Bridging Disciplinary Boundaries (January 11 - 14, 2007)

Pacific B (Hyatt Regency San Francisco)

The Perceptions of Mexican American Men as Fathers

Jeffrey Shears, PhD, Colorado State University, Rich Furman, PhD, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and Nalini Negi, MSW, University of Texas at Austin.

Purpose: Research demonstrates a strong, positive relationship between a father's involvement and an infants' early physical and psychosocial development. However, much of what we know about fathering is limited to an understanding developed from White, middle-class and well educated family lens. Further research is then needed to expand our understanding regarding the perceptions of fatherhood through the inclusion of ethnically diverse populations. As the Latino population in the United State continues to grow, social service practitioners and researchers are realizing that more must be done to understand the lived experiences of Latinos. This is particularly true for Latino men. Too often, cultural variables such as machismo and paternalismo are misunderstood by the social service community and others working with Latinos. This exploratory, qualitative then seeks to join a growing body of research on the lived experience of Latinos, in particular Mexican-Americans men and their experiences as fathers. This study will specifically explore the attitudes, experiences, and perceptions of self identified Mexican fathers of children residing in the Denver, CO metropolitan area.

Method: This study utilized data from Early Head Start program, a comprehensive, two-generation program that includes intensive services that begin before the child is born and concentrate on enhancing the child's development and supporting the family during the critical first three years of the child's life. This study followed a random assignment design, included 17 research sites and a sample of nearly 3,000 children and mothers, recruited when the children are 12 months of age or younger. For the purposes of this study we focused on several open-ended, qualitative questions that explore the experiences and perceptions of Mexican American men on their experiences of fathering in low-income families. The researchers utilized current best practices in generic qualitative methods. Thematic analysis was conducted to uncover categories and themes that elucidated the deeper meaning of fatherhood for lower income Mexican-American men.

Findings: Several non-overlapping themes emerged, of these the key findings include: the importance of “being there” for their children, affection and love between father and child, taking on responsibility after the birth of their child, and the challenges to perceived good fathering due to time restrictions because of work and financial impediments.

Implications: This study facilitates our understanding of the role of fathering in the lives of young infants in self identified Mexican-American families. Men involved in this study generally found value in the more traditional fathering roles. Some of them verbalized their desire to expand their roles to include more contemporary activities. This study confirms that Mexican-American fathers' attitudes and activities might be changing similarly to other fathers. Social work practitioners may utilize these findings to increase their empathy towards Latino men by understanding the limits of overly simplistic culturally ascribed variables.