When a hands-on dad gets hold of a breast pump, it can be a scary thing.
Brad Powell, a father of three in Austin, Tex., was so keen to experience all aspects of parenting that he attached the suction cups of an electric breast pump to his own chest and turned on the juice.
The result - both hilarious and cringe-inducing - was documented by his buddies in an online video that has drawn 40,000 views on YouTube.
The suction cups "hurt to death," Mr. Powell says with a chuckle, but the stunt was for a good cause. He and three friends are the founders of DadLabs.com, an online video company that helps modern fathers learn the ropes of parenting through "guy-coloured lenses." Combining hard facts with goofball humour, they produce four free videos each week on topics such as delivery room tips for dads, the circumcision debate and how to throw a ninja-themed birthday party.
Their strategy of juxtaposing diapers with beer mugs is working, Mr. Powell says, because men can relate to guy banter filmed in a garage. DadLabs logs 800,000 views on its syndicated network each month, and the five-year-old company recently renewed a six-figure sponsorship deal with BabyBjorn.
For some fathers, "it's easier to learn how to change a diaper from another man than from a woman," says Aaron Rochlen, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin who studies men's issues. "Because then they can go drink a beer and talk about sports and reconnect in other ways with their masculinity."
DadLabs's success is just one indication of the healthy market for parenting resources created by men for men.
"There has been an explosion of blogs and support groups and books of late that have tapped into that daddying style and how to learn from other men," Dr. Rochlen says.
Must-reads include Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood and The Daddy Shift: How Stay-at-Home Dads, Breadwinning Moms, and Shared Parenting Are Transforming the American Family , both out this year.
But today's highly involved fathers aren't just sprawling on the couch with a pile of books.
They're taking the kids to the dad-run playgroups springing up in cities throughout North America. They're swapping advice on baby gear or dealing with toilet-training regression on forums such as Dadstayshome.com, which has 170,000 postings to date.
And working fathers are banding together, too. They're joining activities such as Man in the Moon, a story program led by men and offered at nine branches of the Vancouver Public Library.
In the Toronto area, they're showing up at dads' groups such as the twice-weekly series at LAMP's Early Years Centre, or learning about the subtleties of a child's temperament at the annual Dads Count Conference held in June.
Activities such as these enable men to forge a new identity as modern fathers without feeling emasculated, Dr. Rochlen says. "Men are stretching themselves in positive ways to tap into levels of nurturing and caretaking that they haven't necessarily seen in their own fathers."
Traditionally, the only topics fathers discussed were their pride as parents or skill as disciplinarians, according to Tomas Moniz, editor of Rad Dad, a San Francisco-based zine that won a 2009 independent press award from Utne magazine.
Today, more and more fathers are engaged in their kids' lives from day 1, Mr. Moniz says. He started Rad Dad four years ago to help fathers explore a vision of parenting that is distinct from mothering. "Having fathers write birth stories is really a profound experience," he says.
In most of the new father-generated parenting resources, the underlying assumption is that men should be equal partners in the raising of kids.
This was unheard of half a century ago, according to Jeremy Adam Smith, author of The Daddy Shift . If a father changed a diaper, for example, "he was looked upon as less than a man." By contrast, in many social circles today, a father who refused to change a diaper would be ostracized, he says. "That, in a nutshell, is the daddy shift."
U.S. studies show that the amount of time men have spent with their children has tripled since the 1960s and doubled in the past 15 years, Mr. Smith says.
The driving forces behind modern fathering are women's participation in the work force and the end of lifelong employment for men, he says. A third of women make more money than their husbands, he adds, and based on social studies, "there's a pretty robust correlation between women's economic power and male care-giving or father involvement."
And that's not a bad thing, according to the dudes at DadLabs.
Learning to soothe a colicky baby or distract a raging toddler can be difficult, Mr. Powell says, but men should step up and do half the work.
"You have these wonderful things that just happen spontaneously with your children," he says, and when dads embrace equal parenting, "it really does make for a happier home and a happier relationship with your partner and kids."