Single non-resident African American fathering: The impact of the mother/father dyad on father engagement and father-child play
Nonresident fathering and father engagement or lack thereof is a growing interest or concern in the social sciences. Concern over the psychosocial and emotional development of children reared in father absent homes has driven the investigation into the engagement activities of these fathers. Statistically, African American children are more likely than their counterparts to at some point live in single-female headed households (Census Bureau, 2010). The possible negative implications of being reared in a father absent household highlight the need for empirical research into nonresident African American father engagement that also attends to the barriers or predictors of this engagement. Using data from The Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, the present study assessed 563 single nonresident African American father’s engagement with their young children. Particular attention was also given to their play behavior with their pre-school aged child due to its developmental benefits and its identification as a positive engagement activity (Sigelman & Rider, 2013). Additionally, possible barriers or predictors of father engagement such as relationship status, relationship quality, maternal gatekeeping, and coparenting support were examined. Results of analysis suggest that although the average level of engagement may be low, given their nonresident status African American fathers are engaged during early childhood. Furthermore, when they are engaged they partake in a variety of activities that promote healthy psychosocial, cognitive, and emotional development in the early years. The highest reported activities for the nonresident African American fathers in this study were those that were nurturing and supportive [hugging, encouraging, and telling their children they loved them]. Results also revealed that the fathers frequently used pretend play and play with toys to engage with their three-year-old child and there was no significant difference in the type of play preferred. Interestingly, to aspects of the mother-father dyad that may impede father engagement and father-child play, significant differences in engagement based on relationship status (e.g. romantically involved versus just friends) were not found. In addition coparenting support, relationship quality, and maternal gatekeeping were not predictive of father engagement or father-child play, contradicting previous findings (Fagan & Palkovitz, 2011; Goldberg, Tan, Davis, & Easterbrook, 2013). However, relationship status was predictive of father-child play among nonresident African American fathers. These results highlight the need for continued exploration of this unique set of fathers that considers the many cultural and contextual influences that impact the father-child relationship.