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Tuesday, June 15, 1999 Published at 22:09 GMT 23:09 UK


Fathers face pressure to be 'superdads'

Social changes appear to have passed the family by

Fathers are under increasing pressure from work and family to be "all-singing all-dancing superdads".

Professor Charles Lewis speaking to BBC Breakfast News on the role of the father
But, despite decades of gender changes, both parents and their children still assume that their role is mainly confined to that of provider, according to research from Lancaster University.

Men are not getting due recognition for anything other than the provider role, such as helping with homework and participating in sports, the university's report said.

[ image: Even teenagers still see fathers in the traditional provider role]
Even teenagers still see fathers in the traditional provider role
One man said of his children: "Providing for them is absolutely critical because it justifies to a certain extent my existence. That's why am I doing this?."

The researchers said men appeared to have a strong investment in the provider role, saying it made them feel emotionally attached to their family and made their work seem worthwhile.

They think part of the role's appeal is its simplicity, the report said.

Conflicting legislation

The Fathers, Work and Family Life study, published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said recent legislation relating to fathers was contradictory, with the Child Support Act emphasising their role as providers while the Children Act stressed their right to a relationship with their child.

It found that fathers and mothers had different attitudes to paid work, with men stressing the financial rewards and a sense of duty, while women emphasised that employment increased their independence.

Men were twice as likely as women to say they worked to pay for things like the mortgage or food, while women were three times more likely to say work gave them a sense of independence.

Consumer pressure

The researchers interviewed parents and children aged 11 to 16 in Rochdale.

Many fathers said they felt under continual demand for money from their children and that an increasingly consumerist society had increased these pressures.

Mothers were particularly keen for fathers to take on a more active role in parenting, but both men and women considered mothers to be the experts, especially where communication with teenagers was concerned.

Some fathers said they believed they were "involved" parents, but could not clearly define the term.

It appeared to cover being there physically and psychologically.

Men who were in low paid jobs or were unable to work because of sickness, disability or unemployment were likely to feel depressed at their inability to provide for their family.

Despite the fact that they had the opportunity to develop a more hands-on fathering role, most found it difficult to adjust, said the report.

Support needed

The researchers say the report shows the need for fathering to be given a higher priority, as it is in some Scandinavian countries.

They say the European Working Time Directive needs to be enforced and call for a new right to paid parental leave when children are ill or in emergencies.

And they say fathers need more support and recognition.

Charlie Lewis, a co-author of the report, said: "Most fathers have far more interaction with their children than has been acknowledged in previous studies.

"We need to give proper recognition to the range of activities where men are involved with their families - and we need to make 'fathering' more visible through policies that support the wishes, needs and rights of all family members."

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