Abstract: Understanding the Complexity of Father Involvement Using Conversation: A Phenomenological Approach (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

371P Understanding the Complexity of Father Involvement Using Conversation: A Phenomenological Approach

Friday, January 18, 2019
Continental Parlors 1-3, Ballroom Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Jaimie O'Gara, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
Background and Purpose:Our current social environment, father involvement is viewed as important to the well-being of children, and has been linked to an array of positive youth outcomes (e.g., Twamly et al., 2013; Wilson & Prior, 2011). The field lacks consensus on the core components that constitute father involvement, which complicates research and intervention efforts. Father involvement is socially constructed and therefore subject to cultural and societal norms; hence social workers are compelled to engage with individuals of all racial/ethnic backgrounds to better understand the core bio-psycho-social and spiritual aspects of father involvement that have the potential to improve child outcomes. This qualitative study emphasized the importance of engaging in in-depth dialogue with diverse individuals to understand the unique beliefs and behaviors that comprise the phenomenon of father involvement.

Method: This study utilized a hermeneutic phenomenological mode of inquiry to capture the essence of the lived experiences of participants whom have had enduring close relationships with their biological fathers. Hermeneutic phenomenology focuses on the descriptions of what and how people experience a phenomenon (i.e. having an involved father), to capture the essence of the experience (Patton, 2002). Participant criteria included any adult over the age of 18 who identified as having had a close relationship with an involved biological father from birth. Participants (N = 10) were purposely chosen because they the fit the above criteria and were of professions within and outside of the profession of social work. An interview guide was developed and utilized during semi-structured interviews. Interviews took place in the participants’ homes, via telephone, and via Skype, and were 60-90 minutes in duration.  

Results:Five themes of father involvement emerged from the interviews: (a) the present father is devoted to his family despite life’s demands, (b)fathers’ primary task is to prepare his children for the “real world”, (c) fathers are moral guides, instrumental in developing children’s value systems, (d) father-child relationships are challenging, unique, and emotionally driven, and (e) involved fathers provide children with an invaluable sense of safety and security. Results suggested that the devotion of the participants’ fathers lead to the successes the participants experienced in their adult lives. Their fathers molded their values and morals and prepared them for the demands of adulthood.

Conclusions and Implications: Five themes of father involvement were discovered and reflected that father-child relationships are intense, emotional, and significant. As with any relationship, father-child relationships contained positive and negative aspects, suggesting that thinking about fatherhood in a dichotomous, positive or negative, way is obsolete and inappropriate. Instead father involvement should be understood as a complex construct containing many layers. Future research should continue to include in-depth dialogue with people of diverse backgrounds to deepen our understanding of how fathers and children conceptualize father involvement to gain a deeper understanding of the essential mechanisms that are responsible for both negative and positive child development. This presentation will also discuss how community engaged research can inform practice within communities of varying social and cultural ideals.