Becoming a Father, Missing a Wife: Chinese Transnational Families and the Male Experience of Lone Parenting in Canada

Johanna Waters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

36 Citations (Scopus)


This paper explores men's embodied experiences of transnational families. Recent research has stressed the gendered nature of transnationalism, exposing the patriarchal structures and unequal power relations that exist within contemporary migrant households. While there is a greater awareness of the female experience of transnational migration (both as the migrant and the person 'left behind'), we still have little parallel knowledge of men. When the male experience has been studied, it is commonly in the context of their mobility (and in the absence of their wife and children), and 'disembodied' images of power dominate these accounts. This paper examines immigrant households from Hong Kong and Taiwan in Canada, where the male has been left behind to take care of the home and children, and his wife has returned to East Asia to pursue her career. In the process, men's lives have been completely transformed - from successful businessman to 'homemaker' and from distant father to lone parent, giving moral, emotional, and practical guidance to their children in the absence of the mother and extended family. The paper highlights the diverse nature of gendered experiences of transnational families and the varied forms that these arrangements can take. It also makes an important conceptual point about common understandings of transnationalism as something that 'privileged' migrants enact strategically at certain stages in the life course. I argue that the experience of transnationalism can also, in fact, change migrants - their objectives and their sense of self. Transnationalism. can be transformative in the lives of ostensibly strategic immigrant families. Copyright (C) 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)63-74
Number of pages12
JournalPopulation Space and Place
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2010


  • astronaut families
  • gender roles
  • transnationalism
  • male experiences
  • lone fathers


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