Just look who's talking, too: A new parenting magazine is promising to give fathers in the Nineties a voice. Robert Hanks has his doubts

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Indy Lifestyle Online
SOME TIME before the end of the Eighties, there was a rash of articles proclaiming the Me decade dead, and that we were going to be more caring in the Nineties. In particular, we were going to see more concerned, family-oriented men, in touch with their softer, feminine side.

So out went those old- fashioned commercials about flying in on the red- eye, wearing braces and outwitting the competition, and in came new ones about having floppy hair and wirerimmed glasses and, importantly, children.

One sector of the media, however, does not appear to have recognised this change in gender-stereotyping and values: parenting magazines. Advertisements in publications such as Baby Magazine do indeed feature clean-shaven young men frolicking with naked children; but the articles are addressed to women. The mother (actual or expecting) is discussed in the second person (this is what you need to know); the father, when he makes an occasional cameo appearance, is almost always in the third person (this is what you should tell him).

So welcome Our baby. According to IPC Magazines, 'fathers-to-be are just as important as mothers-to-be'. Accordingly, the word 'dad' appears twice on the cover of the first issue, while inside there is a regular 'New Dads' feature and a column called 'Dad to Dad'.

In other ways, too, Our baby shows it is thinking of parenthood as a co-operative venture - true-life stories, a staple of this market, have both parents' names at the top, and there has clearly been an effort to ensure a fair proportion of the photographs involve men.

Underneath, though, Our baby is not so different from the competition. The true-stories are told from the woman's point of view, with men contributing token comments - what is billed as Corinne and Austin's diary of the first three months of parenthood turns out to be Corinne's.

Specifically father-orientated features work on the vaguely insulting assumption that for most men the central questions posed by fatherhood are 'When will I be able to buy him a cricket bat?' and 'Will I still be able to go to the pub with my mates and talk about football?'

Speaking on behalf of the non-sporting recent father, I cannot help feeling that they have wasted an opportunity. It's a shame, because there is not much literature that says anything useful about pregnancy from the male point of view. Most pregnancy books have a single chapter for men, which pays lip-service to the notion that you may have some negative feelings; but essentially the message is simply how wonderful birth is, and how important it is to be supportive to your partner.

Our baby sits firmly in this tradition: in contrast to a frank depiction of the miseries of a Caesarean from a woman's point of view, the main contributions from men are quotes about how marvellous the whole thing is ('Having Eleanor is amazing'); there may be a lot of blood and howling, but you forget all that as soon as the baby arrives.

Perhaps it is just me, but my main feelings when my daughter was born in July were it's larger than I expected; thank God the blood and howling have stopped; and can I go home now? The emotion only came a couple of days later, when I started to cry uncontrollably.

The only book I came across that made me feel better about not feeling so good was the New Pregnancy Book, by the Health Education Authority, which concentrated on the stress, depression, financial insecurity and irritability that, for fathers, go with pregnancy, and the let-down afterwards. If Our baby was really out to address men, rather than striking a pose for women's benefit, it would not gloss over the sheer confusion of fatherhood so much.

However, at least Our baby is making the effort to look as though it is including fathers in child-rearing; and in that respect, it's probably way ahead of the rest of society. At weekends, taking Martha out on the streets by myself isn't a big deal; but in the week, when I'm doing my stint as a house-husband, it's surprising how much attention a man with a small baby attracts. Most is friendly - as though it is a good joke - but occasionally the attention is hostile, with dirty looks that I take to mean something like: 'That child needs its mother.'

I'm starting to wonder if I should cultivate an interest in football.

(Photograph omitted)

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