childbirth, fatherhood, military, paternal role



  1. Schachman, Kathleen A.


Background: More than 90% of fathers in the United States attend the births of their children. Each year, thousands of fathers are absent during this important life transition because of military deployment in combat regions; however, it is unknown how this population experiences new fatherhood.


Objective: The purpose of this study was to explore the lived experience of first-time fatherhood from the unique perspective of military men deployed to combat regions during birth.


Method: A phenomenological approach was used. Seventeen men who were stationed in Okinawa, Japan, and had returned recently from a combat deployment participated. Unstructured, in-depth interviews were conducted 2 to 6 months after the births. Interviews were audiotaped, transcribed, and analyzed using Colaizzi's method.


Results: Disruption of the protector and provider role was a main theme that encompassed four theme clusters: (a) worry-a traumatic and lonely childbirth; (b) lost opportunity; (c) guilt-an absent father; and (d) fear of death and dismemberment-who will be the father? Although their absence interfered with their ability to fulfill the fatherhood role as they perceived it, this was offset by the theme cluster Communication: The ties that bind, highlighting the role of online communication with their partner (e.g., e-mail, instant messaging, Facebook(TM), blogs, and chat rooms) in restoring balance to the protector and provider role.


Discussion: Insight is provided into the needs of first-time fathers who are combat-deployed during the births of their babies. Understanding these experiences assists nurses in identifying better ways to prepare and to support men in an involved fatherhood role, despite the limitations of a stressful combat environment and geographic separation. This information can set the stage for a healthy reunion, which may take place at military bases and within communities across the globe, and thus is of benefit to all nurses working with military families.