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issue 2 12 b - APS Member Groups - Australian Psychological Society

Fathers, Adolescent Sons and the Fly-in/fly-out Lifestyle98Mary M. MacBethElizabeth KaczmarekAnne M. SibbelEdith Cowan University, AustraliaThe effects of Fly-in/fly-out (FIFO) employment on the relationships betweenadolescent boys and their fathers are poorly understood. Using a phenomenologicalmethodology, this study investigated the experiences of male adolescents whosefathers have FIFO employment. In-depth interviews were conducted with 8 maleadolescents to understand how the FIFO lifestyle influences their lives andrelationships. Analysis identified two main themes of (1) opportunities afforded by thelifestyle and (2) family relationships. Adolescents reported lifestyle benefitsassociated with their father working FIFO, described how they maintained father sonconnections and how FIFO impacted on their family. Further research into the longterm impacts of FIFO employment on adolescent development is indicated.The resources industry in WesternAustralia includes both offshore oil and gasand land-based mining. Together, thesesectors directly employ more than 75,600workers; more than 80% of whom are male(Chamber of Minerals and Energy, 2008;Department of Mines and Petroleum, 2010).The geographic remoteness of many sitesand the prohibitive costs of establishinginfrastructure to service these sites has ledmining companies to increasingly utilise flyin/fly out (FIFO) employment in theiroperations (Price, 2008). It is estimated thatmore than 20,000 families in WesternAustralia alone are involved in the FIFOlifestyle (Gallegos, 2006). FIFO is definedas:...work in relatively remotelocations where food and lodgingaccommodations are provided forworkers on the work site, but notfor families. Schedules areestablished whereby workers spenda fixed number of days working atthe site, followed by a fixednumber of days at home. (Storey,2001, p. 135)Early studies into the effects of FIFOon family functioning focussed primarily onthe effects of this lifestyle on workers andtheir partners (e.g., Morrice & Taylor, 1978;Morrice, Taylor, Clark, & McCann, 1985;Storey, Lewis, Shrimpton, & Clark, 1986).More recently, studies have emerged with theprimary goal of examining the potentialimpacts of FIFO on the well-being ofchildren and families (e.g., Beach, 1999;Gallegos, 2006; Kaczmarek & Sibbel, 2008;Sibbel, 2001). However, to date, no researchhas sought to explore the psychosocialimpacts of FIFO on adolescent well-beingand development.AdolescenceAdolescence is a transitional period,typically described as between 12 and 24years of age. It is characterised by significantcognitive, social, emotional and physicalchanges (Australian Institute of Health andWelfare, 2007; O’Brien & Scott, 2007).Identity formation, self-esteem and socialcompetence are associated with theadolescent’s ability to successfully gainindependence, strive towards theireducational aspirations and form meaningfulpeer relationships in their communities(Goldstein, Davis-Kean, & Eccles. 2005).Challenges to the formation of social identityand connectedness can place them at risk ofbeing socially isolated within theirThe Australian Community Psychologist Volume 24 No 2 November 2012© The Australian Psychological Society Ltd


Adolescent sons of FIFO fathers99communities (Hall-Lande, Eisenberg,Christenson, & Neumark-Sztainer, 2007;O’Brien & Scott).Positive parent-adolescent relationshipshave been found to protect against socialisolation through the provision of socialsupport and creating a sense of familyconnectedness (Hall-Lande et al., 2007;O’Brien & Scott, 2007; Richmond & Stocker,2006). A sense of connection to family canenhance individual feelings of self-worth andhence ameliorate the impacts of socialisolation (Amato & Booth, 1997; Rubin &Mills, 1988).Historically, fathers were seen asperipheral influences to children’sdevelopment; that is, important as materialproviders for their offspring but providinglittle in respect to the children’s social andpsychological development (Mott, 1994).However, more recent understandingsacknowledge the separate contributions madeby fathers and mothers to their children’sdevelopment (Davis, Crouter, & McHale,2006; Rohner & Veneziano, 2001). Studieshave repeatedly found that when the motherchildrelationship is controlled for, fathersexert a unique parenting influence over andabove that of mothers (e.g., Flouri &Buchanan, 2000, 2002, 2003a, 2003b;Veneziano & Rohner, 1998). In particular, apositive father-child relationship has beenfound to contribute to better academicoutcomes and higher social competence forsome adolescents while reducing thelikelihood of anti-social behaviour (Davis etal., 2006; Zimmerman, Salem, & Maton,1995). In addition, whilst paternalinvolvement has a significant role inprotecting against psychologicalmaladjustment in male and femaleadolescents (Flouri & Buchanan, 2003a;Flouri & Buchanan, 2003b), this effectappears to be greater for boys than girls(Bronte-Tinkew, Moore, & Carrano, 2006).Fathers frequently play a more active role intheir sons’ development than in theirdaughters’ and this involvement with theirsons increases as they age. By the timechildren reach adolescence, compared togirls, boys report a greater degree ofemotional and behavioural connectedness totheir fathers (Videon, 2005).Absence of Fathers Due to EmploymentThere is however some evidence thatwork-based demands placed on parents inWestern cultures can negatively impact onparents’ and children’s opportunities todevelop and maintain supportive familyrelationships (Pocock, 2001, 2003). Suchdemands include extended working hours andthe ‘spillover’ of workplace-based stress intothe home (Galinsky, Kim, & Bond, 2001).Long hours of employment, such as 12-hourshifts, can impact directly on the worker andhave flow-on effects to the family (Pocock,2001). For example, Bond, Galinsky, andSwanberg (1998) found long working hourscan negatively influence father-childrelationships through the reduction of timeavailable for family interaction. In addition,the spillover of stress and negativeinteractions from the workplace to the familycan impact on a father’s emotional capacityto positively engage with his children(Bumpus, Crouter, & McHale, 2006; Crouter,Bumpus, Maguire, & McHale, 1999; Hughes& Parkes, 2007).However the relationship betweenparents’ working arrangements and home lifeis complex (Pocock, 2001). For example, inher review of the literature on the effects oflong working hours on family life, Pocockreported that increased income resulting fromlonger working hours can relieve familystress associated with financial strain. Shealso reported that while childrenacknowledged the benefits associated withincreased family income, they also expresseda need to have more time with their parents.It has been suggested that the combination ofstressful, demanding jobs and extendedworking hours can have the most negativeeffects on families (Pocock, 2001).The Australian Community Psychologist Volume 24 No 2 November 2012© The Australian Psychological Society Ltd


Adolescent sons of FIFO fathers100Australians generally work longer hourswhen compared with workers in othercountries (Australian Institute of FamilyStudies, 2008). Recent data indicates that15% of Australian men work more than 50hours per week (Australian Bureau ofStatistics, 2010) and 38% work weeklyovertime (Australian Bureau of Statistics,2009). These longer working hourspotentially impact on family wellbeing andthe opportunities for children to engage withtheir fathers (Pocock, 2001). Hughes andParkes (2007) found that conflicting workdemands and family needs often resulted inwork interfering with family life leading tolower family satisfaction and higherpsychological stress. When compared withyounger children, adolescents were morelikely to feel they did not have enough timewith fathers and that when fathers wereavailable they were not able to engage fullydue to the demands of their fathers’ work(Crouter, Bumpus, Head, & McHale, 2001;Crouter et al., 1999; Galinsky, 1999).The type of industry in which the fatherworks can contribute to the disruption ofparent-child relationships. Industries that useshift work or FIFO work practices result infamilies whose fathers are absent for varyingperiods of time, potentially creatingdisjointed routines in the family environment(Zvonkovic, Solomon, Humble, &Manoogian, 2005). The resource sector is onesuch industry which utilises both shift workand commuting practices.Approximately 47% of WesternAustralians who work in the resource sectorare employed in a FIFO capacity, whichrequires them to live away from home forvarious periods of time (Chamber of Mineralsand Energy, 2008). However, due to differingwork requirements within the resource sector,FIFO rosters (the time away and at home),can vary widely ranging from 5 days away/2days home to 9 weeks away/4 weeks home(Beach & Cliff, 2003; Gallegos, 2006; PilbaraRegional Council, 2004). In the currenteconomic and employment climate, 8 daysaway/6 days home is an increasingly morecommon roster for land-based mining, whileeven time rosters such as 2 weeks away/2weeks home are more usual in the oil and gasindustry.The effects of land-based mining andoil and gas off shore FIFO employmentrosters on families have been investigated inboth the international and Australian contextssince the 1980s. These earlier studiesparticularly focussed on the potential impactsof FIFO on family function and relationshipstress between employees and their partners(Clark & Taylor, 1988; Eastman, Archer &Ball, 1990; Morrice et al., 1985; Storey,Shrimpton, Lewis, & Clarke, 1989).Typically the practice was associated withincreases in stress and loneliness for the athome partner, and difficulties negotiatingroles and responsibilities for each adult in therelationship, however there was also evidenceof the use of positive coping strategies by themajority of these couples. More recentAustralian studies have demonstrated thatFIFO families are generally resilient to theparticular challenges of the lifestyle and theirlevels of family functioning are similar tothose of the general community (Keown,2006; Reynolds, 2004; Sibbel, 2010; Taylor& Simmonds, 2009).Other Australian studies have exploredthe experiences of children from FIFOfamilies. Those few that have been completedwere undertaken with younger children andhave yielded mixed results. For example,Beach (1999) found that FIFO disruptedfamily relationships such that children haddifficulty re-engaging with their fathers ontheir return. These families were all on alonger roster (4 weeks away and 1 weekhome). On the other hand, Kaczmarek andSibbel (2008) found that compared to acontrol (community-based group) group,children aged from 8 to 12 years who had aparent engaged in FIFO did not display raisedlevels of depressive symptomatology orThe Australian Community Psychologist Volume 24 No 2 November 2012© The Australian Psychological Society Ltd


Adolescent sons of FIFO fathers101anxiety. In her qualitative study of familieswith children aged between 10 months and13 years, Gallegos (2006) found childrenwere adaptable to the lifestyle but the degreeof adaptability was influenced by the parents’ability to manage the frequent transitionsassociated with the particular roster.To date, little research has beencompleted on the impacts of FIFOemployment on the adolescent sons of FIFOemployees and thus the impacts are currentlynot well understood. In particular, little isknown about adolescent boys’ perceptions ofthe impacts of their fathers’ FIFOemployment on themselves and theirfamilies. Understanding these experiences isimportant as the FIFO fathers’ constant‘comings and goings’ have the potential toimpact on the relationship with theiradolescent sons which in turn couldsignificantly influence their psychologicaland social well-being and educationalaspirations. Adolescents have differentdurations of experience of FIFO. For some, itis a familiar lifestyle as their fathers mayhave been engaged in this type ofemployment for a long period of time.However, for other adolescents it may be anew experience as a consequence of themigration of workers into the resource sectorin response to industry workforcerequirements (Chamber of Minerals andEnergy, 2008).The Present StudyThe aim of this study was to exploreadolescent boys’ experiences of their father’sFIFO employment. In doing so it posed thefollowing questions:1. What are the experiences of adolescentboys whose fathers work away fromhome for extended periods on a FIFObasis?2. What are the adolescent social andpsychological issues that arise fromsuch a father-son relationship?MethodResearch DesignQualitative methodologies assume thatpeople actively create their social worlds(Smith, 1990). The current study sought tounderstand the lived experiences ofadolescent boys whose fathers were currentlyemployed in a FIFO capacity and thus aqualitative methodology was deemedappropriate. In particular, aphenomenological approach was utilised asunderstanding the participants’ subjectiveexperiences and the meanings they associatedwith FIFO living were central to the study(Crotty, 1998). Phenomenological approachesare based on the epistemologicalunderstanding of personal knowledge andsubjectivity, that people are “active creatorsof their world and have a consciousness thatcommunicates to them everyday experiencesand knowledge” (Sarantakos, 1993, p. 48).The reality of an experience is inextricablylinked to an individual’s consciousness ofthat experience as well as the outwardexperience (Becker, 1992; Liamputtong &Ezzy, 2005). Phenomenology also requiresresearchers to bracket or set aside their ownpreconceived ideas about the phenomenon inorder to understand it through the voices ofthe informants (Creswell, 2003).ParticipantsEight adolescent males, as described inTable 1, participated in this study.Informants’ ages ranged from 13 years 9months to 21 years 10 months. Each of theadolescent informants was a member of a two-parent family in which the father wascurrently engaged in FIFO work in theresources sector. Two informants lived withtheir biological mother and step-father. Themajority of the fathers (n = 7) were employedby resource companies; six worked in the offshoreoil and gas industry and one in landbasedmetalliferous mining. The remainingfather was self-employed, operating contractsfor a number of companies covering bothThe Australian Community Psychologist Volume 24 No 2 November 2012© The Australian Psychological Society Ltd


Adolescent sons of FIFO fathers102Table 1Demographic Information of ParticipantsPseudonym Age FIFO Duration Current RosterMichael 13yrs 9mnths 20+yrs 2wks on/offJacob 15yrs 6mnths 16+yrs 2wks on/offToby 15yrs 5mnths 15+yrs VariableSean 21yrs 10mnths 8yrs 1mnth on/offTravis 17yrs 4mnths 7yrs 4wks on/offMark 19yrs 4mnths 7yrs 1mnth on/offJosh 15yrs 10mnths 2yrs 1mnth on/offAndrew 14yrs 1mnth 1yrs 2wks on/offAustralian-based and international miningprojects.The number of years the fathers hadworked in a FIFO capacity ranged from 1 to20+ years. Three informants had grown upwith FIFO, and the remaining five hadexperienced their father having FIFOemployment and non-FIFO employment atdifferent stages of their upbringing. Thefathers’ FIFO rosters were typically evenrosters (symmetry between the days at workand days at home). One father’s roster variedas a consequence of his type of work and assuch was not regular. Most informants hadexperienced different rosters in the pastincluding; 2 weeks away/1 week home, 4weeks away/2 weeks home, 7 weeks away/1week home and 3 months away/1 monthhome.ProcedureFollowing ethical approval from theEdith Cowan University Ethics Committee,informants were recruited through schoolnewsletters and snowballing techniques.Informants completed face to face interviewsguided by a semi-structured interviewschedule which encouraged them to providein-depth accounts of their experiences ofhaving a father work in a FIFO capacity. Theinterview schedule was informed by earlierresearch that acknowledges the difference inexperiences that occur when the FIFO workeris at home and when he is away. Questionsincluded: What do you and your dad dotogether when he is at home? Tell me abouthow things are at home compared to when heis away? What is it like for you when dadgoes away? What do you feel when he goes?How do you think dad’s being away affectsyour mum?Interviews were digitally recorded andtranscribed on completion. Ethicalconsiderations such as voluntaryparticipation, confidentiality and freedom towithdraw from the research at any time wereadhered to. Sampling was undertaken untildata saturation was achieved (Creswell,2003).Data Analysis and Research RigourEach interview was transcribed as soonas possible after the interview to access theessential meaning of the description of thephenomenon. Transcripts were initiallyanalysed using Creswell’s (2003) dataThe Australian Community Psychologist Volume 24 No 2 November 2012© The Australian Psychological Society Ltd


Adolescent sons of FIFO fathers103Table 2Adolescents’ Perceptions of the FIFO LifestyleThemesOpportunities afforded by the lifestyleFamily relationshipsSub-ThemesFinancial rewardsExtended periods of time at home and awayRelationships when Dad’s homeRelationships with Dad when he’s awayComings and goingsanalysis spiral, which employs a process of“moving in analytical circles rather thanusing a fixed linear approach” (p. 142). Thisiterative approach provides for alternatingcycles of analysis and reflectiveconsideration and is deemed appropriate foranalysing phenomenological data (Creswell,2003). Key words and phrases were extractedfrom each transcript and coded. Bracketing ofthe researcher’s preconceived ideas andjudgements of FIFO was an essential part ofthis process (Crotty, 1998). Common issueswere then grouped resulting in twooverarching themes and five sub-themes(Miles & Huberman, 1994). Individualtranscripts were also compared to identifyexperiences which were common acrossparticipants and those that were unique. Thisenabled the identification of patterns ofoccurrence and meaning occurring across theparticipants’ lives.A reflective journal was kept by theprimary researcher (the first author) to recordthoughts and feelings encountered during theanalysis (Liamputtong & Ezzy, 2005).Research rigour was achieved by the reviewof transcripts and themes by an independentreviewer and member checking. Fourparticipants were also contacted by telephoneto seek feedback regarding the accuracy ofthe themes and issues identified from theirinterviews. All expressed agreement withinterpretations of the data.Findings and InterpretationsThe aim of this study was to exploreadolescent boys’ experiences of their fathersworking FIFO and the meaning they make ofthe experiences including the impacts onthemselves and their family. Analysis of theinterview transcripts identified the followingoverarching themes and sub-themes (seeTable 2). The interviews revealed the boys’experiences of the FIFO lifestyle weregenerally described as positive; however,although they were aware of the benefitsafforded by the lifestyle, they were alsomindful of the challenges FIFO presented forthemselves and their families.A number of developmental differenceswere evident in the perspectives offered bythe informants. Younger informants appearedto have a more egocentric focus and spokepredominantly of how FIFO affected theirpersonal lives while older informants weregenerally more aware of the effect of FIFOon the family system and their parents, aswell as themselves. The ability to recognisemultiple dimensions of experience developsinto adolescence and development of thisskill is influenced by the parent-childrelationship (Burack, Flanagan, Peled,Sutton, Zygmuntowicz, & Manly, 2006).The Australian Community Psychologist Volume 24 No 2 November 2012© The Australian Psychological Society Ltd


Adolescent sons of FIFO fathers104Opportunities Afforded by the LifestyleOne of the two major themes thatemerged from the adolescents’ perceptions ofFIFO was the opportunities afforded by thelifestyle for both the individual and theirfamily. In particular, informants recognisedthe financial benefits of FIFO employmentand the opportunities for extended interactionwith their fathers during their ‘chunks oftime’ at home. However, as discussed later,there was also recognition that these benefitscame with a cost.Financial rewards. Informantsperceived that one of the main reasons fortheir father having FIFO employment was thehigh level of income and the resultantfinancial and material benefits for themselvesand their family rather than preferring theFIFO lifestyle itself. Travis commented “hegets good pay in his job” while Seanacknowledged “he made a lot more moneythan when he worked at home.” HoweverMichael’s comment that, “if he had a job withthe same amount of money with the sametype of work that he does...but it was in Perthhe’d take that straight away,” indicates anawareness that the financial rewards ratherthan the FIFO lifestyle itself was the mainreason his father had FIFO employment.A particular perception of many of theinformants was that their father’s FIFOemployment provided them with theresources and opportunities to enjoy alifestyle which included for example, outingsand local, interstate, and internationalholidays that might not be available to them iftheir fathers had non-FIFO employment.Some families enjoyed regular outings to thetheatre and concerts and meals at restaurants.Several informants mentioned their familyholidays. For example, Michael describedtheir travel to New South Wales, Tasmania,China, and Hong Kong, stating that the lattertrip was “for my birthday because I reallywanted to go overseas.” Josh mentionedsurfing trips to the south west region ofWestern Australia and a trip that was beingplanned to Bali, while Andrew talked about afamily holiday to Queensland. There was anunderstanding that these trips were possiblebecause of the FIFO income.While their father’s role as materialprovider was recognised by all theparticipants, two demonstrated a particularregard for what it meant at a personal level.Jacob stated, “(I am) proud of him. I’ve got aDad doing something he doesn’t want to justso Mum and I can have a good life. In thatway I find dad a pretty good man.” Michaeldescribed his dad as a “saint” and stated “hemakes sacrifices all the time. I think hemisses out on a lot more than I do.”Furthermore, participants such asJacob, Michael and Sean recognised theconflict between the financial cushionprovided by the lifestyle and the cost in theform of the effect on their fathers (Galinsky,1999; Pocock, 2001). Jacob stated:That’s why he’s doing allthis...because he feels that if hedoesn’t ...that it’s letting mum andI down. So he’s given us this houseand the car and my school... Hefeels he has to do it because hewants the best for mum and I.Extended periods of time at home andaway. In addition to the comfortable lifestyleand increased recreational activities affordedby the financial benefits the informantsdescribed the positive outcomes of theconcentrated ‘blocks’ of time at home thatare characteristic of FIFO work (Gallegos,2006). Most informants stated that one of thebest things about FIFO was when their fatherwas home he did not have to work. Joshdescribed how he looked forward to hisfather coming home because “we get tospend time with him.” Similarly Seancommented that:The best thing about him beinghome [is] that he has moretime...The fact that he doesn’tcome home in the afternoon and isThe Australian Community Psychologist Volume 24 No 2 November 2012© The Australian Psychological Society Ltd


Adolescent sons of FIFO fathers105tired from working all day and thenjust wants to have dinner and go tobed. He is more sociable and canspend time doing stuff with us.Sean’s comments reflect the value placed onthe quality of the time with their fathers aswell as the quantity of time FIFO allowedthem to have with their fathers. In particularSean was better able to interact with hisfather because he wasn’t tired from workingall day in a standard residential job.Andrew’s life experiences includedboth the FIFO and standard work-hourslifestyles as his step father had onlycommenced FIFO within the past year. In acomparison of the two work types he statedhe believed he was not disadvantaged byFIFO stating:Yeah. It’s almost the same nowbecause I never used to see himback then as well because he wasalways going in and out. It’s goodhere because I get to spend moretime with him now. I like this jobbetter actually because on the oldjob he’d have to get up at sixo’clock and he’d never get homeuntil about 5.30. So we’d get thathour but he’d be pretty tired. Hedid that for weeks and [unclear]bad business and that’s why wemoved over here [WesternAustralia] in the first place. Theywould always pull him in onweekends to do stuff. I’m glad hechanged jobs because now I gettwo weeks and nothing interrupts.Some participants acknowledged that inaddition to the benefits associated with theirfather’s extended periods of time at home,there were also positive experiences forthemselves and their family when their fatherwas away (Mauthner, MacLean, & McKee,2000). These positive outcomes variedbetween the informants. For example, Tobycommented that home was “more relaxedwhen he (Dad) was away” and that if hisfather had a standard job where he was homeevery day Toby’s life would “probably be alot more stressful.” Travis’s experiencerelated to a perception of having morefreedom when his dad was away, “Mum letsus have people over like not too many butDad would hardly let us have anyone over.”For Andrew, it related to time with his Mum:Sometimes it gives me and mummore chance to relax togetherbecause when he’s home I’musually spending more time withhim than I would do with her. Itgives us a lot of time but like I saidbefore it does cause strain.Family RelationshipsThe second major theme arising fromthe informants’ narratives was that of familyrelationships and in particular the relationshipbetween FIFO father and son. Within thistheme two sub-themes were apparent:relationships when the FIFO father was homeand relationships while he was away. Theoverall impression of the father-sonrelationships was that they were generallypositive and healthy with the majority ofrespondents talking about their fathers withwarmth, affection and humour. However,Toby’s narrative also reflected the complexnature of father-son relationships andhighlighted the difficulty in understandingthe particular contribution of the FIFOlifestyle to these relationships. Tobydescribed his father as “a stressful, criticalperson ...who always has to be right (and) gethis own way. He always thinks he’s alwaysthe victim and never anyone else,” but whenasked what the best thing was about havinghis father home, Toby replied, “he is prettyfunny and he is good to talk to about stuff.”Central to the father-son relationship isthe range of roles that the fathers play in theirson’s lives. Despite the regular absences oftheir fathers, the boys described a variety ofroles their fathers played in their lives, suchas “mates” (Michael, Josh, Travis, Mark,The Australian Community Psychologist Volume 24 No 2 November 2012© The Australian Psychological Society Ltd


Adolescent sons of FIFO fathers106Sean), “teachers/mentors” (Michael, Andrew,Jacob), “role models” (Michael, Jacob), and“protectors” (Michael, Toby, Travis, Sean).In particular the importance of ‘mateship’ inthe father-son relationship was evident instatements such as “he’s my best mate” (saidtwice by Michael as well as Josh and Mark),“we talk about stories most of thetime” (Michael), “father-son but also sort offriends as well” (Mark), and “Dad and I talk alot when he’s home” (Jacob). The descriptionof their fathers as friends and mates seems toindicate that despite the regular absences oftheir fathers, for these adolescents it seemstheir relationships with their fathers weremaintained and able to continue to develop asthe boys went through adolescence.Relationships when Dad’s home. Themain connections between father and son wasmaintained for all of the informants throughsharing of activities, particularly sporting,when the father was home, as Markdescribed, “we play sport, we watch sport.”Some fathers had an active role in coachingtheir sons or assisting with sporting matcheson the days they were at home. Othercommonly shared activities were associatedwith either “surfing” (Michael, Josh, Travis),the “beach” (Toby, Andrew) or“fishing” (Jacob). Perth’s location andclimate encourage such outdoor activities.Homework also featured as a shared activity,with three of the six school-aged informantsrelying on their fathers rather than theirmothers to assist them with school-relatedtasks.Galinsky (1999) found that adolescentslook for opportunities for ‘hang around time’,that is the ability to spend time with theirparents that is not rushed and that is focussedon the interaction between parent andadolescent. The experiences of many of theparticipants reflected this in statementsreferring to shared time as the opportunity to“hang out” (Sean, Mark), “chill out” (Travis),“spend time together” (Josh), or“talk” (Michael, Jacob). The ‘chunks’ of timeat home afforded by their FIFO lifestyle werevalued by the participants as extraopportunities for this type of interaction withtheir fathers. These findings are similar to theexperiences of adult participants in earlierFIFO research who valued the extra timeafforded by the FIFO lifestyle to interact withfamily members (e.g., Gallegos, 2006;Sibbel, 2010).Another related finding to emerge fromthis study regarded the informants’perceptions of their father-son relationshipscompared with that of their friends whosefathers were home every day. Previousstudies have found that the quality of fathersoninteractions is more important thanquantity in determining positive adolescentoutcomes (Flouri & Buchanan, 2003b; Parke,1996).When asked to compare their fathersonrelationship with that of their friends, theparticipants were unanimous in theirperceptions that their relationship was nodifferent from that of their friends, andindeed some boys described it as better.Although some said they would havepreferred their father to be home, they alsobelieved they were not disadvantaged by nothaving their father home every day. As Markexplained, “It doesn’t really bother me muchbecause when he’s home it’s good.”Many indicated they believed that theirrelationship was actually stronger because ofFIFO. For these adolescents FIFOemployment meant that when their fatherswere home they was not distracted by workand could therefore concentrate on interactingwith their sons (Crouter et al., 2001; Crouteret al., 1999). As Travis described:I think I get along better with mydad [than my friends with theirdads] because their dads arealways there. They’re all stressedout because they’re working everyday. When dad gets back hedoesn’t have to work.The Australian Community Psychologist Volume 24 No 2 November 2012© The Australian Psychological Society Ltd


Adolescent sons of FIFO fathers107Relationships with Dad when he’saway. Previous research has demonstratedthat ‘quality’ father involvement can bemeasured by how often fathers talk to theiradolescents, and their knowledge of andinvolvement in their adolescents’ activities.This has been found to have a strong positiveassociation with adolescents’ well-being(Bronte-Tinkew et al., 2006; Brotherson,Yamamoto, & Acock, 2003; Carlson, 2006).Earlier FIFO related research has foundmaintaining relationships during the awaypart of the roster can be a particular challengefor FIFO couples and families (Gallegos,2006; Sibbel, 2001). In this study, a commonfactor in maintaining the connection betweenfather and son was the ability to communicatewhile the father was away. The opportunity tokeep in contact during the away periodsdepends in part on the availability ofcommunication facilities at the FIFOworksite and these can vary between sites(Sibbel, 2010). Each of the participants had anumber of available options andcommunicated with their father either bytelephone, Skype or email with varyingfrequency and duration depending onpersonal preference, either the father’s or theson’s. These conversations might be just aquick hello or a longer conversation aboutsuch topics as “school” (Toby, Andrew, andMichael), “sport” (Travis, Andrew) andgeneral events that had been happening in thefamily (Toby, Sean, Mark, Travis). As Joshdescribed, “he rings about once every threedays but that’s only for about two minutesbecause he has to get back to work.Sometimes not even two minutes so it’s realquick say hello.”For Andrew, the communication wasinitiated by his father and maintained theircommon sporting interests even when apart.This seemed to provide some security in hisrelationship with his dad:He always calls up to wish me‘good luck’ in my game everyFriday. He always checks thescore afterwards, checks withMum if I played good or not... I’mglad he’s keeping tabs. I wouldn’twant him not to because I like himto know what I’m doing, if I’mdoing good or not.Despite the regular separations it seemsthese adolescents and their fathers were ableto establish levels of communication betweenthem that were relevant and acceptable tomeet their personal needs and that maintainedhealthy connections between them. Suchpaternal contact is an important positiveinfluence on male adolescent development(Dolgin & Rice, 2008).Concern for their father during hisabsence emerged as a common theme for anumber of informants. This included concernfor safety as well as for their father’s physicaland mental health. Some adolescents wereaware of the often physical demands of FIFOemployment and worried about its effect ontheir fathers. “He’s really the one whosupports the family and he works very hardfor it, too” (Michael). “He’s getting old andhe’s doing a physically demanding job...He’sworking so hard (Jacob).” Several alsoworried about their father’s safety:“Sometimes I wonder if the helicoptercrashed on the way out” (Andrew) and“Sometimes [I] worry about him. He’s done alot to himself” (Jacob). Sean commentedabout the dangers of working overseas:When he was working in Africait’s a fairly dangerous place andhalf the countries in Africa havetravel advisories not to go there atall... If you saw something on thenews you’d think: “Is it anywherenear Dad? ”...and then when thehurricanes went through the Gulfof Mexico he was there…In a discussion about the possibility ofhaving FIFO employment Josh expressedconcern for his father’s emotional well-being:The Australian Community Psychologist Volume 24 No 2 November 2012© The Australian Psychological Society Ltd


Adolescent sons of FIFO fathers108I’d try not to FIFO work. [unclear]I know it’s affecting Dad at themoment. I don’t really want that.Because he has to do it. He doesn’twant to do it. I know he doesn’twant to do it. He feels he has to doit. He feels he has to do it becausehe doesn’t want to feel like he’sleft mum and I down. He feels hehas to do it because he wants thebest for mum and I. I know hedoesn’t want to do it…However safety issues were of noconcern for other informants, as Travisexplained, “He’s the Safety Officer so heshould be safe.”Comings and goings. Previous researchhas identified the impacts of the regularcomings and goings on household routinesand relationships (Beach, 1999; Gallegos,2006; Storey et al., 1986). Informants in thisstudy described their perceptions of theimpacts of FIFO on household routines andfamily relationships. For some, the homeroutine was unchanging in the face of theirfather’s departures and returns, “when dad’shome it’s still the same” (Michael), whereasothers reported changes: “sometimes itchanges a lot because he comes back andthere’s a lot more tidiness around thehouse” (Andrew). Nevertheless many eagerlyanticipated their father’s return: “Excited...Iwant him home all the time” (Michael) and “Ilove it when he’s home” (Andrew).On a personal level several respondentsdescribed the impact of their father’s returnon their daily activities as “curbing theirfreedom. We can't have people over becausewe have to spend the time we do have withhim [dad]” (Josh) and “he doesn’t like uslistening to heavy music” (Toby).The adolescents were also aware of theimpact of the FIFO lifestyle on individualfamily members and on family relationships.In particular this was apparent in theirdescriptions of the effect on their mothersand changes seen in their father. Each of theparticipants perceived FIFO as having somenegative impacts on their mothers. Consistentwith findings from earlier studies (e.g.,Reynolds, 2004; Sibbel, 2001; Storey et al.,1989) these included loneliness and having totake on extra household responsibilities whilethe father was away. This was evidenced by:“She’s a lot more happier when he’s herebecause she misses him while he’saway” (Josh), “Mum’s always stressedout” (Travis), “Mum’s more relaxed, happierwhen dad’s home” (Mark), “she doesn’tenjoy having to solve all the problems whendad isn’t here” (Sean), “she gets annoyed atlittle things far more when dad’saway” (Andrew), and “she does ithard” (Jacob). Toby’s descriptiondemonstrated insight into the complexities ofthe FIFO lifestyle and its impacts:When he’s here she can be a littlemore stressed. Also feels better.When he’s gone it’s the samething....So it’s sort of the same bothways but she is more happy whenhe is here. But when he is not hereshe is probably really happy as wellbut can do other stuff. So it sort ofbalances.Informants had varying views onwhether their mother’s stress impacted ontheir relationship with their mother. Whileeach of the participants appeared to have agood relationship with their mother, somemade statements indicating the occurrence ofoccasional stress in the relationship. This isconsistent with some earlier findings (e.g.,Sibbel, 2010). Andrew saw that his stepfather’sabsence provided an opportunity todevelop a closer relationship with his motherbut that “it also leads to more arguments” andthat “mum says I don’t listen to her has muchas I listen to [step-father].” Sean believed thathis mother’s stress meant that “small thingsblew out of proportion” and that “littlethings...got between us.”The Australian Community Psychologist Volume 24 No 2 November 2012© The Australian Psychological Society Ltd


Adolescent sons of FIFO fathers110they were in any way disadvantaged by notseeing their father every day. Indeed, theparticipants believed that their relationshipswith their fathers were no worse than otherfather-son relationships where the father washome every day and, in some cases, there wasa belief that aspects of their father’s FIFOemployment such as the extended periods oftime at home provided opportunities tostrengthen their relationships.Shared activities, particularly sporting,were crucial to the underpinning of the father-son relationship. The mutual experience ofthese activities fostered the connectednessbetween father and son, both when the fatherwas home and when he was away. Sport wasoften the conduit through whichconversations flowed. Sport was alsoimportant to bolstering adolescent identity asseen through the pride expressed by theparticipants when their fathers attendedmatches. This connectedness to their fatherswas evident for all informants. Thus theseadolescents perceived their FIFO fathers hada continuing active role in their development(Videon, 2005).There was an awareness of the subtleeffects of the FIFO lifestyle on familydynamics. In particular, the impacts of thefathers’ comings and goings and the shiftingof family responsibilities onto the motherwere commented on. They acknowledgedtheir mothers’ loneliness and the burden ofextra household responsibilities assumedwhile their father was away (Beach, 1999;Taylor & Simmonds, 2009). This wasevidence of an appreciation of the sacrificesparents were making in order to have aparticular lifestyle which included theinformant’s comfort and wellbeing. It appearshowever that these families were able toadjust to the comings and goings and workout strategies to maintain connectedness(Hall-Lande et al., 2007; O’Brien & Scott,2007; Richmond & Stocker, 2006).Past studies have demonstrated that theseparation of work and home lives by FIFOemployment can protect families from thepotential negative effects of shift work andspillover between work and home lives(Gallegos, 2006; Sibbel, 2010). This studyfurther supports these earlier findings.Participants frequently described how thechunks of time their father had with themwas uninterrupted by the pressures of workintruding into the home (Bumpus et al., 2006;Crouter et al., 1999; Hughes & Parkes,2007).LimitationsThis exploratory study represents thelived experiences of a small group ofadolescents engaged in the FIFO lifestyle,thus the findings should not be seen asgeneralisable to the wider FIFO population.However, these findings can be used toinform understandings of the impacts of aFIFO lifestyle on adolescents and theirfamilies.The participants’ age range of 13 to 21years represents a broad cross section ofpotential adolescent developmentalperspectives. Adolescence is marked byevolving relationships, and therefore it isdifficult to separate the impacts of FIFO fromgeneral adolescent development in anydiscussion of family relationships.Furthermore, two participants were membersof blended families and were not thebiological offspring of the fathers mentioned,thus adding another dimension to theexperiences of these boys. Finally, eachparticipant’s father’s profile of FIFO differedwith respect to length of roster, type ofoperation and duration of FIFO employmentdemonstrating that there was no typical FIFOexperience that could have influenced thesefindings.Future DirectionsFIFO will continue to be a commonemployment practice in the Australianresources sector in the foreseeable future. Assuch, it is important that we continue toevolve our understandings of the impacts ofthis lifestyle on the wellbeing of employees,The Australian Community Psychologist Volume 24 No 2 November 2012© The Australian Psychological Society Ltd


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