Military Fathers and Families: Experiences Across Contexts, Space, and Time
Jones, Nicolle Buckmiller
Roy, Kevin M
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There are approximately 1.8 million U.S. children with at least one parent in the military (Department of Defense, 2010). Maintaining an all-volunteer military force has led to an increase in older, career military members that are more likely to have children (RAND, 2010). Due to extended military commitments and recent deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, the need to understand the impact of deployment and military work commitments on children and family relationships has come to the forefront. While a number of studies have explored the influence of deployment and a military lifestyle on children and families, few have explored the impact of military employment and deployment on father-child relationships from the perspective of fathers. This study explored the experiences of fathers as they negotiated the contexts of family and military life, created relationships with their children across physical spaces and over time, and strategized how to foster nurturant father-child relationships. Qualitative interviews with 23 Active Duty, National Guard, and Reserve Army fathers were used to address these exploratory areas. Among these fathers, 15 were from the enlisted ranks and 8 were officers. Fathers varied in terms of age, race, and socio-economic status but in order to better capture strategies, challenges, and fathering experiences, military fathers had at least one child during at least one deployment, had been deployed at least once, and were married or had been in a committed relationship. Approximately 90-minute interviews were used to capture and explore father's experiences, as well as field notes of observations detailing site visits and interactions with staff serving military fathers and families. The discussion of the resulting themes explores the relationship between work and family roles and identity and fathering, expands the view of how Army fathers manage mental health needs through compartmentalization and decompression and personal intervention as well as by being attentive to family needs, and emphasizes how Army fathers may be doing more than simply "making up for" implications related to their deployment but deliberately designing fathering to address the needs of their children in response to deployment and occupational demands. The theoretical lenses of situated fathering and symbolic interactionism are used to frame and interpret the recorded experiences of military fathers as they navigated the fields of fatherhood and military. The theoretical concepts of ambiguous loss, ambiguous presence, and ambiguous absence are also used to connect the theories of situated fathering and symbolic interactionism, and enhance the exploration of military men's fathering.