Growing up in a seafaring family: Recollecting one's childhood with an absent and present father
Department of Sociology Åbo Akademi University Åbo, Finland
When we get to hear about everyday life in seafaring or maritime families we usually hear the voices of the women - the wives, the live-in partners - and in some cases the men - the seafarers, the sailors - but seldom the voices of those who are "forced" to live in a seafaring family, in other words, the children. The aim of my ongoing doctoral study is to give a voice to the adult sons of seafarers, letting them recollect their childhood and upbringing in a family characterized by a recurrently absent and present father. How do they portray the everyday life in their childhood families? How do they look back upon their relationship with the father? What memories, what events and incidents, do they see as important and worth mentioning? What kind of narratives unfolds?
The material consists of 20 semi-structured interviews with men, aged between 26 and 51. The occupational positions of the fathers are both ordinary seamen as well as officers. The length of the periods of absence has varied from a couple of weeks up to almost a year, depending on the type of ship and route.
The study has its theoretical background in the discussion about family practices (Morgan 1996) and displaying family (Finch 2007). The concept of family practices presupposes that contemporary families are not defined through 'being family' but through 'doing family things', something Finch wants to nuance by arguing that families need to be 'displayed' as well as done. To display family is in her view a process in which individuals try to convey the family character of their individual actions and thus placing them under the category of family relationships. In the case of the men interviewed this is mainly argued through talk of normality - it was normal to have an absent father - even if a closer examination reveals a more complex and vivid reality, partly because of the fact that the majority of respondents have become seafarers themselves.