September 2009

School-based dads' clubs and parent group events geared toward dads may hold greater interest for fathers now than they did a decade ago, according to a 2009 survey by the National Center for Fathering and the National PTA. Families responding to the survey reported that 37 percent of dads met with other fathers for support at least once a month, an increase of 20 percentage points from a similar survey in 1999.

Fathers are much more likely to become involved in their children's schools and are increasingly likely to attend school events or volunteer at school, the survey found. Of families responding, 28 percent said that the father volunteers at their child's school at least once a month, compared with 20 percent in 1999.

The number of fathers attending class events rose 11 percentage points, to 45 percent. Also encouraging is the dramatic increase in the number of dads visiting their child's classroom—that figure also increased 11 percentage points, to 41 percent.

"The classroom can be intimidating," says Peter Spokes, president and chief operating officer of the National Center for Fathering, adding that the routine presence of men in the classroom can increase participation. "When dads go and see other dads, they think, Oh, this is a good thing for me."

The double-digit gains seen here reflect changing attitudes among fathers at home and at school, Spokes says. "The dads are awakening to the need for their involvement beyond [being] the provider." At the same time, schools have become more welcoming in small ways, such as by addressing notes sent home to "Mom and Dad," not just "parents," he says.

Fathers further increased their participation by attending school meetings (35 percent, up from just 28 percent) and attending school-based parent meetings (59 percent, up from 47 percent).

"Dads bring a fresh perspective to those meetings," Spokes says. "Suddenly you've got a new resource."

School leaders and parent groups can help dads find a sense of purpose inside the school building, Spokes says. "It's really getting dads in there and having a role."