John Henry and the Paradox of Manhood, Fatherhood and Health for African American Fathers

Part of the National Symposium on Family Issues book series (NSFI, volume 7)


In this chapter, we use the fable of John Henry to illustrate the complex relation between manhood, fatherhood, and health for African American fathers. We begin by summarizing the story of John Henry, the version in which he was a husband and a father. Next, we review literature that describes how men conceptualize and define health and how these notions are intertwined with notions of fatherhood. Then we explore other literature that highlights how socialization processes are shaped by the intersections of being African American, middle-aged, and male. We return to the fable and use the literature to conjecture why John Henry made the choice to sacrifice his health for his professional success. In sum, we highlight the inherent tensions and contradictions in promoting manhood and health for African American fathers and the challenges they face in trying to leave a legacy of health to their sons.


African American Male Father Involvement Racial Socialization Hegemonic Masculinity Role Strain 
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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Research on Men’s Health and Center for Medicine, Health, and SocietyVanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA
  2. 2.Center for Research on Men’s HealthVanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA
  3. 3.Department of Public Health, Brown School of Social WorkWashington University in St. LouisSt. LouisUSA

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