Today’s generation of dads seems busier, more involved and more stressed out than
any before. Jon Axworthy asks what is going wrong – and right – and why so many dads
feel in crisis
Everything changes when you become a dad – just ask the nearest bleary-eyed chap
whose world has been turned upside down by the arrival of his son or daughter.
But the concept of what being a dad is all about is also changing and in the last
few decades, society’s expectations have become much more complex.
A generation ago, dads were simply expected to bring home the bacon, provide a united
front with mum and
work out how to get a collapsible pushchair into the boot.
These days, twenty-first century dads faces much stiffer challenges: office hours
have lengthened and concepts like shared parental leave and flexible working have
combined with seismic social shifts to a point where dads are expected to ‘share
From day one, more and more dads are seizing the opportunity to
be hands-on as they take advantage of the shared parental leave scheme. And this
new attitude continues long after shared leave has ended, with mums now relying on
their partners for more than just the occasional nappy change and Saturday morning
trip to the park.
‘Many dads are in a state of confusion at the moment because certain sections of
society are asking that they change and get more involved with their children, while
others require them to occupy the more traditional role,’ says Professor Marian Baird,
a work and family expert at Sydney University.
‘Domestic presenteeism is now amped up for modern day dads,
while work presenteeism hasn’t really changed in the last 50 years, so something
has got to give,’ she adds.
Contributing to this dad dilemma is the fact that today’s fathers exist in very different
socio-economic times from their fathers, and women are no longer expected to exchange
a career for raising a family and are more likely than ever to be the highest earners
Rising childcare bills and commuting costs also mean that many men can no longer
afford to have an ego about being the main breadwinner and if it makes financial
sense for mum to continue working too, then it’s a choice that many families are
The IPPR think tank found that the proportion of women carrying the main financial
responsibility for their family had increased by about 50 per cent since 1996. Ironically,
according to research from the men’s mental health charity CALM, this has impacted
men quite negatively as they are three times more likely to feel pressured to be
the main breadwinner in their relationship.
John Adams decided to give up his career in communications to become more involved
with his daughters Helen, eight, and Izzy, four. He thinks there is a further pressure.
‘Dads may not necessarily feel under pressure to be the breadwinner, but they tend
to feel there’s an expectation that they should work full time because that’s what
men do. My wife out-earned me and I personally didn’t feel this pressure. For us
it was a choice, but not everyone is able to have that choice.’
Me-time: a partner’s essential guide
If your man is looking a little down in the mouth, here are some tried-and-tested
‘me time’ ideas:
1. A day pass for the football to include some pub-based, post match analysis.
2. Exercise outdoors. Whether it’s a run in the sun or a suburban bike ride, it’s
amazing what fresh air and exercise can do for a man’s mood.
3. A craft beer-tasting session. Hey, it’s educational.
4. Dusting off that guitar, drums, or bagpipes. Whatever it is (and however it might
sound to the neighbours) it’s probably doing him a lot of good.
5. Taking up a new hobby – even if it is golf.
6. Walkies with the family pet. Finally, something in his life that doesn’t throw
a tantrum and does what he says!
7. A track day. After sedately and safely ferrying around the little ones all week,
it’s time for him to unleash his inner Hamilton.
8. Rediscovering an old hobby – even if it is metal detecting.
9. Listening to his favourite album in the car – one that isn’t
prefixed with the word ‘singalong’.
10. Anything that he can do on his own terms
and in his own time.
There is another conundrum for dads, highlighted by the Working
Families charity. In a survey involving nearly 3,000 working parents, the charity
identified something called the ‘fatherhood penalty’. Almost half of the working
fathers surveyed wanted to downshift to a less stressful job because they found it
balance the demands of work and family life. And just over a third of the dads interviewed
revealed that they would be willing to take a pay cut to achieve better work-life
The Working Families report found that only one in five families believe they are
striking the right balance between income and family time.
Seven out of 10 families said that they worked flexibly to be there for their children,
but the survey also found that many fathers admitted that ‘being seen to do long
hours’ is still significant in their workplace culture.
Sarah Jackson, chief executive of Working Families, stresses: ‘Employers need to
ensure that work is designed in a way that helps women and men find a good work-life
fit. Making roles
flexible by default, and a healthy dose of realism when it comes to what can be done
in the hours available, are absolutely vital.’
According to research from CALM, dads are now trying to live up to
impossible standards of being both a career man and a more present father at home
Just as today’s dads acknowledge that more is expected from them
at home, they perhaps also have to accept that their own expectations of how long
they need to spend at work are outdated and are often a hangover from what they saw
their dads doing.
Casting off that self-imposed pressure could help them get the wind in their sails
again and leave the doldrums behind.
Where today’s dad gains…
• A greater chance to bond with their newborn
• More opportunities to be a role model
• Possibly more disposable family income
• More family time
Where today’s dad could lose out…
• Losing touch with friends
• Career confusion
• Chronic levels of stress
• Less me-time
Mark: a question of managing priorities
Mark Smith is a managing director at Accenture and dad to Louis, aged two.
‘I always try and do at least two bath times a week,’ he says. ‘This takes planning
but, when I can, I leave work at 5:30 to be home in time. It’s likely that I will
then log on later.
‘It’s important to manage your own priorities and routines. You move away from the
need for presenteeism: it’s about getting work done and deciding on a model which
works for you.’