Involuntary childless men issues surrounding the desire to be a father
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Involuntary Childless Men: Issues surrounding the desire to be a Father. Robin Hadley [email protected] Background. Experience Own Clients Reactions: Anger, Sadness, Elation, Depression, Envy, Yearning, Isolation, Guilt, Acceptance... Infertility patients report similar reactions.

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Involuntary childless men issues surrounding the desire to be a father

Involuntary Childless Men:Issues surrounding the desire to be a Father.

  • Robin Hadley

  • [email protected]



  • Experience

  • Own

  • Clients

  • Reactions: Anger, Sadness, Elation, Depression, Envy, Yearning, Isolation, Guilt, Acceptance...

  • Infertility patients report similar reactions.

What s out there

What’s out there?

  • Not much on the Desire to be a father.

  • Most research is based on infertility treatment or men recently becoming fathers or due to become fathers.

  • Couples, mainly female participants.

  • Gender identification of childlessness?

  • Attitudes towards infertile men, house-husbands, single male parents.

Data collection

Data Collection

  • Qualitative study.

  • Grounded Theory Method.

  • Convenience sample.

  • Interviews: 10 (semi -structured).

  • Shortest interview: 34.36 minutes

  • Longest interview: 73.09 minutes.

  • Mean interview length: 49.10 minutes.

  • Transcripts were member checked.

  • Name have been changed etc to protect confidentiality.



6 Psychology world

4 from real world

9 wanted children

6 in relationships

All White Western

  • 3 x 30’s

  • 2 x 40’s

  • 2 x 50’s

  • 3 x 60’s

  • Mean age: 49

Emerging themes

Emerging Themes.

  • Consequences of childlessness

  • Ideation of Fatherhood

  • Relationships (childhood and adult)

  • Socio-economic

  • Health

Consequences of childlessness broodiness

Consequences of Childlessness:Broodiness.

  • “If I didn’t want one so much, I wouldn’t be in the crap I’m in” (Shane, 33).

  • “I really do need to have these children,” (Jeremy, 61)

  • “I felt the pain of it, emotionally there was a real gut feeling that you know, arghh...that I’m not a father of my own children.” (Ben, 60)

  • “I’ve never … never felt broody in my life,” (Mike, 45).

Consequences of childlessness2 social

Consequences of Childlessness2:Social.

  • “I felt out of phase with...normality or the expectations of how, to how life is...” (Jeremy, 61)

  • "There was a slight people were implying there was something wrong with you”(Ben, 60).

  • “Envy, envious - plum envious...I’ve got friends with children, all my sisters have got children.” (Phil, 51)

  • “I’ve never felt challenged...when I’ve said ‘I haven’t got kids, never wanted kids’.” (Mike, 45)

Consequences of childlessness 3 minding the gap

Consequences of Childlessness 3:Minding the Gap.

  • “I started like feeling there’s a hole there, like, ‘Look what I’m missed out on’.” (Graham, 60+)

  • “I don’t think I felt complete as a human being” (Ben, 60)

  • “...grieving for those that were never born...which is a paradox.” (Jeremy, 61)

  • “It is something like a bereavement where you never get over the situation.” (Ted, 42)

Fatherhood ideation ideals concepts thoughts feelings

Fatherhood Ideation:Ideals, concepts, thoughts, feelings.

  • “I think it’d be…magic, just magic” (Ernest, 34)

  • “ make up for what I hadn’t experienced ” (Jeremy, 60).

  • “You need to have the child to make you blossom as a person, as a family.” (Shane, 33).

  • ‘It was an unknown, an uncharted world for me and, consequently, one that I avoided.” (Karl, 57)

  • “…but I never had any desire to...have any children of my own.” (Mike, 45)

Ideation 2

Ideation 2.

  • Responsibility:

  • “I don’t know what to do with them...they terrify me, frankly...” (Mike, 45)

  • Skills:

  • “It can be difficult and tough…how would have I coped with the stresses and strains…” (Ben, 60)

  • “I don’t have any fear about having kids. No, none at all” (Ernest, 34)

  • Repeat of own childhood:

  • “You know I’d look at my son growing up and remember me relating to my Dad.” (Phil, 51)



  • “I thought that means I’ve missed my chance of having a family...I felt really sad - it caught me by surprise to feel a sense of loss about that” (Marcus, 33)

  • “I can literally blame my two divorces on the fact that I’ve not had a kid ” (Shane, 33)

  • “I can’t perceive that a child could make us happier” (Mike, 45)

Relationships 2

Relationships 2.

  • Formative years:

  • “Lack of impulse to be a father came from the fact that I didn’t particularly enjoy being a child”(Karl, 57)

  • “My family were great…I had a perfect upbringing” (Mike, 45)

  • Current:“For me it feels like being with the right person”(Marcus, 33)

  • “She said...‘I wish I’d had children with you.’So not being a father impinges partly on my relationship with X. You know, it’s missing between us.”(Phil, 51).

Socio economic


  • “ a position where, financially… we wanted to start trying for having children.” (Jeremy, 61).

  • “I think it is an environmental...we move around a lot for career and stuff. It’s an issue.” (Ernest, 34).

  • “We were never really forced into anything...not that kind of ‘you need to get a job, you need to get married’.” (Ernest, 34)

  • “It comes from my mother...she’s like, ‘Well, when are we going to have grandchildren’.”(Ernest)



  • Mental Health: All had suffered depression, 8 believing childlessness had been a factor:

  • “I did have a period of was part of a cluster of things which included this sense of...isolation” (Ben, 60)

  • “I was very, very depressed last year, suicidal…”

  • (Shane, 33).

  • Physical Health:

  • “I became ill with X ... and this is really why I’m not a father”(Phil, 51)

  • Partners Health: Ethical protocol prevents disclosure.



  • “’s almost in my role, I’m still some-bodies child until I have children...just sometimes a passing comment, it’s not meant as anything serious...” (Marcus,33).

  • “ they sort of put a thing on you…somehow stigmatised. So my brother-in-laws both...keep me at a distance, sort of despise me...” (Graham, 60+).

  • “I don’t really feel as if I’m discriminated against in any way…” (Ernest, 34).

Implications for counsellors

Implications for Counsellors.

  • The response to childlessness is unique to individual men and their cultural and familial experience.

  • A ‘complex bereavement’ (Lechner et al, 2006):

  • “…a sense of loss of not having a family of my own…but also of a status and position in society which being a parent gives…” (Ben, 60)

  • Gender-role therapy is one possible therapeutic direction with the use of similar goals to feminist therapy e.g. a client ‘valuing himself on his own terms, gaining freedom from sex-role stereotypes… (Nelson-Jones, 2006).

Practitioner s views

Practitioner’s views

  • A number of participant’s gave their views on how childlessness may influence their therapeutic practice:

  • One felt that therapists with children had greater empathy.

  • One believed that his childlessness meant he was more available for the client.

  • Another reflected that a response to certain clients was: “…these are my kids…”

Thank you for listening any questions

Thank you for listening!Any questions?

  • [email protected]



  • More to Life:

  • Infertility Network

  • Men’s fertility forum:

Affects of childlessness

Affects of Childlessness

  • The childless individual is “vulnerable…for social isolation, loneliness, depression, ill health and increased mortality.”(Dykstra and Hagestad, 2007).

  • Lone childless men and lone non-custodial fathers are at increased risk of death through suicide, addiction, injury, external violence, poisoning, lung and heart disease. This was linked this ‘emotional instability and willingness to take risks’ (Weitoft et al, 2004).

Factors in childlessness

Factors in Childlessness

  • Timing of events such as divorcing early, employment type, education level, leaving the parental home, and marrying late, are factors in childlessness. (Hagestad and Call, 2007)

  • A study of childless Australian men found that attitudes towards family, health, money, women, work and leisure all factored into male childlessness. (Parr, 2007).



  • Relationships early and latter

  • Mental health & behaviour.

  • Cultural expectation/anticipation

  • Fatherhood as a repayment, replacement, re-connection, repeat childhood experience.

  • Complex inter-connections

  • Tipping points: timing of events.

  • Affects on lifestyle: Gambling, alcohol, focus on work, financial advantage.

  • Links to work by Dalzell (2005 & 2007), Purewal & Akker (2007), Throsby & Gill (2004)



  • BRESCOLL, V. L. & UHLMAN, E. L. (2005) Attitudes Toward Traditional and Non-traditional Parents. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 29, 436-445.

  • DALZELL, A. (2007) “The expectation has always been that I’ll not have kids” - the narratives of childless gay men. Bristol, University of Bristol.

  • DYKSTRA, P. A. & HAGESTAD, G. O. (2007) Roads Less Taken: Developing a Nuanced View of Older Adults Without Children. Journal of Family Issues, 28, 1275-1310.

  • HAGESTAD, G. O. & CALL, V. R. A. (2007) Pathways to Childlessness: A Life Course Perspective. Journal of Family Issues, 28, 1338-1361. KENDIG, H., DYKSTRA, P. A., VAN GAALEN, R. I. & MELKAS, T. (2007) Health of Aging Parents and Childless Individuals. Journal of Family Issues, 28, 1457-1486.

  • KOROPECKYJ-COX, T. & PENDELL, G. (2007) The Gender Gap in Attitudes About Childlessness in the United States. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69, 899-915.

  • MALIK, S. H. & COULSON, N. (2008) The male experience of infertility: a thematic analysis of an online infertility support group bulletin board. Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, 26, 18-30.

  • Nelson-Jones, R. (2006). The Theory and Practice of Counselling and Therapy (4th ed.). London: SAGE Publications

  • Parr, N. (2007). Which Men remain Childless: The Effects of Early Lifecourse, Family formation, Working Life and Attitudinal Variables. [Website]. Available from: < Parr_Childless_Men.pdf >

  • PERONACE, L. A., BOIVIN, J. & SCHMIDT, L. (2007) Patterns of suffering and social interactions in infertile men: 12 months after unsuccessful treatment. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology, 28, 105 - 114.

  • PUREWAL, S. & AKKER, O. V. D. (2007) The socio-cultural and biological meaning of parenthood. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology, 28, 79 - 86.

  • RINGBÄCK WEITOFT, G., BURSTRÖM, B. & ROSÉN, M. (2004) Premature mortality among lone fathers and childless men. Social Science & Medicine, 59, 1449-1459.

  • THROSBY, K. & GILL, R. (2004) "It's Different for Men": Masculinity and IVF. Men and Masculinities, 6, 330-348.

  • VOGEL, D., WESTER, S., HEESACKER, M. & MADON, S. (2003) Confirming Gender Stereotypes: A Social Role Perspective. Sex Roles, 48, 519-528.

  • ZHANG, W. & LIU, G. (2007) Childlessness, Psychological Well-being, and Life Satisfaction Among the Elderly in China. Journal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology, 22, 185-203.

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