When worlds collide: The meanings of work and fathering among fathers of premature infants
Shawn M. Pohlman, Ph.D
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- Omicron Iota at-Large
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This interpretive phenomenological study examined the meanings, concerns, and practices of eight fathers of pre-term infants. Fathers were interviewed six to eight times over a 6 month period, beginning within a month after birth and continuing at home after infant discharge from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). The majority were married first-time fathers, between ages 22 and 40 years with infants born between 25 and 32 weeks gestation. Transcriptions of all 63 interviews were treated as meaningful text and analyzed using interpretive methods. Fathering was situated between the colliding worlds of work and parenthood. Fatherhood was intimidating and stressful because fathers had few practical caregiving experiences to draw upon, in direct contrast to the world of work where they felt productive and important. Fathers complained there was little they could “do” with their infants and, as a result, they quickly returned to work with a renewed intensity. Work fulfilled the important role of providing financially for their families and sustained their self-worth and competence, but sometimes left them feeling guilty as they fell short of an “involved” fathering ideal which they yearned for and society expected. They did not consciously retreat to work to avoid their families, but were following in the footsteps of their own fathers. The most stressful aspects of their experience were located outside the NICU and involved the juggling act between work, hospital visits, and home. Paradoxically, work was also a coping resource for fathers. Although nurses were clearly the caregiving experts in the NICU, fathers were sometimes frustrated by their lack of partnership with health care providers, who tended to view medical caregiving through a rational-technologic lens. At home, their wives/partners were often the experts, playing an important role in drawing fathers closer towards their infants or keeping them on the periphery. Because fathering is defined in “mothering” terms by society and the scientific community, a father's gendered history and embodiment are overlooked. A situated understanding of fathers is an important step towards the emergence of a mutual partnership between fathers and health care providers. Without such an understanding, family centered caregiving is impossible.
This dissertation has also been disseminated through the ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database. Dissertation/thesis number: 3102919; ProQuest document ID: 288332793. The author still retains copyright.
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