Whatever happened to dad?

AS more working mothers more than make their way in today's competitive world and become fulfilled and independent, they could well ask, what is the future for fathers? As the nation prepares to mark Father's Day on Sunday, Debbie Watson discusses his changing role.

By Debbie Watson

AS more working mothers more than make their way in today's competitive world and become fulfilled and independent, they could well ask, what is the future for fathers? As the nation prepares to mark Father's Day on Sunday, Debbie Watson discusses his changing role.

FOR generations he's been known as the breadwinner and the man on whom every British family relied.

So what happened to dad?

Not only is the family male being challenged for his place as chief earner – he's also having his entire job

description re-written.

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His children are now seeking advice from their educational mentors, gaining academic assistance from the internet, and communicating with their friends via text – so has dad lost his grip on the family altogether?

And is today's dad particularly bothered about his brood in the first place?

"Men are far more interested in their family and in the raising of their children than they get credit for," insisted father-of-three Paul Martin.

"Most men enjoy forming relationships with their youngsters and rate it as one of the most important parts of their lives – so it's wrong to assume that they're less important to the home than a mum."

Paul is a campaigner on this very issue.

From Ipswich, and the leader of the community support programme, Dads and Kids, he spends spare time trying to champion the role that men can play in their children's lives.

It's a role which he said men want to fulfil to the highest level, but one that they often feel they could be neglecting.

"More often than not, men are working a lot of hours to help to keep the household purse full and they worry that this is stopping them from spending quality time with their child," said 34-year-old Paul.

"Although there have been some changes in laws and social assumptions, the man's parental role is not credited by employers half as much as it is for a woman.

"It means that men feel they shouldn't be seen to be taking time out with a new baby or a poorly child – even though that's what they want to do.

"They worry they will be frowned upon by bosses if they do and then, as part of this same vicious circle, they worry that their child is not getting the best of them because of the time they spend away from the family nest."

Talk to Paul about the supposed image of today's 21st century superdad and this pro-father campaigner is moved to squirm.

"It's a myth that just makes men feel all the more inadequate," he stressed as we spoke at his Henniker Road,

Ipswich home.

"There isn't this guy who works 70 to 80 hours a week, rakes in huge amounts of money, spends numerous quality hours with his children and feels content that he's achieving it all.

"It doesn't happen and it can't happen until more laws and service start to take the father in to greater account."

One step in the right direction is the proposed introduction of paid paternity leave.

Until now, there has been no legal right to paid paternity leave in the UK, and anything offered by the employer is entirely at their discretion.

But that looks set to change.

Last year the Prime Minister announced the Government's intention to bring in such leave for new fathers – understood to mean a payment of £60.20 a week for the two weeks after the birth.

"Steps like this are significant, but that won't improve things for men overnight," commented Paul. "It will give men the legal right to take time out, but we know from other countries that men will still feel too scared to take that entitled leave.

"For years, women have been experiencing that dilemma of what a boss will think if they take time out to have a child, and now, men are going to start assuming that their job prospects will be blighted if they take time off."

That's not to say that Paul is against paternity leave – far from it. He simply wants to see the fundamental attitudes about fathers changing. That way, he hoped, people would start to have greater respect and admiration for those fathers who gave valuable time to their children.

According to enthusiasts like Paul, much of this change will begin to come when regional agencies and organisations begin to up the standard of father-friendly services.

Such agencies include our community-wide health facilities, educational outlets, voluntary initiatives and family centres.

They will collectively help to make strides like the one announced by the NHS, under which men will now be able to stay overnight in hospital following the birth of their child.

"In Ipswich, we seem to be generally good at providing father-friendly family support services, and on the whole, they are engaging well with dads," Paul said.

Through his full-time employment, as part of the Ormiston Trust, Paul is in the position to make such judgments. In his role as development manager for fathers and families in Suffolk, he is actively working with agencies to encourage them to take dads into account.

"I look at the family services which are being planned, and help to highlight ways in which fathers can be better considered," he said. "We're doing well in the region and places like Suffolk Health are making strides.

"We just have to keep up the improvement to help challenge the assumptions about men not wanting to be involved in family and child issues. We have to reach out to them. We want to hear their voice.

"We want to do what it takes to get society to understand the crucial need for quality in parenting.''

Whatever the history of male parental involvement, the fatherly voice is being called upon more often throughout our regional services.

Since January, Suffolk has been the base for a Work With Fathers forum, which collates the thoughts and work of all our county-wide services, and encourages leaders to come up with new ways to keep men at the centre of their children's lives.

As far as Paul Martin is concerned, his commitments suggest that he couldn't be a better advocate of this issues for Suffolk to have at its centre.

"I set up Dads and Kids well before I took up the Ormiston role, essentially because I believe men need to know that their parenting role is a valid one," he said. "I'm a father and I realise how important my relationship is with my child. I want to help all men understand that and reap the satisfaction that I do.

"Through the support group and the Ormiston work, I'm able to encourage more fathers to appreciate the valuable presence they have in today's family."



n If you want to contact Paul about Ipswich Dads and Kids, which holds

regular fathers and children sessions and a monthly family session, call him on 07931 552003 or e-mail dadsandkids.ipswich@ntlworld.com

RESEARCH by Fathersdirect.com suggests that men still have a very valuable role in today's family, although it is not always made easy. The findings highlight that:

Fathers, on average, earn two-thirds of family incomes. In Britain they work the longest hours in the European Union and have to fit in parental activities

In 36 per cent of dual-earner families it is the father who cares for the children.

Most men are neither superdads or absentee fathers.

In interviews men and women both denied that their family's experiences with fatherhood were of the high-flying boss who changes a nappy while closing a deal, or of the man who shirks his responsibility for the children.

Most men say they enjoy close relationships with their children and that for many, fathering is the most important part of their lives.

Nine out of ten fathers attend the birth of their child these days. Mothers report that they are, in the main, their best source of emotional support after the birth.