Masculinity and the promise of parenthood: reflections of a PhD student and Father-to-be

My research continues to evolve as I find my personal life merging with my academic pursuits. It is a strange psychological place to occupy as I find myself thinking about whether my research focus would have gone in this direction without Holly and I becoming pregnant. I sometimes wonder if I engaged in an approximation of prefiguration in the timing of our first child; it is a highly convenient that my personal life can so perfectly track my refined PhD focus on masculinity and fertility. However, it makes things very messy at times as I find myself reflecting on my experiences as a man in an organisational setting waiting to become a father, while simultaneously experiencing this reality in real-time and the emotions that go with it. Detaching myself from my experiences is impossible, but I am very conscious that I am inadvertently a primary subject in my own research.

One question that surfaces from time-to-time is whether I should include my own auto-ethnographic experiences as a working father-to-be in my data. Given the intractable relationship between my personal life and my research, my proportionality will inevitably infuse my work, but will I be a reliable narrator? It almost seems appropriate to compare my contribution to my own research in comparison to Offred’s narration of her experiences in The Handmaids Tale. As readers, we are never certain how far we can trust her version of events; her memory is unreliable at times. If I am going to include my own voice and experiences in my thesis, how will I achieve this as a valid methodological approach?

My experiences are, I believe, a-typical of employed pre-fatherhood men. I also beleive I inhabit a different paradigm concerning concepts of masculinity compared to many working men of my age. I recognise similar attitudes amongst my PhD peers, but very few are also parents. Those who are tend to be older than me and with older children. My employment status is consistent with alternative ideas of masculinity. I am a part time research associate and full time PhD student. I am the secondary wage earner (by a considerable margin) in our relationship. I am also, considerably less successful than my partner (a highly regarded Doctor and researcher) by nearly all professional measures. My work and studies afford me a degree of flexibility, which means I can be far more involved in our child’s first years than most men in full time work. All these factors position me as a counterpoint to many of the men I anticipate I will speak to in my research. Yet, I will conform with my hegemonic masculine role when our baby arrives as Holly is taking her full entitlement of parental leave, while I continue my studies (time being the only deciding factor here). I expect I will be able to enjoy the benefits of flexible involvement in our child’s first year, especially compared to men whose job rigidity prohibits such involvement. In future, I would love to take advantage of shared parental leave if we are fortunate enough to have a second child, but for this time, I will only experience masculinity through its support role in parenting.

Today, we are at 37 weeks and eagerly anticipating the arrival of our first child. Thinking about the preceding months, I am conscious of how easy it has been for me to continue as normal while Holly experiences the physical and psychological challenges of pregnancy in and out of work. I show no physical signs of the preceding 8 months, bar a slightly enlarged belly which I attribute to sympathetic eating… This means there is no cue for colleagues, associates, students or stranger to inquire of my status. My emotions have remained fairly level concerning the impending arrival too. I have experienced periods of anxiety concerning Holly’s health and that of the baby, but these have thankfully been resolved. Unlike pregnant women, I was in total control of when I disclosed my ‘news’. Apart from the obvious expectations of concerning disclosure to my supervisor, I genuinely believe I could have kept my news entirely secret until the stage at which I suddenly didn’t turn up to the office. This, in itself, is an interesting thought experiment given my presumption that men are affected my perceptions of masculine expectations  in the workplace. As a pre-fatherhood subject, how might fertility impact men who withhold their pending change of identity? Did I withhold my news to preserve my own identity as a student? I have ‘form’ when it comes to keeping my private life separate, but I must admit I did consciously withhold my news to maintain my focus in work. In effect, I created two personas ‘father-to-be Mark’ and ‘PhD/Research Associate Mark’. I have subsequently created a third identity as the ‘Father-to-be Mark Phd/Reseach Associate’ for interactions with peers and colleagues who now know about my impending life event. Creating my identities was a masculine privilege not on offer to many pregnant women whose physical pregnancy is obvious to colleagues very early. This masculine identity privilege is something I want to explore further in my data collection and analysis. Furthermore, I am also aware that I will continue to maintain my split identities after I become a father as not all colleague will be aware of this. This again establishes a masculine paradigm where I control to whom I disclose this information.

As I consider the next steps in my research, I am aware of the advantages of my positionality concerning trust and sympathy during interviews. I hope my experiences will give me insights into the experiences of other working parents and allow me access to narrative that could elude other researchers.

I will blog again soon as this strikes me as a crucial time in my research and personal life. It is a time I want to record for posterity and I believe my thoughts, tangential as they often are, reveal quite a lot about the blurring lines between my own fiction and reality.


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