Methods: This mixed methods study gathered data from 46 Syrian refugee families who had fled their homes in Syria and were currently living in Lebanon. With the assistance of community-based organizations, families were purposively sampled from three different geographic regions in Lebanon: northern Lebanon (n=20), Beirut (n=11), and the Bakaa Valley (n=15). Methods of data collection included collaborative family interviews, GPS-tracked neighborhood walks, and weeklong family activity logging. To specifically explore the experiences of fathers, qualitative data from a sub-sample of 36 fathers (mean age 40.5) was analyzed using grounded theory and organized with the web-based platform Dedoose.
Results: Using the model of paternal protection, the results were organized according to method of protection. The findings underscore how fathers prioritized protecting their children along temporal dimensions: from when the war first broke out in Syria to their flight from Syria, and from their flight from Syria to their current setting of displacement. Fathers used multiple methods of protection including adapting the information that their children received about the conflict. Fathers also severely regulated their children’s mobility. For Syrian fathers, the focus of protection was physical and psychological protection. A common form of physical protection was the decision of fathers (often in consultation with other family members) to physically leave Syria for refuge in Lebanon where they encountered different physical threats to their children such as harassment from Lebanese citizens. Fathers also protected their children psychologically by attempting to create a “normal” childhood for them. This element of paternal protection was complicated by fathers’ own mental health issues, including depression and anxiety, which impacted their capacity to protect their children psychologically. Finally, Syrian fathers located the mechanisms of protection along a spectrum of internal and external locus of control, vacillating between an acceptance that the father has control over protecting his children to acknowledging that only a higher power can ensure the children’s protection.
Conclusions and Implications: First used to organize Palestinian fathers’ approach to protecting their children, the model of paternal protection can also be used to elucidate the experiences of fathers in other contexts of extreme adversity such as war and displacement experienced by Syrian fathers. Ultimately, the model contributes to a greater awareness and understanding of the daily challenges facing fathers and suggests ways that social work practice and policy can support these fathers and their families.