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
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1918 GMT (0318 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says as violence claims three U.S. doctors, the temptation is to despair, but aid to Afghanistan has made it a much better place
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1833 GMT (0233 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says in California, Asian-Americans are against the use of racial criteria in public colleges.
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1844 GMT (0244 HKT)
Heidi Schlumpf says if the Pope did tell an Argentinian woman married to a divorced man that she could take Communion, it may signify a softening of church rules on the divorced and sacraments
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Norcross, Georgia, Chief of Police Warren Summers says the new law that allows guns in bars, churches and schools will have unintended dangerous consequences.
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Mel Robbins says social media is often ruled by haters, and people can be brutally honest.
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1644 GMT (0044 HKT)
Mike Downey says the golf purists can take a hike; the game needs radical changes to win back fans and players.
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Robert Hickey says most new housing development is high-end, catering to high-earners.
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Alexander Motyl says as Russian President Putin snarled at Ukraine, his foreign minister was signing a conciliatory accord with the West. Whatever the game, the accord is a major stand down by Russia
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1229 GMT (2029 HKT)
Les Abend says at every turn, the stowaway teen defied the odds of discovery and survival. What pilot would have thought to look for a person in the wheel well?
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1104 GMT (1904 HKT)
Q & A with artist Rachel Sussman on her new book of photographs, "The Oldest Living Things in the World."
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Martin Blaser says the overuse of antibiotics threatens to deplete our bodies of "good" microbes, leaving us vulnerable to an unstoppable plague--an "antibiotic winter"
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1737 GMT (0137 HKT)
John Sutter asks: Is it possible to eat meat in modern-day America and consider yourself an environmentalist without being a hypocrite?
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Sally Kohn notes that Meb Keflezighi rightly was called an American after he won the Boston Marathon, but his status in the U.S. once was questioned
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1256 GMT (2056 HKT)
Denis Hayes and Scott Denman say on this Earth Day, the dawn of the Solar Age is already upon us and the Atomic Age of nuclear power is in decline
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 2036 GMT (0436 HKT)
Retired Coast Guard officer James Loy says a ship captain bears huge responsibility.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1708 GMT (0108 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the latest strikes are part of an aggressive U.S. effort to target militants, including a bomb maker
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Cynthia Lummis and Peter Welch say 16 agencies carry out national intelligence, and their budgets are top secret. We need to know how they are spending our money.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama knows more than anyone that he has much at stake in the midterm elections.
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Eric Sanderson says if you really want to strike a blow for the environment--and your health--this Earth Day, work to get cars out of cities and create transportation alternatives
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Bruce Barcott looks at the dramatic differences in marijuana laws in Colorado and Louisiana
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery supports the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1752 GMT (0152 HKT)
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1825 GMT (0225 HKT)
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1250 GMT (2050 HKT)
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
ADVERTISEMENT