Why today’s dads are better than their dads

We’re still not perfect, but most men are now playing a more hands-on role in   raising their children, writes counsellor Nick Theophilou

Studies of men's participation in the home point to a continual improvement

Studies of men’s participation in the home point to a continual improvement Photo: Alamy
By Nick Theophilou
Times have changed. No doubt about it. When it comes to parenting, many men   are doing well, thank you very much. The days of the unapproachable   stay-at-work dad is fast becoming a relic of the past. It’s being replaced   by a more responsible and caring vision of fatherhood. Yes, it took us men a   while, but we seem to have clocked that bringing up children is a shared   job. A 50-50 undertaking.

So I was surprised to read recently that Alex Proud believes that most men “are   not naturally as good at parenting as their partners”. Sure,   not all men get it right. As a counsellor, I can testify to that. But,   generally speaking, aren’t we getting better as we plough into the 21st   century? Don’t men now make better dads than our predecessors? Isn’t the   graph pointing upwards?

The numbers certainly are. Studies of men’s participation in the home point to   a continual improvement. UK research body The   Fatherhood Institutefound   that the amount of men working flexi-time to care for their children rose   from 11% to 31% between 2002 and 2005 alone. Men are now spending more time   caring for their children, and doing more work around the house (roughly 150   minutes a day). Plenty of partners may still complain that their man is not   doing his fair share of the work, but it seems irrefutable that men are   getting better with time.

Alongside this is the increasing trend for house-husbands. A   study conducted by Aviva Insurance found that the number of stay-at-home   dads rose from 60,000 to 600,000 between 2000 and 2010. One in six   said this was because the woman earned more, while 75% said they felt lucky   to spend so much time with their children and only 10% said running around   after children made them feel less of a man. Being a hands-on father is   losing its stigma.

Government policy is helping fathers in their plight. While the dads of   yesteryear would have to take holiday from work to spend time with their   newborn child, British men are now eligible for two week’s paternity leave.   The paid leave helps today’s dads become attuned to their children from the   off: research has shown that childcare   quickly brings about hormonal changes in both men and women, making   them more sensitive to the needs of their children.

My experience as a father, husband, and counsellor backs this up. As men spend   more time with their children and take on more duty of care, they become   both better fathers and more rounded human beings.

Take my friend Alan. Early on, Alan and his wife Diane decided that she would   continue to work and he would look after the children during the day.   Diane’s earning power was greater than his, so they reasoned that it made   sense.

Alan’s openness to the experience of fatherhood has made him more humble and   open. Having known him for thirty years, I can say that becoming a father   has been the making of him. Before fatherhood he acted as if the world was   all about him. Now his focus is on what’s best for his family, and I see how   he cares for his three children. He speaks softly to them, and when they   want something to eat or need their nappies changed, the task falls equally   to him and Diane.

Don’t get me wrong, Alan isn’t perfect. He’s learning to consult Diane before   making decisions, and I’ve seen her intervene in the past when he’s scolded   the children harshly. As a couple, they argue – but they do it in private,   and when they get stuck they have counselling to help them along.

Alan and Diane are close. They touch, hug, kiss, and yes, sometimes stand   apart from each other and don’t talk. I see a family unit that happily plays   together, quarrels, and makes up. Alan stays at home; Diane goes out to   work. It’s entirely natural.

Being a stay-at-home dad doesn’t come so easily to everyone. As a couples   counsellor, I have met many other men who have taken on the fathering role   and been left with a feeling of ambivalence, even bitterness. Society may be   coming round to the idea of the man in the house, but the wheels of change   are slow, and many men are still brought up to believe they should be the   provider.

Are the dads of today better than the dads of twenty years ago? Of course they   are. They do more work in the home and communicate better with their   children. Can they do more? Of course they can. We all can.

As you know, life is a work in progress.

Nick Theophilou’s book 10 Stories About What Men Are Doing Well is   available on Amazon.com

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