The New Dad on social media

A video of a father dancing a ballet with his daughter recently went viral on social and print media. The little girl had stage fright, so her father, who had practiced ballet moves with his daughter, joined her on stage. To this Dad, doing ballet was just “part of being a father to daughters.”

This scenario is just one indicator that the traditional role of fathers is changing and that social media is playing a part in the evolution.

Tawfiq Ammari, a doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan School of Information (UMSI), has conducted extensive research on the ways in which fathers use social media to find community. He then applies machine learning techniques to show large public social media data sets.

Among his findings:

Stay-at-home dads often feel out of place in parks, malls and other areas frequented by mothers and children. Similarly, most parenting websites are designed with mothers in mind.

But fathers are adapting, mainly through their online interactions. Like most people, fathers are looking for community, social support and advice online. However, unlike mothers, they don’t want to share family content with social networks that include their colleagues and managers. They also see topics such as sleep training, vaccinations and breastfeeding as too sensitive.

However, fathers do post pictures about specific child milestones. They also use private Facebook groups to discuss their parenting experiences and family life. Interacting with other fathers in certain groups gives them social support and a chance to seek advice from older fathers. 

Said one father about joining a Facebook group, the “stories, anecdotes, comments back and forth made me feel like I was not so alone.”

Two sensitive topics fathers are comfortable discussing on private Facebook groups are divorce and child custody. Here again, they seek other fathers’ experiences and advice.

The social media site Reddit provides some anonymity for fathers. Reddit is a social news site where users can share posts on specific issues under their respective discussion boards, or subreddits. r/Daddit is a subreddit for “Dads. Single Dads, new Dads, Step-Dads, tall Dads, short Dads, and any other kind of Dad.”

Here, fathers discuss vaccinations, circumcision and sleep training – along with divorce and custody. The anonymity afforded by the site gives fathers some protection from having their posts linked to their identity. One father suggested that Reddit is a “peaceful place to post an opinion,” since he could avoid dealing with reactions from friends, colleagues and family.

Fathers also engage with wider audiences through blogging. Analysis of father blogs found that fathers refer to do-it-yourself (DIY) projects in their posts. They describe rebuilding the kitchen, fixing the plumbing around the house, woodworking and home improvement in general.

Such projects allow fathers to “provide for the family by other means.” Thus, the stay-at-home father can still be a provider. Fathers try to engage their children in their DIY projects, teaching them useful skills during quality father-child time.

“We also found that fathers use DIY language to discuss other projects not traditionally viewed as masculine tasks,” says Ammari. “For example, they blog about preparing lunchboxes (e.g., lunchboxdad.com) and creating children’s toys by recycling trash.”

When performing traditionally domestic tasks such as cooking, fathers emphasized that they were not only cooking, they were “hacking the kitchen,” thus imbuing such daily tasks with entrepreneurial language. When something needed to be done at home, fathers would “hack it.”

By studying fathers’ interactions online on topics such as divorce and custody, vaccinations or DIY projects, the researchers are coming to understand how fathers are using social media platforms to make sense of their parenting identities.

Sheryl James, UMSI PR Specialist

Posted June 15, 2018