What are the social forces that shape, sustain, and undermine involved fathering for Latino men? My dissertation, Fathering Ideals: The Meanings of Latino Involved Fatherhoods, generates new knowledge on Latino men, fatherhood, and masculinities using an intersectionalities perspective. My study also considers how Latino fathers enact fatherhood, monitor one another’s fatherhoods, and understand the emotional labor of fathering. Drawing upon 60 in-depth interviews with Latino fathers living in California, I pinpoint an emerging fatherhood ideal to which Latino fathers in my study subscribe. These “ideal” characteristics reflect the larger ideals about involved fathering and emphasize the transmission of cultural values and practices including: balancing work and family, not having “too many” kids, being active in their children’s lives (especially their education), being attentive to their children’s mental health, being emotionally expressive and accessible, having greater communication with their families, incorporating Spanish and other Latina/o cultural traditions, and using alternative methods of discipline. The majority of fathers, however, cannot successfully achieve this new ideal due to structural impediments. Consequently, Latino fathers employ diverse, class-specific, strategies to try to accomplish an idealized classed notion of fatherhood.
Overall, my study traces the effects of work and employment, the social construction of childhood, their relationships with their own fathers, and the institution of motherhood on Latino men’s involved fathering. Paid work and employment enables Latino fathers to be good providers, but detracts from accomplishing their fathering ideals. The majority of participants realize that work also prevented them from getting to know their own fathers in a deep, intimate way. This realization drives those able (mostly college-educated, professional, Latino fathers) to adjust their work commitments or schedules to make time for their families. Additionally, many men in my study perceived that they were denied a childhood, an issue that compels Latino fathers to value the “pricelessness” of their children. There is tension, however, between Latino fathers’ desires to give their children a “normal” childhood alongside fears of spoiling their children. I theorize their attempts to negotiate this tension as the concerted cultivation of natural growth (a racialized and classed parenting practice and ideology). Moreover, Latino fathers are forced to reevaluate their own fathers in light of changing cultural ideologies. Their reevaluations of their own fathers, and other father figures, expose a continuum between two extremes: reverence and resentment. Nuanced expressions of idolization and hatred, fulfillment and longing, respeto (respect) and indifference, forgiveness and condemnation exist and they change over the life course. Lastly, by examining men’s experiences of childbirth and custody hearings, I argue that the naturalization of motherhood drives these fathers to frame fatherhood as “work.” Consequently, the meanings that fathers attach to fatherhood are shaped by their beliefs about whether they can be as competent in caregiving as they perceive mothers to be.
My research agenda considers contemporary practices and ideologies of fatherhood among Latino men and reflects the intricacies of inequality in family life. Considering the differences and similarities in how Latino men conceptualize and practice fatherhood, this study dispels prior notions of a unitary Latino father subject essential to researchers and policymakers interested in the role of fathers in the well-being of families. The results of this study contribute to the fields of gender studies, family studies, Latina/o sociology, social psychology, education, and Chicana/o studies.