Tuesday, November 26, 2002

I haven't posted since the At-Home Dad Convention, in part because I have been absolutely swamped with the pressure of writing an actual article for actual human consumption. It was tough. I had a really, really good time, and though I have become adept at boiling ideas down into managable prose, I've never before dealt with the challenge of translating the emotion of enjoyment into the written word. DW helped a great deal, and now my thoughts are in the hands of an editor I have never met. Gulp.

Friday, November 22, 2002

... anyway ... what's blown me away about Glass's research is that she can't really find a profile of a dadcare-leaning family (it's also noteworthy that moms don't tend to rate dadcare all that highly). Education, from her small sample, doesn't make a difference. Even measures of gender equity had a non-significant impact (with some exceptions) until you threw in other aspects. I still need to dredge through the data -- and, perhaps, talk to Glass -- but it certainly makes for some wonderful head-scratching. What does go into becoming an at-home dad?
Tomorrow, I leave for the vistas of Des Plaines, Illinois, site of the Annual Stay-at-Home Dad Convention, so fatherhood has been much on my mind. I also realize that I will have to write about this in one way or another for my local paper, adding a certain amount of pressure. I can't imagine that an event like this would be colorless and drab (I cover regulatory agencies in my spare time, after all, and can make them colorful), but I still have sweaty palms. What if everyone is boring? What if I'm boring?

Regardless, I've started prepping. I'm still working through Fatherneed, and I should tear through the at-home dad chapter before I get to O'Hare tomorrow. Interestingly, I received two papers in the mail by an Iowa sociologist named Jennifer Glass on father care. I'm halfway through the second one, and I need to go back over what I've read with my stats books open to make sure I got all the points ...

... DW just arrived home. More brainstorming to come ...

Thursday, November 21, 2002

I just started Kyle Pruett's book, Fatherneed, and I've found it quite wonderful. It's not just that he focuses singlemindedly on dads -- that's a nice aspect, but not one exclusive to him -- but rather that he spends the time to nail down the science. Heck, he's the one that's done most of the science. And I'm not left with the frustration I feel at seeing pages and pages devoted to anecdotes. Someone cares enough to study -- and that's always a pleasure.

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Crazy, crazy day ... at-home parent or not.

Sunday, November 17, 2002

There's a U.S. News and World Report story out today chock full of my favorite catnip: stats on at-home parenting. As usual, I have no idea where the come from -- nothing is really cited. Apparently, the number of families with an at-home parent is up to 41.3 percent (2001) from 38.9 (1997). I look forward to tracking down those numbers. They also cite daddy facts: that at-home fathers dropped in the early 1990s (must be Census data -- that's not new to me) and rebounded in 1999 (news to me). And they make the point that in "one of 11 ... it is Ozzie that changes diapers full time." I have no idea where that stat comes from but would love to.

Another note to self: read "I Don't Know How She Does It."

But all in all, a largely gender-neutral look at the at-home phenomenon. It doesn't stall on the mommy wars angle or ignore fathers or miss the economic point.

Friday, November 15, 2002

As best I can tell, the child care center industry is a $40 billion-or-so enterprise in the United States. That's one heck of a big business, and it excludes services like nannies and the like. One of these days, I plan to do the math: what are at-home fathers (and, for that matter, at-home mothers) worth to the economy. That's not to say that day care is bad or a poor choice. Instead, I want to illustrate the social impact of a couple of million socially rebelious fathers staying home with their children. As I think about marketing a book, I'm forced to think about how to quantify homedads, and I'd be willing to bet that the math here makes for a compelling stat.

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Though I've done lots of deep thinking about at-home fathers of late -- the convention is coming up, I have articles to write and a book proposal that is becoming more and more solidly formed in my mind -- I want to get some anecdotes out of my mind and onto paper.

When DW and I (of all the S.A.H.D. shorthand I've picked up, I think I like DW -- for "darling wife," I hope -- best) were newlyweds, we had a running joke about who would get to be the housespouse when the children arrived. Everytime I made dinner, or DW did the laundry, we would loudly award outselves housespouse points, a mostly-humorous way of lobbying for the position of at-home parent. This repartee always ended the same way: DW would declare that pregnancy and childbirth were worth so many housespouse points that no amount of laundry would ever put me in the lead. If there was at-home parenthood to be had, she would get first crack. And nothing about the pregnancy invalidated that. Even the two of us, the thoroughly modern couple, operated for years with the idea that if anyone was to stay home, it would be mom.

As it turns out, DW found her chosen career to be stellar and engaging. And my paternity leave turned out to be deeply moving. We both realized that housespouse points or not, we were both being driven in different directions. It wasn't that I hated work or that she prefered it to home life -- a skip-dinner workaholic she ain't. It was just that we realized that we needed different mixes to remain fulfilled. So when the time came -- all of sudden -- we made a choice that put me in the minority. But it was a good choice, and one that I wish more men had.

Thursday, November 07, 2002

My first problem in writing about this stuff on a regular basis is that I dislike all the terms for stay-at-home dad. Stay-at-home dad is bulky, SAHD is depressing and wonky, homedaddy, homedad and househusband seem stuffy or goofy. If I can coin a catchy term, 90 percent of my book-writing work would probably be done. It's so easy to say "I'm a reporter." Why can't I have that level of simplicity when I define my other role.

However you term it, at-home daddying has been on my mind of late. I'm headed to the nation convention -- that seems clear -- and, barring disease, will write about it. I also went to the local dad playgroup yesterday and found out a bit more about the other guys in my position (or sort of in my position).

It will be interested to see if there's a difference between the conference people and the local guys. I'm getting the impression that the national conference is a beacon for dads without a local support system, and I've been impressed with the one here. I can't find anyone local who is going, and I'm beginning to understand why -- the guys at the NOVA playgroup don't need to fly across the country to meet others who share their position in life.

Monday, November 04, 2002

The nice folks at Fox news weighed in with an article on stay-at-home dads today. It followed the formula: requisite Mr. Mom reference, quote from one of the small number of "experts" (Libby Gill, in this case), the two million estimate, the anecdote from a real-life at-home father. All in all, nothing offensive.

But at the risk of getting back on my high horse, I wish someone would uncover why this is a trend. Gill points out that 40 percent of women (she says two in five) outearn their hubbies. That's a wonderful statistic, if it's true, and it further adds to the confusion about stay-at-home parents. If women rule the economic roost in only 40 percent of families, why is it that the percentage of husbands of working mothers provide -- at best -- 10 to 15 percent of the time?

There's a strong social pattern established here that needs to be destroyed. For those families where it's economically and personally viable to have one parent stay home, Gill's statistic would suggest that homemoms would barely outnumber homedads. But it ain't that way it works out in reality.

Perhaps dads are, on the whole, less likely to be interested or willing to raise children. That's not entirely implausible -- the warm, fuzzy Alan Alda-type men are still probably a tiny minority. But that doesn't explain it all. I'm convinced there remains a body of capable would-be homedads who aren't doing the kid duty because the idea it never occured to them. All moms face a choice: work or stay home. It's ingrained in the culture. When will society extend dads that choice?

Friday, November 01, 2002

I just finished reading a story in New York magazine -- furnished by Mana -- about the claws-out conflict between housemoms and working mothers. What struck me, aside from the fact that the magazine read like the author had never heard of the mommy wars before, was how completely absent fathers were. Other than a throwaway line about toned working moms as status symbols and a nice quote from a dad admitting that he couldn't hack being a home, the very idea of dadhood was missing.


This is the question that still bugs me, and the one I'm increasingly convinced any book on the topic needs to focus on. Why isn't it working-parent vs stay-at-home parent, if we have to have conflict? Where the hell are the fathers, even the working ones? Are they really missing in action?
I had a weird experience the other day, one that made me feel better about the ways of the world. I took something of a razzing from one of the fathers on the street at our annual kiddie Halloween party. I mentioned that I'd shlepped across Northern Virginia to go to an all-dads playgroup the previous week, and my neighbor's imagination seemed to run wild. "Were they," he paused, "really weird?" The answer, not surprisingly, was no -- no more weird that any half-dozen guys at a soccer game or your local bar. My neighbor wasn't convinced. I told him I might go back -- it was an interesting group of guys. "You're not serious, are you?" he said.

Two days later, his wife became stranded at the grocery store, so I gave her a ride home. I mentioned that her husband had given me a hard time about the at-home dad thing. She was sympathetic. "I don't know what the medical term is, but he's really jealous. If he could do anything, he'd be at home, taking care of his son."

There it was, hassling out of envy. I hadn't seen much of that. I assumed I'd get funny looks -- the kind the green-haired punks get from the yuppies -- but I wasn't ready for jealousy. I rather like it.