Why a working father can never be a true new man

A wider role in the home is often incompatible with being a breadwinner . Glenda Cooper on the latest research
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The Independent Online
Family-friendly policies, such as job shares and flexi-time are failing to be relevant to many working fathers, according to a new report.

Cutting back on working hours is simply not an option for many working dads who may want to spend more time with their families but as the main breadwinners just cannot afford to do so. But many men still have no idea that becoming a father may affect their work and have no way of dealing with the increased demands that fatherhood brings, the British Psychological Society's Women and Psychology Conference heard yesterday.

More than 50 per cent of men had not made any plans to combine work and fatherhood said Sarah Lewis, a chartered organisational psychologist.

"With working mothers there are visible signs - people are always asking when is it due or are you going back to work? That doesn't happen to men," said Ms Lewis, who interviewed 200 men about how they coped with being a working father and identified three main groups.

The first was the "daddy track" - workers who had adopted long-term strategies to help them be a successful father. These workers deliberately tried to work shorter hours, had lower expectations of their role at work and often did not seek or refused promotion. They sought jobs close to home and also often chose jobs that had a minimum of overnight travel.

The second group had partners who worked full-time who employed a lot of short-term strategies in order to play their part in childraising. "They were significantly more involved in day-to-day childcare than their fathers had been," said Ms Lewis. "Because their wives worked they had to manage their working lives better and do more childcare."

The other group was the "indivisible parents", she said. "These fathers said `I work long hours because I am the main breadwinner. My wife is at home looking after the children. We're both doing a good job between the two of us and it doesn't matter how often I see my children'."

While a quarter of all fathers said that they would always or frequently take time off if their children needed them too, only 4 per cent said they would leave a meeting early. "There was a need to be visible at work," Ms Lewis said. "The men needed to be seen to be there."

More than one in seven said they were having to work in the evenings or at the weekends. Family-friendly policies as they existed at the moment were not practical for many families.

"They are suitable for the second breadwinner or the main childcarer, not the main breadwinner trying to support a family," said Ms Lewis. "Job shares or flexi-time often involve working less time but the drop in income is not what the families are looking for."

Ms Lewis said that more helpful measures would be a change in attitude. "Organisations need to develop a talent for recognising and rewarding performance and achievement than their current talent for recording visibility and attendance.

"It's this idea of being there which is counting against working fathers."