Paternal nurturance: A qualitative study of two generations of fathers and their perceptions of nurturance

Kevin Paul Doscher (1995)

Psychology has long overlooked the importance of the role of fathers and their contribution to child development. One reason is that fathers have previously been thought to be either disinterested or incompetent in the area of child care. The notion of the absentee father has become a cultural stereotype. With a growing number of working women, and increased single parent families over the last several decades, a number of men have been taking on the role of primary caretaker in the home. What comparatively little research that exists on fathers has been done from the perspective of how children and wives see their fathers and husbands. The area of fathers' perceptions of what fathering and paternal nurturance means is relatively unexplored. This study examines what fathering and paternal nurturance means to two generations of fathers using a postmodern perspective. Attention is given to the many dimensions that have contributed to the construction of fathering in American culture today, including historical, social, cultural, economic, and psychological aspects. A qualitative methodology was used to examine the perceptions of twenty middle and upper middle class, white males, comprising two generations of fathers, with regard to the meaning of fathering and paternal nurturance. Narratives about how these men define paternal nurturance, how they view their role as fathers, how they see fathering as being different from mothering, and how they view fathering as differing, or not, from one generation to another, are explored. In this study fathering and paternal nurturance was best described, by both generations, as a responsibility and commitment to ones' children and family. Generally, paternal nurturance was perceived, by both generations, to be demonstrated through the traditional roles of financial provider and protector assumed by fathers. However, both generations generally attributed changing social and economic trends in America to generational differences within these two primary roles.