THE cover sports Joe Namath - handsome and manly - at ease in a pink polo shirt. This could be People magazine, Gentlemen's Quarterly, or Sports Illustrated. But it isn't.
It's Fathers -.the premi`ere issue of the first magazine written by, about, and for male parents (although a prototype appeared two years ago).
Mailed this month as a supplement to the free American Baby magazine, the new bi-monthly will reach 500,000 United States households in selected upper-income ZIP code areas - the kind advertisers like. This dual mailing will continue until next year, when Fathers can be had by subscription.
Run by a small staff - of fathers - based in Washington and New York, the magazine has been on the drawing table for nearly two years. Editorial changes now complete, it is ready to reach its intended audience of men who are now taking on their ``greatest role'' in the midst of a society that is redefining not only female roles but male roles as well.
``We don't think there's a `new father' but a `new situation,''' explains Duncan Spencer, the editor, who is a former reporter for the Washington Star, author of four books, Pulitzer Prize finalist, and father of five. Because of changing situations, such as women working (80 percent of all women work outside the home), ``men are called upon to do a great deal more.
``We want to emphasize that men are taking on this new world - that they can be good at it and can enjoy it,'' says Mr. Spencer, who points out that men can no longer fully turn to their own fathers as role models.
Yet Spencer is dissatisfied with the ``androgynous values'' that have come to characterize parenting. ``Men have a great deal to offer as male parents,'' he insists. The editor promises to deliver his message with ``good humor, directness, and a bit of skepticism,'' while avoiding ``illusionary jargon'' like ``nurturing'' and ``co-parenting.''
If the catchy cover plays to a superficial fascination with celebrity, it also shows that these superstars are successful family men. In addition to a celebrity profile, each issue will contain feature articles dealing with fatherhood ``from a man's point of view,'' explains Reed Phillips III, president of Fathers, formerly of The New Republic.
Departments will include money, travel, and sports - unlike the how-to, medical, and beauty columns that fill the female-oriented Parents magazine.
``Men want different information,'' says Mr. Phillips, ``and they receive it differently than women do.'' A quick glance through the magazine reveals light and humorous articles, including a piece by humorist Dave Barry.
For the first year, Fathers will be bound into copies of Cahners Company's American Baby magazine - a 50-year-old publication that started as a complimentary newsletter delivered by diaper services. Today the magazine is circulated to more than 1 million people, most of whom are expectant or recent mothers.
Although 95 percent of these readers are women, notes Phillips, he expects that his new insert will reach the right readers. ``Mothers are always looking for information to pass on to fathers,'' he says.
Publisher Dan Ambrose, imported from Hearst, expects an initial paid circulation of 30,000. ``We will continue to send it free to 500,000 brand-new fathers, independent of'' newsstand sales, which should account for 15 to 20 percent of the total circulation.
``The key element is whether they can deliver specific information that readers can't find in any other place,'' comments Samir Husni, head of the Service Journalism program at the University of Mississippi, where he analyzes magazine start-ups.
Although Dr. Husni sees a trend in America toward interest in family life - there are 10 to 15 magazines on parenting, all aimed at women - he finds it hard ``to see editorial content aimed specifically for fathers.
``The problem is, there are all kinds of fathers out there. We are talking about a general mass audience, and we just can't publish a mass-market magazine in this country anymore.'' Advertisers need a more upscale audience, Husni says.
Duncan Spencer, however, remains optimistic. ``We offer the advertiser a rare market - men in a `wholesome environment,''' he explains.
Response from advertisers exceeded expectation, filling 14 of the issue's 32 pages. Advertisers include Kodak, Citibank, Volvo, and - what else - Gerber. Because Fathers is in American Baby, alcohol and cigarette ads are taboo.
``A lot has happened in the last three years,'' says Phillips, who thinks the changes are here to stay. ``Three years ago, men wouldn't think of taking paternity leave. They wouldn't want people to know they considered the family more important than work. Now many companies grant paternity leave.''
He points to a recent survey done by GQ magazine in which a whopping 84 percent consider the father's role as important as the mother's in raising children.
Even advertisers are more aware of the meaning of the role.
``Three years ago,'' Phillips says with a laugh, ``one company asked if we were going to be a magazine for Catholic priests!''