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Health & Pregnancy

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The Changing Face of Fatherhood.

From divorced dads and older dads to gay dads and stepdads, the number of "alternadads" is growing. But whether your fathering style leans more toward Ozzy Osbourne or Ozzie Nelson, experts say the basics of parenting really are quite similar.

WebMD Feature

About a decade ago, while David and his wife were in the process of getting a divorce, she unexpectedly died of heart-related problems. Overnight, David was faced with perhaps the biggest challenge of his life: Raising his 12-year-old daughter, Leslee, on his own.

In this era of "alternadads," fatherhood isn't always what it used to be. Not only are there more single dads like David than ever before, there are so many divorced dads, older dads, gay dads, and stepdads that Norman Rockwell would have to adjust his depictions of American life if he were working at his easel today.

In fact, "alternative" parenting may actually be today's mainstream. Only a minority -- 38%, to be exact -- of children born in the last three years of the 20th century will reach the age of 18 having lived most of their lives with both of their biological parents.

"About 15 years ago, we began to see courts awarding more men custody of their children in divorce actions," says Patricia A. Farrell, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist and author of How to Be Your Own Therapist. "That turned the tide, and it's now more acceptable for single men and gay men, for example, to raise children without wives."

In a Family Way

David soon found that untraditional fathering can work just as well as the familiar "Leave it to Beaver"-style family life, although it is brimming with challenges. "It's tougher being a single dad than a single mom," he says. "Society looks at single motherhood as a natural state. But when it looks at a single father, it says, 'The child belongs with the mother.'"

Like many single dads, David took his role as a do-it-all dad seriously. He quit his job in the insurance industry and became a work-at-home father -- currently as a developer of Internet sites, including one of his own called "Initially, I had tried to maintain a regular work schedule in an office," he says, "but I was constantly running home to cook meals or go to school functions. So I made a conscious decision to work at home."

Although he concedes that single parenthood is more difficult than a two-parent household, he credits his successful childrearing to keeping the lines of communication open with his daughter. "But she also always understood that the parent has the final decision after issues are talked out," he says.

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