Black Men Reap Mental Health Benefits From ‘Otherfathering’
Alexandria, Va. (August 8, 2023) — Black men serve a variety of parental roles in their communities — from teaching to coaching to mentoring youth. A new study reveals how this work, called otherfathering, influences the men’s mental health.
“The Black men represented in this study who act as otherfathers in their communities are proud to do it and doing so gives them a sense of purpose,” said Michael Hannon, PhD, an associate professor of counseling at Montclair State University in New Jersey and lead author on the study. “But they acknowledge that doing so is challenging, due to their desire to provide in ways that are feasible or sustainable. That can lead to feelings of guilt, frustration and stress.”
To better understand the experience of otherfathering, Hannon and his colleagues interviewed eight participants from organizations of Black men whose mission was to mentor Black children and adolescents. The participants said their otherfathering ranged from providing job or educational support to sharing wisdom.
“Sometimes it’s just as simple as, ‘Mr. A … can you write me a letter of recommendation for the National Honor Society?,’” one participant told the researchers. “And then sometimes it’s just at the corner store and a young man walks in and [says], ‘Hey can you give me some life knowledge?’”
The men in the study reported feeling stress from lack of financial support for their work and balancing otherfathering with personal and family commitments. Some said they have difficulty fully helping youth who have multiple commitments.
“The kids who come to the mentoring programs are competing with track, football, basketball,” one participant said. “So they may not get all they could have gained from the mentoring programs because of their prior obligations.”
Overall, however, otherfathering yields substantial psychological returns, the researchers report.
“The cumulative effect of these experiences (i.e., rewards and challenges) appears to have a positive impact on participant mental health and wellbeing that keeps them otherfathering for many years despite the various stressors and challenges experienced,” Hannon and his coauthors wrote.
The researchers recommend further studies with more participants to help counselors best understand the distinct experiences of Black men who engage in otherfathering. They also urge counselors who work with Black male clients to recognize the burdens and tensions that otherfathering can produce. They recommend counselors:
suspend preconceived notions and/or stereotypes about Black men;
demonstrate a genuine interest in learning about Black men’s lived experiences; and
engender trust in the therapeutic relationship so that Black male clients are more willing to be vulnerable.
Co-authors on the study were Alfonso L. Ferguson, Ph.D., Saybrook University in California, Raymond Blanchard, Ph.D., of Montclair State, and Jasmine E. Santiago-Ataande, a licensed professional counselor in New Jersey. The report, “Otherfathering and Black Men’s Mental Health: A Phenomenological Study,” is part of a forthcoming JMCD special issue: “Understanding the Black Male Experience”. An abstract of the paper is available at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/21611912?journalRedirectCheck=true
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Founded in 1952, the American Counseling Association (ACA) is a not-for-profit, professional and educational organization that is dedicated to the growth and enhancement of the counseling profession. ACA represents nearly 60,000 members and is the world’s largest association exclusively representing professional counselors in various practice settings. Driven by the belief that all people can benefit from the power of counseling, ACA’s mission is to promote the professional development of counselors, advocate for counselors, and ensure that ethical, culturally inclusive practices protect our members’ clients and all people who seek counseling services.