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At-home dad is no 'Mr. Mom' — and he's glad

Published: Thursday, Jan. 24 2013 3:15 p.m. MST

Jaden Thomas, 2, shows her delight as she plays with her dad, Jeff Thomas. From the beginning of his marriage, Jeff wanted to be a stay-at-home dad to his children.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News archives

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At-home fathering no longer resembles the pop culture image of the befuddled fellow trying to figure things out made popular in so many Hollywood comedies. Dads are instead embracing a masculine pattern that includes more risks, more adventures and more do-it-yourself projects.

"At-home dads aren't trying to be perfect moms," writes Wall Street Journal's Sue Shellenbarger of a recent study in the Journal of Consumer Research. "Instead, they take pride in letting their children take more risks on the playground, compared with their spouses. They tend to jettison daily routines in favor of spontaneous adventures with the kids. And many use technology or DIY skills to squeeze household budgets, or find shortcuts through projects and chores."

For the study, researchers at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., said they looked at daddy blogs, interviewed at-home dads and watched fathers and children interact.

"Just as we saw a feminization of the workplace in the past few decades, with more emphasis on such skills as empathy and listening, we are seeing the opposite at home — a masculinization of domestic tasks and routines," Gokcen Coskuner-Balli, assistant professor of marketing at Chapman and lead author, told WSJ. "Many men are building this alternative model of home life that is outdoorsy, playful and more technology-oriented."

Single-parent dads and stay-at-home dads are still in the minority compared to moms, according to the U.S. Census. Its "How Many Fathers" fact sheet from 2012 noted 1.7 million single fathers in 2011, or 15 percent of single parents. An estimated 176,000 men with children younger than 15 have stayed out of the work force for at least a year to care for their kids while their wives work. The government said they cared for 332,000 children in 2011.

Furthermore, 17 percent of preschoolers are regularly cared for by dad while mom works, the bureau said.

Dads can find a number of forums online, including the National At-Home Dad Network, which provides discussion areas, answers questions and even offers recipes.

Increasingly, researchers are studying stay-at-home fatherhood trends; the census bureau said the number of at-home dads has increased 78 percent in just over a decade. Another study published recently in the Journal of Consumer Research focused on how those fathers "are mobilizing to build greater legitimacy for their marginalized gender identity."

Studies have already shown that folks who step out of the mainstream and go against traditional roles experience social stigma. But dads who have chosen not to be breadwinners and instead are primary caregivers are fighting back in what this study's researchers call a "rebel dad persona."

The researchers, from University of Wisconsin, Madison and from Chapman University, wrote that "Stay-at-home fathers aggressively pursue recognition by and acceptance from mainstream institutions, with a particular emphasis on the mass market and household and family-oriented brands. Accordingly, they vigilantly watch for mass media representations and advertisements that positively acknowledge their collective identity."

EMAIL: lois@desnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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