The following list of 10 things men can do to help themselves get more involved was excerpted from the book Throwaway Dads, by Ross D. Parke and Armin A. Brott.
1. Be more active.
If fathers don't start taking the initiative, they'll never be able to assume the child-rearing responsibilities they really want and that their children deserve. Instead of letting your partner pluck your crying or smelly baby from your arms, try saying something like, "I think I can handle things," or "That's OK, I really need the practice." There's also nothing wrong with asking her for advice: You both have insights that the other could benefit from.
2. Get more practice.
Don't assume that your partner magically knows more than you do. Whatever she knows about raising kids, she learned by doing — just like anything else. And the way you're going to get better is by doing things, too. Don't be afraid to get help if you're uncertain or feel ill prepared to be a father. Programs are available to help fathers learn the basics of caregiving. Learning to be an active and involved father need not be restricted to the period just after the baby is born. There is no clear evidence that the period right after birth is in any sense the critical time for men to learn fathering skills or to develop emotional ties to their infants and children.
3. Take pride in the special way you are with your kids.
Men and women have different ways of interacting with their children. Men tend to stress physical and high-energy activities; women, the social and emotional. But don't let anyone tell you that safely wrestling, bouncing on the bed or other "guy things" are somehow not as important as the "girl things" your partner may do (or want you to do). The rough-and-tumble of father play also teaches valuable lessons about regulating emotions such as excitement and arousal. Children with physically active dads are more popular and more successful in their relationships with other children.
4. Be emotionally available to your children.
Physical interaction is undoubtedly an important part of the father-child relationship, but being emotionally available and involved is critical, too. As John Gottman, author of The Heart of Parenting, suggests, "Men must allow themselves to be aware of their feelings so they can empathize with their children. Then they must take whatever steps necessary to make themselves available to their kids."
5. Be a partner, not a helper.
Despite the nostalgia of some conservative social critics for the idealized Ozzie-and-Harriet families of the 1950s, the traditional father-as-helper model is outdated and outmoded, and won't work nowadays. If men are going to be fully involved, they are going to have to share responsibility for the household and child care in an active fashion.
6. Be available more than on weekends.
To be an effective father, get involved in the day-to-day decisions that affect your kids. Leaving everything to the mother means that the father will miss out on the small pieces that give meaning to a child's life. Without taking part in the everyday chores, routines and activities that make up childhood, fathers are not going to know their children with the kind of intimacy and nuance that are critical to being a sensitive and involved father.
7. Show respect for your partner.
Being an involved father means recognizing all of the ways in which your partner keeps the family running and respecting the decisions she makes when you're unavailable. Try to develop a system to plan parent-child and family activities together. As the children mature, let them take part in the planning process as well.
8. Be aware of the need to communicate.
If you don't like the status quo, let your partner know. If she at first seems reluctant to share the role of child nurturer with you, don't take it too personally. Give her time to learn that you are serious about wanting to participate more and that you are competent and sincerely motivated to change your level of involvement in parenting.
9. Know your legal rights.
Changes in the law have given fathers more rights to help them balance home and work, but you've got to educate yourself about these new rights. And you have to take advantage of them to improve your opportunities to become a more involved father. For example, find out whether you're eligible for a family leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Unless you insist on exercising these rights, no one is going to do it for you.
10. Stay involved after separation and divorce.
Fewer than 15 percent of fathers receive shared or joint custody of their children after divorce, and too many of those who don't get custody end up slowly fading out of their children's lives. But even after divorce, there are lots of ways in which dads can continue to play an active role. The most critical is to stay in touch, by phone, by mail and in person. And make the time you spend with your kids meaningful. Avoid, too, trying to settle old marital disputes by using your children as pawns. Parents need to cooperate and support each other for the sake of the children.