Father's Day: The changing face of fatherhood

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

Hugh O'Kane, 77

Lives in Derry with his wife, Maeve

"We had 10 children, but ask me whether I've ever changed a nappy and the answer is probably not. Perhaps I did once or twice – it was a long time ago, they're aged between 33 and 49 now. But those days were very different: fathers weren't hands-on the way they are today, the way my grandson Seany is with his little boy. Maeve and I had our roles: she was the home-maker, I was the earner. And since I was a forklift truck driver, and it was seasonal work, that wasn't easy. There wasn't a lot of spare cash around, that was for sure.

"Because my work was seasonal I did have time to be with the children. I used to take them to the Gaelic football, and I've happy memories of many afternoons watching the game. The other thing we did was fishing in the local river. I'd take them out, lots of children and me, and we'd catch the most wonderful trout and salmon, then we'd come home and have a huge fry-up. They all loved that."

Sean O'Kane, 49

Also lives in Derry. He and his wife, Sharon, have four children aged between 32 and 17

"Sharon and I were married at 18, and the babies came soon after. I certainly wasn't at their births, though some dads I knew were doing that by then. I remember sitting there in the waiting room ... I just couldn't have handled being actually in the room.

"When the children were small I pitched in and did everything for them that Sharon would do. Work was hard to come by at the time – I'm a labourer – so there were periods when I was out of work and Sharon was working, and we were just grateful for the income. I certainly didn't mind being at home with the children – I really enjoyed it.

"One difference is that parenting is much more materialistic these days. My children had a Wendy House, and their bicycles, but that was it really: they had a few toys, and they made them last. Today's fathers seem to have bottomless pockets to buy endless possessions for their offspring: I'm really astonished at what children are given. Seany has a lot more money as a father than I did: I couldn't afford to take him travelling and to stay in hotels the way he does with Kuziva-Aodhan.

"Sharon and I were astonished when Seany told us he was going to be a father. He came over to see us, and he said he had something to show us ... scan pictures. Seany had told us he was gay, and I certainly wasn't expecting my first grandchild to come from him! We met Kuziva-Aodhan when he was a few months old. I'll never forget how I felt when I saw him for the first time. He's a beautiful child, and I just felt so proud of him – of both of them, really. My son and his son ... it was a very special moment. We had quite a party for the christening, I can tell you."

Seany O'Kane, 32

Lives in south London

"When I had my first homosexual relationship I was aware that this changed things. But rather than being sad about that, I realised there was a new way forward here, because, instead of having just two parents (and I'd seen plenty of children screwed up by two parents), I could have a child with three or four parents. I thought that could be quite wonderful. When I saw a TV programme about how gay people could co-parent, I went on the website and posted a message saying I was interested in the possibility. Within a few days, I'd had 600 responses.

"It was a bit overwhelming, but when I started reading through the replies I found one from an African lesbian couple. I've been to Africa, and I love African culture and music. I sent them an email, they emailed me back; we built up a relationship to the point where we knew we could do this, we could try to have a child together.

"We bought a home-insemination kit and gave it a try – and two weeks later Nikkita phoned to say she was pregnant. I was very involved, right from the start – and since Nikkita and her partner were by then living in Manchester, that meant long train journeys for antenatal appointments and scans. When Nikkita went into labour I raced up to Manchester. My son was born just moments before I arrived in the delivery ward.

"Holding him for the first time was odd: I found it really hard to connect with him. But I changed every nappy I could – and one day a few weeks later, I was there to see his first smile. I started to feel the connection with him, and from there on it just grew and grew.

"Nearly three years on, Kuziva-Aodhan is everything to me. I travel to Manchester every other weekend and bring him back. I read to him, we listen to music together; I take him to the park, cook his meals, love every minute we share. It's a very different relationship from the one I had with my father when I was a boy. I cuddle Kuziva-Aodhan all the time, and I'm always telling him how much I love him: my dad never told me he loved me, though now I'm an adult I can see that he loved me by looking after me, by going out to work and earning the money for our family. But he didn't express love in words, or by touch. Having said that, the turning point for me and my own father was when I told him I was gay: that was the moment when Dad did tell me he loved me, and that meant the world to me."

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."

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