The changing face of fatherhood

father holding child


Millions of dads around the country are hoping for a bit of a break this weekend for Father’s Day. A new report from the Fatherhood Institute suggests what dads want and expect has changed radically in the past few years.

Millions of dads around the country are hoping for a bit of a break this weekend as part of their Father’s Day celebrations.

Father’s Day puts the spotlight firmly on dads and fatherhood. This year more than most that spotlight is on dads at work. New legislation on additional paternity leave came into effect in April and more radical proposals on shared parenting have been laid out by the Government.

The legislative changes are in tune with what dads want. A survey published this week by the Fatherhood Institute and Ocado, Family Man: British fathers’ journey to the centre of the kitchen, found that men are keen to be much more involved with their children’s lives from the early years onwards.

It asked men whether they had taken paternity leave. Sixty per cent said they had taken or were on paternity leave with 23% saying they planned to take it in the future. Twenty-nine per cent of those who didn’t take it said they could not afford to or were not eligible. However, 15 per cent didn’t know they were entitled to it, despite it being in place since 2003, and eight per cent had illegally been told by their employer that they couldn’t. Only six per cent who didn’t take it thought doing so would damage their careers, which was a major concern 10 years ago.

There was even less awareness about additional paternity leave. Some 54 per cent didn’t know they could share the second six months of their partner’s maternity leave. Some 81 per cent supported it and the vast majority said they would take it because they wanted to look after their child and felt it would benefit them. Many also felt it would help their partner go back to work earlier and would have less of a harmful effect on their career. However, half of the men said they felt taking six months off would be less damaging to their partners’ careers than theirs.

Interestingly, however, given previous predictions that there would be a low take-up of additional paternity leave, some 21 per cent of dads were keen to take the whole six months and 47 per cent said they would take between one to five months. For those who wouldn’t take it money was a big concern and a third said it would damage their career prospects. Twenty six per cent earned more than their partner and nine per cent thought they had better career prospects. Twenty eight per cent said they could not afford for them or their partner to take more than six months’ leave.


The survey showed that men felt very confident about looking after their children. Two out of three said they were just as capable as their partner and 45 per cent said they would feel proud to tell family and friends they were taking six months additional paternity leave.

However, despite their confidence and despite them feeling their partner trusted them, they felt that the general public did not trust men to look after babies. Most felt ignored by maternity services and only 43 per cent thought ante-natal classes had prepared them for being a dad.

Seventeen per cent felt they missed their children more than their partner when they were apart from them for a long period and 53 per cent thought they missed them as much. They also said they wanted to be more involved. Over half would be willing to spend more time in their child’s school and 65 per cent to read with their child at home more if it would help them. The Fatherhood Institute says this shows men would be more involved if they were approached in the right way.

It has been holding a Fathers’ Story Week this week as part of a campaign designed to boost dads’ engagement with their children’s education. The Institute wants schools to make engaging with dads a priority as research shows many benefits. For instance, children with positively involved fathers do better at school and are more educationally/occupationally mobile than their parents – regardless of social class.

In tune

The Institute says: “It seems that the government’s policy of moving towards more equal distribution of parenting leave is in tune with the times: fathers are very interested in taking leave – and they want this leave so they can be closer to their children and because they believe it’s good for them.”

However, they are hampered by lack of awareness of parental leave policies and sometimes by employer attitudes. It adds: “What is plain is that, against the odds, today’s dads are contributing substantially at home to their children’s care – and will do more as this is made possible for them. Retailers, teachers, family services and others should take note: there are huge opportunities for schools and nurseries to get fathers more involved if they approach them in the right way, with respect for what they have to offer and with recognition of the extent to which they are passionate about their children’s wellbeing. And businesses that have done very well marketing their services and products to mothers are going to have to broaden their offer to include both parents if they are to succeed in this new parenting landscape.”

Family photo credit: Photostock and

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