Balancing fatherhood: Experiences of fatherhood among men with a difficult past

Herland, M. D., Hauge, M. I., & Helgeland, I. M. (2015). Balancing fatherhood: Experiences of fatherhood among men with a difficult past. Qualitative Social Work, 14(2), 242-258. doi:10.1177/1473325014528737

This paper analyses how men who were delinquent as adolescents experience themselves as fathers. The men who took part in a longitudinal study, all in their 40s, had severe adjustment problems as teenagers, and thus have a past that causes uncertainty about their parenting abilities in the present.

The paper analyses the men’s affective investments in their ways of being fathers. Four analytical categories that address the men’s fathering experiences were identified as significant in the interviews.

  • First unsettling relations and distance from their own children, which for many of the men appeared as a recurring pattern that resembled the relationships they had with their own parents.
  • Second, several men emphasised capacities such as personal traits or strength that made them able to make a break with the past.
  • Third, the importance of support from others was also recognised, particularly being able to share parenthood with the children’s mother and for some, receiving help from child welfare services.
  • Fourth, a key finding is that all the men, independent of whether they live with their children or not, experience a fragile point of balance, that is, incidents such as a relapse into drug abuse or a break in their relationship with the other parent strongly affect their relationships with their children.

The difficulties these men experienced as youth intersect with their experiences of their own capacities as fathers in the present.