Men's experiences of fathering sons : encountering difference and disappointment.
Pluke, Robert Hay.
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Previous research indicates that fathering can contribute to the psychological well-being of both men and their children, but that these benefits depend on the quality of relationship between father and child. Focusing on disappointment as a common relational experience, this qualitative study explores how fathers describe their experiences, actions and resolutions in the face of disappointment in their sons. Data was collected via semi-structured interviews with eleven fathers from similar socio-economic and cultural contexts. The study adopted a psychosocial perspective, and interviews were analysed by combining a thematic analysis with psycho-discursive and psychoanalytically-informed readings of the texts. The results indicate that participants expected their sons to be similar to them as fathers, such that disappointment talk tended to be founded on talk about difference. Additionally, most fathers expected to mentor their sons, particularly in the context of sports activities. However, differences in interest and attitude frustrated and disappointed these mentor hopes, presenting fathers with a dilemma. Many participants negotiated this dilemma by distinguishing between encouraging and ‘pushing’ their sons to conform. This distinction was used to demarcate good fathering and to defend against the implication that fathers were satisfying their own desires for achievement. Fathers were also concerned by, and tended to defend against, the notion that their responses to disappointment could damage their relationships to their sons. Some participants responded by renegotiating the mentor position, changing their expectations regarding achievement, and giving priority to their relationships with their sons. In some cases, the mother was positioned as a mediator between father and different son, and as a bridge to renegotiated mentor positions. These results suggest that analyzing the ways fathers respond to disappointment sheds light on the ways patriarchy may be (re)produced within the details of every-day interactions. But the results also suggest that the experience of disappointment represents a challenging opportunity for fathers to articulate new versions of fathering and masculinity through accepting and validating the different son.