670.7 “The emotional costs of transnational fatherhood: Dilemmas of fathering from afar”

Saturday, August 4, 2012: 11:51 AM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Erika BUSSE , University of Wisconsin River Falls
Fathers are expected not only to provide financial capital, but also to develop and provide emotional support to their children.  This dual support gets at odds when labor migrant fathers ventured abroad to provide for their families leaving behind children and wife.  Despite large volume of research on labor migration, the emotional costs associated with how fathers experience fathering from afar have yet to be studied, as migration research highlights (e.g. Debry 2010).

I argue that by focusing on gaining economic security in the U.S. to provide for their children left behind and on saving enough financial capital to bring the family to the U.S., fathers turn to the breadwinner role.  Both the physical and emotional distance from their children make these men to embrace “breadwinnerhood”—which comes along with high emotional cost.  This is particularly the case for families that are undocumented and for whom it is hardly impossible to move back and forth between their country of origin and the country of destination, like Peruvian immigrants in the U.S.

I found that while many of these working-class Peruvian immigrants delayed migration to be able to be with their children, the dare economic conditions in Peru made them accelerate the migration process.  Once in the U.S., fathers concentrated in securing jobs. This fact limited their time to communicate with their children (and wife) distancing them from their families not only physically but also emotionally.  Since fathering is a two-way street, for children left behind fathers become the image of the person they talk to once a day or a week, and who satisfies material needs.  Consequently, fathering from afar fathers to retrench from their emotional connection and consolidate their breadwinner role.  This paper is based on four-years of ethnographic work in the Peruvian community and their relatives in Peru.