When his daughter, Samantha, was younger, Jim Swisher arranged a four-day work week to spend an extra day with his girl. Samantha is now 8, but daughter Abby is just 2. So, Jim Swisher, a mild-mannered juvenile social worker from White Marsh, really got serious.
"I switched to the night shift this year, so I can have a bigger hand in raising my kids," says Mr. Swisher, 43, as he plays with Abby at the Montessori School's Saturday Toddler Program in Lutherville, where there's not a mother in sight.
"I couldn't imagine my father coming to school with me," he says. "But I am determined to be here."
Welcome to the Fathers' Movement. Men aren't burning their remote TV controls yet, but many are taking a more active role in their children's lives -- a change likely to have a profound impact on how they grow up.
Fathers are skipping golf to take their kids to performances of "The Nutcracker." They show up on class trips with startling regularity, can change a diaper , and have watched "Aladdin" at least a hundred times. Some have even learned how to start a play group by reading the At-Home Dad newsletter.
Bookshelves and parents' magazines are lined with books and articles on fatherhood -- everything from Dr. Benjamin Spock's updated views of a father's role to the advice in The Father's Almanac to "make sure you give your kids an after-bath ride in a towel swing."
"It has become fashionable to become a certain kind of father," says William Mattox of the Family Research Council in Washington, a research and advocacy group that follows family trends. "Dads today can score points for doing anything their mothers used to do. If you show emotions, you really score points."
Only two generations ago, fathers barely knew the name of their child's elementary school -- much less volunteered to be Snack Dad at nursery school. The old dads were considered mainly financial providers. Some coached Little League, but few could recite "Goodnight Moon" by heart.
The new dads want to be emotional providers. Some still coach Little League, but others know how to sing lullabies.
Oddly enough, the increased involvement of fathers is coming at a time when more children are growing up without one. According to the latest numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau, about a quarter of all American children live with a single parent -- usually their mothers.
The disappearance of fathers from so many American households is widely viewed by policy makers and children's advocates as a social and economic crisis. Even liberals, who once snickered at former Vice President Dan Quayle for his Murphy Brown-bashing episode, now acknowledge the stabilizing influence of fathers on their children's lives and the importance of preserving two-parent families.
Deadbeat dads are pilloried and pursued. Republicans even advocate withholding welfare benefits from women who refuse to identify the father on a baby's birth certificate.
But the public preoccupation with deadbeat dads has overshadowed a much different trend -- fathers spending a lot more time with their children.
Some of this has happened by necessity. With the number of stay-at-home moms dwindling every year, caring for children has become a joint responsibility shared by wives and husbands.
In fact, more and more men are caring for their children. In 1991, one of every five pre-school children were being cared for by their fathers while their mothers worked, according to the D.C.-based Population Reference Bureau. American Demographics magazine predicts if recent trends continue, one in three households will have a male homemaker by 2000.
Economics aside, the value system of many fathers has also changed.
"It's an American preoccupation" for some dads to worry about the amount of companionship they're giving their kids, Dr. Spock wrote in "Dr. Spock on Parenting."
It has become cool for fathers to be involved. Remember last year's story about Houston Oiler David Williams? The football player skipped a game to be with his wife, who had just given birth. He was hailed for his decision (and also fined $120,000 by the team).
The involvement begins in the delivery room, where fathers were once banned. Today, an estimated 90 percent of fathers are present when their children are born.
The result is on display in the Towson home of Jeff Malat, where nine fathers and their daughters have gathered for a meeting of the Seneca Tribe of the Shawan Nation in the YMCA's Indian Princess Program. (The YMCA offers a similar program for fathers and sons called Indian Guides.)
Though the Indian Princess/Indian Guide program has been around since 1926 at YMCAs across the country, its popularity has boomed since 1980.
In Towson's Shawan Nation, more than 175 dads in 30 tribes participate in this father-daughter program, which features camping trips, cook-outs and other field trips.
At 8 p.m., the girls, who range from 6 to 11, gather on the couches next to their dads.