Media: I was at the birth. I didn't faint. Is there a magazine grown up enough to tell me what to do next?
The baby magazine market is busier than Mothercare on a Saturday afternoon. But, says Jack O'Sullivan, they all overlook the plight of New Dad.
Monday 29 September 1997
Sadly, no. The new publication, promises its editor, Rachel Shattock, "will be the magazine mothers cannot afford to miss ... This magazine will be every mother's champion." And so, predictably, on. No mention of fathers. "Project P" appears to be yet another magazine that promises to break the mould, but is simply cast in a familiar shape. Like the September issue of Baby magazine, which boasted a new ground-breaking, male editor, Dan Bromage, but the usual tired cover with the usual blonde Mum and gorgeous baby on the front and features such as "Is breast best?".
Magazines for men are just as limited in their own way, competing for the attentions of the young, supposedly sex-mad, single male for whom fatherhood is a bad dream involving a split condom.
But what if Dads had their own magazine? The idea is clearly on the minds of the big publishers. This autumn's edition of She magazine's 168-page Having A Baby contains a token couple of articles entitled "He's having a baby too". But no one, so far, has had the courage to do the job properly. Perhaps it is because people imagine fatherhood is a one-issue story - attending the birth - or because they think fathers, who typically do not read baby books, wouldn't buy a Dad's magazine. Or maybe it is a more cynical strategy, based on the reality that most purchasers of children's goods are women and, since journalists largely write on the back of ads, it is women, not men whom they should be trying to attract. "My instinct," says Nadia Dawson, publisher of She magazine, " is that I can't see magazines specially for fathers in the immediate future."
Yet even a cursory conversation with a modern Dad reveals how much he could gain from a well-targeted publication. "I would have liked some helpful hints on what to do at the birth," says Noel Privett, 37, associate director of Band & Brown Communications, recalling the recent criticism by mothers of some fathers in the labour ward. "A guide on the different stages in labour would have helped me to check what was happening."
Now that he is a father of four, his needs have expanded beyond merely understanding epidurals and episiotomies. "I would have read pieces about how to look after a woman who has just had a baby, and about the perennial question of when you should resume sex after pregnancy. I knew you had to wait until the midwife left the room, but that was about it.
"An honest guide to child-friendly pubs and restaurants would be useful now, as would advice on how to educate your childless friends so that they can adapt to your situation. Then there is the whole issue of the physical side, where and when it is OK to touch your child, because a lot of men lack confidence with their babies - especially over bathing them. There are practical questions like how to keep kids entertained, how to make papier mache, how to cook food for babies, how to take them on a train.
"A lot of fathers don't have a clue what is happening at school, because the parent-teacher meetings take place at 5pm, before they get home from work. We need to know the right questions to ask about the curriculum, about nurseries and child minders."
Terry Macalister, a business writer and father of 17-month-old Callum, believes that the issue preoccupying modern dads is hours of work.
"I work three days a week and that is what most people want to talk to me about. They would like to do what I do and want good information on how to negotiate with employers. A magazine geared towards us could also win tons of advertising if it advised on personal finance, how to pay school fees, set up trusts for children, how to bridge the income gap if your partner stops earning, without meaning that you work so hard that you never see your kids.
"A magazine for fathers could demystify a lot of topics, like what to do if your baby throws a wobbly in the park. It could look at fathers' support groups. Most men would find them cringe-makingly embarrassing. What are they really like? I'd be interested to see parenting classes checked out, advice on whether it's safe to carry your child on the back of your bike, something on the best cars for kids. Do you have to buy a Volvo when you have more than one child? Where can you get good football training for your children? It's quite a different perspective from what women are looking for."
The argument that these magazines are only of use to new fathers does not stand up. Many magazines for women thrive even though readers might buy only a couple of editions and move on. In any case, the most difficult issues surrounding parenting come in adolescence, involving sex, drugs, staying out late, teenage drinking and such like. It is also at this age that the gulf between children and fathers seems most pronounced. What better than a smart-thinking, up-to-date magazine to bridge the gulf and mediate between the father and his child?
Of course it would have to be smart and witty, rather than worthy. Terry Macalister suggests a first edition using the recent photo of Damien Hirst holding his naked baby. "He's got his hair cut short and looks groovy in a powerful way, with this gorgeous, naked baby. It's got the great strength of the best in masculinity - the softness and the hardness. Put that on the cover and lots of fathers would buy it."
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