Friday, February 28, 2003

The teenage girl is despondent. Her soccer team has been handed what must have been an ass-whoopin', and she is convinced nothing will do away with her blues. But her parent knows better: a yummy dinner-for-idiots meal from the kitchen of Skillet Sensations. The above-mentioned fiction -- a TV commericial -- would be a forgettable bit of mass marketing, if not for the sex of the swift-thinking, skillet-wielding parent. It's a dude. It might not be much to crow about (no "Madison Ave. Dad Cooks Dinner" headlines have been forthcoming), but anything that suggests that dads can -- and do! -- cook dinner is a step in the right direction.

Though e-hampered, I look forward to getting back to the wage gap and the Wall Street Journal story earlier this week on the cost of "leisure" activities. (There's also a roundabout suggestion in the story that at-home parenting might not be financial suicide. Not a new concept, but if the Wall Street Journal wants to go to bat for it, who am I to argue?)

Thursday, February 27, 2003

Verizon's law: whatever can go wrong when it comes to transmitting electronic bits will go wrong. My DSL line is down (as in dead -- probably a line problem. A tech will be out here in the next five days or so). My dialup works, but I can't send outgoing mail (an SMTP problem of some sort.) Verizon can't help me much because they claim my mail/browser program isn't supported by them. At any rate, I'm a bit too angry to think straight, but Rebel Dad musings will return as soon as my sanity does. I appreciate your patience.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Apologies again for the lack of posting. I'm on the road again, and not for pleasure (no snowboarding this time around). Consequently, I have little net access. This is probably not a bad excuse -- though I'd like to explore the wage gap issue some more, there hasn't been a lot of Rebel Dad news on my radar, even over the weekend. As always, suggestions are welcome.

Friday, February 21, 2003

Follow the money: This week's big family story is the news that the wage gap between men and women narrowed big-time last year. Though full-time working women still make a paltry 77.5 cents to the male dollar, this represents a big jump and is cause for celebration. (Small celebration ... the shrinking of the gap had a lot more to do with men doing worse than women doing better ...)

The issue came to my attention when a fellow at-home dad posted this Wall Street Journal story to a newsgroup I subscribe to. (Apologies if the link doesn't work ... the WSJ site is a subscription site, and I don't know if this is inside or outside the subscription area.) The bit is a column by the Journal's Work & Family columnist, Sue Shellenbarger, and she argues that the better women do, the more options open up for families -- i.e. more men can check out the road to Rebel Dad-dom.

Shellenbarger isn't interested in painting this as an unequivolcally good thing, mentioning that some dads aren't cut out for a reversal of the traditional gender roles. She doesn't make at-home fatherhood out to be Shangri-La (which, clearly, it isn't), but I'm not all that bothered by the nation's largest paper painting a less-than-rosy picture.

In short, here at Rebel Dad, we're thrilled that more men have the chance to try it, and that more families are deciding that swapping gender roles isn't an unheard of thing to do. If that doesn't work out, so be it. (Of course, there's not a whole lot of press devoted to the flip-side: at-home mothers who chafe at a more domestic life.)

As usual, though, the column makes a provocative point -- "But the story behind the story is that women's growing economic clout will accelerate a seismic upheaval in family roles, with more frequent swapping of breadwinning, parenting and housekeeping duties." -- without giving an additional data. Are we in the midst of a "seismic upheaval?" There aren't good numbers to suggest either way. I'd like to think I'm part of a growing fraternity, but these numbers alone don't convince me.

I'll re-open the Rebel Dad Challenge: give me a definitive set of stats on the number of at-home fathers now and over time and I'll buy you a case of beer.

Thursday, February 20, 2003

Small(er) Town Politics Watch: One of the main ways that at-home dads pop up in the news is when they end up running for public office. It happens from time to time -- one of the dads on one of the Yahoo! groups dedicated to at-home fathers posted a bit about his run last fall -- and though I can't say that Rebel Dads have a cohesive political philosophy, it's nice to hear a different kind of voice.

So it's worth noting that at-home dad Doug Sandvick made the mayoral run-off in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin: "Sandvick, 41, who left his job as a marketing and project manager to become a full-time dad, Scout leader and baseball coach, criss-crossed the city the past three months, knocking on doors and meeting residents. The walking tours evidently paid off." And a bit south, in Peoria, Illinois, Ray Rusch is running an anti-tax campaign.

Here at Rebel Dad, I care more about positive media attention (and family-friendly work policies and societal celebration of non-traditional gender roles) than tax policy or civic services, so I'm not in the business of endorsing anyone. (RD endorses ideas -- good ideas -- as much as possible, though.) And though RD doesn't have a dog in these fights, I'll still watch Ray and Doug closely -- after all, they've run a household. How hard can a city be?

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Hogan Hilling, a stay-at-home dad who edges Rebel Dad in both the height and the number-of-books-published categories raises an interesting point about the prospect of paternity leave ("parental crack" -- try it and you'll want more of it): men are so career-focuses that paying them for paternity leave stillwouldn't boost the rates of men taking the leave.

This makes sad sense to me. Once upon a time, Rebel Dad worked at a place with paid leave for dads, and I immediately took 'em up on their offer when my little one was born. Despite the fact that the policy had been in place for months, I was the first that I know of to take advantage. It was a wonderful experience, and one that eventually drove me into the at-home dad pantry. Too bad that more folks didn't take the chance to see the light.

I'll take reactions on this one: would we get more dads to take leave if we paid 'em?
I worry less about the big cities when it comes to making more men into Rebel Dads and think more about the smaller towns throughout the country. I happen to live in an area where there is a wonderful and large at-home dad network, and I am never at a loss for a dad-run playgroup or another RD to grab a beer with. I have the support system. And I know I'm lucky.

So I read with glee a small-town paper report of a new at-home dad's decision. It was obviously a good thing that the gentleman, Bill Elton of Columbus, Nebraska, make the choice, and it was nice to see that decision met with positive prose. ("Bill sees it as a great opportunity to bond with his children, and thinks more dads would follow the same path if they could.") Perhaps Bill will start a new Columbus, Nebraska trend. We can but hope.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

I finally stopped shoveling long enough to read my new issue of Parenting. Turning to "Work+Family," I was pleasantly surprised to read a short piece titled "Are You Ready to Go Back to Work?" It was wonderfully gender-neutral, and I was all set to send a nice note to the author ... until I reached this line: "How does your partner feel about working? Would he be willing to pitch in more around the house?"[ital. mine] It's not a flagrant foul, but sometimes I gotta be nitpicky.

Below that story were results from a poll that found that found that only 10 percent of dads took off more than a month when their baby was born (dads who took off NO time came in at 15 percent). This is the number I'd love to see change -- the Family and Medical Leave Act means that guys CAN take the time (if they can afford it -- a giant obstacle in a great many families). Rebel Dad clearly believes that patenity leave is parental crack -- once you've spent a good deal of time with your little one, you'll want to spend even more time with 'em. That opens the door to an honest debate about whether dad or mom (or neither) will stay home.

Finally, there's a short piece on tag-team parenting for parents who may have split shifts. These are families that make hard choices -- Rebel Dads and Rebel Moms trying to make the work/family balance viable -- and it's nice to see some attention paid to it. That's a real reservoir of Rebel Dads who don't often identify themselves as at-home fathers, but who nonetheless are responsible for a giant chunk of this nation's fathercare.

Saturday, February 15, 2003

Happy dad/daughter news: an Alameda, CA father/daughter Valentine's Day dance.

There's little else to report. This month's federal budget fun hasn't left out fathers (quick review: the government is set to approve it's 2003 budget, almost five months late, and the Prez has submitted his proposed 2004 budget). The '03 budget apparently includes money for the National Fatherhood Initiative to study out-of-wedlock births, and the '04 proposal includes $20 million "to promote responsible fatherhood and marriage." Clearly, these are not directly related to the at-home dad lifestyle, but we'll take attention at the fringes. Responsible fatherhood -- ensuring that fathers have the same rights and responsibilities as mothers -- is key to the kind of equal caregiving society that will result in more and more dads to keep me company at the local coffeeshop ...

Thursday, February 13, 2003

I finally got around to reading the National Post story (see the links here before they expire) on one guy's experience as an at-home father. It sounded true to form: the isolation, the challenge, the female-centeredness of it all.

A couple of things caught my eye. The first was that the series was ever published. It is a Rebel Dad tenet that the more press there is about dads taking an at-home plunge (even if it's only for a set duration, as was the case in the National Post series), the easier it will be for more dads to jump in. And when such an endorsement and publicity comes from the National Post, which errs on the conservative side of the spectrum, it's all the better.

The second item I need to educate myself on is the Employment Insurance program they have in Canada, which provides for a) a ton of family leave that b) dads can use. I have to confess that I know little of the way that bureaucracy works or how the compensation happens, but I get the impression that the Canadians have made a commitment to keeping parents with kids for the first year, which is one heck of a laudable goal.

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

OK ... I admit it: I wasn't looking hard enough for good at-home dad stories. The Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel has a nifty piece (in all fairness, it was first published in the Baltimore Sun) on a new book on how manipulative at-home wives can try to boost their husband's incomes. As well as a general broadside against the general topic, the author lets go with this doozy: "In a truly egalitarian society, men shouldn't have to apologize for wanting to stay home, for daring to see a life outside the office, for dreaming the impossible dream."

And ... and ... Canada's National Post has a four-part series (read the first installment here) on a reporter who decided to take advantage of new rules allowing up to 35 weeks of paternity leave. To be honest, I don't have the time now to plow through the series (maybe by tomorrow). Speed readers are encouraged to share their thoughts with me.
(Almost) all quiet on the at-home dad front: some dubious mentions of Rebel Dads in the news, including one who 'unofficially' serves as an armed guard along the US/Mexican border and one who ended up as superintendant of a tiny Washington State school district under strange circumstances. To make matters worse, the NY Sun (don't worry if you haven't heard of it -- it's not very well known even in NY) bashes funnyman dad Joe Mozian.

So I'm looking for happy at-home dad stories. As always, suggestions are welcome.

Monday, February 10, 2003

Back in the saddle: I'm happy to report that snowboarding is a bit like riding a bike. Despite a two-year layoff, I was able to pick it right back up.

During my hiatus, I stumbled across a copy of AARP: The Magazine, the house organ of the AARP. One bit in particular caught my eye -- a poll of what workers over 50 most wanted and least wanted in a job. The number one and number two least-wanted items? Part-time opportunities and the ability to work from home. (Note: I couldn't find a link on their web site. You'll have to take my word for it.)

Now, the cornerstone of the Rebel Dad philosophy is not that every father should be an at-home one, but rather that every family should have a full range of choices (mom at home, dad at home, two part-time jobs, two full-time jobs with other family care, two jobs with non-family care, etc.) when it comes to caregiving structure. I focus on at-home daddying because that's the option that's missing for most families. But here at RD, we want everyone to be able to have the flexibility to choose the arrangement that best fits their economics, career goals and temperments. Rebel Mom calls this "authentic parenting" -- families should do what will genuinely make every family member happy, rather than letting society decide.

To that end, I was a bit disturbed to hear that older workers -- the ones making the decisions, most likely -- polled by the AARP ranked the most important issues to young families at the bottom of the list. No wonder corporate policies are so screwed up. The folks at the top don't need those flexible choices ... their kids are long gone. Of course, it's that next generation that's paying their Social Security bills. Can't they throw us youngsters a bone?

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

Fair warning: I am leaving for a mini-vacation tomorrow (returning Sunday night) and don't expect to be able to provide much in the way of RD updates while I'm gone.

As I leave, I'll throw out one thing I've been chewing on -- a new group called M.O.T.H.E.R.. It's backed by the still-on-my-mind Ann Crittenden and advocates for a number of wonderful ideas to better value motherhood (or, I suppose fatherhood), both socially and financially. They're audacious in a don't-hold-your-breath kind of way, but it's nice to see them listed: give social security benefits to caregivers. Extend leave ... and make it paid. Count unpaid labor in the GDP.

And it's worth noting that dads aren't ignored in the discussion. "Aren't fathers important caregivers too? What about their role?," reads the FAQ. The response: "Fathers are incredibly important, and this initiative will help them be better caregivers as well. Because of long hours and anti-family workplace policies, many fathers are prevented from spending the time they would like with their families. They can take advantage of parental leave and the option of a shorter workweek. They will gain if mothers have higher incomes. And maybe, if caregiving were not so costly to the caregivers, more men might be motivated to do more of it."

Does this ring true to you? Is the obstacle for fathers economic? Societal? Some of both? I've been trying to figure out why there are so few at-home dads in this age of equality. Economics only gets me part of the way. There's an assumption, still implicit, that dads will work and moms can work if they choose (leaving aside, for a moment, the problems women still face in the workplace). Is money all we need to give dads more of that choice?

Tuesday, February 04, 2003

Shockingly, Rebel Dad readers didn't buy the line that the American workforce is getting more father-friendly. Forget about telecommuting or flexible schedules, says one letter, a truly family-friendly workplace "would measure an employees worth based on his production and not the amount of time he spends at work. Unfortunately, the mind set in corporate Amercia is still such that a man who puts in a 50+ hour work week will get more recognition than a man who puts in a 40 hour work week even though both men produce the same amount of work."

That harkens to a book review I read today for a book I may put on my ever-lengthening "To Read" list: The Power of Full Engagement. It sounds like your average excutive time-management book, expect without the time part. It looks at "energy" as being different than "time." You want workers to spend lots of energy -- a renewable resource -- rather than just log hours. It's a way of thinking that probably makes fatherdom an asset: get a fully-charged father who gets ample family time and doesn't feel perpetually shortchanged, and you get an employee who makes every working moment count.

Heck, I'd rather have a company full of happy dads than a bunch of 70-hour-a-week suckup automatons counting the decades to retirement. But that's probably just me ...

Monday, February 03, 2003

Another trip back to important things that I missed or ignored the first time around: today, I'm reading a month-old Chicago Tribune story about the "Mommy Track." The story is centered around what should seem like an encouraging number for Rebel Dads: the number of at-home parents is up from 28.9 percent in 1995 to 41.3 percent last year, according to the government.

The discouraging spin is that parents are staying home more because the workplace is just as family-unfriendly as ever. Who wants to work just as hard for less credit, less recognition and a negligible amount of money. (I praised it a few days ago, but the analysis of Ann Crittenden in The Price of Motherhood is worth another mention. With a perspective on the tax code too detailed for this space, she makes the compelling point that working is an extraordinarily expensive proposition for the at-home parent.)

Corporate America, in the story, defends itself, pointing to the expanding number of businesses that allow flexible work arrangements. But I'm not sure that reflects the real world, and I'd be curious to hear from anyone with a front-lines perspective.