This phenomenological study, based on the writings of Martin Heidegger, describes what it was like for eleven fathers of very low birth weight infants during their infants’ stay in a neonatal intensive care unit. Each participant was interviewed up to three times. Interviews were semi-structured, digitally recorded and transcribed verbatim. Data were analyzed using Max van Manen’s methodology, along with a metaphorical illustration to illuminate meanings of experiences. Analysis was structured using Heidegger’s philosophical concepts of Being-in-the-world and Being-with-others, as well as the added concept of Being a changed man. The themes that emerged were: shock; exploring hostile terrain; fearing the unnatural; feeling powerless; unpredictability; surviving; baggage; feeling left out; feeling misunderstood; needing/accepting support; holding back from Mom; and doubting/accepting paternity. The findings revealed that fathers struggle with powerlessness as they attempt to acclimate to the foreign environment of NICU and respond best when given tasks to perform. They tend to choose their battles based on the wisest expenditure of energy, and may leave an environment where they perceive they are not needed. Fathers benefit from developing close relationships with NICU nurses, but often feel misunderstood and require that trust be earned.
Keywords: phenomenology, qualitative, fathers, dads, neonatal intensive care, premature, VLBW infant
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