Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

What advice on being a good dad leaves out

By Laura Stepp, Special to CNN
July 8, 2013 -- Updated 1230 GMT (2030 HKT)
Laura Stepp says fatherhood should begin not with having a baby, but thinking first about whether you're ready.
Laura Stepp says fatherhood should begin not with having a baby, but thinking first about whether you're ready.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Laura Stepp: Lots of new shows, books and programs on being a good father these days
  • That's good, she says, but fewer and fewer American families have a dad at home
  • Fathers more likely to walk away when a child was unplanned, she says
  • Stepp: Let's emphasize that the best way to be a good dad is to wait till you're ready

Editor's note: Laura Sessions Stepp is senior media fellow at the National Campaign To Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, formerly with The Washington Post, who specializes in the coverage of young people. She has written two books: "Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both" and "Our Last Best Shot: Guiding Our Children through Early Adolescence."

(CNN) -- Being a good father is attracting attention these days. Consider: A&E Network plans a new reality show this fall about dads who work at home, called "Modern Dads." The Fox network has ordered a new series co-written by Seth MacFarlane called "Dads." NBC's "Parenthood," which features some dads at home, has been renewed for a fifth season.

Amazon.com carries more than 100,000 books about how to be a father, almost as many as it sells on how to be a mother. Search on Google for "being a good father or dad" and you get about 600 million results.

Government agencies and private organizations spend millions of dollars promoting responsible fatherhood. Even prisons have caught the fever, offering young incarcerated fathers classes on coping with baby tantrums and preparing baby food.

Laura Stepp
Laura Stepp

Here's the problem: Despite the hoopla over involved dads, more children than ever live without a father in the home. In 1960, the figure was one out of 10 children. Today it's one out of three.

A new study sponsored by the Guttmacher Institute suggests one reason why. Research shows that four out of every 10 new fathers -- especially younger, less-educated men -- said their babies' births were unintended. And we know from research that those fathers, in particular those who are not married to their children's mothers, are more likely to walk away from the family than fathers whose children were planned.

Could it be that by focusing so much attention on how to be a good father, we have failed to talk enough about when to become a father?

Over the last half-century, fathers have tripled the amount of time they spend with their kids, but that's only about half as much time as mothers spend.

Television studios may be excited about dads who work at home, but in fact such fathers are only 3.4% of parents at home full time.

We consider contraception "a female problem." We discuss the timing of pregnancy and parenting less often with young men than with young women, and even family planning programs haven't been very successful in reaching the guys.

This may help explain why 18- to 29-year-old men, who say it is important to avoid pregnancy "right now," are more than twice as likely as young women to say they would be pleased if they found out that their partner was pregnant, according to a 2010 report by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. The report said this was true both for men living with their partners and those who were not.

Perhaps some of those men hold on to the tired assumption that fathering a child makes them manlier. Perhaps others are genuinely interested in having a child. What we know for sure, says Kelleen Kaye, co-author of "The Fog Zone," is that if being a parent is harder than men thought it would be, "they can easily leave their partners holding the bag." And many young fathers do that. In fact the proportion of mothers in this country who are single, 36%, is rising, particularly among low-income mothers, and it shows no signs of slowing down.

Fatherhood should begin not with having a baby, but being thoughtful earlier about how one would support a child. Questions about becoming a father are not that different from those for a would-be mother: Are you in a stable, committed relationship? How well do you and your partner know each other? How much do you trust each other? Do you have enough education to secure a good job? If you and/or your partner are employed, do you earn enough to support your family? Are you ready for the lifelong responsibilities of being a parent?

There are other considerations for men who want to be involved fathers that are not so obvious. Stewart Friedman, management professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, raised some of them in a recent blog for Harvard Business Review. Men are increasingly interested in "engaging more fully as caregivers and homemakers," he wrote, but gender stereotypes hold them back.

"Men may wonder, what if I'm just not a good dad? What if I'm perceived by my friends as unmanly because I'm doing 'women's work?' What if my children seem me as a poor role model because I'm not the main breadwinner? What if my boss thinks I'm less committed because I'm not at the office as much as the other guys at my level?"

These are all good, important questions to think about before starting a family. Because the best thing you can do to be a good father is to wait until you're ready to be a father.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Laura Stepp.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT