Surprisingly the organisers were not one of the fathers' movements, but the Institute for Public Policy Research, better known as a left wing feminist think tank. The conference built on their report 'The Family Way', published in 1990, and coincided with the launch of a new publication 'Men and their Children - proposals for public policy' reviewed elsewhere in this issue. Like the 1990 report, the conference highlighted the political divide on fathers - the Right stressing financial responsibility, authority and discipline, whereas the Left place the emphasis on sharing parental responsibilities and caring for children. This conference was the first sign of public concern about fathers' issues since the Labour party policy review for the 90's included the statement "It is .. essential to encourage men to play a much greater role in caring for their families. Many young fathers want equal opportunities to enjoy parental leave, career breaks and more flexible working hours. Labour will implement a series of measures to assist both men and women to combine family work more fully".
The speakers included such well known researchers into fatherhood as Michael Lamb, Charlie Lewis and Margaret O'Brien. Peter Moss reported on the European directives on fatherhood, Lars Jalmert on events in Sweden, Graeme Russell on the Australian perspective and Adrienne Burgess, Patricia Hewitt and Anna Coote gave the IPPR viewpoint. Other speakers included Joseph Schwartz, Claire Rayner, Luke Daniels, and Robin Duckett and Barry Knight of the Tyneside Fathers' Project.
It was emphasised that most men are as good at women at 'mothering' but are just not given the chance. It was felt important that there should be opportunities for mother and fathers to manage the relationship between employment and family life, rather than to attempt to be prescriptive about what they should be doing. Parents need to be enabled to make their own decisions about how to share the ways in which they divide their work and family roles so as to best accommodate their own values, needs and goals, As Michael Lamb said "Children need relationships with their parents. What we should be doing is making it possible for parents to fulfil the roles that maximally influence their children's development".
Several speakers spoke of the need for political leadership and attention was given to Article 6 of the 1992 Council of Ministers Recommendation on Child Care, that "Member states should promote and encourage increased participation by men in the care and upbringing of children". Patricia Hewitt summarised feelings on the matter by her closing remarks addressed at politicians - "I hope that one of the things this conference does is to demonstrate what a rich political agenda there is for them and what possibilities there are for a new development around family, around mothers, around fathers. And I hope that in the not very distant future we will see some politicians get up and run with that agenda".
David Cannon - Shared Parenting Information Group