When it comes to parenting it is, traditionally, a mother's work that is never done. But a new study will this week reveal that fathers are expected to juggle just as much for the sake of family life in modern Britain.
Any suggestion that dads have it easy on the home front will be blown away, as research outlines a generational shift in attitudes towards fatherhood that has redefined what it means to be a good dad.
It is no longer enough for fathers to be breadwinners. Although "economic provision" is still one of their jobs, dads today have to pull their weight on more fronts, from cleaning the house to providing emotional backup, according to the first cross-ethnic study of British fatherhood.
Research by the University of London, which will be unveiled on Friday on behalf of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, showed that fathers are reacting against their own childhoods to create very different lives for their families. Post-war dads tended to work long hours and have little time free for their children, something today's dads are anxious not to replicate.
Regardless of race, dads are engaging more and spending more time with their children – up to eight hours a day in some families – although many still struggle to find the work-life balance that eludes so many working mothers.
"Fathers were expected to engage in all aspects of raising children, assuming a greater multiplicity of roles than ever before," comments the report. "Roles such as financial provider and protector continued to be seen as predominantly the responsibility of the father, [but] whereas traditionally this one-dimensional approach might have been sufficient to fulfil the paternal role, fathers today are expected to [embrace] the more multi-dimensional notion of father that has now become the norm."
The report examines the lives of 29 two-parent Pakistani, white British, black Caribbean and black African families. Researchers found more similarities than differences in fathers' behaviours, attitudes and aspirations, and the challenges they faced, despite the mix of ethnic backgrounds.
Where there were differences, such as regarding the amount of time spent with children, the report's authors, Hanan Hauari and Katie Hollingworth, say these reflected specific families' circumstances: for example more of the white British dads in the sample were unemployed and had more time free.
Other differences centred on gender perceptions: although most parents in the sample thought parents of either gender could fulfil most roles if required, Pakistani and black African parents tended to hold more traditional views on their respective gender roles. In black families, dads were more likely to be the disciplinarian, although all ethnic groups generally agreed that fathers dished out discipline more effectively. Fathers were also more often the authority figures, especially in black Caribbean families. "Boys don't tend to take what I say, they tend to take what he [their father] says more, like he's above me, that's how they view it," one black Caribbean mother said.
The report predicts that gender roles will be even less differentiated in future generations, continuing the trend of greater paternal involvement and producing "even more profound" changes in fathering roles.
Campaigners welcomed the findings. Michael Lamb, a professor of psychology at Cambridge University who studies fatherhood, said: "There is a lot of evidence that children do better when they have a rich, meaningful relationship with both parents. Relationships with dads are more significant today because children lack the rich network of relationships with their extended family that they might have had, say, in the Fifties."
Professor Lamb said that while in the past "it was common for men never to have bathed their baby or changed a nappy, and those who did only did so under duress, most dads now would feel sheepish not to be involved".
Shaun Bailey, who runs MyGeneration, a charity that addresses youth social problems, said it was now "cool and acceptable" for even young dads to interact with their children: "Looking after your child doesn't affect your street persona as a hard man."
Rob Williams, chief executive of the Fatherhood Institute, said the past three decades had seen "an accelerated pace of revolution" regarding fathering. He called for more paternity leave to prevent mums being left as the ultimate decision-makers, with dads as playmates.
Making mistakes: 'At least it's me, not a childminder'
Alan Cook, 41, has been a stay-at-home dad in Southend-on-Sea for the past 11 years. He's pretty philosophical about his success so far. "There's no parenting guide, you make mistakes." But he'd rather be the one making the mistakes than a childminder. As a SAHD (Stay At Home Dad), he lacked the support networks that mums enjoyed, so he set up a dads' club which meets twice a week. His decision to quit his job surprised his parents – he'd had a more conventional relationship with his own father: after work, football matches and lifts in the car.
Hands-on: 'I'm an expert and I love it'
Erroll Pinnock, 40, is a full-time security guard and lives in France with his pregnant fiancée, Audrey, and their daughter, Tes, aged two. He had a distant relationship with his father and is keen to be more hands-on with Tes. He thinks interaction is a key element in the relationship and gets cross when people stereotype black fathers as irresponsible: "It's about time people see me as a father, not just a black father." He says he has parenting books to thank for teaching him how to bond with his daughter. "I'm an expert now, and I love every minute of it."
Being there: 'Children need our guidance'
A Ugandan Asian, Mahendra Dhorajiwala, 52, lives with his family in Windsor, Berkshire. For many years he was a full-time dad to Rajeev and Shivani, both now at university, bowing to his wife's superior earning power as a pharmacist after he was made redundant. His parenting style holds up ideals of family unity and respect for one's elders. He feels that many parents are too busy to be there for their children. "People produce kids and just don't have time. I'd say it was 60 per cent negligence. You should try to guide your child through life."
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