Fathering and families figure strongly in the migration motives of the migrant men interviewed, where the precise narratives, practices and projects of transnational and resident parenting varied – highlighting the role of individual circumstances and agency, in addition to the importance of the formal migration policy regime. Thus a range of family migration strategies was apparent. Of the ten fathers, one had arrived in the UK with his wife and child. Nine had migrated alone, but five of those subsequently brought over family members, often in a staged way, with for example, wife first, followed by children who were sometimes accompanied by a grandmother. For four of the fathers, all divorced before migrating, there was no post-migration family reunification; three of those, however, went on to build new families in the UK. Indeed, subsequent family-building was a common strategy across all the fathers. The non-/not-yet-fathers were universally single at the point of migration, with some remaining so at the time of interview, while others were in relationships. In what follows we examine how fathering figured in the lives of the migrant men, focusing firstly on how fathering was configured in men's migration, then turning to examine transnational fathering, before moving to an account of migrant men who were raising their children in London.
Men's migration and the place of fathering
The men interviewed expressed a range of migration motives, including adventure, love, and freedom from the perceived ideological, especially religious, constraints of Polish society. Particularly for the fathers, however, economic motivations underpinned more varying personal rationales. The recent Poland-UK migration wave is partly a product of uneven economic development within an enlarged Europe, with inequalities, as captured by rates of GDP per capita, between the UK and Poland, especially at the sub-national level, remaining high (Perrons et al., 2010; Drinkwater et al., 2009). Macro-economic inequalities are reflected in differentials in households' standard of living, with more than one-third of the Polish population in 2007 reporting material deprivation, compared with an EU27 average of 17 per cent, and just over ten per cent in the UK (Eurostat, 2010: Figure 3.16). As a result of a combination of unemployment, low pay, job-insecurity and an inadequate social safety-net, many of the men interviewed had been faced with poor economic prospects in Poland, and London could offer the opportunity for work and wage rates not possible back home. For fathers, such relative economic circumstances were not framed in an individualistic way, but were discussed in relation to their families' needs (see also Pribilsky, 2004). Migration, though, was not only conceived as being instrumental to meeting the immediate material needs of children; in line with Pribilisky's (2004) observation that children have increasingly become ‘a project’, migration was also seen as having ‘social-investment’ potential (Giddens, 1998). On the latter, however, experiences could be more equivocal; thus a father spoke of how racism was marring his son's education in the UK.
For some of the men interviewed, migration was intimately linked to the project of family-building: “We wanted to have another child and in Poland we couldn't afford it” (Fryderyk). While this man went on to have a second child in the UK, the relationship between migration and family-building could also work in several stages, whereby realization of economic aspirations facilitates future fertility. Thus, a number of non-/not-yet-fathers' plans for return to Poland were bound up with the desire to start a family; something some were reluctant to do in London because of the lack of familial support, as well as perceptions of wider societal problems such as indiscipline in schools. More generally, and as found by Ryan and Sales (2011), decisions around the timing of migration revealed a sensitivity to children's life-stages, and especially to their school careers, further illustrating the relationality of men's migration plans:
But I am a globetrotter so maybe I would go somewhere else. But there is a problem with that because [my son] goes to school…it is not a big problem. I want him to get the best education and that's beyond any questions. But I don't know, maybe when [my son] finishes school we can try somewhere else. (Filip)iii
Narratives, practices, and projects of family and fathering emerged thus as a prominent feature of the migration strategies of the Polish men in our study. Although multiple and interdependent rationales were present, there was an emphasis on the opportunities migration afforded for breadwinning and the economic well-being of their families, suggesting the continued importance of the traditional gender division of labour.
Half of the fathers interviewed had experience of fathering transnationally. A number of those had temporarily left children behind in Poland while they became established in London. They had anticipated that co-presence of children would be difficult in the context of the intensive paid work and uncertain housing conditions they expected to confront in the initial stages of migration, and for some the temporariness of their transnational situation lasted longer than planned precisely because ‘getting established’ took longer than expected, paralleling findings from the guestworker era (Böhning and Maillat, 1974). For other fathers, geographical separation from children was more permanent: these were mostly divorced men, whose children were in the care of former partners back home, and men with grown-up children who had independent lives in Poland or elsewhere.
While much of the research on transnational family-life points to the gendered nature of transnational parenting (Parreñas, 2005a; Goulbourne et al., 2010), Dreby's (2010) recent study of Mexican transnational mothers and fathers living in New Jersey finds that parenting activities are very similar. Since we did not interview female migrants, we are limited in the extent to which we can comment on whether the fathers in our study gave particularly gendered accounts. That said, what is striking from our research is how similar the men's descriptions of transnational fathering practices are to those reported by women in studies of transnational mothering. Thus, we found evidence that fathers undertook what Zontini (2004: 1129) refers to as “kin work” – “the work of keeping family links alive and creating a sense of family ‘togetherness’ in spite of geographical separation”. Zontini (2004) has identified four strategies associated with transnational mothers' kin work: remittances, gifts, transnational communications and reciprocal visits. Like those in Dreby's study, our fathers, even those who were divorced and those whose children were grown up, albeit to varying degrees, engaged in such practices, to communicate, as did the mothers in Hondagneu-Sotelo and Avila's (1997) early study of transnational mothers, a sense of “I'm here but I'm there”. A number of the men and those they worked with, whom we interviewed as part of the broader study, spoke of sacrifice in the UK, in order to maximize remittances. Ironically, the sending of remittances, in combination with the costs of living in London, could delay the process of establishing the conditions necessary to bring children over to join them.
It would be a mistake to interpret fathers' remitting purely within a male-breadwinner framework of fathering for, as with transnational mothers for whom remittances have been found to be “not just a cash transaction [but]…a means by which migrant mothers establish intimacy across borders” (Parreñas, 2005b: 324), the remittances had symbolic meaning for fathers. And, as has been found in the case of mothers (Parreñas, 2005b), remittances could be used instrumentally by fathers to involve themselves in the everyday practices of fathering, as this father, divorced with children in Poland and Ireland, as well as a step-child in the UK, reveals when talking of his son in Poland:
This month [my son] did not get any money because I try to push him to opening a bank account. He's 17 years old…He should have the money in his bank account and not in his pocket, so he could learn how to save the money and how to have the money…That's what I expect from him. I told him he would get the money once he's opened an account…I try to encourage him to that.(Jakub)
For Pessar and Mahler (2003), remittances provide a lens on the ‘power geometries’ of transnational social relations. Viewed in that way, the above father's withholding of money may be a form of ‘distant disciplining’ – behaviour that Parreñas (2008) identifies with the performance of a “heightened version of conventional fathering”. It is worth noting, however, that providing direction and guidance to children back home has also been found to be a feature of transnational mothering (Hondagneu-Sotelo and Avila, 1997: 564), and that perceptions that children squander remittances has also been identified as a source of conflict between transnational mothers and their children (Zontini, 2004: 1134).
In addition to remittances, many of the fathers we interviewed attempted to maintain connections with children in Poland through the sending of parcels, regular contact over the phone and internet, and visits. Those with prior migratory experiences reported how the performance of such kin-work tasks was now easier than before, due in part to the rise in ICTs, cheaper and more frequent air travel and the growth of regional airports (Portes, 2001; Baldassar, 2007; Wilding, 2006; Ryan et al., 2009; Stenning and Dawley, 2009). Increased capacity for visiting Poland and having family visit the UK, however, is also related to the improved position of Polish nationals within the UK migration regime since 2004, and is an important reminder that migration status plays a critical role in the shaping of transnational family relations (Fresnoza-Flot, 2009). Zontini (2004) has observed that the conditions of reception also shape migrants' family practices, and the fathers in our study simultaneously spoke of the constraints on doing kin work transnationally, linked to their specific positioning within the UK labour market. Long working hours, arising variously from self-employed status, irregular work flows, low wage-rates, exclusion from employee rights and employers' demands for flexibility, were a common experience among the fathers, and constrained in particular the capacity to take holidays from work in order to visit Poland.
While transnational fathers reported undertaking a range of activities to maintain relations with their children, as with transnational mothers (Fresnoza-Flot, 2009), close family ties were not an inevitable outcome and, as with the South American migrants interviewed in the UK by Mas Giralt and Bailey (2010), the experience of ‘being split' featured in some fathers’ accounts. For one father this was experienced with a degree of puzzlement since he felt he had made an effort: “I thought that it was enough to call very often, but… his mother's behaviour has influenced him too much” (Wojtek). The same father elsewhere in the interview speaks of having a much closer relationship with his young daughter who is being raised in London with him. Another father, and again similar to reports of the experiences of transnational mothers (Hondagneu-Sotelo and Avila, 1997), spoke of the transfer of his child's affections: “Now there is a matter of a long separation…she is totally attached to my ex-mother-in-law” (Wiktor). The breakdown of a marriage, which was itself sometimes seen as a consequence of migration, was felt by some men to have contributed to child-father distance, particularly where relations between parents were acrimonious. In those cases, fathers often blamed mothers for the problems in the child-father relationship. While studies (Dreby, 2010; Parreñas, 2005a; Pribilsky, 2004) have found that close father-child ties in father-away families are highly dependent on mothers playing a bridging role between fathers and children, Parreñas (2005a: 85–86) observes that this responsibility adds considerably to the workloads of mothers; a point which went unacknowledged by our fathers. It was not only mothers, however, whom the migrant fathers blamed for the emotional loss experienced. One father framed the ‘pain of family separation’ (Parreñas, 2001) within a negative public discourse around parental migration in Poland: “[A]t that time when parents left the country they were rubbish because they left the child,” (Adam). While other studies (see Lutz, 2010; White, 2011) have highlighted the tendency within the Polish media in the context of the recent wave of out-migration to problematize parents who leave their children behind, they suggest that criticism is levelled more heavily at mothers; a reflection no doubt of traditional gender roles. Yet, as the above quote reveals, fathers can be affected by this discourse too.
Fathering in situ: Polish families in London
Not all fathers had left their children behind when they migrated, and of those who had, a number had subsequently brought children over to the UK. Additionally, and at least for some in fulfilment of their migration plans, a number of our interviewees had had their first or additional child/ren since arriving in the UK, and one man had become a step-father. In total, therefore, at the time of interview, nine of the interviewees were fathering in situ.
Reflecting a dual frame of reference (Waldinger and Lichter 2003) between life in Poland and life in the UK, all of the fathers felt that migration had benefited their families financially. While all worked in the same sector, what we have termed in the broader study, ‘handyman services’, and almost all defined themselves as self-employed, our interviewees were differentially positioned. Some, enabled by English-language skills and a longer duration in the UK, had become owners of small handyman businesses, and reported earnings in the top decile. Most of those we interviewed, though, had earnings closer to the male median. The nature of the business, however, meant that earnings could be precarious, and many of the interviewees reported that uncertainty had increased in the context of the UK recession, as both the supply of work and the rate they could charge reduced. A number identified the added issue of the high cost of living in London, especially housing costs. That said, all still felt financially better-off in the UK than Poland. This was not only related to differences in the economic circumstances between the two countries, but also to the interviewees' relatively privileged position within the UK migration regime, which as we noted above, gives Polish and other EU8 country nationals, access, albeit restricted, to UK social rights. Thus, in line with other research (Corrigan, 2010), while we found no evidence of what is pejoratively called ‘benefit tourism’, some fathers identified the receipt of social security benefits in the UK as an important source of additional, and more critically, secure additional, income (see also White, 2011).
While working in the UK enabled the fathers to better fulfil their breadwinning responsibilities, contemporary normative expectations around fathering emphasize father-involvement alongside breadwinning (Hobson and Fahlén, 2009). As Perrons et al. (2010) demonstrate, research indicates that Polish fathers are just as likely as UK fathers to subscribe to such expectations: Hobson and Fahlén's (2009: 220) analysis of the European Social Survey, for example, suggests that more than 90 per cent of fathers in the UK and Poland consider it important to find a job “that enables them to reconcile employment with family life”. While the Polish fathers in our study emphasized their breadwinning role, they also endorsed an active, involved and nurturing fathering ideal, frequently contrasting this with their own experience of being fathered. Many of the fathers interviewed, however, reported that the pressures of paid work constrained the time available for spending with children and partners:
Work often takes up most of the time in the week as well as during the weekend, so it limits the amount of time for the family and that makes things difficult. …[I]t is a bit like a vicious circle because when you start a family, you have to try to provide enough for some standard of life…so automatically you fall into this work spiral to ensure a standard of living for yourself and the family. … [T]he work automatically gets longer and there is less time for the family. (Piotr)
Fathers (and non-fathers) frequently employed a dual frame of reference to the issue of time too, and on this dimension, Poland always had the advantage: “I definitely have less time for the family. …[T]here…I was back home at 5 or 6 pm and over here it is 8 or 9 pm when I come back” (Filip). The source of constraints on family-time for those migrants with children in the UK were as for those identified above in relation to transnational fathers – that is, their positioning within the UK labour market – as well as the additional factor of long commuting times for those living in London. Strong family values and an expressed preference for jobs facilitating reconciliation of work and family life are insufficient for our interviewees to overcome the institutional barriers to easing the tensions between breadwinning and parenting; thus the extent to which traditional gender roles can be challenged and transformed is constrained.
Childcare posed a challenge for dual-working Polish families. For some, the problem was one of affordability. Despite increases in government subsidies (both demand and supply-side) for childcare over the last decade and more under the UK National Childcare Strategy, childcare in the UK, and particularly London, remains expensive, and parents in the UK contribute more towards the costs than in any other OECD country (OECD 2010). As one father commented: “Nurseries here are also very expensive… £170 per week. That's a lot!” (Fryderyk). Other fathers, however, expressed a reluctance to use childcare services:
As we, Poles, are used to, when we are talking about leaving the child with someone, we only consider family. We are not used, for example, to hire a babysitter…I'm not talking here about financial aspects, as it isn't like that… but our mentality prevents us from leaving the child with a stranger. (Piotr)
This father's care preferences reflect a more generalized orientation towards family-based care – that is, care by mothers and / or grandmothers – in Polish society, which has emerged in the context of weaknesses, including low availability, poor quality, high costs and inflexible opening regimes, in the public childcare sector in Poland (Plomien, 2009). As a result, and in common with the Eastern European migrants in the USA interviewed by Nesteruk and Marks (2009) for whom the absence of grandparents as a potential source of childcare was described as one of the biggest losses of migration, many of the fathers, and indeed, non-fathers, in our study spoke of the difficulties in raising children without the support of extended family which, had they been in Poland, they could have expected. ‘Flying grandmothers’ have been identified in other research as a dimension of migrants' transnational care strategies (Nesteruk and Marks, 2009; Zontini, 2004; Lie, 2010). So too, a number of the fathers in our study reported bringing grandmothers from Poland to London, either for short periods at a time or on a more permanent basis, to address their care-deficit; a strategy also reported by some of the Polish migrant mothers interviewed by White (2011). In contrast to other migrant groups in the UK whose family-members' entry and stay are conditional on visa requirements (see for example, Lie, 2010), ‘flying grandmothers’ were a care-resource our Polish fathers were able to mobilize without migration restrictions.