Good dads stay healthy!

" . . . I should maintain a healthy life now and not just live as I please . . . ": men's health and fatherhood in rural South Africa.

Hosegood V, Richter L, Clarke L. Am J Mens Health. 2015 May 25. pii: 1557988315586440. [Epub ahead of print]

This study examines the social context of men's health and health behaviors in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, particularly in relationship to fathering and fatherhood. Individual interviews and focus groups were conducted with 51 Zulu-speaking men. Three themes related to men's health emerged from the analysis of transcripts: (a) the interweaving of health status and health behaviors in descriptions of "good" and "bad" fathers, (b) the dominance of positive accounts of health and health status in men's own accounts, and (c) fathers' narratives of transformations and positive reinforcement in health behaviors. The study reveals the pervasiveness of an ideal of healthy fathers, one in which the health of men has practical and symbolic importance not only for men themselves but also for others in the family and community. The study also suggests that men hold in esteem fathers who manage to be involved with their biological children who are not coresident or who are playing a fathering role for nonbiological children (social fathers). In South Africa, men's health interventions have predominantly focused on issues related to HIV and sexual health. The new insights obtained from the perspective of men indicate that there is likely to be a positive response to health interventions that incorporate acknowledgment of, and support for, men's aspirations and lived experiences of social and biological fatherhood. Furthermore, the findings indicate the value of data on men's involvement in families for men's health research in sub-Saharan Africa.

Abstract access  [1]

Editor’s notes: As the authors of this paper note, a lot of research has looked at men’s sexual and health-associated behaviour as risk factors for HIV infection of their partners and themselves. Far less attention has been paid to men’s family situation and how this, and how they view their family role, shapes their health behaviours. This paper begins to fill that gap. Using data from in-depth interviews and group discussions with 51 men in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, the authors describe how men view themselves as ‘fathers’ and how this affects what they do. Each of the men set out what this role means for how they behave and believe other fathers should behave. While the authors note that the sample would have been biased towards men happy to talk about being a father, the results are quite striking. The men frequently described the positive things they did for their children and wanted to do for their families. They claimed their own health behaviours to be exemplary. The men compared ‘good’ fathers with ‘bad’ fathers’, men who drank and were sexually promiscuous. All the respondents were ‘good’ fathers. Not one of the men disclosed their HIV-status during the interviews. The authors note that the men were much freer discussing diet, weight, smoking and alcohol than HIV. Given HIV-associated stigma and the negative stereotypes of promiscuous men spreading infection, it is hardly surprising that men constructed a positive identity through their narratives and distanced themselves from personal HIV-associated discussion. Tailored health messages which reinforce the behaviour of ‘good fathers’ are likely to have a greater impact on these men’s sexual behaviour than messages that aim to scare.

Africa [8]
South Africa [9]
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