Qualitative research has provided valuable insights into the relationships between low income, urban, African American men and their children. This chapter summarizes findings from classic and recent studies about the impact of neighborhood characteristics, negotiations between fathers and mothers and their extended families, the social construct of fathers and mothers, and the variety of father figures who take responsibility for paternal tasks. Conducted by researchers in the fields of anthropology, education, human development, and sociology, the studies used techniques such as open-ended interviews, group interviews, microethnography, and participant observation to collect data. In general, the research suggests that neighborhood factors, such as the lack of job opportunities, have a significant effect on fathering as poor men find it difficult to secure stable employment so they can support their families. Many men turn to informal or underground sources for income, which also can present a barrier to fathering. The amount of support from the extended family members of the father and mother can enhance or inhibit the involvement of fathers in their lives of their children. Specifically, the kinship network of the child's mother may be reluctant to encourage father-child interaction based on the man's history or the mother's history with other men. Poor, urban African American men tend to de-emphasize the importance of financial support in their definition of fatherhood and recognize the value of the time and care that they give their children. The research found that father involvement is cyclical and depends on the man's relationship with the child's mother, job instability, and the child's initiative in seeking contact. The role of father can be filled by biological fathers, male companions, stepfathers, foster fathers, uncles, grandfathers, older brothers, and other family friends and mentors. These men fulfill a variety of parental tasks, such as recreation and play, domestic work and child care, role models, and discipline and protection. However, conflicts can occur when men are asked to accept responsibility for stepchildren or when they must balance their obligations to their children and their family of origin. Public policies designed to improve father-child relationships should consider the developmental stage of fathers, the role of informal family arrangements, and neighborhood factors. Numerous references.
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