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Doing Love: Fathers’ Emotions in Relation to Their Children

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Part of the Palgrave Macmillan Studies in Family and Intimate Life book series (PSFL)

Abstract

This chapter puts forth the argument that in maintaining love and the positive quality of the relationship with their children, involved fathers’ love requires emotional bordering. It looks at the meanings that Scottish and Romanian involved fathers have given to love, as it is experienced in the relationships they share to their children, and presents data in support of the social construction of paternal love, evidenced by involved fathers’ emotional vocabularies and their self-reported and embodied practices of love. Through presenting their data excerpts, I trace how men border emotionally in relation to their children to preserve aspects of traditional masculinity and gendered power while simultaneously enacting intimate fathering. The findings are discussed in relation to emotional reflexivity and emotion work, clearly stating how emotional bordering is a distinct and processual concept.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    According to Mary Holmes, emotional reflexivity is ‘(…) an emotional, embodied, and cognitive process in which social actors have feelings about and try to understand and alter their lives in relation to their social and natural environment to others’ (p. 140, 2010).

  2. 2.

    To help situate fathers’ quotes in the analysis, I have recorded for each father the following descriptors: culture (Scottish or Romanian), age and residency (resident or non-resident); these identifiers appear within the text after each name, in round brackets.

  3. 3.

    The ‘calm situation’ he refers to was represented by the two weeks of paternity leave, which he took after her birth.

  4. 4.

    The focus on individualism in connection to love was emphasized when Anthony Giddens published his book The Transformation of Intimacy (1992), which built on Niklas Luhmann’s idea of love as validation for individualism; romantic love is understood as sustaining ‘the project of the self’ in post-modernity.

  5. 5.

    Emphasis his own.

  6. 6.

    Practices of intimacy are assumed to be innovative, relationship-specific or habituated (Jamieson 2011); they are part of family practices but can also be commodified and non-familial (see Padilla et al. 2007). The practices presented in this chapter stemmed from fathers’ own descriptions during the interviews. Personally, my access to observing family practices was restricted to only six spontaneous observations.

  7. 7.

    According to Lupton, skinship is ‘(…) the relational state created by close physical proximity, touch and intimacy. This concept is useful as a way of describing the intercorporeal interactions and development of intimate relationships between infants and their careers’ (p. 40).

  8. 8.

    His wife worked in a hospital.

  9. 9.

    Love and its social enmeshment might not necessarily be a pleasant and enjoyable emotional experience, as Donna Haraway (2003) wrote about ‘significant otherness’: ‘we signify in the flesh a nasty developmental infection called love’ (p. 3).

  10. 10.

    This data excerpt includes notes from the observations of father-son interactions on the day of our interview, which were spontaneously recorded on a notepad whenever the interview was interrupted by Stewart’s son; combining transcripts with field notes can be a useful technique to capture father’s embodiment in research.

  11. 11.

    Such as the child wanting the father to do something, and the father was unwilling or vice versa.

  12. 12.

    The word in Romanian is ‘smecheraş’, and it is difficult to find a perfectly corresponding translation. It implies a sort of clever way of deceiving someone, and getting one’s way, but it has jovial and pleasant undertones—especially in the context in which Horia used it.

  13. 13.

    Defined by G. H. Mead as ‘The organized community or social group which gives to the individual his unity of self may be called “the generalized” other. The attitude of the generalized other is the attitude of the whole community. Thus, for example, in the case of such a social group as a ball team, the team is the generalized other insofar as it enters—as an organized process or social activity—into the experience of any one of the individual members of it’ (p. 154).

  14. 14.

    Even if fathers experience visceral attachments to their children, as a marker of the masculine embodiment of the experience of transitioning to fatherhood and love, these are, nonetheless, a different phenomenon than the most commonly known ‘couvade’ or ‘sympathy pains’ that fathers experience when their partners are giving birth (Brennan et al. 2007).

  15. 15.

    Both Hugh and his partner worked in high-ranking jobs in the financial sector, which saw them enlist their children in after-school clubs and rely on the help of a nanny. He was also spending a day a week engaging in leisure, and after our interview ended—which took place at the end of his working day—he went golfing.

  16. 16.

    Note, however, that it has been argued that fatherhood is not as ‘morally policed’ as motherhood (Miller 2010).

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Macht, A. (2020). Doing Love: Fathers’ Emotions in Relation to Their Children. In: Fatherhood and Love. Palgrave Macmillan Studies in Family and Intimate Life. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-20358-0_2

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-20358-0_2

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