Mr. Mom is dead.

At least, the pop-culture image of the inept dad who wouldn’t know a diaper genie from a garbage disposal has begun to fade. In his place, research shows, is emerging a new model of at-home fatherhood that puts a distinctly masculine stamp on child-rearing and home life.

At-home dads aren’t trying to be perfect moms, says 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, says the study, based on interviews, observation of father-child outings and an analysis of thousands of pages of at-home dads’ blogs and online commentary.

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,” says Gokcen Coskuner-Balli, an assistant professor of marketing at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., and lead author of the study. “Many men are building this alternative model of home life that is outdoorsy, playful and more technology-oriented.

In New Rochelle, N.Y., at-home dad Bryan Grossbauer takes his children, 2-year-old Finn and 9-month-old Georgina, outside twice a day for yard work or a hike through the woods. He wasn’t bothered when Finn recently picked a route through a big puddle and took a fall. “He walked back home happy as a lark, covered in mud,” says Mr. Grossbauer, a former actor and teacher.

He takes pride in pushing the kids to solve problems for themselves. Recently, Mr. Grossbauer stood back and encouraged Finn to figure out how to fetch a ball he had tossed into a milk crate nailed to a tree, just out of reach. After 20 minutes of frustration, and begging his dad to get it, Finn found a stool and retrieved the ball—a lesson in self-control and perseverance, Mr. Grossbauer says.

His wife, attorney Erin O’Callaghan, says her parenting style is different. Leaving Finn’s muddy clothes on the floor by the laundry room for hours “just doesn’t bother him the way it bothers me,” she says. Also, he lets the children “run and jump and climb and get themselves into precarious positions that I might not even allow,” she says. She is also more “ready to get involved” when one of her children is frustrated or starts crying, to comfort and guide them to a solution.

Kyle Pruett, a leading child-development researcher and co-author of a 2009 book, “Partnership Parenting,” says Mr. Grossbauer’s and Ms. O’Callaghan’s differences, typical for many couples, can benefit the children. Dads’ hands-off style tends to instill problem-solving ability, while the more engaged style typical of mothers often instills a sense of security and optimism, he says. (He cites cultural conditioning; the same behavioral differences show up in same-sex couples, he says.) Over the long term, having an involved father is linked in research to better self-control in children, less risky behavior and better grades, says Dr. Pruett, a clinical professor of child psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine.

Ms. O’Callaghan believes all the time outdoors with Mr. Grossbauer keeps her energetic son from going “stir crazy,” she says. And she suspects the fresh air and active play help both kids sleep better.

Ani Vuolo of Queens, N.Y., says she sees big benefits for her children in having her husband, Niel, home since he was laid off as a children’s book editor 18 months ago. Since the family can’t afford a lot of paid classes and activities for Olivia, 4, and Niel Peter, 2, Mr. Vuolo compensates by organizing outdoor adventures, his wife says. Last summer, he took them to explore and play in 20 parks across the five boroughs of New York.

Mr. Vuolo, who remodeled their apartment to save money, also involves the kids whenever possible in his DIY projects. Recently, he took Niel on a walking tour of Home Depot, where the toddler studied different kinds of hammers and learned how to use a tape measure.

Ms. Vuolo, a saleswoman in publishing, says she envies her husband a little, because he doesn’t share what she sees as a maternal burden—the pressure to be a perfect homemaker. He “can choose to ignore the dishes, and go do the fun stuff,” she says. Their kids adore Mr. Vuolo, she says, and he has taught them many skills and good habits: “He really does put his own stamp on child-rearing.

At-home fathers are increasing, but their numbers are still small; the Census Bureau counted 189,000 last year, up 78% from a decade ago. But men still comprise only 3.6% of all at-home parents, fostering a sense of isolation for some. One father in the Journal of Consumer Research study lamented that when he took his kids to public parks, “moms would talk over me as if I was not even there.”

Mr. Vuolo says he joined one of a growing number of dads’ groups to find other men like himself—men who aren’t “bumbling idiots like we are often portrayed.” His group, the 700-member NYC Dads Group on, sets play dates with other dads and holds a monthly “Dads Night Out” at sports bars or pool halls. The gatherings, along with running March Madness betting pools and other activities, help reclaim some of the lost camaraderie of office life, says co-founder Lance Somerfeld of Manhattan.

Similar groups are cropping up nationwide. The National At-Home Dad Network, an organization of groups in 69 cities, has 2,600 members and runs an annual convention. Members of Triangle Dads, a 150-member at-home fathers’ group in North Carolina, have been known to escape to the shooting range together where, says co-founder James Kline of Apex, N.C., they sometimes discuss the merits of different diaper brands while blasting away at clay targets with their shotguns.

A favorite pastime among Triangle Dads is swapping apps and websites to help overhaul domestic routines, says Ian Worthington of Raleigh, N.C.

For example, neither Mr. Worthington nor his wife, Ann, an electrical engineer, will allow the other to handle all the grocery shopping. So Mr. Worthington, who formerly coordinated Internet communications for a county government, found a smartphone app called OurGroceries that lets them share their shopping list in the cloud. If his wife buys items during the day, she can remove them from the list Mr. Worthington uses during his market trips with their 2-year-old son, Dax, he says.

For car trips with Dax, he uses the Pandora app to create a customized children’s music radio station that will play his son’s favorite tunes. And Mr. Worthington likes to use Web tools to manage the household. He coordinates multiple Google calendars for each family member, plus one for housework that helps him spread cleaning tasks in short bursts throughout the week—vacuuming on Tuesday, sanitizing garbage cans and watering plants on Wednesday, cleaning bathrooms on Thursday. This keeps his weekends free, he says, for some downtime from the rigors of being a full-time dad.


By Sue Shellenbarger

Source: Wall Street Journal –