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Latino fathers and parenting: lessons learned from Puerto Rican fathers

Fatherhood is a complex and an evolving concept which has gained national attention. Fathers play an important role in the development of their children, which also has an impact on their identity as a father. Minority fathers, particularly Latino fathers, have been under-recognized in this call to better understand fatherhood. However, given that Hispanics are the largest minority group in the US, the experiences of these fathers are of heightened importance. The primary role of all parents is to influence, teach, provide love, and to watch their children. There is evidence that cultural differences in parenting styles influence child behaviors. Also, the impact and interpretation of parental behaviors vary between different cultural groups. Understanding how culture is embedded into family life and parenting practices will allow for more culturally grounded, therapeutic interventions and prevention programs focusing on parenting. Puerto Rican fathers, and Latino fathers in general, gave us many lessons for fatherhood research that we can learn from.

The importance of family. Puerto Rican fathers shared that they have a strong commitment to being a role model and father. The fathers focused on promoting individual obligation and connectedness to the family. Fathers shared that the family stem was central however emotional connections with extended family were also highly valued. Historically, the traditional Latino family structure has been patriarchal and often contains the element of machismo. Although machismo is sometimes associated with bravery and aggressiveness, there was evidence that it is also accompanied by an obligation to the family and the family’s well-being. One father stated the importance of the interconnectedness of the family:

“What I’m trying to teach them is that when you do something crazy, it doesn’t just affect you. It affects the entire family. It affects the entire reputation of that entire family.”

Respect is central. The fathers all highlighted values such as respect, loyalty, and obedience. Latino fathers are often conceptualized as harsh, however monitoring of their child was done through the cultural value of respect. However, respect was bidirectional in nature, the father expected respect from their child, but they also respected their child. Some fathers spoke of not harshly punishing in public so as not to disrespect their child. One father said (translated from Spanish):

“Age does not matter. Because for that word: respect, age does not exist. Because an adult must not disrespect a child, nor a child an adult.”

Showing warmth and love. Puerto Rican fathers showed warmth and love towards their children, while developing sympathy and solidarity with their feelings. Most of the fathers mentioned showing signs of love such as hugging and kissing. However, many fathers noted intergenerational differences, such as their fathers being absent or not showing affection. As one father mentioned:

“I didn’t grow up with my dad. So you know, I try to be different…every day I tell my kids I love you, I kiss them, I hug them. I’m very affectionate, very close with them. Very touchy-feely with them. And I know that in our culture that’s very hard because a lot of us didn’t grow with our dads or dads weren’t like that.”

Puerto Rican fathers, and Latino fathers in general, gave us many lessons for fatherhood research that we can learn from.

Focusing on relationship development. How Latino fathers developed a relationship with their child was tied closely to their child’s interests. Fathers were highly involved and responsive to their children. They engaged in play that focused on the child’s strengths and abilities. The relationship was bi-directional, the child talks, they listen, the father talks, the child listens. As one father indicated:

“I’ll tell you for my 14-year-old, I always look at her life like, you know when you’re trying to teach your child how to ride a bike? And the training wheels are off and they’re riding and they think they got it all together. But really, you’re running behind them with, the tip of your finger, you’re holding the seat, but they think they’re riding by themselves. I do that a lot with my daughter…you know, and I do it because I want her to feel like and know that I’m building that trust.”

These are valuable lessons that we can learn from Puerto Rican fathers that indicate that culture influences their parenting in a substantive way. Culture doesn’t just inform, but rather constructs the traditional parenting values. Cultural lenses help frame the way we view traditional constructs of parenting, such as control and monitoring, warmth, and the parent and youth relationship. Parenting practices for Puerto Rican families are actualized through the fundamental cultural concepts of familismo, loyalty and solidarity towards members of the family; respeto, adhering to authority; simpatía, interpersonal harmony; and personalismo, trust and warmth in interpersonal interactions.

In conclusion, fathers were excited to be asked about their opinions about parenting. The men expressed that often they feel ignored by services and that providers often speak directly towards the mother, however they felt just as knowledgeable and involved with their child as the mother. We need to continue to update our practices to involve Latino fathers with a culturally grounded approach that emphasis the importance of close family relationships, interpersonal responsiveness, interdependence, personal dignity, and respect.

Featured image credit: Silhouette father and son by Unsplash. Public Domain via Pixabay.

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