Part 7: Dissertation and Departure
Part 7: Dissertation and Departure

Part 7: Dissertation and Departure

Exactly how do you prepare yourself for something that you have been accustomed to, coming to an end? There are many ways for me to answer this question, as I type the final part of this series of The Sociologist's Journey. It has been my absolute pleasure to share my postgraduate journey, and show you different papers I submitted for each course. I trust that you have enjoyed the series thus far. This final part of the journey allows you to see the proposal I submitted for my research, which later transitioned into my dissertation. What came to an end for me, also brought me to a beginning. I decided for the first time to confront my long standing issue of father absenteeism, with the hopes of putting the lack of awareness of its negative impacts to an end, while opening the doors to my new found academic titles of Autoethnographer and Public Sociologist. 

The dissertation which I titled He Built The House But Not The Home, focused on the unavailable father in a Christian home context, and was submitted in partial fulfillment of my Master of Arts in Sociology at the Nottingham Trent University. While I might not be in a position to share my full dissertation (to date I have not published it), I will, along with the research proposal, give you an idea of what my dissertation entails, and how it relates to what I will do next on my journey. The Sociologist’s Journey ends… the Counsellor’s Journey begins.


Research rationale 

Literature about preacher’s kids’ experiences often involves matters of expectations (Anderson 1998), moral responsibilities (Stoffels 2004), internalization (Helsel 2012), as well as their ‘lost voices’ (Jones 2016) and social identity (Dancy 2017). Most research that is conducted, centers around preachers and their families that belong to predominant and established churches. Though the Pentecostal church is considered to be one of the largest Christian denominations worldwide (Cartledge 2016, Anderson and Ford 2005), there is not much literature that identifies the familial perspectives of this movement. The focus appears to be more on the pastor or preacher’s role as an accessible person within their community (McClure 1988). 

This autoethnographic study aims to explore my own experiences as the daughter of a Pentecostal preacher, reflecting on the potential impacts that a dual role of preacher and father can have on the father-daughter relationship. The title “He Built The House, But Not The Home”, refers to my father physically and ministerially building the church, also called the house of the Lord, but did not give much attention to building a relationship, inside the family home, with me as his daughter, presenting a situation similar to the cobbler’s children having no shoes. 

I am a preacher’s kid, or PK, a term commonly used to describe the children of preachers, pastors and priests (Aycock 2011). My father has served in the church mainly as a deacon (during my childhood and adolescence) and was later appointed to the role of a minister (since my adulthood). His church responsibilities required him to be absent from home regularly. 

This study will highlight the experiences that I have used to suggest that I suffer from father-hunger. 

Perrin (2009) and Maine (2010), highlight one of its main characteristics to be that of emotional absence, even in the context of physical presence, which in my opinion, describes my experience. It appears though, that much of the definition that exists for the term ‘father-hunger’, is directly related to the absence in a father-son relationship (Herzog 1981, 2009, 2013) and not so  much as in the father-daughter relationship.

Additionally, the study will seek to examine what are the effects that father-hunger has had on me as a PK throughout my development. Being a PK often comes with certain expectations from both the clergy and the laity (Hardy 2001), but not much is said about the expectations that clergy children have of their clergical parent(s) (Piper 2014). Many times, the parent(s), because of their commitment to church are unaware of the relational needs of their child(ren). This appears to be the constant theme for many preacher’s kids, though there does not appear to be a lot of existing literature to support this (Tighe 2010). Typically those who suffer from father-hunger manifest certain types of behaviours (Herzog 2013). I will examine if the behaviours suggested in the literature are ones that I can identify in myself. 

Finally I will seek to engage with the literature to determine if the problem of father-hunger and its effects on the daughter(s) of preacher(s), is identifiable within the sphere of the church, and what measures, if any, are put in place to deal with the problem. By looking at the father-daughter relationship through the religious lens of church life, I will bring to fore the specific childhood to adulthood experiences that caused me to diagnose myself as suffering from father-hunger.Through this engagement, I intend to bring awareness to other PKs, especially daughters who are suffering and might not know, or know but might not know what to do about it. Similarly, it is my aim to awaken clergy fathers and clergy leaders to rethink or refocus their practices of home versus church responsibilities.


Research questions

It is very necessary through this research to determine if the role of a preacher impacts or influences his responsibilities as a father, by asking questions such as:

  • Does the dual role of preacher/father result in father-hunger in PKs?
  • Are the experiences of PKs shaped by the religious and/or familial roles of their father?
  • Are there ways in which the church can help to bridge the relationship gap between preacher fathers and their daughters?

Subsequently the aim of the study is to answer these questions through:

  • Constructing a memory chart, to record key moments which will be used for further reflection
  • Defining and reflecting on the ways in which father-hunger may have been seen throughout my development
  • Reflecting on memories of moments when my father was ‘absent’, and collating the ways in which the absence was felt/experienced
  • Identifying and reflecting upon my various emotional responses as a result of the experiences
  • Considering the impact these experiences have in shaping and influencing how I relate to my father and the church



This dissertation will use autoethnography as its main method of study, as is common for studies that are done when an individual seeks to make sense of their personal experiences within a social context. This approach presents a situated and contextualised route by which the researcher accesses depth while connecting and reflecting on their embodied presence in the research (Hokkanen 2017, Zempi 2017) 

Autoethnography has been used by researchers who have engaged in religious based studies that they themselves are acquainted with (Baesler 2017, Anderson 2018). Similarly researchers who seek to examine various aspects of religious and familial life, and how those operate within a wider societal framework, make use of autoethnography and share their lived experiences (Johnson 2014, Gerena 2019).  

As such, for this dissertation, the methodology of autoethnography will be used, as I delve into my sacred and personal life from the dual perspective of church and family. This method chosen as “the bodily engagement implied in autoethnography furnishes the researcher with a privileged perspective from which to examine religious experiences” (Palmisano 2009). Whilst I can only imagine that the issues I have faced as a PK might be somewhat similar to others, I wanted to tell my own story in an attempt to use my privileged perspective to reflect on the dual identities and conflicting responsibilities that fathers who are preachers possess. My personal experiences will reflect on the impact that those conflicts and identity negotiations can have in church and family life, to meet the aim of the research. Additionally, the story will allow me to reflect on the potential influences and connect the discussions of the Pentecostal church and its views on clergy families. 

By using autoethnography, as the researcher, I become 'the researched’ as I relate events of my personal life. I will be focusing on my feelings, actions, thoughts and emotions through introspection and recall of memory, to ascertain where my experiences fit within a culture - specifically a church culture. I intend to do this by means of story writing (narrative), making use of my writing experience as a blogger and an author. I will be using evocative autoethnography, as I tell my personal stories, while focusing on the social phenomenology, through the use of analytical autoethnography (Ellis and Bochner 2006). Through this means, I intend to be reflexive, reflective and transparent. The narrative will mainly involve the other subject - in the person of my father, as I delve into sensitive matters that describe our father-daughter relationship (Wall 2008). The auto ethnography will include the construction of memory narrative and a typology of experience (see fieldwork plan below).


Ethical problems/issues

Autoethnography, though it appears to just involve the researcher as the subject of the research, also has it ethical concerns, especially since the subject is being reflexive (Ellis 2007, Ellis and Bochner 2000). Thus this research will seek to ensure that the identity of all those involved are protected to the best of the researcher’s ability. The recalling of events will involve my immediate family and ‘the church’. I will only make mention of persons from whom I have gained permission to do so, through the use of written or verbal consent. Anonymity and confidentiality will be used in reference to all subjects whose experiences will be recounted in the narrative.

I understand this to be a means by which I uncover hidden pieces of my past, as such I intend to be transparent and not withhold any information that might be personal to me. I will write about myself in the first person being fully aware and accepting of the risks involved when writing about the “researcher self” (Johnson 2009).


Fieldwork plan

My autoethnography will comprise of experiences from my childhood until my adulthood, that will be written in the format of a story. I have already begun to jot down specific things that I can remember that I consider to be relevant and pertinent experiences, surrounding the relationship I shared with my father. This has been done in a chronological order spanning childhood, adolescence and adulthood. The events I will make mention of are specifically related to my father choosing to put his church responsibilities above his responsibilities to me, as his daughter. 


Excerpts from the Dissertation

Imagine having completed three years of college, and now it is time for you to graduate. Wouldn’t you want your family to celebrate that accomplishment with you? I certainly did. However, when I told my mother the good news, her exact words to me were “you know it’s on a Sunday, and your father has to be at church, so he won’t come”. For whatever reason, I would have hoped that he would have given up on the concept that church comes before his family. After all, my brother and I did not get to attend our mother’s college graduation exactly six years prior, because of the same reason. I figured if I could only try to appeal to his emotion, he might change his trend of prioritizing church over his family, this once. Would my once in a lifetime celebration be something he considers more important than a church service?

Imagine being among your colleagues planning the activities for the upcoming Teacher’s Day trip. Wouldn’t you be excited that after months of teaching, you have one day set aside to be celebrated by your employers for the tremendous work that you do? I certainly was. However, when my phone rang, and I was met with unexpected news, that changed my mind from planning altogether. Even though I saw my father’s name on the caller ID, the voice on the other end of the line was not his. The conversation presented me with two choices: Do I forget the Teacher’s Day celebration and attend to the urgent matter concerning my father, or do I ignore my father in a time when he might need me, and prioritize myself for a day of celebration?

It wasn’t until my college graduation that I finally realised how much more devoted my father was to his church responsibilities, than he was to his role of being my father. It was apparent to me then, that there was a conflict of his dual identities, and possibly mine, as is the case for many father-preachers and their children (Piper 2014). Over the years of growing up with my father-preacher, I found myself competing with the church for his time and attention, which apparently is another typical occurrence in the lives of PKs (Tighe 2010). I then came to the realization that I was a ‘victim’ of “father-absenteeism”, but struggled to accept the terminology, as my father wasn’t fully absent from the home, as the term suggests (Eaton 2016). Though I decided from a few years prior to my postgraduate studies that I would want to address the matter on both a personal and societal level, it wasn’t until I began the initial preparation stages of my dissertation, that I stumbled upon the term “father-hunger” (Herzog 1981, 2013). I soon realized that though it spoke to my self-diagnosis, within the existing literature it was gender specific to the absence of a father in a son’s life. I still engaged in search of a term that spoke particularly to my issue and my gender. Thus I encountered the terminology “emotionally-unavailable father” (Wallach 2014), and thought that of all the previous terminologies, this one best fits the situation between my father and myself. However, I was still discontented, as I was not just concerned about our single identities of father and daughter, but of the other identities of him being a preacher, and me being a member of his church. My search revealed nothing of the sort, and I intend to use this research to identify an appropriate term that speaks to the emotional unavailability that is the result of conflicting responsibilities as father and preacher in the life of a daughter. That term I suggest to be the daughter-sister complexity.


Final Thoughts

Even though I am currently awaiting provincial licensure to officially begin my Counselling practice, I am a certified Christian Counsellor (and soon to be certified Relationship Coach). As such my focus is centered on counselling families (and members) within the church, where there are emotionally unavailable fathers, or where the daughter-sister complexity exists. I am Davene Harris (MA, BSc, Dip, Cert), and I am determined to play my part in ensuring that as the journey continues, that I contribute to building and bettering family relationships, one father-daughter at a time. 


Reference list

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Anderson, L.B., 2018. When the Lord builds the house: An autoethnographic account of working in an evangelical for-profit organizational culture. Culture and Organization, 24 (1), 74-93.

Aycock, A., 2011. Growing up PK. The Missouri Review, 34 (2), 175-184.

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Published By
Davene Harris (MA, BSc, Dip, Cert)
Davene Harris, is a life-long learner and educator, who has over 15 years of teaching, counselling and administrative experience in the education industry. Her work experience has allowed her the opportunity to serve students and staff in early childhood, secondary and post-secondary institutions in several countries. Her range of qualifications vary from a Certificate in Supervisory Management, a Diploma in Secondary Education, a Bachelors in Information Technology, to a Masters in Sociology. Davene has a passion for working with young people, and is on a course to secure her provincial counselling licensure, so that she can continue to fulfill her life-long passion of impacting youths to be the best versions of themselves.... Show more