In Mergler's class, the men celebrate the differences they observe between mothers and fathers. "We talk about seeing a family on an airplane. The kids break out some cake and eat it. Mom takes one child to the lavatory to wash her hands. Dad looks at the other one's messy hands and licks the kid's fingers." The point? "We (fathers and mothers) do things differently and that's okay."
Take discipline, for instance. Chris Jones says his wife spends more time trying to reason with Elizabeth than he. "She says 'I'll take that away' whereas I take it away. But we always do go on the same page and communicate what we're going to do. We're pretty consistent."
Roger Tufts' wife, Adrienne, prefers more structure, "but we usually agree on where to draw the line," says this father of two boys, Ian, three, and Graham, one. "With a toddler you're venturing out into the world and that's when you really develop your own style," notes Tufts, a government economist living outside Washington, D.C. "Enjoy the time and don't stress over it," he adds.
You will make mistakes -- even mothers trip up from time to time. "Look At it the way you would a new sport," advises Mergler. "The more you practice, the better you become." And, as Tufts puts it, "With practice comes greater confidence."
And the rewards, as these dads can attest, multiply exponentially. "The more I give my children, the more healing it is for me," notes Mergler. "So many nights I come home exhausted, then I play with Allison and Jackson and I'm rejuvenated. Parenting is a real two-way street."
Margaret Farley, a freelance writer and editor, lives in Rowayton, Conn., with her husband and six-year-old daughter.