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The fatherless identity : an exploratory case study of men's fatherless experiences



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Fatherlessness seems to have instigated a growing political and social debate in recent years (Daniels, 1998). At the core of this debate lies the questions of whether fatherlessness today is more widespread than it has been historically, and whether the necessity and efficacy of fathers is important in the changing landscape of family paradigms (Daniels, 1998). In the last thirty years, research has defined fatherlessness in terms of parental marital status, father abandonment, and father death (Daniels, 1998; Gallagher, 1998; Popenoe, 1996). Some psychoanalysts extended the definition to include the emotional absence (Blundell, 2002), or emotional unavailability of the father (Lamb & Tamis-LeMonda, 2004). Research suggests that children raised by both biological parents have greater socio-economic success (McLanahan & Teitler, 1999), seem to have an intellectual advantage (Research Center for Minority Data, 2009), and are less prone to encounter emotional problems than single-parented children (Cockett and Tripp, 1994). These factors reflect the deficit model of fatherlessness that dominated child development research prior to the 1970s (Hawkins and Dollahite, 1997). More current research focused on the benefits of father involvement and purported that fathers who are more involved in the lives of their children (Day & Lamb, 2004; Pleck & Masciadrelli, 2004), and make themselves more emotionally available tend to raise children with fewer emotional problems and better overall mental health (Lum & Phares, 2005). With society producing what some refer to as a fatherless generation (Hydrate Studios, 2006), and a number of researchers attesting that fatherlessness is a devastating modern, social trend (Blackenhorn, 1995; Popenoe, 1996), current qualitative research was warranted in order to explore factors that lead fatherless individuals to assume a fatherless identity. In this exploratory case study, semi-structured interviews were conducted to better understand fatherlessness as experienced by adult male case study participants. The study focused on the experiences of men in order to manage the scope of research, and defer to the male experiences that prompted the research. Four men self-identified as fatherless with no imposed research definition by responding to the recruitment question Are You Fatherless? Results indicated that historical ways of defining fatherless were merely factors that intensify the experience; they do not define a person as fatherless. Findings suggested that the father role, family dynamics, emotionality, socio-economic and intellectual factors, disparate ideal and perceived father images, negative emotional connections with fathers, and a son’s sense of masculinity all play a part in men assuming a fatherless identity.



fatherless experience, absent fathers, exploratory, men who identify as fatherless, fatherlessness, fatherless identity, qualitative case study, case study



Master of Education (M.Ed.)


Educational Psychology and Special Education


Educational Psychology and Special Education


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