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Where's Daddy?

The Washington Post, By Richard Morin, Sunday, June 19, 2005, Page B5

Psychologists Linda M. Fleming and David J. Tobin can't tell you where to look for today's fathers. But they do know where not to look: on the pages of modern books on child-rearing.

Forget those statistics showing that fathers are playing an ever-increasing role in the lives of their small children. Daddies who change diapers, cart the little one to the pediatrician or help cook for Baby Dearest rate barely a mention in the typical child-care book, Fleming and Tobin of Gannon University in Pennsylvania claim in an article for the journal Psychology of Men & Masculinity.

Instead, they found that recently published guides to raising babies, when they mentioned dads at all, typically perpetuated outdated stereotypes that portray fathers as being little more than what these researchers termed the "parenthetical parent."

To measure what child-raising experts were saying about dads, Tobin and Fleming identified every child-care book published in English during the 1990s that was still in print in 2001. Then they selected books that concentrated on general issues of child-rearing in children from birth to age 6. From the resulting list of 66 books they randomly selected 23 for analysis and scanned the pages of each into a computer.

Then they scrutinized each of the 56,379 paragraphs in these books, counted those that mentioned father's roles in child-rearing, and performed additional analyses to determine how dads were portrayed.

They found that only 4.2 percent of the paragraphs in these books referred to fathers -- and nearly a third of these references were negative. (Because references to mom were so numerous and the tallying so labor intensive, the researchers did not do specific tallies for the maternal side of the partnership.)

When they examined the accompanying photos and illustrations, women outnumbered men 3 to 1. Even when the paragraph referred to a "parent" or used some other gender-neutral term, the message often was clearly intended for mothers. "For example, when discussing stress management techniques for parents, suggestions would include going to the spa, getting one's nails done, or talking with a girlfriend," they wrote.

What these child-care mavens did write about dads was nearly as disturbing as the fact that they wrote so little, Fleming and Tobin found. "Fathers' roles were predominately ancillary to mother and often portrayed as voluntary and negotiable," they wrote, and perpetuated "outdated cultural expectations" of fatherhood (or the absence of any expectations at all). For example, they found that only two sentences in all of the books explicitly "referenced fathers and day-care concerns."

Sometimes the advice of the child-care authors seemed geared to offending both dads and moms.

One popular 1998 book reassured fathers that, "Yes, your wife does have some of the same characteristics as a crazy person during the postpartum period, but it's only temporary insanity."

Crazy, indeed.

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