Panel Paper: He Wasn't There, but He Was Around: Exploring the Nature of Absentee Fatherhood through Its Variation.

Thursday, November 7, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Plaza Court 8 (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Matthew Alemu, University of Michigan

Children are increasingly likely to grow up in households without a resident father. As a response, much research has been conducted to both understand the causes of father absence and consequences faced by the children of non-resident fathers. This research has been followed by policy interventions that seek to both encourage fathering, while also helping to ameliorate the adverse socio-economic effects associated with father absence. However, undermining scholarship and policy over the years has been a narrowly defined conception of absence based solely on residency and/or estimated number of visits with children. This paper argues that absence is a variegated experience where the context in the way it occurs is significant to how it is lived and felt by children. Qualitative interviews with over 20 men describing their experiences growing up with non-residential fathers revealed four unique possibilities for the ways residential absence can occur. The types include—but may not be limited to—patterned, unpatterned, extended and absolute. Each type of absence had specific meaning and implications that distinguished it from the other types. This enhanced conception of absence has implications for both policy and scholarship. The more robust understanding of absence, presented in this research, can improve the ways researchers measure and frame the occurrence and effects of father absence as well as encourage more nuance policy intervention.