Thursday, March 06, 2008

Joey's Story: Somebody There

I am in the process of interviewing Bay Area families for a series of writing projects on non-traditional families, collected as the "21st Century Family Project." For the past year, I have periodically posted sketches of the families based on interviews, as a kind of public notebook of the work I am doing. What follows is the story of Joey and Angela Fernandez, who live in San Francisco's Mission district. Their last name has been changed.

Joey Fernandez was raised in San Francisco’s Mission district by Mexican-born parents. There’s little in his upbringing—which sounds tough, at least to my ears—that suggests Joey might have one day become a caregiving father. He was beaten, sometimes with belts or cords, for disobedience, and his father was the indisputable head of house.

But he says that most of his friends did not have fathers at all—they were dead, deported, jailed, or just out of the picture—and Joey loved, idolized, and feared his dad. “I had somebody there,” he says, “who was going to be there for me, that we could look up to, where the buck stopped." But when Joey was 16, his father was killed in a car crash. Today, Joey remembers him as "a great father."

Joey—who was once my neighbor in the Mission, and is still my friend—grew up to be a strong, handsome, and good-hearted man. He tends a bar while his wife Angela works as a waitress and dance teacher.

After their first child, Julius, was born, Joey wanted more than anything to be a part of his son’s life—and, unlike his father, he recognized that his wife’s work was important to her. Her dance teaching, especially, gave her a creative and social outlet, not to mention income.

And so instead of seeking full-time work, as most fathers do, Joey cut back on his hours so that Angela could keep her two jobs and they could share child care. This arrangement persisted after their second child was born, with each continuing to work complimentary shifts.

Their story illustrates a great deal of research into Latino families. When University of California, Riverside, sociologists Ross Parke and Scott Coltrane conducted a five-year longitudinal study of how Latino and Anglo families in Riverside cope with economic stress, they found that Latino families are often willing to accept much higher levels of material deprivation in exchange for time with children.

Parke, Coltrane, and their colleague Thomas Schofield discovered that the decision is based more on an anti-materialistic ideology of family togetherness (which academics call familialism) than it was on an ideology of male supremacy. In fact, contrary to stereotype, their study found that today's generation of Mexican-American fathers tend to be significantly more involved with children (though not necessarily housework) than their Anglo-American counterparts.

“I do the housework but he also helps,” one Mexican–American mother told Texas Tech University researcher Yvonne Caldrera in another study. “I go to work at 6 in the evening and from there on he's in charge of the house. He feeds the children dinner and he leaves the kitchen clean for me.”

Joey does leave much of the housework to his wife, but he is a highly involved, caregiving father. “Before he was born, the plan was that we would do as much of the parenting ourselves,” says Angela. “We didn’t even look into child care. Unless you’re making tons of money at work, it’s not worth it.” They both make it clear that staying home with their kids was not an economic decision. “The most important thing was that we wanted to be the ones to raise our kids,” says Joey.

But for Joey, parenting is not a vehicle for emotional growth. “We gain something, but parenting’s not really for our personal gain. It’s for them.” And yet Angela notes that since he started caring for his kids, Joey has become a more patient and thoughtful guy. “Now that he has to think about what children need, he’s much better about time management and being prepared,” she says. “He thinks about other people.”

1 comment:

Unknown said...

This is a great anecdote.

I too have noticed on a personal level that Hispanic men are really into their kids.

The sad part is that many still refuse to assist with the housework-which appears to be confirmed by the research.
So ... the tendency to leave the $hitwork to the women seems to cut across racial & ethnic boundaries.