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ADVERTISERS KNOW BEST: FATHER HAS BECOME A KINDER AND GENTLER GUY

He's slumped in an easy chair at daybreak with the baby finally asleep in his arms. He's watching the kids while his wife works late. He's changing diapers.

Admakers are serving up a new vision of the thoroughly modern dad, whose day is celebrated Sunday.They have devised a family-focused guy comfortable with his kids, a marked departure from the self-absorbed executive climber of the money-driven 1980s. The new dads are showing up in advertising for products ranging from decaffeinated coffee to telephone services to baby wipes.

Admakers say they are reflecting changed realities of family life.

Economic necessity is driving some fathers to share more family responsibilities with their working wives. But researchers say many young couples prefer to share the load more than their parents did.

"This generation has grown up with a different view of men and women and their relationships with each other," said Barbara Feigen, head of strategic services at Grey Advertising Inc.

US WEST, the regional telephone company based in Denver, demonstrates the contrast in a recent commercial that starts out with the family gathered at the Sunday dinner table when Dad gets a call from the office.

He must go to work, the father explains to a disappointed child who had hoped to play catch with the old man.

But the sepia tones of the commercial that suggest an earlier era are soon replaced with a full-color view of a modern Dad with a football, tackled by children in the back yard.

Dad takes the call from work on a portable cellular and faxes the requested papers to the office. He doesn't even have to remove his barbecue apron and he's back at the grill in plenty of time to serve a plateful of hamburgers and hot dogs.

Jane Fitzgibbon, an Ogilvy & Mather ad executive who follows consumer trends, said the increasing number of couples in their mid- to late-30s having their first children has created a rapt audience for ads with nurturing dads.

"This is coming at a time in these fathers' lives when they know they are not going to be president of GM. They are real family members who are as much a part of the family as mothers," she said.