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The Daddy Of All New Men

This was the moment we lost it: a Blue Peter special in the mid-70s. In a 'what the future might be like' item, the two male presenters, John Noakes and the other one, light-heartedly bottle-feed a baby. It is all very 'what would men know about babies?' They are awkward and useless but the harm is done: little girls notice that men can do this.

Fast forward 30 years and the fallout is obvious. Male parenting books are best-sellers. In Britain paternity leave stands at six months. Some men actually want to give birth. Some men in America actually have. Uninterrupted millennia of peace are over. We have swapped hunting and other manly pursuits for being 'hands on'. Once we were so 'hands off' we were only ever photographed at our children's christenings and weddings.

And then along came Blue Peter. The children's programme had the drop on us because there was nothing it couldn't get us to do: make rockets from washing-up-liquid containers, it told us, and we did. Plant a vegetable patch or make a battery from potatoes: consider it done. It was all good. So if it said "boys can be hands-on dads", we simply filed that on our list of things to do along with water divining and becoming an astronaut.

Unknowingly we were sailing into a perfect storm. Just as we emerged into the adult world with vague notions of getting more involved with our offspring, a generation of ambitious, career-driven women were emerging into the same world with powerful notions of becoming less involved. Much less involved. The failed astronauts were babysitters to the slaughter.

And so the modern dad was born. Eager to be a part of everything: the birth, the sleepless nights, the feeds, the trips to the hospital and the internet searches on ear aches and other catastrophes. These are men who know their Phil and Teds from their McLarens, men not afraid to discuss the joy of a child's solid stool, and -- least we forget -- men who otherwise would be hunting or pillaging.

One such previously feral beast found himself at his first-ever parents/teachers meeting this week. It was a nightmare trying to rearrange my schedule -- a clear clash with my breast-feeding forum -- but in fairness to Blue Peter nothing could have kept me out. What kind of issues do three-and-a-half-year-olds have at school?

I firmly expected -- or perhaps make that lived in hope -- that the teacher would grab my hand and cry: "Are you sure this is a human child, Mr Dunne?" or "Did you smell sulphur when she was born?" There was no such luck. "She's doing great," I was told, "a popular child, quick to learn and happy to be there."

"One thing though," the teacher added, as I was about to leave, "she does seem to have a strange desire to organise the other children." "What do you mean, organise?" I asked nervously. "It's odd," she said, "but she can't bear to see any of them idle. If she sees one idle, she gives him something to do."

Men of more feral generations than mine would have said: "She gets that from her mother", but I am domesticated now and hardly even have those thoughts anymore. Damn you Blue Peter, damn you

Tune into Tom Dunne on Newstalk 106-108FM on weekdays, 9am to noon


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