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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.

The Work-Family Fulcrum continued...

"I thought I would be as effective at work as I was before Bella was born," he says. "What I learned after she was born, and after I went back to work, was that I had to start with baby steps."

Instead of going back to full workdays immediately, he worked half days for a while. Even now, he no longer works 11-hour days and weekends, as he did before. He has learned to squeeze the same amount of work into a much shorter day, he says.

"I do think that I'm fortunate to be in an academic environment because I know for certain that people who are in more of a corporate environment don't have that kind of flexibility."

He's quite right. A 2001 Society for Human Resources Management survey showed that only 14% of companies offered any paid paternity leave. What's more, according to the 2002 National Study of the Changing Workforce, conducted by the Families and Work Institute, 45% of parents surveyed -- moms and dads -- said that work interfered with their family lives "some" or "a lot," and more working fathers than mothers said so.

Dad Skills

One in three children born in the U.S. are born to unwed mothers, but that does not mean dad is always out of the picture, or that mom is necessarily alone.

The ongoing Fragile Families and Child Well-Being study, which looks at unwed parents in 20 U.S. cities, found that half of the fathers surveyed were living with their child's mother. Virtually all the dads said they wanted to be involved with their kids, and 93% of the moms said they wanted dad to be involved.

"I think regardless of the situation or how a father expresses his role, there is an overwhelming desire for more intentional, proactive fathering across the board," Ken Canfield, PhD, president of the National Center for Fathering, tells WebMD.

Dads Matter

Research shows that fathers are important for much more than putting a roof over kids' heads and food on the table, as a generation of fathers were fond of saying. A review of four decades of psychological studies, published in the Review of General Psychology in 2001, showed that a father's love for his children has a potent effect on their development and well-being.

A growing awareness about dads' importance has kick-started a more thorough study of fatherhood. "The need for that reflects the fact that research about children has interviewed and talked about moms," Kristin Moore, PhD, president of the research center Child Trends, tells WebMD.

Most parenting education is directed at moms, too. "If a guy has an epiphany and wants to be a better dad, and maybe he didn't have a great dad, how exactly is he supposed to learn how do that?" Warren says. "Most of the parenting books are designed for women. All the magazines are essentially written for women."

Groups like the ones he and Canfield head aim to help dads hone their skills.

"What they invest in their fathering has exponential potential," Canfield says. "In other words, your children and your investment in their lives may be your message to a world you'll never see."

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Reviewed on May 30, 2005

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