Support Father Engagement: What Can We Learn From Fathers?

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Kyle Miller
Jordan Arellanes
Lakeesha James


Fathers play a unique and important role in children’s lives. However, gendered attitudes and practices with families have precluded their full engagement in children’s education and development. Based on the collective effort of a local fatherhood coalition, the purpose of this community-based study was to explore how fathers view themselves as involved in children’s lives and their perceived barriers to involvement in order to initiate change in local schools and community. Twenty-three fathers from ethnically and socioeconomically diverse backgrounds participated in interviews and focus groups to describe their definitions of father involvement, strengths as fathers, and needs. A collaborative, qualitative analysis of data led to the identification of four themes that framed the experiences of fathers and their needs. Mothers played a powerful role in promoting and prohibiting fathers’ involvement; technology provided opportunities to connect but also interfered with attachment efforts; fathers in more privileged positions were able to focus on attachment rather than merely providing; and school engagement was rarely mentioned with a focus on extra-curricular involvement. We discuss the influence of paternal characteristics and situational factors in how these themes inform the lives of fathers and the complex nature of fatherhood. Implications for schools and communities are offered in hopes to disrupt current practices and design more inclusive and equitable approaches to including fathers in family engagement efforts.

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