'Modern Dad' Magazine: This Baby Talk Speaks to Men

Although Shaun Budka is not yet a father, he has many friends who are. Several years ago, as he listened to these "new dads" talk, he was struck by two recurring themes - first, the intensity of their love for their children, and second, the lack of resources to help them be good fathers.

"They were having to read magazines that are all geared to women," says Mr. Budka, who lives in Chicago. "They didn't appreciate the fact that they were completely left out. If there was an article on men, it was about men, not for men. It would treat them as a subject, such as 'How to get your husband to do more housework.' "

Out of those conversations, a magazine was born. Budka, a young businessman-turned-publisher, created Modern Dad. Subtitled "For a new generation of fathers," it is the only parenting magazine for men. Recent articles focus on family volunteering, family-friendly candidates, and classic picture books for children. Other features cover relationships, education, family law, computers, investing, and sports.

"We've found an incredible depth of passion in men about their children," Budka says. "Men are just very concerned about whether they're being a good parent or not. It's very abstract, but they want to be connected with their children, so they know what's going on in their lives."

Super-devoted dads

Budka describes his core audience as "super-devoted fathers." A typical reader is an "average suburban dad," a college-educated professional whose wife is also employed. Eighty percent of these men are married. Although most range from their mid-20s to their mid-40s, subscribers also include men in their late 40s and early 50s. "They're on their second marriage, and they're having children again," Budka explains.

For many fathers, the first weeks of new parenthood can be hard. To help readers through this period, Budka is adding this month a 10-page section called New-Time Dad to help them care for their babies.

"Men are typically scared of infants," he says. "Dads typically feel very left out just after the birth because moms get all the attention from friends and family, and dad doesn't get to do much."

For some readers, feeling left out is far from a temporary situation. Editors receive desperate letters and phone calls from divorced and separated fathers who are denied visitation rights to their children. "People want us to be lobbyists," Budka says. "But we're very middle-of-the-road and quite apolitical, so it's not really up to us."

He adds, "The most tragic thing about changes in society right now is that they're not being reflected in the legal system. Courts were well within their rights to award custody to women in the '60s, '70s, and '80s. But now that things are changing and men really want to take an active role in their children's lives, they can't. If they're going through a divorce, the courts are almost automatically against them."

Other social changes are more encouraging. The Family Leave act, Budka finds, has had "a pretty big effect on corporate America - bigger than people realize.

"Companies realize that men do want to take two weeks off to be with their newborn child and wife at birth. And dads are having to pick up their kids at day care just as much as women are. They're also not staying at work until 8 at night on school play night," he says.

After five issues, the magazine's circulation is approaching 100,000, a figure Budka hopes will nearly triple in 1997. This month the magazine will change from a bimonthly to eight issues a year.

Advertising, Budka concedes, is a "difficult sell." Manufacturers of child-related products have been advertising to women for so long, "they don't think men will buy. But these men are doing the shopping just as often as their wives do." The magazine features a higher proportion of ads devoted to automobiles, computers, and financial services than does the average women's magazine.

An off-road stroller, please

Beyond a special magazine for fathers, Budka also sees a market for special products. Men, he says, want red or deep blue diaper bags, "rather than ones with little chicks." And older fathers would like baby strollers with higher handles, "so they don't have to lean over so far."

Budka even dreams about a more radical stroller redesign - an "off-road" model. "We're sure that a tough-looking stroller would do very well with men," he says, "something with neutral colors, and a little more grownup looking, not pink and blue with little lambs."

Warming to the design possibilities, he adds, "Something like a Jeep Cherokee theme, with little shock absorbers on it. We think they would sell hand over fist."

*For information, call 800-421-3559.

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