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A Magazine With Dad in Mind : 'Fathers' Aims for Men Who're Focused on Parenting

June 13, 1986|BETTY CUNIBERTI | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Editor Harry Stein, known for the ethics column he writes for Esquire magazine, figures readers will be drawn to his new magazine, Fathers, in much the same way he was drawn into fatherhood.

"I fell into fatherhood reluctantly, dragged in kicking and screaming," said Stein, now a 37-year-old father of two.

"My girlfriend got pregnant," Stein said, "and we had been through one abortion already, so we got married and I hated myself. I anguished all through the pregnancy.

'The Best Thing'

"And what I found out was that it was absolutely the best thing that ever happened to me, like a great many childish men of our generation."

Later, talking about whether men will flock to the new magazine, Stein spoke in a remarkably similar vein.

"Men are going to be very skeptical, frankly," Stein said. "We think we know it all.

"When my wife was pregnant she was the one who did all the reading and was lucky to get me to read one paragraph. We tend not to be drawn in by this stuff.

"I think initially a great many readers will be women who have an endless fascination with what's going on with men, because men won't say what's going on. I think what will happen is that men will have to be weaned on to something like this and then won over, but once won over will be very devoted to it."

First Issue

The magazine made its debut here this week with 66 pages of stories about celebrity fathers as well as both serious and funny first-person stories about father-child relationships and items on food, money and photography.

On the cover is an old photograph of President Reagan with young son Ron, leading readers to a question-and-answer interview with Ron, conducted by senior editor Peter Ross Range.

A former correspondent for Time and Playboy, Range was the one who first stumbled onto the idea of the magazine while in a bar, "where all great thinking is done," he said.

Range, 45 and twice divorced, had headed straight for a Georgetown pub after putting one of his two sons on an airplane back to his mother.

"That's one of the saddest experiences. I used to hate that," said Range, who has sons Christopher, 19, and Shannon, 16, living with him now.

At the bar, Range ran into two journalist friends, one of them a divorced father, and they dove into a discussion about "ex-wives and custody battles and kids flying around and how much we hated it."

After downing a few drinks, they vowed to write about it all. "I said, 'There ought to be a magazine and we ought to call it Fathers,' " said Range.

It took six years to get the idea off the launch pad and it changed considerably from Range's initial vision of a forum for angry divorced fathers.

"We are not the voice of gay, divorced and estranged fathers' groups," said Jeff Stein, one of the two principal owners of the magazine. He is no relation to Harry Stein.

A Parental Philosophy

Future magazines will contain articles on issues often addressed by angry fathers groups, unlike the first edition, which Range described as "really heavy on the heartfelt side." But the magazine will not cater to a certain fatherhood philosophy or point of view.

"If there is an editorial bent to it, it will be that parenting is a serious, serious thing," Harry Stein said. "We don't want to be endlessly sanctimonious. We need some bite and humor, and more reporting."

Jeff Stein added, "If we are seen as gooey and sentimental with Alan Alda on the cover with tears streaming down his face, we're not going to make it. I think the magazine is a pretty good mix. My brother-in-law, who's very red-necky, loves the magazine."

Jeff Stein doesn't happen to like the cover of the first edition.

"I don't like Ronald Reagan and I wouldn't buy it," he said. "But it doesn't matter if I like it. What matters is whether readers will like it, and Reagan is a very popular guy."

Range thinks the magazine is a real departure from other men's magazines, which revolve around men's love of things, as opposed to women's magazines, which dwell on women's insatiable interest in human relationships. This magazine will be about relationships, something that men have talked about "for the most part, only in the corner bar," he said.

Range recently left Playboy magazine, whose circulation has dropped 3 million since 1972, and decided to start Fathers, which some of the magazine's writers see as picking up the baby boomers where Playboy left them off. The magazine's founders are counting on the assumption that the 3 million ex-Playboy readers who used to read about the latest in sexual arousal techniques and hot cars are now more interested in information about baby strollers and communicating with screaming 2-year-olds.

Unconventional Idea

"We see ourselves as neither a conventional parenting magazine nor a male version of a women's magazine but as a different kind of men's magazine, one as responsive to the values, attitudes and concerns of many men in their late 20s, 30s and 40s, as once, when they were single, was Playboy," Harry Stein wrote in his letter from the editor.

The initial run of 25,000 is available only on East Coast newsstands and by subscription, serving as a sort of direct-male test of its appeal.

If the quarterly magazine sells well here, it will be distributed to newsstands farther and farther west. Fathers is financed by a small group of investors, including both Steins, a few others on the magazine staff and Dr. Charlie Clements (subject of the documentary "Witness to War").

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