RWilliamsRacEquFound Conf07

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African-Caribbean fathers’ health experiences.: 

African-Caribbean fathers’ health experiences. Robert Williams. School of Health Sciences, University of Birmingham. Email:

Preliminary and substantive stages of wider study.: 

Preliminary and substantive stages of wider study. Preliminary study: individual and group qualitative interviews with 66 fathers, from diverse ethnic backgrounds living in Birmingham. Substantive stage of study: two in depth qualitative individual interviews with 13 African-Caribbean and white working class fathers.


Background. My work in 1990’s in health visiting: men’s limited presence in health centres and clinics. Fathers ‘marginalised’ within welfare services? Services focus upon women? Racialized assumptions about African-Caribbean fathers by some health visitors (Williams, 1997). Limited empirical UK research about African-Caribbean fathering, and the links between fathering and health.

Methodology and methods.: 

Methodology and methods. In depth conversations: semi-structured individual interviews. 6 African-Caribbean and 7 White working class men. In paid work. Living with a woman partner and some, or all, of their children. Living in a mixed locality, between the suburbs and the inner city.

Findings: the meaning of fathering.: 

Findings: the meaning of fathering. Fathering understood as ‘involvement’ with children. Emotional reciprocity with children was highly valued (especially ‘love’). Fathering was linked to dynamic notions of masculinity:


I spend a lot of time doing the girls' hair, somehow. And I don't know why I seem to have taken over that, and people are shocked, and surprised. With Black children it takes hours to braid their hair, it literally does take hours. They assume that their mum has done it, and they say ‘you are good doing that, not many dads would do that’, and I get a lot of feedback because of that… I suppose that is just one of the things you have to do as a dad. (Oliver, ‘West Indian and English’, maintenance electrician).

Health as functional capacity.: 

Health as functional capacity. Dominant ways in which fathers talked about health was as functional capacity. Health was linked to the obligations of paid work and family life. For me personally good health is not catching colds, and being able to get up and get out, get to work, and run around with the kids. (Brandon, ‘British of Barbadian ancestry’, police officer).

Influences on health: social class.: 

Influences on health: social class. Men had little to say about the impact of social class on health. Some talk about individual ‘responsibility’ or individual practices (consumption). (But see later material regarding paid work).

Influences on health: ethnicity.: 

Influences on health: ethnicity. Health-ethnicity link: few stories or explanations. Some references to sickle cell by some African-Caribbean men.

Influences on health: racism: 

Influences on health: racism Most African-Caribbean men: anticipation or experience of prejudice, abuse, or discrimination . Experiences of racism in workplaces, communities and everyday encounters. Impact of racism conceptualised as ‘pressure’, ‘hassle’, ‘battle’, or ‘stress’.


…the job I do is confrontational, and you are going into people’s homes and lives. You are going into places where people feel most secure, and in their opinion this is their castle. I come along and I change all those rules. The upshot of this is that the person will go on the defensive, and they will go for you: ‘Black bastard!’. You get that type of abuse. Because I am a sergeant now, I get the stereotypical ‘Who is in charge?’. ‘ I am’ I say. ‘You can’t be because you are black!’ …When I am not in work I get it less. (Brandon, ‘British of Barbadian ancestry’, police officer).

Influences on health: paid work.: 

Influences on health: paid work. Work as a source of stimulation, social contact, ‘having a laugh’ with other men, sense of well being, and also providing sense of achievement for some men. Workplace hazards: racism, threats to personal safety, environmental hazards. Tiredness and exhaustion (especially for shift workers). Stressful volume and intensity of work. Insecurity: potential unemployment.

Influences on health: the combined affects of fathering and paid work.: 

Influences on health: the combined affects of fathering and paid work. Involvement with children was pleasurable, stimulating, helped alleviate work stress, involved emotional reciprocity (‘love’). Fathering also stressful. Some examples: Potential threats to children’s health and security Dealing with autonomy and behaviour. Negotiating with women partners. Complexity of children’s needs Tiredness or exhaustion.

Influences on health: the combined affects of fathering and paid work.: 

Influences on health: the combined affects of fathering and paid work. Men’s experienced their bodies changing in ways they did not like. Limited sense of autonomy, limited scope for personal development, limits to career/promotion, & social life ‘slowed down’. Being a parent takes a lot really. You tend to forget yourself really. You leave yourself out really. So you haven’t got any independence. You take a little piece here and there. It is not what you would ideally like, but that is the way it is. (Sylvester, ‘Jamaican first, and English’, plasterer).

Health practices.: 

Health practices. Pleasure in boxing, running, ‘working out’, jogging. Pleasure in ‘having a laugh’ with other men. Pleasure in transgressive consumption: smoking ‘fags’, ‘binge drinking’, ‘going on the beer’ or eating ‘treat’, ‘junk’ or ‘crap food.

Health practices.: 

Health practices. Negative consequences of transgression Changes in body (eg weight, definition) Less ‘fitness’ Illness ‘Going on the beer’ linked to loss of control, conflict, anger and aggression.

Health practices.: 

Health practices. Transgressive consumption also linked to constraints of work and family life. Transgression helped men with relaxation, stress, worry, limited leisure, limited autonomy. Transgressive consumption linked to health as functional capacity and restricted sense of agency.

Health practices.: 

Health practices. Ongoing ambivalence about transgressive pleasures and the denial of pleasure. Experiences as fathers linked to some reflexivity about transgressive consumption, and also linked to changes in men’s practices regarding consumption of alcohol, ‘fags’, and food.

Solitary practices associated with vulnerability.: 

Solitary practices associated with vulnerability. Men were involved in solitary ways of thinking, feeling and acting to prevent the disclosure of their perceived vulnerability. Men feared that they may disclose their vulnerability to others regarding: the psychological experiences of stress, health concerns or difficulties in personal relationships. Solitary practices associated with conservative, essential masculinities (‘cavemen’ stories).

Fathering, solitary practices and vulnerability.: 

Fathering, solitary practices and vulnerability. Fathering linked to challenges to solitary practices (eg helping boys to overcome solitary experiences). Fathering associated with dynamic masculinities.

Some implications:: 

Some implications: Fathering, paid work, & racism influence men’s health & health practices: require structural solutions. Transgressive consumption linked to a restricted sense of agency but also to health as functional capacity. Solitary practices (regarding vulnerability) were linked to essential conservative discourses about masculinity. OPPORTUNITIES: Reflexivity and change linked with fathering regarding both transgressive consumption and solitary practices. Fathering linked to more dynamic discourses about masculinity.

Implications for practice with African-Caribbean fathers’: 

Implications for practice with African-Caribbean fathers’ Public health interventions: that focus upon ‘lifestyle’, ‘behaviour’ or ‘choice’ may be inappropriate starting point? Opportunities: dynamic forms of masculinity and changes in health practices, associated with fathering, may provide health promotion opportunities around: Identity (masculinity, ethnicity, fathering) Relationship skills, communication and help seeking Emotional literacy Autonomy and change Fathering practices/skills Consumption of transgressive products.

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