From hands-off to hands-on, through the traumas of divorce and the joy of nappiest, three generations of dads from one family talk to Joanna Moorhead about their very different experiences as a man's role in family life evolves

John Broughton, 78

Lives in Newbury, Berkshire. He and his wife, Sylvia, have three children aged 52, 49 and 41

"Sylvia and I were both 24 when our eldest son, Paul, was born: I was in the RAF at the time, but the pay didn't stretch to funding a family. I suppose, these days, what a couple would do in that situation is both work: but in those days we prided ourselves, us men, on being the breadwinners, and on our wives being able to stay at home. So I left the RAF and set up my own business.

"I worked very long hours when the children were young – I didn't see them as much as I might have done, and I do regret that now. I'd get home too late at night to see them, and leave too early in the morning to see them then: but we made a lot of the weekends. We'd drive down to the coast and we'd all sit there enjoying a picnic whatever the weather.

"Holidays were very important times, too: and as my business became successful, we could afford to go abroad. We took the children to Spain and Mallorca and the south of France: it was all about where we could all have a good time together, and those are very precious memories.

"When I see my grandson, Joel, with his twin babies, I can see that being a father has changed a lot – he takes on as many childcare duties as his wife does. And I know that Paul, when his children were younger, spent more time with them than I did with mine. But I think the important way things haven't changed is that we'd all do anything for our children – being a father is the most important thing to any of us, even though it's perhaps expressed in different ways in different generations."

Paul Broughton, 52

Has a son, Joel, 29, by his first marriage, and two children – Jasmine, 18, and 15-year-old Reece – by his second marriage, to Kim

"I married my first girlfriend, which was quite common in those days, but we split up when Joel was still very young and I moved back home. It meant I wasn't around to see as much of Joel as I'd have liked, especially when I moved to Leicester to work and he was still with his mum in Berkshire. I saw him every other weekend – I tried to do ordinary things with him, trips to the park and feeding the ducks, because I was very aware of the danger of giving him too many treats because his mum and I were divorced.

"When I married Kim and Jasmine and Reece came along, the lovely thing was being able to be with them all the time – it made me realise what I'd missed out on with Joel. I'd come in from work and they'd both come running to meet me, and then we'd read stories and be together all evening.

"These days, Jasmine is at university and only Reece is at home full-time, but older children have different expectations about their parents as providers these days. I remember getting my first pay packet and my mum sitting down and saying, 'well done – now let's talk about how much you're going to contribute to the running of the house'. I can't even imagine Jasmine's face if I said something similar to her! A father like me these days has to accept that he'll go on being a financial provider for some time to come."

Joel Cronogue, 29

He and his wife, Charlotte, live near Catterick in Yorkshire. They are the parents of twins Samuel and Sophia, nine months

"The first thing I remember my dad doing when he came home from work when I was a child was to pick up the toys and pitch in with what was involved with the children – so he was my role model and that's very much how I am, too. For me, having twin babies is a shared job for Charlotte and I – if anything, the fact that I work means I've got the lighter load, because it's easier to get out of the house and have a change of scene at work than it is for Charlotte to be at home with the babies all day.

"When I get home I check out what I can do – give them a bath, sort out the laundry, make up the bottles for the next day. I feel Charlotte will need a break, so rather than coming home and expecting time to myself, I come home expecting to get stuck in.

"When the children are older, though, our plan is for Charlotte to pick up her career again, so we'll both be earners and we'll both be looking after the children. To me, being a dad who's simply an economic provider isn't enough – I want to play an active role as my children grow up. I want to sit down on the couch with them when they're older and remember times we shared.

"I'm in the Army, and now the babies are here I've decided to change my shift pattern and my job so that I can be around more as the children are growing up.

"I'm also opting out of going to places like Iraq and Afghanistan, because I don't think it would be fair on Charlotte to leave her on her own with the babies.

"The Army is a very masculine environment, but the people I work with understand where I'm coming from. One of my bosses said he'd only been around for one of his daughter's 17 birthdays, and if he could turn back the clock he'd do things very differently. He said I shouldn't let anything stand in the way of organising my life so I can spend more time with my children – and that's very much my attitude, too."