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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.

Chips Off the Old Block

Although our culture tends to think of mothers as better nurturers than dads, a University of Arizona study concluded that the depth of the love that men feel for their children is no less than women have for their offspring. And when problems occur with children, fathers may be the missing link.

Kyle Pruett, MD, clinical professor of psychiatry at Yale Medical School and the Yale Child Study Center, says that fathers are "the single greatest untapped resource" in the lives of America's children. The earlier that fathers become involved in their youngsters' lives, the better, he says, noting that infants are "prewired" for attachment to both parents.

According to data from the 2000 U.S. Census Bureau, there are 62% more single fathers than there were a decade ago, and they head more than 2 million households. However, they are still far outnumbered by single mothers (about 7.5 million), although the parental concerns among men and women are almost identical. A study of single fathers in the Air Force found that their worries centered around issues such as child discipline, maintaining a balance between work and family, finding good day care, and lack of adult support.

Though dads can do just fine raising daughters on their own, "they should try to ensure that there are women in the child's life who can be healthy role models," says Farrell. "These women can be friends or relatives who the daughters can talk and relate to."

Make Room for Daddy

Just as single fathers are climbing in numbers, so are older dads in their late 30s, 40s, and 50s. Although some of these aging fathers may find it more challenging to keep up with the activity levels of their kids, they might also be better prepared for fatherhood in some ways.

"Compared with younger fathers, older fathers tend to be a little more stable in the workplace and in their emotional lives, and their children are able to take more of the center stage in the lives of these men," says Pruett, author of Fatherneed. Researchers at Haverford College in Pennsylvania found that older dads are more likely to play and read with their offspring, and are more demonstrative in hugging and praising their children.

The population of gay fathers is on the rise as well, with about 10% of homosexual men having children of their own. Studies show that they tend to be as well-adjusted developmentally and psychologically as children of heterosexual fathers and are likely to be accepting of their father's sexual orientation.

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