By Rachel Dorman, M.S. & Kacy Mixon, PhD, LMFT[Flickr, 09 by Ruby Lane Photography, CC BY-ND 2.0] Retrieved on September 23, 2015We’re continuing the conversation in today’s blog with part two of our military fatherhood blog series. We feature a study by Willerton, Schwarz, Wadsworth, and Oglesby (2011)  exploring military fathers’ involvement with their children. Participants of this study included 71 military fathers from 14 U.S. military installations who attended focus groups within six months after returning from deployment. They were asked questions about their 1) perception of their role as a father, 2) relationship with their child prior to deployment, 3) interactions and communications with their child while deployed, and 4) experiences upon reunification and reintegration into the family after deployment. Researchers categorized their findings into three overlapping domains: thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Our previous blog (Military Father Involvement: Part 1) focused on the thoughts. Today we will focus on the feeling and behavior domains of fatherhood involvement.Feeling Domain of Father InvolvementThe three themes that were categorized in the feeling domain were Warmth and Acceptance, Anxiety and Distress, and Emotional Withholding.Warmth and Acceptance:The theme of Warmth and Acceptance was defined as a father’s desire to emotionally know and be known by their child. This theme was highlighted by the importance of establishing trust and acceptance. When physically present in the family home, most fathers of infants reported holding and talking to their infant but when deployed most fathers reported they did not communicate with their infant child. Fathers of preschool children reported physical play and affection was how they built their relationship. While deployed, fathers not only expressed difficulty maintaining and building the relationship but also in helping their children understand why they were not at home. Fathers with older children reported talking, playing, and being involved in the child’s daily routine as ways to build their relationship.Anxiety and Distress:The second theme recognized by the researchers was Anxiety and Distress. The researchers defined this theme as negative emotions, such as feeling sad or worried. Fathers reported emotions ranging from sadness and frustration over being physically absent to feeling they failed because of missing out on their child’s life. Some fathers reported worrying about whether young children would remember them after being absent. Other fathers reported feeling guilty for the sacrifices their children had to experience due to their military career. Results revealed that some fathers questioned themselves and whether their military career was worth the sacrifices their families faced.Emotional Withholding:The last theme in the affective involvement category is Emotional withholding. This theme described fathers who withheld from their relationship with children in an attempt to protect themselves, particularly prior to deployment. Fathers reported that withholding, or emotionally shutting down from the relationship, was an attempt to avoid overwhelming emotions before leaving for deployment. The study found that some fathers did this by putting their efforts into their work or other activities rather than into their relationships with their children. Fathers who were already deployed reported being cautious about their contact with children at home. Fathers who felt they were at a higher risk while deployed or that their communication with their family may cause overwhelming emotions were more guarded with their communication back home. These fathers were aware of the potential emotional upset communication could cause, which could compromise their work. Fathers also reported being sensitive to their children’s perception of war, as a result deployed fathers reported limiting the information they shared with their children.[Flickr, the angry child by wolfgangfoto, CC BY-ND 2.0] Retrieved on September 23, 2015Behavioral Domain of Father InvolvementThe last category the researchers identified was behavioral involvement. Observable Engagement Activities was the only theme within this category.Observable Engagement Activities:The researchers describe Observable Engagement Activities as direct involvement or interactions fathers had with their children despite their location. While at home fathers reported being involved with age appropriate daily activities such as reviewing homework or bathing and helping children get ready for bed. As deployment dates drew closer, fathers reported that just spending quality time together, despite the activity, was important. When fathers were deployed they reported their interactions with their children involved encouraging and advice giving when they communicated.Summary of Military Father InvolvementThe researchers concluded that military fathers are concerned about and work hard to remain involved in their children’s lives. The researchers found physical absence was a major concern military fathers think about. As a result of the father’s awareness of their absence and strong desire to be involved in their children’s lives, the researchers state that these factors appear to make the father more attentive to their child’s development. The researchers recommend that deployment preparation programs to focus on helping fathers work through strong emotions associated with their relationships with their children before being deployed. These programs could help fathers and children develop skills to better cope with their emotions, help children better understand the their father’s absence, and help both the father and child build means of healthy communication while physically apart. The researchers recommend that reunion programs or family clinical interventions be utilized to normalize some of the complex emotions a family may encounter upon their reunification.Professionals can use this study’s findings to gain insights into unique barriers that fathers in the military may experience. To learn more about military fatherhood join us for our MFLN Family Development webinar on May 29, 2014 from 11am-1pm focusing on Fathers, Work, and Family Life. Also, take a look at previous blogs looking at child outcomes of father involvement and resources surrounding the National Fatherhood Initiative.References Willerton, E., Schwarz, R., Wadsworth, S., & Oglesby, M. (2011). Military fathers’ perspectives on involvement. Journal of Family Psychology, 25(4), 521-530. DOI: 10.1037/z0024511This post was written by Rachel Dorman, M.S. and Kacy Mixon, PhD, LMFT. Both are members of the MFLN Family Development (FD) team which aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network FD concentration on our website, on Facebook, on Twitter, YouTube, and on LinkedIn.