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By Published on .

Playing the role of father these days involves more than smoking a pipe, reading the evening paper and bringing home the bacon. Whether they're helping their kids with a science project, kissing boo-boos or waking up for midnight feedings, many modern-day dads are deep in the parenting trenches. But not everyone thinks this new image of the American father is a good one. Word from the latest exclusive American Demographics survey is that 1 in 4 Americans think today's dads are too soft and should act more like “real� men.

This month's survey, a telephone poll of 1,031 adults conducted March 27 to 31 by Horsham, Pa.-based market research firm Taylor Nelson Sofres (TNS), finds that soft or not, most Americans still expect father figures to pitch in with specific parenting practicalities. In fact, an overwhelming majority feel that mothers and fathers should equally share the responsibilities of bathing the children and changing diapers (83 percent), caring for the children when they are sick or hurt (82 percent), playing with the kids (95 percent), helping with schoolwork (93 percent) and disciplining the children (92 percent).

Even so, about a quarter of Americans harbor traditional attitudes about gender roles when it comes to who brings home the bacon and who cooks it. For instance, a smaller majority (70 percent) feels that making money for the family should be equally shared by both parents, but 27 percent (30 percent of men and 25 percent of women) say that working is solely the father's responsibility. Meanwhile, 73 percent of Americans think that cooking family meals should be equally divided between mom and pop, but 25 percent (24 percent of men and 27 percent of women) say the chore is strictly a woman's job.

Even in homes where the kitchen is mom's domain, dads are likely, on occasion, to lend a hand. In fact, 62 percent of respondents say that they believe dads today are more involved than their predecessors were 20 years ago when it comes to cooking family meals. And many say fathers are also more involved in helping their kids with homework (53 percent), taking care of them when they are sick or hurt (53 percent), bathing them and changing diapers (57 percent) and playing with them (53 percent). However, when it comes to disciplining the children and providing financially for the family, only about a third of respondents say that dads are more involved. Today, about a quarter actually say fathers are less involved with these tasks than they were a generation ago.

So who says that modern dads have gone soft? For starters, guys. Almost a third (30 percent) of men believe that today's dads have lost their virility, compared with 17 percent of women who feel the same. Individuals with lower household incomes are more likely to concur: 31 percent of those with annual incomes of less than $25,000 believe that today's dads are too soft, compared with 24 percent of those living in households where yearly earnings are $35,000 to $50,000 and 13 percent of those earning more than $100,000. Also in favor of reinstating a more macho father image are those who live in the South, where 30 percent of residents believe dads should act more like “real� men. Only half as many Westerners (15 percent) believe dads today could use an extra dose of testosterone.

W. Bruce Cameron, author of 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter (Workman, 2001) and father of three, suggests Americans' issue with overly soft fathers stems from images of misbehaving kids. “When people see teenagers at rave parties and other children acting out of control, they tend to blame the father,� he says. “We want our mothers to be nurturing and our fathers to be firm.�

Overtly firm or not, today's fathers are considered capable parents by most, according to the American Demographics/TNS survey. Sixty-five percent of respondents agree that men are as competent at raising children as women, while younger Americans are more likely to agree with this idea than their older counterparts. What is astounding is the fact that even with all the equality rhetoric, 27 percent of men and 20 percent of women say they still do not believe that men are as competent at parenthood as women. Apparently, if you tell men over and over how inferior they are, eventually some will start to believe it.


Young adults ages 18 to 34 (81 percent) have the most faith in a single man's ability to be a competent care-giver.

Men 71% 70% 61%
Women 78% 71% 65%
18-34 82% 81% 69%
35-44 75% 73% 67%
45-54 73% 73% 65%
55-64 73% 66% 67%
65+ 62% 47% 42%
With children* 79% 75% 66%
Without children 72% 68% 63%
*With children includes those who have children under the age of 18.
Source: American Demographics/Taylor Nelson Sofres
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