Fatherhood, bereavement and masculinity: an exploratory study of partner loss

Phipps, Rebecca (2021) Fatherhood, bereavement and masculinity: an exploratory study of partner loss. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Background: Early life-course partner bereavement is a highly stressful life-event demanding considerable readjustment for surviving parents and their children. Gender and masculinities are highly influential to fathers’ experiences; in that they inform labour division, social positioning, and health behaviours. This study aimed to explore the experiences of partner-bereaved fathers in the United Kingdom, to better understand how parenthood and gender influenced and were influenced by bereavement. It asked: What are the transition experiences of fathers (with resident children, aged ≤16 years) around the death of a partner, how do gender and masculinities influence these experiences, and what are their support needs and preferences?
Methods: Thirty-five in-depth interviews were conducted with 18 fathers, from a range of backgrounds and family configurations, whose partners died from non-violent causes between 6 months and 5 years prior to participation. 17 participants took part in two interviews using creative methods to elicit rich narrative data. The first explored men’s experiences of bereavement using a ‘time-line’ method. The follow-up explored their support needs, experiences and preferences using visual prompt cards. Data were analysed using thematic analysis with framework.
Findings: Despite supporting ‘new fatherhood’ and gender equality discourses, most men described unequal domestic arrangements in childcare and domestic work prior to bereavement. Fathers described significant role change when their partners’ health deteriorated and following their death, the majority inherited the primary caregiver role for the first time. This major transition led to deconstruction of gender boundaries between home and workplace. Many fathers’ public encounters alternatively brought heightened awareness of
borders between gender roles, and perceived scrutiny. Findings show fathers felt their ability to cope as male primary caregivers was under question. They endorsed gender stereotypes around the supremacy of women as parents via ‘partner sanctification’. Participants were engaged in multiple forms of ‘custodianship’, including the performance of ‘continuing bonds’ between their children and deceased partner, expressing preference for routine over ritualistic
remembrance. Decisions to seek, and acceptance of, support from others were highly gendered. While many ultimately accepted support, they often felt conflicted, with desire for self-reliance being a dominant theme. Whilst most men drew on informal support, preference was expressed for formal support. Considerable inequities in UK bereavement support provision across the UK were observed. Ideas for formal support improvement primarily centred on greater facilitation of bereavement support access.
Conclusions: Fathers’ transition experiences were found to be dynamic — commonly beginning pre-bereavement and extending over a prolonged period. Findings indicate fatherhood (in terms of both gender and custodianship) plays a significant role in partnership bereavement (and vice versa) leading to unique support needs. Future support should consider these needs with improved facilitation of bereavement support access.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Colleges/Schools: College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Health & Wellbeing > MRC/CSO Unit
College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences
Supervisor's Name: Hilton, Professor Shona and Mitchell, Professor Kirstin and Nimegeer, Dr. Amy
Date of Award: 2021
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2021-82332
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 22 Jul 2021 10:22
Last Modified: 12 Dec 2022 10:08
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.82332
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/82332

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