Paternal involvement in the education of children: how fathers communicated with their sons about the value of education

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Wortham, Argentina Roscoe

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This two-year qualitative study looks at the life experiences of fathers who had sons that graduated from high school. Grounded in the current fatherhood literature, the study used the benchmark definition of a successful father as “white, college-educated, and middle-class,” as the study examined the strategies these fathers used to get their sons to complete high school. Specifically, the study focused on father involvement, how the fathers encouraged their sons, and the type of contributions the fathers made toward their sons’ graduation. The critical-case sample consisted of one family [father, mother and two sons] and a homogeneous group of four other ‘benchmarked fathers.’ The fathers in this study ranged in age from 41 to 58. They all had a biological son who had completed high school, and were still married to their son’s mother. Data gathered and generated for this interpretivist study included interviews with the critical-case complete family, which included a mother, two sons, and the father, and a focus group of the other four fathers. These data were analyzed based on the three research questions that focused on involvement, encouragement and contribution as defined by current fatherhood researchers, using a constant comparison method, which lead to the emergence of themes that formed the basis for the study’s findings. Five key findings surfaced in a hierarchical model analogized to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and labeled the NIOBE model. At the apex of these findings was the finding that these fathers were more focused on producing sons who were “equipped” to take care of themselves, than they were focused on getting their son graduated from high school. The result of these fathers’ “intentional” focus resulted in sons who succeeded in graduating from high school, and eventually all went to college. Education became the means toward an end, the end being cultivating self-actualized “equipped sons.” To arrive at this level, the fathers grounded this desire in a commitment to accept a “new father awareness,” which was unlike the way they were fathered. Using this awareness, these fathers became “intentional” about making sure their sons knew what had to be done to move to the next level, that of “ownership,” where the sons owned their actions and accepted the consequences associated with becoming their own man. “Bi-stewarding,” the fourth finding, was contextualized by the sons as they moved beyond simple ownership by becoming responsible in many ways for their own parenting, eventually emerging as a son who had been empowered to accept their educational experience as their own, and who engaged in their own educational experiences to make them capable of leaving and independently functioning away from home.