The Blog

Are Men Shifting From Lad Culture to Dad Culture?

The media is certainly giving the impression that something is afoot in the hood we call father. Just two years ago, Netmums revealed that nine out of ten parents felt TV dads do not reflect the contribution that fathers actually make to family life.

Fatherhood has changed enormously in recent decades. The amount of time that the average dad spends with his kids on a daily basis has increased beyond recognition since the 1970s and a recent survey found that the current generation of fathers are much closer to their own sons than they are to their old man.

So are men going through a collective process of growing up? Are we making a shared rite of passage from adolescent laddishness to emotionally intelligent daddishness?

The media is certainly giving the impression that something is afoot in the hood we call father. Just two years ago, Netmums revealed that nine out of ten parents felt TV dads do not reflect the contribution that fathers actually make to family life.

Maybe somebody, somewhere was listening. In the past year or so there has been a spate of adverts promoting positive messages about fatherhood. This trend reached new heights at last month's American Super Bowl, when big brands seemed to be competing with each other to produce the most dad-friendly advert.

The latest edition to this pantheon of pro-papa pop culture, takes the form a new lad-to-dad-com called Down Dog, which hits British cinemas this weekend.

It comes - somewhat appropriately - from the pen of Simon Nye, the man who turned laddism into the award-winning sitcom, Men Behaving Badly. The lead characters, played by Martin Clunes and Neil Morrissey, became the archetypal "manboys" of the 1990s.

In the intervening years, Nye has made his own personal journey from lad to dad, raising four children of his own (including two teenage sons) and now has a thing or two to say about fatherhood.

Not that this means he's lost his laddish touch.

His two protagonists in Down Dog are Nick Moran (Lock Stock) and Jason Durr (Heartbeat), who play emotionally-stunted dads who spend more time running their sex toy business, than they do with their kids.

When one of the fathers is given a year to live, he begins to re-evaluate his relationship with his teenage son as he makes the painful journey from top lad to top dad. According to actor, Nick Moran, the film is "a comedy with a load of dick jokes that actually addresses some very heavy issues about being a man and being a young father."

When I spoke to Nye about the film, I was keen to understand how much he thought masculinity and fatherhood have changed in recent generations.

"My father was great," Nye told me. "He died when he was 58, but I had my full growing-up years with him. It was a classic sort of middle class English upbringing. It was pre-hugging. It was pre- saying you loved each other. He was of that generation who never changed a nappy, but he was a great father and I had a very happy upbringing.

"I think there's less suffering in silence that goes on now. In my dad's generation there was lots of emphasis put on stoicism, which is why marriages lasted, albeit it in imperfect form, longer. The nuances of relationships are much more open now. Putting things out on the table and being more honest among the family is obviously a good thing, but it doesn't come without problems. It's about finding the level of vulnerability that you feel comfortable with."

Speaking to Nye made me reflect on my own experiences of being a son and being a dad. I know I'm a very different parent to my own dad, but I don't feel that makes me a better father, just a different type of dad.

Society's expectations of fathers seem to have changed dramatically, as have men's expectations of fatherhood. Does this mean that lad culture is dying and dad culture is on the rise? It's probably not that simple.

The journey from boy to man, from lad to dad, has always been part of the typical male life journey. Even Victorian dads, who we popularly imagine as being stern and detached, were often viewed as fun and involved by their children, if a new book by the social historian, Dr Julie-Marie Strange, is to be believed.

But if the journey from lad to dad is nothing new, what has changed is the landscape in which men experience fatherhood. According to the Department for Culture Media & Sport, the gender pay gap for those aged 18 and 39 "sits at or around zero".

This means that women have more opportunity than ever before to share responsibility for bringing home the bacon, which opens up new opportunities for dads to take a different role in bringing up their kids.

What this new role for men is and how it is shared and negotiated in relationship with women requires greater levels of emotional intelligence and empathy between the sexes than ever before.

Dads have always been grown ups - and deserved better publicity than the media has previously given us - but fatherhood is also evolving. The cultural stories we tell about dads in advertising or in films like Simon Nye's Down Dog, are a sign of a society trying to work out what it means to be a dad in the 21st Century.

Making that transition from lad to dad is nothing new for men, it's just that the destination called fatherhood keeps changing.

Down Dog is on release in selected UK cinemas form Friday 13 February