A doting mother is a baby bore. A doting father is a modern-day hero. Unfair, says Hester Lacey
MOTHERS, as everyone knows, like nothing more than yacking on ad nauseam about the achievements, beauty and general brilliance of their offspring. "Baby bore" is the derogatory term for this, and in the post- feminist age, women who indulge might be assumed to be in need of a life - or perhaps a job. But a swelling chorus of fathers has stepped in to fill the void. Take the one featured in last week's television documentary about older fathers, seen hawking his infant son around a child-modelling agency, where the booker was deeply unimpressed by the doting dad's claims of nascent star quality.

Even mothers can be amazed at their partner's pride and joy in their pride and joy. "The other day my husband Richard had just got home and I was bathing our son, who's two. He was trying to swim in the bath, and kicking his legs up. When I got downstairs, Richard was on the phone to his brother droning on about our son's athletic potential," says an exasperated Suzanne Morris, mother of Callum (look out for him in the Olympics in about 15 years time). "It was complete nonsense. I was blushing, thinking that when my sister-in-law heard about it she would think we were completely mad."

"My husband bores on about our daughter in a way I would never dare," adds Laura, mother of Ellen, three. "Someone only has to enquire how old Ellen is, and he whacks out this great wallet full of photos, and subjects them to a 20-minute presentation. I am far too nervous of being thought a baby-bore to dare do anything like that." And, she points out, she doesn't keep a photo of Ellen on her desk at work. "It adds to a man's credibility to have photos of his family, but it doesn't do anything for a woman's."

Doting dad reaches his nadir when he takes his camcorder into the delivery room ("oops, here comes the sticky bit where they insert the drip!"), or his notebook: "Sarah was shouting louder than anyone I have ever heard, not screaming, but shouting in big, manly bellows. She looked like one of the Sibyls on the Sistine Chapel, a vast being in pain," wrote Adam Nicholson about the birth of his daughter. Meanwhile, Blake Morrison, writing about his children, goes so far as to assert that baby poo smells quite pleasant. Hum.

This month's issue of Parents magazine features a range of doting dads, under the headline: "Dads have a special kind of love and it gets better all the time"; it's an "amazing experience", they are "totally besotted", they gurgle. And, says editor Ruth Beattie, quite right, too - as long as such paternal dewy-eyed-ness translates into more practical channels. "Since we've moved away from the extended family, women need their partner's support."

Noel Privett, 38, who works in PR, carries a wallet full of photos of his four children, aged nine, six, four and nine months. "Over the past 10 years I've filled 20-odd fat photo albums. If the house burned down, they'd be the only thing I'd save." Children are a "stalwart topic of conversation on Friday night in the pub. There is much less of a feeling that they are the domain of the mother. There's still a novelty factor, though; people are surprised if I do some perfectly natural function like feeding or changing a nappy - they come up and congratulate me!"

Jack O'Sullivan writes a column on his experiences of fatherhood for the Independent. "I like to show people pictures of my daughter," he says. "I like to know every last little detail of her life, which teddy she likes at the moment, how many teeth she's got." (Current dental score for his 17-month-old daughter: eleven.) "I'm not trying to set myself up as a 'good' father. But I think there is a unique male perception of being a parent, and men don't get to share their experiences - often men are doing their parenting in the evenings and at weekends when the family closes in on itself, while mothers meet other mothers a lot more."

Men, he believes, are too often defined by their work, and, far from becoming baby bores, they don't actually get enough opportunity to talk about their children. "Men are just seen as workers, but when they talk about being fathers they are seen as a broader person with a broader set of human qualities, a richer character. So fatherhood is aspirational, whereas motherhood lacks status in many eyes; bizarrely, it's seen as a mark of a woman's limitations. While men win kudos from being dads, women gain it from employment. That seems really unfair on women who are raising children."

So perhaps we should smile cheerfully when a proud parent gets out their latest set of snaps. As one father adds, wistfully: "Perhaps I do go on a bit about my twin daughters. I try to stop when I see people glazing over; I know that they're not as interesting to other people as they are to me. But the fact is that I love them dearly, and I'm not with them as much as I'd like. Talking about them helps to make up for that, in a very small way."