Fatherhood as a financial calculation
Participants described fatherhood using the discourses of project planning, incorporating family planning and reproductive choice as a rational or calculated action informed by financial security.
The financial discourse constructs a good father as one with the capacity to economically provide for one's family:
Joseph: We can talk about the importance of being a father from several aspects. Traditionally a father is the main earner of family income. The whole family rely more on a father. Now the situation is different
Joseph speaks about fatherhood in a broad way, but focuses on the long-held idea of a father as a breadwinner. He takes seriously the idea of responsibility and being relied on, which appears individualized, but he notes that things are changing. He describes a traditional patriarchal definition of masculinity, where fathers have defined gender roles of economic responsibility.
Continuing the theme of tradition, Ivan locates his family in a Chinese cultural context more explicitly:
Ivan: I think it is very important. In the traditional Chinese culture we have to get married and start a career. After we get married we have many family responsibilities: for example, buying a house; paying the rent; a series of responsibilities follow this. After a baby is born you have to pay tuition fee for the child. I think it (the role of a father) is very important
Ivan identifies a developmental process in fathering that follows a pre-determined and coercive cultural script, where maturity is attained by being able to financially provide. The appropriate trajectory is to provide a materially ‘secure’ base for a child with an educational fulcrum. Ivan's excerpt shows how fatherhood is an expected phase in the heterosexual life course where becoming a father is a marker of adultness and maturity, a step towards fulfilling a normal life (Morison 2013).
This coercive cultural script has life-changing consequences for families, such as leading to the termination of a pregnancy:
Lincoln: We had our first baby in New Zealand. I came to New Zealand 4 years ago. When I was in China I felt the pressure was great so my wife aborted her first baby
What is this pressure and where does it come from? Who is imposing the pressure and what is the responsibility he is talking about? He continues:
Lincoln: Since I felt my pressure at that time was too great and I wasn't able to assume the responsibility of supporting a family we didn't give birth to our first child. Moreover, it is very expensive to deliver a baby in China. I think the advantage in New Zealand is the government gives you benefits after you have a child. This is quite good. Although it isn't so good but it isn't that bad. It is much better than no benefits, like in China. Before we had our first baby we also calculated according to the Chinese tradition when was the best time for my wife to get pregnant. I also asked my wife to take nutrients and dietary supplements and had calculated when was the best time to give birth to the child
Lincoln positions himself as bearing individual responsibility for social pressure and unable to assume the responsibility of having a baby at the time, for financial or cultural reasons. Lincoln monitors his wife's diet and consults Chinese tradition, working to ensure his child is conceived and born at the ‘best’ time, although it isn't clear what ‘best’ means.
In the following excerpt, Partha talks about parenthood not as a choice but natural and expected:
Partha: I got married age of 27, so I said I wanted to have a baby within one and a half years, the reason is if you are 30 at the age of 30, if you have a boy as soon as he becomes at the age of 25 you are 55 so that the gap between the father and son grows bigger in terms of how you are thinking. And also at the age of [the] example I am giving you, is 27 and 30, 3 years difference, but if you count the years between when he is young, when he is having education in maybe Masters or so at University, at the same time you are thinking to retire. So the thing is in your retirement you want to be financially secure, at the same time he is studying. Financially…(inaudible) …But I don't want to give him pressure to say ‘Oh I want you to settle down..’ Study properly, whatever he wants. I want to have retirement early, so I can spend more time with the family. At the age of 28 I should have a baby at least…
Like Lincoln, Partha's excerpt shows how fatherhood is a calculation where long term financial security and flexibility factor in reproductive decision-making. The discourse of father as provider is also juxtaposed with the desire to be father who is emotionally engaged, he wants to be connected across the generation gap, to be close to his child (who he assumes is a male) but not put ‘pressure’ on them. His planned projection of fatherhood into his would-be son's bright future shows how neoliberalism shapes the calculation of reproduction in terms of finance and rational productivity.
In the next excerpt Lincoln again frames fatherhood as a collaborative planned project requiring careful financial management to ensure that things are secure and everything is in place:
Lincoln: Why did I decide to have a child at that time? We lived together for 8 years before we got married. After we were married we migrated to New Zealand. Since we arrived here we have made a lot of preparations. We didn't have enough money. Then we opened a shop and made some money. After we made money we felt we were ready to a baby. It was at this time of last year we felt we were ready. We had bought a house and felt we were completely settled down. When everything was ready we decided to have a baby
The issue of readiness and parenthood as a question are also identified in Joseph's excerpt:
Joseph: I don't know how to put it. For many years I had been thinking about whether I should have a child or not. Generally speaking, I thought I should have a baby. I knew I would have a lot of responsibilities after I had a baby. I asked myself, ‘Are you able to take good care of the child after he/she is born?’ This isn't simply about keeping a baby alive. You have to take into account mental issues and character development of the child. So I had been putting off having a baby. We were married in 1990. We put it off till now. This child is a planned baby. We had calculated the date. My wife had worked for one year and it was time for us to have a child. When my wife knew she was pregnant she was very, very happy because she loves children and she loves to have many children
Joseph positions himself as a rational choice making subject, however, this choice appears in the context of obligation. He decides he ‘should’ because in the context of compulsory heterosexual reproduction it is what you do. Joseph takes the decision seriously: the baby isn't a pleasure or a delight for him as it is for his wife, it is an individual responsibility as a father to shape the child. Joseph interrogates himself for readiness and identifies the moral, emotional and character-development responsibilities that fathers need to take on in addition to being breadwinners. It is about doing things in the right order. Women are typically viewed as having primary responsibility for the cultural reproduction of the next generation, through the communication of cultural and family values. Men view themselves as the ones who define those values, although it is generally seen as women's responsibility to teach and enforce these values (Park 2006, Finn & Henwood 2009).
However, being prepared for childbirth financially and materially does not mean men are prepared emotionally as this excerpt shows:
Lincoln: The role of a father is quite important. But before I had babies I didn't know what it would be like to be a father. I didn't know what it was to be a father until I had a baby. Before we had a baby, the life of the couple, I mean I and my wife, were very good. But as I haven't become a father I didn't have any idea yet that I would have responsibilities after I had a baby. This is me
Lincoln's excerpt is interesting as it reflects the gap between his earlier financial readiness and the limits of preparation. Nothing can actually prepare you for fatherhood until you become a father. Lincoln's discussion also emphasizes patrilineality whereby having children contributes to his development as an adult and being a father makes him able to contribute to his child's development (Datta 2007). Being ‘ready’ or mature enough to be a parent is echoed in other research (Bertilsdotter Rosqvist & Lövgren 2013).
Several men experienced this sense of continuity and history, as they become biological fathers:
Ajay: We haven't seen our childhood. So, like when we have a baby, a little girl a little boy, at least we can see our childhood how, like, we were when we were born. Our father mother are telling us you are doing like this, you are doing like this, but after a baby we can see how we were
Fatherhood connects men to the past and the future, inculcates a sense of responsibility for the next generation and provides an opportunity to examine their own childhoods (Park 2006). However, for Ajay, there's also a desire to ensure that the family being created is complete:
Ajay: If you have a girl and boy then you feel more complete, because girl means like you…feel that part of your what you call responsibility…girl at home…both the roles…100%…each and every role of your life
Paternal planning extends to the gender balance of the family, with sons and daughters having culturally defined roles that should be balanced for completeness.
Parents mediated many participants' reproductive decision-making. This Indian participant identifies parental and cultural pressures of reproductive continuity, which led him to decide it was the ‘right time’:
Murali: Me and my wife were married in 2004, then in 2005 we came over here and like after 2 years my parents like they were saying you should plan your family. But we were aware at what point we want our child…Still they were pressurising us…And suddenly what happened, my wife, she got redundancy from her job and then I thought like this is the time … and I don't want you to work during the pregnancy so that's why we decided now we will go for a baby and then we planned accordingly…Everything was OK in the end
The excerpt shows that rather than family planning being a private matter discussed with their partners, many participants were also obliged to consider the desires of their parents in their reproductive decision- making. In this case, the family and cultural pressure to reproduce combined with a changed financial status for his wife, leading him to decide it was the right time. As with earlier participants, he separates production and reproduction, framing the maternal body as vulnerable, while also positioning himself as provider, breadwinner and protector.
Cultural and family pressures in terms of gender preference of sons over daughters also shape reproductive decision-making:
Ivan: For traditional Chinese families a boy is still preferred. This is very important, for the purpose of producing a male heir to carry on the family line. In my own family I have an elder brother and a younger sister. My sister has two daughters and my brother also has a daughter. So for my father he really hopes he could have a grandson. This would make him satisfied
Ivan's excerpt shows how father's fathers can be sources of pressure to have male children. Having a son has social implications for inheritance and continuing the family name or bloodline. Sons also play culturally specific roles in taking care of parents, whereas girls marry into other families (Puri et al. 2011).
Naresh's reproductive decision- making took into account the need for his daughter to have a sibling in the absence of extended family:
Naresh: For me, we were planning. The reason being, since we are out of India, we don't have anybody at home to take care of the kids. The reason we decided like for the daughter like she'll have some company in home of her age. That's why we wanted to have a baby in here. For us also it's very, everything is so smooth. She's also happy. She has got some activity at home. If she is on her own, then she will look around or she will just do some naughty things. But because everyone's pretty busy in their life you can't depend on your neighbour also…So we have a couple of Indian neighbours but still like, because of modern life it is difficult…OK. For her at least we need to try
Having a second child was influenced by a desire to meet the social needs of the elder child – who might misbehave in the absence of a sibling – in a nuclear family context with two working parents, where even other Indians could not be expected to assist with childcare.
Typically, the idea of ‘choosing’ when to have a baby assumes a rational unified subject, who makes conscious decisions which enable self-actualization and success (Lupton 1995). However, the self-mastery implied in restraining impulses and bodily processes to carefully manage conception, disguises how reproductive decision-making is also shaped by societally accepted scripts about financial independence and extended family pressure.
Fatherhood as natural process
The second discourse identified in the participants' talk was the ‘naturalness’ or inevitability of parenthood as being central to the heterosexual life course where being pregnant ‘just happened’. Parenthood was viewed as inevitable, spontaneous and automatic as a prescribed stage of the heterosexual life course and an essential feature of being a mature adult (Morison 2013).
In the first excerpt, Parikshit freely admits that the pregnancy was unplanned rather than chosen:
Parikshit: And in my case I realized I never planned my parenthood because it happened. And then once I got this message and then I, sudden realization you know, that everything is not in our control. You know, you plan and you do some set of activities that you like to and then I used to tell my wife OK, let's settle down and then we'll plan. You know, really nature has its own control over every human being. It does its job
He contrasts planning with nature, as biological. Parenthood is implicitly presented as a natural consequence of being a (heterosexual) human. This disclosure in a group context is unusual as it exposes him to being viewed as failing to be mature, responsible and rational given that typically an unplanned pregnancy is seen as reflective of being a bad citizen (Morison 2013).
The following excerpt similarly positions conception as something that just happened:
Alistair: I have two kids so I want to share my experience first. When my wife became pregnant with the first baby she was very happy because both of us were quite old and we got married late. Most of our classmates had a child earlier than us so we were quite happy when my wife got pregnant
Alistair states his authority to speak as the father of two children. By using the word ‘became’ he refers to a passive process, automatic reproduction. There is an expected cultural timeline for procreation and they caught up with everyone else, because they were behind. In the context of procreative heteronormativity, childbearing (as biological reproduction) can occur spontaneously and be left to chance.
In contrast with the previous participants who were pragmatic about their unplanned pregnancy, Farid and his wife felt unprepared and stressed:
Farid: When we had the second child in New Zealand the feeling wasn't that good. This is because we just arrived in New Zealand and our English was still poor. Moreover, we were pressed by family life, job hunting and finance. The second child wasn't a planned baby. That's to say my wife got pregnant naturally. It wasn't a planned pregnancy. Since my wife got pregnant we found we have had a lot of pressure mentally and psychologically because we were not familiar with the environment at that time, our English was still poor and we still had problems to communicate with our GP and obstetricians, though the welfare here is very good. This is what I felt
Farid's excerpt reflects how having a baby requires having certain material resources and kinds of cultural capital. There is an ostensibly right time to have a baby (when you are a migrant) which requires being financially secure, employed, familiar with the environment and a competent communicator. He invokes norms that reflect the recognized and acceptable routes through which parents should have a child.