Chatham News

Fatherhood can be important to the mental health and well-being of the family, according to Chatham University professor

By: Paul A. Kovach, Vice President for Public and Community Relations
June 15, 2010

Click here to read Dr. Isacco’s First Person essay on fatherhood in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

PITTSBURGH (June 15, 2010) … According to researchers, the role of the father in family relationships is critical, and more research into fatherhood has intensified over the last decade. Even on Father’s Day in 2009 President Barack Obama noted that “Of all the rocks upon which we build our lives, we are reminded today that family is the most important. And we are called to recognize and honor how critical every father is to that foundation. They are teachers and coaches. They are mentors and role models. They are examples of success and the men who constantly push us toward it.” Two recent studies by Anthony Isacco, Ph.D., assistant professor of counseling psychology at Chatham University, examine the role of fathers in postpartum mental health and in family healthcare decisions.

“Urban Father’s Role in Maternal Postpartum Mental Health,” published in the fall 2009 journal Fathering (Men’s Studies Press) and authored with Craig F. Garfield, MD, MAPP, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and NorthShore University HealthSystem, examined 31 urban fathers through qualitative interviews to determine how fathers play a role in both identifying maternal depression and providing support. Twenty-three percent of fathers were able to describe mood or behavioral changes in the mother, which corresponded with DSM-IV depressive symptoms. Not only did fathers identify changes in the mother, fathers offered a variety of support to the mother. In particular, fathers in this study considered their consistent presence during this time, sometimes just by “being there,” of great comfort and support to mothers.

“Greater research has shown the new and varied roles that fathers play in the family,” Dr. Isacco says, “and one of those roles could be in helping physicians who care for families and children identify changes in maternal mental health. Mothers will often hide signs of depression and anxiety from friends, relatives and doctors, and so if they are sharing this information with fathers, the role of the father in helping mothers through post-partum depression could then be critical.”

In the second study, “Child Healthcare Decision-Making: Examining “Conjointness” in Paternal Identities Among Residential and Non-Residential Fathers,” also co-authored by Dr. Garfield and published in the winter 2010 issue of Fathering, the authors defined “conjointness” as how the father identifies himself as a co-parent and how the mother impacts a man’s self-views and self-meanings as a father. Garfield and Isacco surveyed 31 residential and non-residential fathers in urban settings and found two new paternal identities they described as “self-as-detached identity” and “mixed identity.” In the former, fathers would often be less involved in medical decisions for the child, often replying when asked, “I don’t know, the mother handled the decision.” In the latter, the fathers fluctuated between co-parental and independent identities. Responses were greatly influenced by the residential status of the father.

“We found fathers who lived with the mother might not necessarily have had a greater role in medical decisions for the child but had greater trust in the mother to make the decision, and felt less disenfranchised than the non-residential fathers,” Dr. Isacco said. “Unfortunately, non-residential fathers face several contextual and personal barriers to being more co-parental with the mother in healthcare decisions. Barriers such as lack of custody, relationship dissolution with the child’s mother, divorce, and lack of knowledge of healthcare details and lack of confidence in their decision-making were clearly present for non-residential fathers.” “During the prenatal period medical providers and hospital personnel can greatly help fathers learn to have a greater role in their child’s healthcare, which would not only benefit the child but help to strengthen the relationship between mother and father.”

About Anthony Isacco
Anthony Isacco III is assistant professor of counseling psychology and joins Chatham from the University of Oregon. His publications and presentations focus on fatherhood, men’s health and masculinity, social justice, and diverse populations. A recipient of The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship, Anthony earned a bachelor of psychology and philosophy from Franciscan University (Steubenville, Ohio); a master of counseling psychology from Boston College; and a Ph.D. in counseling psychology from Loyola University.

About Chatham University
Chatham University prepares students from around the world to help develop solutions to some of the world’s biggest challenges. Every Chatham student – women in Chatham’s historic women’s residential college, and men and women in Chatham’s graduate programs – receives a highly individualized, experiential educational experience that is informed by Chatham’s strong institutional commitment to globalism, the environment and citizen leadership. Founded in 1869, Chatham University includes the Shadyside Campus, with Chatham Eastside and the historic 39-acre Woodland Road arboretum; and the 388-acre Eden Hall Farm Campus north of Pittsburgh. For more information call 800-837-1290 or visit www.chatham.edu.