Bedtime comfort from 'Dad'

May 23, 1997

COLLEGE - the first taste of independence, life away from home and parents. But there is also pressure, stress, anxiety and isolation.

For some students at Stanford University in California, the solution is a warm glass of milk and a story before bedtime.

Under the school's new "Dad Service", volunteer students filling in as kindly fathers are dispatched to their classmates' dormitory rooms nightly.

Wearing a uniform of slippers and a bathrobe, the surrogate dads supply a comforting last glass of milk and answer questions about why the sky is blue.

The idea was dreamed up by a pair of undergraduates who hoped not only to provide a service but also to question gender roles and generate debate.

"It dances the fine line between something people originally thought was a prank and something that genuinely challenges our small world here at Stanford while also entertaining people and providing a relaxing environment," said Nathan Jones, one of the founders. "We were trying to showcase the ways in which masculinity and femininity are more fluid, how we play roles and how 'dadness' is a role we play."

About ten volunteer student "fathers" have participated so far, he said.

"The strangest thing was that once people got over the humour of it - because it's meant to be amusing, but it's meant to be a serious sort of amusement - they were serious about being dads," Mr Jones said. "They had to focus on people feeling sick or sad and address those problems as a parent."

Not all parental characteristics are reflected by the student "fathers." They never nag or scold, for instance. Mr Jones, a psychology major, and co-founder C. Hayes Morehouse hope to expand into a "Mom Service" soon.

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