2000 volume 32(4) pages 581 – 598

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Aitken S C, 2000, "Fathering and faltering: "Sorry, but you don't have the necessary accoutrements"" Environment and Planning A 32(4) 581 – 598

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Fathering and faltering: "Sorry, but you don't have the necessary accoutrements"

Stuart C Aitken

Received 15 March 1999; in revised form 17 August 1999

Abstract. The institution of the family is changing in complex and inscrutable ways. Ideally, it continues as a space of intimacy, love, and morality within which young children may find care and nurturing. This mythic conception of the institution belies the complex gendered realities of parenting. This paper focuses on the institution of fatherhood and the work of fathering. Much of our understanding of what it is to be a father hinges on an 'idea' that does not embrace the 'fact' of fathering as a daily emotional practice that is negotiated, contested and resisted differently in different spaces. Our enduring myths of social reproduction do not seem to support forms of masculinity that encompass a sense of self that is nurturing and domestically orientated. The paper derives from a series of discussions with new fathers and mothers in San Diego, California. I focus explicitly on constructions of fatherhood and the work of fathering with a focus on fathers who called themselves 'househusbands' and 'Mr Moms'. Although many of the heterosexual parents in the San Diego study thought of motherhood and fatherhood as 'natural' categories that gave meaning to their emotions and behaviors, further scrutiny suggests that emotions and behaviors are complexly woven, unraveled and sometimes detached from the work of parenting. The paper's main contribution is to demonstrate that even the most active fathers tend to see their role as 'helping out' their partners rather than taking the main responsibility for child-care themselves.

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