Family Groups - Fathers - New man or confused dad?
How New Man turned into distant, confused New Dad
Fatherhood is in crisis, with men admitting they are worse
parents than their fathers, that they shy away from emotional
involvement with their children and use the office to avoid
the stress of their home life.
A survey of more than 2,100 British adults found that despite
wanting to be good dads, the modern-day father is retreating
into the authoritarian, absent model epitomised by their fathers'
'Fatherhood is becoming a mild form of depression for the
modern-day man, there is a grey cloud that hangs over it,'
said Marian Salzman, chief strategy officer at the advertising
and public relations company Euro RSCG Worldwide. 'These men
were New Men until they became new fathers, which is why they
are all the more disappointed when they fail to be the sort
of dads they expected and hoped to be.'
There are a slew of iconic images of men with young babies,
such as David Beckham and Coldplay star Chris Martin, but
Salzman says society offers no role models for fathers of
'Celebrity dads demonstrate a completely engaged, celebratory
and unstressed model of fatherhood but society offers no realistic
role models for real men trying to do their best,' said Salzman.
'The disappointment and feeling of failure is resulting in
men shutting down emotionally because they no longer have
the old central role in their family and don't know what other
role is available for them.'
Fathers questioned for the survey admitted to being depressed
and pessimistic about their parenting skills, with one in
five feeling strongly that they were worse parents than their
dads had been. They also reported feeling swamped by the multiple
duties of work and home: three out of four said they were
not in control of their lives and one third felt desperate
to 'declutter' and reduce stress.
'Modern fathers feel pride but no joyousness in their role
as family man and dad, with a sense of duty becoming their
most overarching emotion,' said Salzman.
The keenest desire of fathers is to simplify their lives after
having children and, to do that, they end up attempting to
escape the demands of their families by hiding in the workplace.
Almost one in four wanted less holiday time than before they
'This may be because their desire for holiday is tempered
by thoughts of the cost and effort of taking the family on
holiday, or because staying home is anything but relaxing,'
'But the result is that dads are slipping into a tailspin
of a more distant, conservative role that is more about discipline
and the sterner expression of love, such as that expressed
through helping with schoolwork.'
Jack O'Sullivan, director of the national lobby group Fathers
Direct, believes that society's definition of fatherhood and
fathering is filled with contradictions. 'Society is alienating
fathers from their children,' he said. 'While there are clear
demands for fathers to be more involved in family life, there
is an absence of roles for them to take.'
The survey found that, feeling that they have failed to be
the fathers they hoped, modern dads are increasingly avoiding
emotional involvement with their children: one quarter said
they never talked about personal issues with their child at
Instead, the survey found, dads try to bond with their children
through schoolwork, with more than half claiming they were
more involved in their children's learning than their parents
'The adoption of a less emotional expression of love seems
to make men more likely to support physical punishment of
children,' said Salzman. 'Half of dads agreed with spanking,
compared to just over one third of mothers, a belief which
is likely to alienate fathers from their children even more.'
Professor Laurie Taylor who, with his son Matthew, wrote the
book What Are Children For? believes that the status of fatherhood
has been undermined by modern life.
'Fathers have not quite been abolished but they are further
away from their children than ever before,' he said. 'In the
past, sons duplicated their own father and looked to him to
emulate his job and his wisdom.
'Now, however, fathers have nothing for their children to
inherit - the world is changing too quickly and, instead of
sitting at their fathers' feet listening to their stories
about the world, children are closed up in their own rooms
on the internet, finding out about it first. It is difficult
to know how to reassert the role of fatherhood. There is nothing
obvious for him to do or be.'
But Matthew Taylor disagrees. 'This is a difficult time for
fathers, as the old model of fatherhood shifts into the new.
But once that change has taken place, modern fathers have
a greater prize on offer than dads of any other generation,'
he said. 'As men stay younger in their lifestyle longer, the
capacity to become mates with their sons has transformed,'
he said. 'In addition, children have their teenage crisis
earlier, which means they relate to their fathers as adults
The tendency for children to stay at home until much older
has meant children have longer to bond with their dads, said
Matthew, who has two sons of his own. 'I would say we are
on the cusp of a great time for fathers.'