“Don't Wait for It to Rain to Buy An Umbrella:” The Intergenerational Transmission of Values From African American Fathers to Sons
The importance of fathers in the lives of their children has been documented, yet much is left to discover about fathers’ caregiving behaviors. Fathering needs to be understood within its own multifaceted and culturally-constructed contexts, given its similarity to and difference from mothering (Brotherson, Dollahite, & Hawkins, 2005; Lamb & Tamis-LeMonda, 2004; McAdoo, 2002). In-depth analyses are necessary to broaden our understanding of fathering. One area of interest for which little is known, particularly for African Americans, is the transmission of values from fathers to their children (Allen & Connor, 2001; Brotherson, Dollahite, & Hawkins, 2005). The objective of this study is to broaden our understanding of fathers’ perceptions of important dimensions of fathering behavior by exploring the values African American fathers seek to instill within their pre-adolescent sons.
Thirty self-identified, African American, biological fathers of pre-adolescent sons at broad risk (i.e., community, family, individual) for developing aggressive behaviors, depressive symptoms or both participated in semi-structured, qualitative interviews. Interviews were based on a topic guide developed a priori, and lasted approximately 1-1.5 hours. The data presented in this manuscript were collected as a part of a broader pilot study examining fathers’ experiences with their biological, pre-adolescent sons. The current analysis is focused on fathers’ descriptions of the values they teach their sons. Fathers received $25 in compensation for their time. Informed by grounded theory methods, emergent themes were systematically identified by the research team (Padgett, 1998; QSR, 2008; Strauss & Corbin, 1998). Inter-rater reliability was set at 2/3 agreement. Coding below 2/3 agreement was discussed in team meetings and discrepancies were resolved via consensus.
Four salient themes emerged from the data. They included respect for and pride in self, respect for others, the value of education, and responsibility. Respect for and pride in self included a sense of self-worth, pride, and for several fathers, their sons’ knowledge of and pride in their cultural heritage. Respect for others included the need for common courtesy, tolerance, the importance of community and respect for elders. Many fathers also noted the importance of education. Responsibility involved owning mistakes, developing school/work ethic, developing independence, and preparing to become family providers. The values fathers worked to instill within their sons were influenced by the values passed down from their own fathers, their own experiences with race and racism, and for some their experiences living in impoverished neighborhoods.
Conclusions and Implications
These findings provide invaluable insight, from the perspectives of fathers, into the cultural, gendered, and environmental contexts that shape the transmission of values from fathers to their sons. An increased understanding of what’s most important to fathers themselves may be instrumental in the engagement and retention of African American fathers in family-based social work services. Implications for social work intervention, policy, and practice will be discussed.