WASHINGTON -- From offering bedside support in hospital delivery rooms to assuming a greater share of household chores to reading books on how to be a better father, American men are more active now than ever before in the daily lives of their offspring.
''There appears to be a distinct trend of men wanting to be more involved with their children,'' said Wade Horn, president of the National Fatherhood Initiative, a suburban Washington-based group that promotes responsible male parenting. The number of support groups for fathers has grown tenfold since 1994, to more than 2,000 nationwide, Horn's organization has found. ''It's a real grass-roots movement now.''
But for all the success in changing attitudes -- and, in some cases, reversing widely held notions that many men are irresponsible parents -- Horn and other advocates are dismayed that the number of children living in fatherless homes continues to soar.
''There's good news and bad news concerning the state of fatherhood,'' Horn said. ''If there is a father in the home, he's doing more daily child care than at any other time in history. But unfortunately for a growing number of children, there is no father in their lives.''
According to the group's figures, compiled from government reports, 8 percent of the nation's children lived without a father in 1960. That figure has steadily grown, reaching 11 percent in 1970, 18 percent in 1980 and 22 percent in 1990, the last year for which figures are available.
Horn and an estimated 500 community-based activists are gathering in Washington this weekend for their third National Summit on Fatherhood, seeking to develop strategies that local groups from across the country can implement to stem the tide of missing fathers. ''This national event is designed to equip community-based organizations with the tools they need to help bring dads back to their children,'' Horn said. The two-day meeting reflects ''the maturation of the fatherhood movement in America'' from a loose confederation of activists sounding alarms to a network of social service agencies agreeing on a course of action, he said.
Michael Kharfen, a spokesman for Children and Family Programs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said that federal officials are aware of local programs experimenting with innovative ideas to assist fathers. But he noted that few of them have produced results that could be documented or measured to show a decline in fatherless children.
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