhood and Paternal Identity

Fatherhood is a dynamic, complex, and multifaceted phenomenon subject to cultural, economic, and social change (Lamb & TamisLemonda, 2004). The concept of father is defined both by the father's biological function and by his emotional and social role (Dowd, 2000). In other words, it is a complex bio-psycho-social process that determines and shapes a man's identity and roles as a father in accordance with family-related and social ideologies (Branditi & Kvande, 1998; Lamb, 2010). The perception of fatherhood has changed over history, with each period placing the primary emphasis on a different aspect (Lamb, 1987): the father as moral teacher, responsible for his children's upbringing (particularly with regard to religious values); the father as breadwinner and gender role model; and the nurturing, or "New Father," who expresses his feelings and is sensitive to his children's needs, shows interest in them, and takes an active part in promoting their educational, cognitive, and emotional development (Coltrane, 1996; Lupton & Barclay, 1997). Despite these distinctions, fathers today appear to have no clear boundary between these four roles: They are all part of the fatherhood experience, with the relative importance attributed to each one varying from one father to the next and between different social groups (Lamb, 2010). …

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