The Means to and Meaning of “Being There” in Responsible Fatherhood Programming with Low‐Income Fathers

Aug 2019 | Jennifer Randles

To understand how low‐income men's views of paternal responsibility shape their engagement with fatherhood program messages and services.

Background: Research on the situated contexts of fathering has found that the social and symbolic dimensions of fathering spaces influence how men construct and enact fatherhood scripts. Qualitative studies of fatherhood programs have mostly investigated parenting education and job assistance programs, revealing how fathering interventions allow disadvantaged men to shape positive paternal identities.
Method: In‐depth interviews and focus groups were conducted with a nonrandom sample of 64 primarily Black and Latino low‐income fathers who participated in a federally funded responsible fatherhood program. An inductive coding technique was used to identify reasons men enrolled, the alignment of program messages with fathers' views, and how the program allowed fathers to negotiate obstacles to sustained involvement.
Results: Fathers overwhelmingly found the program valuable because it offered the social and economic means they needed to enact varied meanings of paternal responsibility—or “being there.” Most fathers reported that the program allowed them to realize their involvement goals, thereby enabling them to better align their paternal identities and behaviors.
Conclusion: Fatherhood programming that promotes a broader idea of paternal provision to include money and care aligns with how disadvantaged fathers tailor their understandings of paternal involvement to account for socioeconomic constraints, including poverty and racism.
Implications: Fatherhood interventions can influence disadvantaged men's abilities to claim and enact responsible parent identities, but programs must address the importance of resources and opportunities, including and especially access to well‐paid work, for shaping paternal involvement.

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