80% of dads would rather stay at home and raise children

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The vast majority of new fathers want to combine careers with caring for their child, according to a study, which reveals a dramatic shift in male perceptions of fatherhood.

Research by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), published today, suggests that most men are keen to avoid being distant dads like their own fathers and grandfathers, and want to be able to devote more time to bonding with their baby.

The study marks a stark contrast to a similar EOC survey 20 years ago, when more than half of the fathers questioned saw their roles strictly as breadwinners.

The EOC questioned 1,200 fathers of children aged between three and 15 months and almost eight in 10 working dads said they would like to stay at home and look after their baby

Nearly nine out of 10 men felt as confident as their partner when changing nappies, feeding the baby and taking charge of childcare duties.

The results of the survey show the extent to which attitudes towards fatherhood have changed in two decades. More than 50 per cent of men in the previous survey believed the mother's place was in the home. Twenty years on, that figure has shrunk to just 20 per cent.

Jenny Watson, acting chairwoman of the EOC, said the research highlighted how different this generation of fathers was to previous ones.

"All the evidence shows that fathers today are different from their own fathers and grandfathers. This research reveals how much attitudes to fatherhood have shifted in recent years," Ms Watson said.

"Dads no longer see themselves solely as the breadwinner. They want to spend more time at home, actively sharing the responsibility of caring for their baby."

The EOC is calling on the Government to increase paternity rights beyond those proposed in its consultation paper, Work and Families: Choice and Flexibility.

Under the Government's proposals, working mothers will be allowed to transfer their maternity leave to their partner beyond the first six months.

But the EOC believes the proposals do not go far enough and is calling for shared parental leave rights in the second six months of a child's life, whether the mother was working before the birth or not, to give both parents an equal chance to rear a child.

Ms Watson said policy makers needed to "catch up" with the changing needs of the modern family.

"While the Government's transferable maternity leave is a step in the right direction, it only gives fathers access to leave where the mother has been working and has maternity rights to share," she said.

"Shared parental leave, as we are recommending, enables dads to play a greater role in caring for their children during their early years."

Mark Shepherd, 36, from south London, who gave up a career as a wedding photographer to become a stay-at-home dad for Esme, now eight, and Eley, now five, loved it so much that he trained in childcare and started his own childminding business.

"My former partner and I decided whoever earned the most money would carry on working, so I gave up work the day they were born. I realised I loved it and everyone said I was really good at it. I did a child studies diploma because I wanted to discover how my children ticked," he said.

Duncan Fisher, the chief executive of Fathers Direct, welcomed the recommendations for greater involvement from fathers in child rearing, which he said were "vital for long-term child welfare".

The EOC will deliver a Father's Day card to Tony Blair, and Gordon Brown, setting out its recommendations.

Martin Nicholls, 43: 'A lot of men would like this opportunity'

Martin Nicholls knew he wanted to be a hands-on dad so he cut his working week down by nearly half when his daughter, Holly, aged 15 months, was born last year.

Mr Nicholls, 43, from High Wycombe, had been working a five-day week as a customer support representative for Raytheon Aircraft Company, but decided to work three days a week after her birth. He will continue to look after Holly and work part-time until she has reached school age.

"Luckily both my employer and my wife's company had family-friendly policies so I was able to go part-time. These are precious times and you don't get chances like this very often. It was very important to both me and my wife to share in the care of our daughter. " he said. "An awful lot of men would like this opportunity and men often say to me if they had had the opportunity, they would like to have done it. There are the joyous moments I have with Holly, which you could not guarantee would occur only at the weekends."

He does not feel he has sacrificed his long-term career prospects and is confident of his abilities both as a professional and a father.