Forward fatherhood Child caregivers: Despite cultural resistance, more dads try to deepen involvement in children's lives.

June 21, 1998

FATHER'S DAY 1998 reminds us that society expects more of fathers, and fathers expect more of society, than in previous generations. More fathers are taking greater responsibility for their children's upbringing -- and assuming primary care-giving roles.

Social attitudes are changing slowly to recognize the father's role as more than breadwinner and disciplinarian. A major force is the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows workers to take up to 12 weeks unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of a child.

The law has forced employers to replace maternity leave with gender-neutral programs that extend to fathers. A study of the law found that two-thirds of affected companies had changed their eligibility rules as a result.

Now about 15 percent of eligible men are taking some kind of formal work leave for their new children. That compares with about 1 percent in 1990. But there is strong workplace resistance.

"Whatever the policies of their companies, fathers still often feel the culture does not really endorse it and they will hurt their careers," said James A. Levine, whose book "Working Fathers" is a guide for dedicated dads.

But a 1996 survey found that two-thirds of eligible parents didn't take unpaid leave because of financial reasons.

A block of paternity leave at birth may be personally rewarding, but there are other ways for fathers to share care-giving for the baby: flexible hours, part-time schedules, stretched-out vacation time. These may work better for the family's needs and the employer's.

Taking paternity leave a couple months later, when the mother has recovered, may be more beneficial.

An insight into how modern fathers are strengthening their relationships with children can be seen tonight at 7 on Maryland Public Television.

Mr. Levine's two-hour program, "Fatherhood USA," features a Baltimore father of two, Paul Hope, who is jobless and in trouble with the law, but who finds support from the acclaimed Baltimore Men's Services program. Other vignettes show the challenges of men juggling jobs and family in a workplace that is not yet "father friendly."

It's a welcome reminder that a father's place is in the home.

Pub Date: 6/21/98

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