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Distant Dads? Not Us, Many Say

Many more dads are taking a stay-at-home role and learning more meaningful roles in their children's lives.
WebMD Feature

When my father and his first wife divorced in the late 1950s, he took custody of their three young children and raised them on his own. Back then, that was virtually unheard of. Today, it is merely unusual.

In 1960 only about 1% of children in the U.S. lived with a single dad, and only a small fraction of those fathers were divorced. Most were widowed, or married but with an absent wife. In 2003, about 4.5% of American kids lived with a single dad, and the majority of the dads were divorced.

"The fastest growing parenting demographic is single dads," says Roland Warren, president of the National Fatherhood Initiative. Between 1993 and 2003, the number of children living with single fathers grew by 33%.

More fathers, the numbers show, are willing to not only provide for their kids financially, but they're also willing to fill many other roles. As a child from my father's second, much later marriage, I never understood why some people thought dads were supposed to be so inept at things besides carrying a briefcase. My dad seemed perfectly at ease whether he was quartering a chicken, making a bed, or reading me a story. He'd had some practice.

It's not just single dads, either. "There's a broader cultural acceptance of the role of the nurturing father," Warren tells WebMD. More men appear to be staying at home to take care of kids, and dads who go to work are determined not to let their jobs make them strangers to their children.

All-Day Dads

In 1992, Peter Baylies was working for the now-defunct computer company Digital Equipment Corp., near Boston. The company had been cutting workers by the thousands, and Baylies suspected he might lose his job in the next round of layoffs. He and his wife, Sue, a fourth grade teacher, agreed that if he did, he would stay home with their baby boy. The pink slip came, and he took a new position as primary caregiver to 6-month-old John, and then another son, David, three years later.

"I'm glad I did it," Baylies tells WebMD. But at first, he says it felt strange to be home alone with a baby all day. "It's a major life change," he says. He looked to connect with other dads in his position, using his technical savvy and a new-fangled thing called the Internet. He found them, and started a newsletter.

After doing this for several years, "I found myself running the same articles over and over," he says. "Once the dads' kids were in first grade, most of them ended up going back to work, then I would have a whole new group of subscribers, and they wanted to know the same information."

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