New help for the old man


Just in time for Father's Day, there's a new magazine at the newsstand. It's called dads, and it's billed as "the lifestyle magazine for today's fathers."

(That fatherhood has become a "lifestyle choice" will come as a great surprise to most mothers, who will wonder where, exactly, fatherhood sits on the lifestyle continuum. Somewhere between gay and rich-and-famous, no doubt.)

Anyway, the magazine has Cal Ripken on the cover -- apparently trying on Fatherhood Icon as a possible post-baseball career.

And it has another Baltimore connection. Former Warfield's editor and Baltimore magazine contributor Eric Garland is dads' editor and chief executive officer.

"Our proposition is simple: Men are different. Different from their father's generation and different from wives," says Garland, who's about to be a father for the second time himself.

He may be on to something. Most women will agree that their husbands are more nurturing and emotionally available to their children than their own fathers were to them. And most women daily fight the impulse to insist that their husbands father the way they mother.

But we asked Garland if he thought women, who overwhelmingly make their households' magazine choices, would smile on a husband who was stretched out on the couch reading about how to be a better father instead of, say, emptying the dishwasher or putting the kids in the tub. "If they want to know their husbands better and have their husbands be better dads, they will," said Garland from his Manhattan office. "I am counting on the fact that men will pick this up on their own and not need to be prodded by their wives."

Will dads read 'dads'?

There is a school of thought that men don't like to read directions (or take direction). That they like doing much more than sitting around and talking.

If that is true, then dads has its work cut out for it, as it tries to reach a break-even number of the 38 million fathers in this country and fight off a niggling challenge from a much less slick rival magazine of the same name, lower-case "d" and all.

"I'm not sure it has been proven that there are fathers out there who want that advice," says Ann Marie Kerwin, who covered the publishing industry for 10 years for Advertising Age before becoming head of its New York bureau.

It looks as if Garland's dads has the financial backing to buy its way onto the crowded newsstands, she says, but to flourish, dads will have to build a subscription base, and it doesn't have the profile that attracts men.

"All the titles that have succeeded with men are sports magazines and entertainment magazines," she says. "Men's Health was a big surprise, but when you look closely at the headlines, it is all 'How to have better sex tonight.'

"I know times are changing, but I don't know if there are a lot of men who want to be seen reading dads on the train."

Having Ripken on the debut cover, though, makes dads is an appealing vehicle for reaching the college-educated, high-income, professional man who is the target audience.

"We knew from research that it would be good to have a famous dad on the cover. And we know sports does well," says Garland. "And the values that Ripken has on the field -- hard work and fair play -- translate in his personal life as a dad," said Garland. "Thankfully, his agent agreed."

dads is a classy mix of guy stuff with a parenthood spin. There are golf tips and grilling tips and romance tips, including a fascinating report from Harvard that might just spur a lot more dads to take on the chore of cleaning the toilet.

There are bite-size stories on health topics such as Viagra, vasectomies, male hormones, plastic surgery and colon cancer, matching the well-known male attention span for medical matters. And there is advice from regular dads on what to do if your daughter wants a nose ring, her own credit card or a lock on her door, advice that goes beyond, "I don't know. What did your mother say?"

Laundry or karaoke?

dads claims to be for the active, involved father who wants to do more than take the casserole out of the oven while the wife is at work.

But a feature on what to do with the kids while Mom is away included a nature walk, karaoke and building boats out of the Styrofoam that came with your last big-ticket electronics purchase. (Our advice? Before the fun begins, make sure the house is picked up. And it wouldn't kill you to throw in a load of laundry without prompting.)

There are consumer features on guy toys: ties, watches, video cameras, beer, grilling and computer stuff, plus advertisements from manufacturers of watches, video cameras and the National Football League.

Speaking of the NFL, minority investor and former quarterback Boomer Esiason will have a regular column. For a magazine that claims to have a new vision of fatherhood, there is a lot of stereotyping going on both sides of the editorial and revenue equation.

Garland says the dads target audience has plenty of disposable income, but we don't know of any dads who have the money in their pockets for a round of snow cones.

"That's part of the challenge for men. Even if our reader is doing well, their peak earning years are also their peak spending years," says Garland.

That's why there will be regular features on financial planning and on big-ticket purchases. (Our advice? Just buy what's on the list she hands you.)

Garland says every issue will also have a touching tribute by a guy to his father and advice from a woman on how to deal with your wife.

Our advice? If you want to live to be as old as your father, don't let your wife catch you reading this magazine while she's chasing the kids.

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