Fathers put sport and TV before children

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The Independent Online

Public Policy Editor

The "New Man" of the Eighties took another knock yesterday with the revelation that more than half of Nineties fathers admit spending less than five minutes alone with their children on weekdays.

The finding from an National Opinion Poll survey showed that sport and hobbies played a larger part in their lives than bringing up children.

And while last Sunday's extravaganza - Rugby World Cup, the England vs Brazil football match and England's dire cricket performance against the West Indies - might have provided a special excuse, sport, hobbies and watching television generally rated higher than time spent with their offspring.

Sport and hobbies were listed by 32 per cent of fathers with children under 15 as the main leisure activity, against 15 per cent who put time with the children top. Eighteen per cent put watching television ahead of time with the children, while time spent with their partner was top for just 1 per cent.

The increasingly pressured world of work may explain the brief periods spent one-to-one with children on weekdays. Fathers on average said they worked 10 hours 15 minutes a day, including travelling, with; almost one in six said work took more than 12 hours a day.

Half had been out alone with their child, or with their eldest child, within the past four weeks, but approaching half - 43 per cent - had not discussed behaviour, money, sex, relations, religion, current affairs or the rights and wrongs of life with them at all in the previous month.

More than one in six fathers spent no weekday time one-to-one with their child without any other distractions such as television or other people. When they did spare time, more was spent with sons rather than daughters.

Most of the men - 55 per cent - admitted that the person who had the most influence on a child was the mother, although 24 per cent reckoned themselves to be the most influential factor, followed by school (9 per cent) and grandparents (2 per cent).

Nearly half of the fathers questioned in the survey said that they would have liked to change in some way the way they brought up their children - the most common preference being to spend more time with them in their early years and talking to them more.

8 The survey of 500 fathers, including just over 200 with children aged 0-15, was undertaken for a book, The Sixty Minute Father (published by Headline), by Rob Parsons, the executive director of a Cardiff-based charity, Care for the Family.