Postdoctoral fellow’s study of Latino fatherhood explores contemporary masculinities
A continuum – that’s the metaphor Clayman Institute Postdoctoral Fellow Fatima Suarez uses to describe Latino men’s reflections on their relationships with their fathers. In a talk titled “Between Reverence and Resentment: Latino Men’s Relationships with their Fathers,” Suarez shared research with the Clayman Institute Faculty Fellows from her book project, Latino Fatherhoods: Gender, Race, Class, and Men’s Family Lives, the first study to examine the social forces shaping involved fathering for Latino men.
Drawing on in-depth interviews with 60 Latino fathers in California, Suarez identifies two extremes that characterize how Latino men portray their relationships with their fathers: reverence and resentment. Some men described their fathers as loving and involved, such as one participant who referred to his father as “the best person [he has] ever known.” Others remembered hating or fearing their fathers and resented their emotional or physical absence. Yet Suarez argues that this continuum is “multidimensional and fluid” and contains “nuanced expressions of idolization and hatred, fulfillment and longing, respeto (respect) and indifference, forgiveness and condemnation” that may change over time.
By including middle class Latinos in her study, Suarez challenges the dominance of working class-centered research on Latinos and illuminates nuanced distinctions in how Latino men understand fatherhood and masculinity.
One key factor is how Latino men contend with contemporary cultural expectations around masculinity and fatherhood, such as the ideal of the “new father.” In the “new fatherhood model” of involved fathering, men are expected to be both breadwinners and nurturers. Suarez notes that other researchers have associated the “new father” ideal with white college-educated professional fathers.
In her own research, Suarez finds differences between Latino men from different class groups and generations regarding how they relate to the ideology of “new fatherhood.” College-educated and U.S.-born respondents in her study see themselves in the “new father” ideal and are more likely to evaluate their relationships with their own fathers through this lens compared to non-college-educated or immigrant fathers. By including middle class Latinos in her study, Suarez challenges the dominance of working class-centered research on Latinos and illuminates nuanced distinctions in how Latino men understand fatherhood and masculinity.
Furthermore, Suarez identifies a paradox in how men explain their fathers’ behavior while situating themselves in relation to the “new father” paradigm. The men in Suarez’s study attributed the shortcomings of their fathers, such as lack of involvement, to their circumstances: they were simply “men of their time.” In contrast to their “passive” fathers, the men viewed themselves as agentic beings, capable of choosing to embody the “new father” ideal.
Suarez offers a compelling framework for understanding Latino men’s relationships with their fathers as a continuum ranging from reverence to resentment while attending to differences between men based on factors such as class and generation in the U.S. Situating this continuum within the broader social changes in expectations around fatherhood and masculinity, Suarez shows how cultural ideologies and myths shape our intimate relationships and personal lives.