Abstract: "so Many Things You Can Get Trapped into:" Structural, Family, and Individual Challenges Faced By African American Boys and Fathers (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

"so Many Things You Can Get Trapped into:" Structural, Family, and Individual Challenges Faced By African American Boys and Fathers

Friday, January 14, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 12, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Otima Doyle, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago
Sue Estroff, PhD
David Goldston, PhD
Background and Purpose: African American fathers often play an important role in their children’s development, and given their documented involvement in youths’ lives may be integral to interventions designed to prevent negative youth outcomes. Yet, attention must be given to the unique, structural, family, and cultural contexts in which African American fathers parent, and in which African American youth develop. Centering African American fathers’ perspectives about the challenges they face can help us better define issues relevant to interventions that support African American boys and fathers, and may in turn impact recruitment and retention rates for such interventions. Therefore, the objective of this study was to explore, from the perspective of African American fathers, the challenges faced by African American boys and fathers.

Methodology: The current study is derived from data collected as a part of a broader qualitative pilot study examining African American fathers’ parenting experiences and visions for father-focused preventive interventions. The current analysis is focused on fathers’ descriptions of the challenges faced by African American boys and fathers. Participants included 30 self-identified, African American, biological fathers of pre-adolescent sons who were at broad risk (i.e., community, family, individual) for developing aggressive behaviors, depressive symptoms or both. Qualitative interviews were semi-structured, based on a topic guide developed a priori, and lasted approximately 1-1.5 hours. Fathers received $25 in compensation for their time. The analysis was informed by grounded theory methods and emergent themes were systematically identified by the research team. 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.

Results: In the context of discussing their fathering experiences and visions for father focused interventions, fathers reflected on challenges faced by African American boys, men, and fathers. The following themes emerged from the data: 1) racism and negative stereotypes, 2) financial hardship and providing, 3) being there, 4) relationships with their own fathers (subthemes: not like my father, like my father, and observations of other fathers), and 5) individual struggles. Fathers provided insight into African American males’ experiences with racism and negative stereotypes in various settings (e.g., the military, schools, neighborhoods), how they’ve coped with racism, and how racism impacts African American fathers’ sense of self-worth and esteem. Participants described positive, strained, and reconciled relationships with their own fathers, and the extent to which they model their parenting after their fathers.’ Fathers also discussed their struggles with drugs, alcohol, immediate gratification, and emotional expression.

Conclusions and Implications: The findings draw attention to the ways in which longstanding and pervasive structural issues (e.g., racism) impact African American males, as well as how relationships with one’s own father inform African American fathers’ parenting behaviors. Interventions with African-American fathers and their sons may be strengthened by providing culturally tailored, mutually supportive environments to address these challenges. Additional implications for research and practice are discussed.