Friday, February 27, 2004

A broken promise: here is (I think) the last link to anything Flanagan related. It's from Echidne of the Snakes and it's a long and smart take on much of Flanagan's work from the Atlantic.

(Thanks to Daddy Zine for the link.)

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Given my mini-rants on Caitlin Flanagan's suggestion that nannies are the (troubling) solution to housework woes and her refusal to hold men accountable, I'm not sure what to make of this jewel from iVillage. It's all in good fun, and I was smirking, even if the bit managed to get to about the sophistication level of a comic strip. (i.e.: Ha ha. Those silly, lazy men and their silly, nagging wives.)

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

When you talk about the "developed world" and the truly modern nations on the globe, you're really talking about the 30 OECD countries, which includes most of Europe, Japan, Canada, Mexico, the good ol' US of A, etc.

As it turns out, only two of those 30 *don't* have a national paid maternity leave policy: us and the Australians. And now, an Australian industry group is telling the government that it needs to get off the short list of non-mommy-friendly countries and institute paid leave. That would leave the USA in a rather lonely place.

What's even more disturbing is that the issue of paid maternity leave is almost entirely off the radar here. At least in Australia it's a campaign issue, with oppposition leaders speechifying on the issue. In the U.S., it's considered a radical idea.

(You're probably wondering why I'm not foaming at the mouth demanding *parental* leave instead of just *maternity* leave. I'm all for taking some issues one battle at a time. If we could just get a common-sense, public-minded, mother-friendly policy here, I'd feel much better about sneaking a paternity leave provision in the future. But when even mothers are being whisked straight from the delivery room to the office, it makes sense to fight *that* battle first ...)

Monday, February 23, 2004

Last Flanagan-based post (for now. Caitlin Flanagan will apparently be joining the New Yorker as a staff writer, so I'm sure she'll be back). In short, the anti-Flanagan analysis has ended up looking strikingly similar to the Rebel Dad critique (My point, in brief: why bash working moms and ignore dads?)

Here's Daddy Zine:
Look, I have a front-row seat to an educated professional woman who is making choices about family and work. I can even wrap my brain around the idea of gender inequities when I have the enough mental energy left over after a day of fillips and niceties around our house. But to insist that gender gives my wife the Masonic handshake necessary to partake of ambivalence over (and debates on) the relative values of home life and work life seems silly. These debates are welcome and in some cases productive but for the love of Pete can't we at least lose the tired rhetorical flourishes on the gendered nature of toilet-paper replacement?
Here's a Baltimore Sun column:
Her entire argument about the exploitation of poor women is made with the working mother alone in her cross-hairs. But aside from taking note of Shulman's failed effort to divide chores down the middle, the working father never seems to enter the room.

Even if it is true that women are primarily responsible for finding a suitable substitute for themselves if they decide to work, in what universe do women alone bear the moral fault for what happens next?

He may never ask about it, but that doesn't mean the working father is off the hook when it comes to the decent treatment of the hired help.

This is a different version of an old - but still kicking - argument about whether mom should go back to work at all. Only if she makes enough to cover the cost of getting her out the door, it seems. Unlike dad, she has to justify the expense of her job. Flanagan seems to argue the exploitation of the underclasses is on her tab as well.

I don't buy that. Like Alix Kates Shulman, I am looking for an honest division of the blame.

And here's Moorish Girl:
Where are the men in all of this? In our enlightened times, shouldn't men share in the responsibility of raising the children and therefore face up to what their nanny choices entail? Why not throw a little responsibilty and guilt their way? But, no. Piling on women is so much better.
Clearly, men are doing more and more around the house. But as Flanagan makes clear, a man's house may be his castle, but it sure ain't his responsibility, no matter how much work he may (or may not) be doing.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

What's the saying? Rare as hen's teeth? There's a new book due for release in May on being an at-home dad. Looks good, and it by a writer of enough experience that I have high hopes for it *not* taking the tired Mr. Mom stereotype route for its humor.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Let me step back from the discussion of nannies and feminism and whether men straighten the bath mat after bathing children, and get back to the important business of highlighting at-home dad appearances in the media ...

So I missed February's issue of Parents Magazine which now comes to my house despite my never having ordered a subscription. It has a nice piece called "9 Things You Should Know About Stay-at-Home Dads". Aside from sneaking the topic into a parenting magazine, there's not a whole lot novel in it. Bonus points, though, for giving credit to the police officers and firefighters who make up a significant number of at-home dads by working off-hours.

In news from across the big pond, there's this report from the Korea Herald about an at-home dad there. While the at-home dad is a not unsurprising fixture in much of Europe and gets plenty of attention in the U.S., this is the first time I've stumbled onto a report about an Asian Rebel Dad. Worth the read. (Thanks Christine!)

And it's time for a Rebel Dad Hall of Fame induction: Brian Scheele, a paraplegic at-home dad to quadruplets. Why People Magazine hasn't told this guy's story is beyond me.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

I just finished reading Caitlin Flanagan's new piece in Atlantic Monthly on "How Serfdom Saved the Women's Movement." It seems designed to be a talked-about piece for working women, feminists and anyone who cares about the status of nannys in America. And while there are sure to be a whole range of critiques (see this Slate discussion for a start) that I simply don't have the background to join in, Flanagan stumbles briefly into Rebel Dad territory. So let me point out a couple of my eye-rolling moments.

For starters, she mocks Alix Kates Shulman's marriage contract from the early 1970s, which spelled out *exactly* how household tasks would be divided to ensure equity. Her judgement on Shulman: "Shulman has earned herself a spot on any almost short list of very silly people." Even if you think the contract is over the top, the idea of husbands pitching in with an eye to equalty is hardly "silly." (Flanagan then goes on to brag that such a contract is superfluous in her home, where a nanny pitches in with the kids and does all the laundry ...) And having dad help out a home is relegated to the shadows for much of the rest of the piece, an issue apparenly no longer worth thinking about.

Then, in an interview with Flanagan accompanying the piece, she lets loose with this exchange:
I want to switch gears for a second. Throughout the article, you talk about the professional woman's dilemma—whether to sacrifice her own happiness for the sake of the children. Stay home or go to work. Do you ever see a time when the issues you raise in the article won't essentially be women's issues?

The hot new thing in feminism these days is maternal feminism. It was launched at a big conference at Barnard College a couple of years ago, attended by some of the major feminists of our time, including Ann Crittenden and Sylvia Ann Hewitt. The crux of their argument is that mothering—as opposed to fathering, or parenting, or care giving—is something unique, and of inestimable value. That the bond between a mother and her children is different from any other kind of human bond, and that it should be revered and respected. You won't get an argument from me about that. But the second that one implies that—in part owing to this unique and sacred bond—the hard work of raising children belongs more to women than to men, these same women start squealing like stuck pigs. They can't have it both ways: either mothers are uniquely designed for the care and protection of children, or they aren't. End of story.

While we're on the topic of silly, let me pop this bubble: I can think of no defender of mothering who sees it as something different in value than fathering. Trust me, Ann Crittenden -- who has been uncommonly nice to Rebel Dad -- does not squeal "like a stuck pig" at the idea of fathers as primary caregivers. If anything, Ann (and most other observers of the modern family) continue to think there's massive gender inequity at home, inequality that would be helped in no small part by more dads picking up more of the household responsibilities.

(UPDATE: Flanagan, in the Slate discussion has now weighed in with the iron-clad point that men are incapable of doing housework or chatting with a child's teacher well, and, as such, can safely be left out of any discussion about home roles. And she uncorks this line: "Another dynamic is that mothers are much more concerned and even anxious about the day-to-day realities of their children's lives than are fathers." I guess we're a lost cause. Ay caramba!)

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

I was all set to post a defense of feminist views of involved fathers here, but that will have to wait ... the at-home dad press radar is blinking like crazy after a speech by Australian opposition leader Mark Latham. Here is the money segment:

"I've got to confess, as someone who feels a bit guilty about not seeing enough of my children, I'm increasingly envious of parents at home. They have the advantage of turning quantity time into quality time with family. Women have traditionally taken this role, but I expect in future, we will have many more stay-at-home dads in Australia. This is an important part of rebuilding male identity: recognising the significance of fatherhood. I trust that working men can understand this new role and, in their friendship and peer groups, give stay-at-home dads as much support and recognition as possible.

We should foster fatherhood at every opportunity.

My only regret is that this sort of political viewpoint is so rare that when a pol I've never heard of, half a world away, makes it, I consider it huge news. I'll begin taking wagers on which the first high-profile U.S. politician to come out in favor of at-home fatherhood (though the payoff may come many, many years in the future).

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Posted (almost) without comment. Here's a passage from The Mommy Myth by Susan Douglas and Meredith Michaels. The book's thesis is that women have been brainwashed into thinking that they must be intense, loving parents 24 hours a day or risk being a failure as a woman. This bit is an aside:

"Meanwhile, there are an estimated two million fathers who stay at home with young children while the mother is the breadwinner. But look at the on-line moniker they get: SAHDs (maybe they should be SAHPs -- stay-at-home pops). If you visit one of the few SAHD Web sites, you'll see that these sites lack the chutzpah of the SAHM. In fact, one of the Web sites is called, which simultaneously takes a swipe at dad's lifestyle choices, his sex drive and his mental capacities. Here you will discover almost immediately that "SAHDs' risk of death from heart disease is 82 percent higher than that of men who work outside the home." Hmmm -- what lesson should we take from this?"

The authors aren't denegrating dads, they're just pointing out that our P.R. leaves something to be desired. I hope Rebel Dad isn't chutzpah-deficient ...

Friday, February 13, 2004

Marketing Genius Roundup. Chrysler gave away a minivan to at-home dad Robert Allan Luckett, who kept his mitt on a Chrysler Town & Country for 64 hours as part of a contest. He sounds like a heck of a guy. Enjoy the drive, Robert.

Frank Pechacek, an at-home dad, founded Babies Travel Lite, a company dedicated to making it easy to actually get through an airport with a baby by delivering all the crap you have to travel with directly to your destination. The company put out a press release last week, so you can read up on 'em. It sounds as though the bulk of their "service" might consist of mailing diapers to vacation destinations, but I still think it's a great concept. If I have to have back surgery, lugging baby stuff through the airport may well be fingered as the main culprit.

And finally, lucky (and smart) bastard Robert Klick and his Po-Knee will be featured at Toy Fair 2004. Again, I ask myself: why didn't *I* think of that ...

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Op-Ed Roundup. There have been a couple of fine at-home parent first-person op-edish pieces run in the last week worth noting. The first, this bit from the Iowa City Press-Citizen is a charming little defense of the at-home dad choices. It's a piece of education and a piece of advocacy with a folksy, sometimes-cheesy Chicken-Soup-For-The-Soul kind of tone. It put a goofy smile on my face.

More serious are these thoughts from (I think) the student newspaper at Portland State University. There are a lot of ideas crammed into it, among them the idea that childrearing should get more attention, the idea that men's roles are changing and the idea that being a High Achieving SuperParent leads to kids who over over-scheduled and destined to believe the same destructive you-can-have-it-all myth that drive so many parents nuts. The summary, I know, is a bit muddled, but so is the piece. Apologies.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Striking another blow for stupid stereotypes is Hasbro, which has introduced the Queasy Bake Oven. God forbid we send the message that good, old-fashioned cooking is something men might want to do. Apparently, if you want boys to cook, you have to sell 'em on making "Mucky Mud" and "Cool Drool."

(In an aside, Men's Health suggests that cooking for your girlfriend on the third date -- apparently the magic date for intimacy. I would strongly suggest that men taking that advice avoid using their Queasy Bake oven. Serving "Delicious Dirt" is not considered suave.)

(Thanks to a poster on the Yahoo!Groups for the link.)

Monday, February 09, 2004

Now *this* is progress. A few weeks ago, I was lamenting the lack of attention paid to the very thoughtful "Family Stress Relief Act", proposed by Paul Glastris at Washington Monthly. But now there's reason to celebrate.

Lynn Woolsey, a California Democrat, has proposed what she calls the "Balancing Act." (Read about it in this Knight-Ridder article). She seems to hit on just about every way to improve care for infants and toddles, from paying to improve the language skills of nannies, ensuring that employers have a federal right to see their kid's band recitals/soccer games, changing the economics of part-time work (for the better) and throwing money towards the improvement of day care centers. It's not directed at at-home parents, but the proposals, taken together, should have the effect of making it easier for working parents to be more family-oriented.

The bad news, of course, is that this is a sprawling bill being offered by someone with little power to get it through. But that's not reason not to celebrate it ... these ideas, once they're out there, have a way of percolating for a few years and then suddenly becoming a cause celebre. If you want to send Lynn a you-go-girl note, click here.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Ciao, Baby. The fine folks at the Christian Science Monitor brought along this internationally focused at-home dad story about a group of Italian househusbands. The piece makes much from the fact that there is growing acceptance of at-home dads in a place that has been known for a certain macho culture. But the most stunning bit was the news that their at-home dad group has 4,000 members. Not bad for a country with a population one-fifth the size of the U.S.

So I started hunting for information about this group, which the Monitor says goes bythe "Association of Househusbands." Thank goodness for Google ... I managed, after some effort, to track down the homepage. Makes for interesting reading. (See the page here. See it translated (thanks, Google!) here. Please note that the translation is far from perfect, to comedic effect. The group's name, according to Google's translation, is the Association of Homely Men. Not quite what we are looking for ...)

Between the screwy translation and untranslated parts, I haven't given the entire site the once-over I'd like to (for example, I've yet to figure out if I can get an "Associazione Uomini Casalinghi" t-shirt or apron). But I'd love to see it. As I've daydreamed before in this space, I'd love to see an organization with some real numbers in the U.S., so I going to try to figure out how these Italian guys pulled it off. I can't think of a U.S. resource -- not the Yahoo! groups, not the SAHD page, not Peter Baylies's newsletter -- that's even reached more than a few hundred dads.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

I missed one heck of an interest op-ed piece last month. I think it appeared first in the LA Times. This is the version that I stumbled across.

In short, a couple of deep-thinking law types suggest that the reason that women aren't zipping to the top of the work world (see yesterday's post for additional discussion of the problem) is that men simply aren't making the sacrifices at home to let their wives climb the corporate ladder without too much baggage.

Fair enough, I thought -- it's a point I had long accepted. But the piece had a couple of nice statistical bits that I hadn't seen before. For starters, the article cited a survey of 160,000 science and engineering doctoral recipients and found that 82 percent of those working women had a husband who was also working. To contrast, only 43 percent of the men with the same degrees had wives working fulltime. (See the data in this chart.)

And the opinion piece cited one heck of a stat from Princeton University. A survey found not a single married woman on Princeton's faculty has a spouse that's out of the labor force. Not one. Men, in contrast, have a better than one in four chance of having an at-home mom in the house and better than a 50 percent chance that their wife works no more than part time. (See the full report here. The money stats are in Table 20, in Appendix B4.)

These are not inconsequential figures. In academia, where the price of admission in terms of life-years is higher than any other profession with the possible -- possible -- exception of medicine, women are indeed at a huge disadvantage in being the ones who generally bear the brunt of family commitments.

Here's the kicker to the editorial: "Employers have a critical role to play in making it easier for more parents to balance work and home, to be sure. But so do the husbands or partners with whom women live. Being a working parent can be tiring, demanding and sometimes exasperating. Still, with shared responsibilities at home and understanding at the office, it’s also enormously gratifying. For men and women both."

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Another magazine cover story predicated on my least favorite assumption, has hit the stands: Fast Company tries to figure out where the women at the top of the business world are. The conclusion: they've largely abandoned the goal of running the show, scaling back their work and their aspirations to allow some time for family.

But the story's undercurrent is that women are either too timid or too smart to climb to the top rungs of the corporate ladder. And it assumes that men care a lot more about work, on average, than family. And while these two assumptions may generally be true, the story never gives a second thought to whether that's a good thing or whether such stereotypes ought to be challenged.

The author, Linda Tischler, says: "For the most part, men just compete harder than women. They put in more hours. They're more willing to relocate. They're more comfortable putting work ahead of personal commitments."

But why should that be the case? Though a generally thoughtful story, it suggests the stereotypes about what men and women value are fixed. Sure, the story seems to say, some women may have the stomach for the CEO fight, but they're the abberation. The flip side, of course, is that paints men who chuck their careers as abberations, too. (There is a to-be-sure graf noting that men, too, are looking to live saner lives, but nothing more is said.)

The other omission -- not uncommon in these types of stories -- is the husbands. Are these women stepping off the fast track because their husbands are pulling little weight at home? We don't know (other than one woman's snide remark that she made an effort to spend as much waking time with her child, "'I doubt that his father was doing the same.'" she says).

The untold truth is that for women to reach the top rungs of the ladder and still have an intact family, there needs to be a lot of support from her mate -- ideally one who stays home. The data suggest that men at the top generally have had the advantage of an at-home spouse or a working wife still able to devote time to managing the household. Why should we think that women can survive that environment as well without such an asset?

Monday, February 02, 2004

For the record ... in the three weeks since I used this space to wonder aloud about the utility of as a dad connection tool, the number of registered at-home dads is up 17 percent (229 to 268). (That's not to suggest that this site had anything to do with the leap. I just think meetup is coming of age.)

With a few exceptions, it looks like there's not yet a critical mass in any one area, but I'd love to hear from guys who have made the site pay off. And I don't think the gains are cause for celebration yet: at-home moms, who I imagine are pretty good at finding peers offline, currently have nearly 5,000 signed up, or roughly 20 times our number.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

Time to give credit where it's due. Most of the coverage of would-be First Ladies floats somewhere between meaningless and downright offensive, but the Washington Post this morning ran an interesting conversation among five deep thinkers on the topic. The bit that had me jumping out of my chair? One of the five was Rebel Dad fav Dan Mulhearn, the first gentleman of Michigan. That alone made me happy.

Here are Dan's thoughts: "I think the first spouse should choose whatever she or he desires. My sisters in the sorority of governors' spouses (and the few brothers in the fraternity) are all over the map -- businesspeople who have quit jobs, some who try to do it all, teachers and housewives who embrace a newfound public calling. No matter how we play it -- and our fields are the minor leagues compared to living on Pennsylvania Avenue -- we all make sacrifices in terms of privacy, family time and personal life. If some love it -- as I do, having quit a great business as an executive coach and a consultant in leadership development to volunteer for my bride, Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm -- good for them. I can't imagine a more satisfying life than recruiting mentors for at-risk youth, writing speeches and consulting for my wife, and helping state leaders develop their leadership skills. But if others, like Judith Steinberg, choose not to do it, God bless them, too."

Nice sentiments. And nice that someone thought of asking Dan to give 'em.

As an aside, there are a couple interesting bits in this piece on Girl Scout Cookie economics. 1) They quote a "cookie mom" that happens to be a dad -- good for him. 2) The business is really quite interesting. Well worth the read, just for the cocktail party facts (assuming that you live somewhere where Girl Scout cookies are appropriate cocktail party conversation).