Thursday, May 27, 2004

Quick post -- life is still chaotic, but I have way too much stuff to post and way too little brain power left to remember it all. Today's topic is a Rebel Dad favorite: advertising.

Longtime readers may remember that I announced a contest earlier this year to search for the worst possible gender-stereotype commercials. Now, Dads and Daughters have done me one better. They are running a best/worst advertising award, complete with p.r. and all kinds of neat stuff like that. So vote early and vote often.

One possible nomination: a new commercial for the Dodge Caravan that centers on a father running around to get the materials for a treehouse (ending with a campout ... in the minivan). It caught my eye because of the break with what has become an aggressive mom-centric thinking in minivan marketing. (See my earlier thoughts about ads for the Nissan Quest.) Makers are going so far as to try to shoehorn what should be minivans into the new catchall crossover utility vehicle (CUV) category just to escape the family van stigma. So I'm happy that Dodge is willing to go out on that gender limb and assume that maybe -- just maybe -- dad would be interesting in driving his kids around.

Hey, it's not much, but this revolution is going to be built on baby steps.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Blogging has fallen off the priority list for this week. Expect a rash of postings sometime in the next week or so as I work through my backlog. -rD

Saturday, May 22, 2004

She's baa-aack! When last I left the topic of Caitlin Flanagan, she was writing a very strange piece on on the "Nanny Wars" for the Atlantic Monthly. Now, the Atlantic has published a couple of letters to the editor (please scroll down) on the story -- as well as Flanagan's response.

The primary letter, by a woman named Ellen Willis, lays out a concise and damning indictment of Flanagan's orginal piece. She points out that Flanagan's accusations of class war only come about because Flanagan has decided to give up on men as domestic partners. The letter is well worth reading and far better than Rebel Dad's analysis.

But the part likely to get the blood boiling is Flanagan's response to Willis. Utterly ignoring nearly all of Willis' points, she instead lets loose with an set of ad hominem attacks. I disagree with almost every word of Flanagan's brief reply, and it is so clearly wrongheaded that no dissection is needed. Just read it. Flanagan hangs herself quite neatly.

(I'd would love to simply ignore Flanagan. If she were a common blogger -- like me -- I'd write her well-written but unhinged rantings off as the work of a conflicted working woman. But she's not a common blogger: she's a well-known magazine journalist about to start work at the New Yorker. She is, in short, one of the nation's highest-profile pundits on the subject of family life. And that means that I'll have to work to pop her neo-traditionalist bubble every time her byline appears, no matter how bizarre the arguments get.)

Friday, May 21, 2004

More book reviews (kind of)! I should point out that part of the reason it took me so long to read “How Tough Could It Be,” is that I was working my way through Scott Coltrane’s “Family Man,” which is as dense as “How Tough” is fluffy and as important a resources as “How Tough” is ephemeral.

The book’s been out for nearly a decade, so giving a review isn’t really worth much. It’s a long read, packed with information and pages upon pages of meticulous endnotes. Think of it as a dad encyclopedia.

But I wanted to note the optimism behind “Family Man.” Coltrane lays out 10 reasons why the proportion of men doing housework and childrearing should continue to rise for the foreseeable future. In retrospect, that seems like a safe bet, but it’s worth remembering that he was writing in the mid-1990s, when Robert Bly’s manlier-than-thou treatise “Iron John” was a permanent fixture on the best seller lists and the traditionalist Promise Keepers were popular fodder for media stories.

In short, Coltrane published “Family Man” near the height of the sensitive-guy backlash, when it could certainly be argued that progress toward gender equity in the family was in some peril. Us sweet guys, though, we triumphed over the macho ones. After all, how many men are still going out in the woods to bang drums with other guys?

That’s of interest because, as I pointed out a few months ago, Susan Faludi (of Backlash fame) has warned that there’s likely to be another tough-guy backlash coming against the rash of metrosexual/at-home dad/sensitive-man trend. I doubted Faludi at the time, arguing that involved dads aren’t a passing fancy, but evidence of some real social change. Reading “Family Man” – and remembering how quaint and faddish “Iron John” now seems – reinforces my conviction that we’re here to stay.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

I finally finished "How Tough Could It Be: The Trials and Errors of a Sportswriter Turned Stay-at-Home Dad" by Sports Illustrated's Austin Murphy. I should say up front that I went into the book wanting to like it. I knew it would borrow heavily from the dopey-sitcom-dad school of humor, but I was bound and determined to find the emotional compass of the book. I wanted to proudly point out that even an adventure-sport-competing, football-metaphor-spouting, kitchen-impaired man could be changed by spending nearly every waking minute with his kids.

It didn't entirely develop that way.

But let me first get the praise on the table: Murphy obviously gained an appreciation for the household and childrearing labors. An almost-absentee father for most of his tenure as parent, Murphy develops an admiration and respect for not only his wife, but every other mom (and dad) who devotes themselves to keeping a family upright. And I have no doubt that Murphy will be a better husband and (probably) a better father in the years to come. I once tried to bait Ann Crittenden into saying that men just don't get the importance and challenge of childrearing. She stopped me immediately and pointed out that people who haven't done the domestic thing -- male or female -- are the ones who don't get it. Gender, she said, has nothing to do with it. Murphy proves Crittenden's point. He spent six months in the trenches. He now gets it.

But there were two problems that nagged at me. The first and most obvious was that the book felt like a stunt. Murphy did the gig for only six months, a pre-determined length, and he kept calling the experience "the experiment," as if the goal was something measurable. And Murphy spends the length of the book trying to do the at-home dad job *exactly* as his wife did the at-home mom job, and any deviation from that "right" way was chalked up as abject failure. He wrote about no effort to leave his own particular stamp on the household routine. Murphy simply sought to follow his wife's instructions to the letter, letting hilarity ensue when he failed to measure up. (The underlying theme, and another of my pet peeves, is the idea that running a household is mind-blowingly complex. That's a myth I can do without. The job isn't always easy, to be sure, but it ain't brain surgery either.)

More subtly, and most disappointingly, the kids hardly appear in the book, except as sources of frustration and errands. He devotes two of the book's 237 pages to detailing the joy that his children bring him. Just two. Hogan Hilling managed to write a whole book about that joy. So did Marc Parent (and a number of other dads whose names -- and books -- escape me right now). The omission taints "How Tough."

At the end of the day, I don't judge myself primarily by the cleanliness of the house or the professionalism of the dinner I serve. I judge myself first on whether my kid is happier, more fulfilled, more curious, more educated than the day before. I judge myself on whether I was able to share in any of the wonder that comes spilling out of children. The other stuff (which I am admittedly lousy at) is important -- crucial, really, to a functioning household -- but it shouldn't be the focal point of being an at-home dad. Being a dad should be the focus. And that was often a point Murphy seemed to miss.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

An at-home dad trend in the works. At least four blogging at-home dads have had their wives leave town/leave the house for a few days this month, underscoring the importance of co-parenting on overall household sanity. As much as I argue the idea of men-as-primary-caregivers, it's worth noting that at-home dads aren't usually flying solo. Mother's Day may have been more than a week ago, but it's still worth reflecting on their stabilizing influence. A snapshot:

Ben over at the Trixie Update reported that with his wife at a two-day conference "Trixie is going apeshit bonkers. ... Trixie has been tramping around the apartment in a weepy mess, there are Cheerios everywhere and I'm still discovering the sticky range of this afternoon's applesauce bomb."

Ditto Daddy Zine: "B. gets home sometime tonight. Which will cheer me up considerably."

Laid-Off Dad was also longing for his wife while she was on jury duty, noting that while she was gone: " ... the wheels came off. ... After we got home, there would be no nap. Instead, there would be four hours of ridiculous, sleep-deprived demands while thunderstorms raged outside.

Russ of the Daily Yak, on the other hand, is just at the beginning of a five-day single-parent drill. He reports "All's well on the home front." I'll have to check back in with him in a couple of days and see if he's kept his sunny demeanor.

As for Rebel Mom, she's off to travel on business next week. And Rebel Kid and I plan to tag along, carrying extra cash in case applesauce bombs require leaving hotel housekeeping with extra large tips.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Snippets from around the horn today that I really need to get off my plate. Warning: some of them are a bit stale.

For starters, I wanted to flag this piece from the UK's Observer on balancing family and work. It's notable for integrating gender into the equation.

On this side of the pond, the Wall Street Journal let loose earlier this month with this article about mothers struggling to re-enter the workforce. This brought a few different reactions. The first: what a pity. The Journal did a a similar story on at-home dads last year, and in both cases it seemed a shame that these capable workers are left out in the cold. Fortunately, there's a new book by Ann Crittenden coming out this summer that should poke some holes in the idea that at-home parents who re-enter the workforce are a step behind.

I had another reaction, too, which is that these mothers must be feeling lied to. It seem to be very hip to talk about "sequencing" -- the idea that a parent (usually mom) can slip out the workforce, raise the kids and then re-join the work world with no ill effects. But as the story points out, there is a cost to that decision that seems to be minimized ahead of time. Of course, that career cost reflects a certain hostility toward parents and would be greatly reduced if we could get the business world to adopt better family-friendly policies (and get men and women like to use those policies).

Finally, let me direct your attention to this TV station bit on Boise at-home dads. Not only is it remarkably sensitive for a brief piece, but it ends with this kick=ass kicker:
Just don't call those guys "Mr. Mom", they are dads making a choice to have a closer role in raising their precious children. A role you might consider for yourself.
Couldn't have said it better m'self.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Fair warning: this could be a light week for posts, even though there are a number of things building up in my to-post pile. I'll leave you with one today: Despite my earlier cynicism about Roger Clemens and his decision to unretire, it looks like he's honestly making an impressive go of it as a dad. At-Home Dad has the scoop. I'll go back to disliking Roger for baseball-related reasons.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

I want you to love me for my mind: the nice folks at Parents magazine have released their apparently annual feature on involved fathers ("These men are helpful, hardworking — oh, and did we mention incredibly hot? Their wives tell us what makes them first-rate guys."). There's a spread in the magazine, including on at-homer, and there's an online gallery of Great Dads. It makes me all fuzzy inside. (Thanks to Hogan for flagging this.)

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Michael over at Daddy Designs is quickly becoming one of my best sources. He e-mailed me this staggering piece from the St. Pete's Times about a journalist dad's first day home with his infant. In summary, he notes -- minute by minute -- that day and its attendant horrors.

Like Michael, I found it tough to make it through the blow-by-blow account of the whole day, so mundane is it for those of us who have lived through hundreds (if not thousands) of similar days. And it's made harder to read by the fact that the writer, Scott Barancik, is acting as if spending 11 hours alone with his own child is akin to scaling Everest or winning a mountain stage in the Tour de France.

The undercurrent -- and it runs through Austin Murphy's How Tough Could It Be (I'm halfway through), too -- is that taking care of kids is a tough, tough job that requires a special kind of person (mom) and specialized training (motherhood). This is, as almost every other at-home dad will attest, bunk. It's the single punch line behind Mr. Mom. In some ways, I'm softening to the stereotypes of Mr. Mom, which came out before a lot of painstaking research showing that dads are perfectly capable of raising children. We've come a long way, baby.

I keep harping on this same point, but articles like this one are the reason that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations I wrote about last week are so important. Guys like Barancik and Murphy shouldn't be clueless about parenting when they finally do pick up the childrearing slack. Just because they aren't the primary caretaker is no excuse. I have yet to read a single word by the wife of an at-home dad suggesting that she felt clueless or incapable. The reason: I've yet to meet the spouse of an at-home dad who wasn't totally involved in parenting whenever she had the chance. I'd love to see more dads take the same initiative.

Update: Daddy Types takes on this subject, too. Well worth the read.

Monday, May 10, 2004

An interesting dispatch from the annals of sociology: dual-earner, one-child couples in which the husband does at least half the housework are significantly more likely to have kid number two than families in which tasks are split less evenly (though the number rise again when mom does nearly all of the housework), according to some researchers at Brown.

The release makes an interesting point: simply having an egalitarian outlook doesn't effect the chance of having a second ... only when the duties are split in fact does the effect kick in.

There's a downside to all this -- if we assume that having a second kid is a measure of satisfaction with parenthood, then it's not the helpful husbands or the completely do-nothing husbands who seem to be the least satisfied. It's the husbands that are testing the domestic waters, doing just some of the housework, that are the least likely to opt for child number 2. It suggests that involved husbands need to jump in all the way -- if you want family harmony, you gotta commit.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Happy Mother's Day to Rebel Mom, the best mom in the whole world, and to all the other mothers out there.

Some in the media celebrated by writing about moms -- and dads -- and that collection of stories deserves a couple of links. It's worth noting this Seattle Times piece on how to better split household responsibilities. This is an impressive story in the number of different threads it manages to acknowledge -- the relative performance of moms and dads compared to their mothers and fathers, the martial benefits of balance with the kids, the dismissal of the myth of the incapable father. And it throws a neat new stat into the mix: "Seven out of 10 married parents believe child care should be shared equally, but two-thirds of the moms said they mainly cared for children, according to a study published in Sex Roles: A Journal of Research in 2002."

Still, men get taken to task, too. Here's a line from a brief NY Times piece: "Still, it seems unfair that mothers should bear so much of the burden of busy family lives. Husbands of employed women do somewhat more housework and child care, but they still leave much of the work and most of the responsibility to their wives. Mothers could use more help from their husbands and partners to reduce the leisure gap — and not just on Mother's Day."

And then there's this column from the Binghamton, NY paper that questions a survey that shows that 9 of 10 wives believe that their husband appreciates the job they do. What follows is an indictment of fathers, who, the column says, don't plan birthday parties or know the names of their child's teacher. (The columnist notes she has an at-home husband, though it's not clear if the piece is meant as an indictment of him, too.)

Let me be on record as saying that men, on balance, should play a much larger role in the household doings of most households. But what bothered me a bit was the attitude, offering sympathies to "To all of you with calloused hands and husbands who 'try' ..." The fact that husbands are trying at all is a sea change from a generation ago. We're making progress. I hope that a generation hence, it will be considered quaint to suggest that dads don't make it to doctor's appointments (and the Binghamton column does). All over, we're seeing these trends move in the right direction. The American Academy of Pediatrics is pushing for more men to "try." And in one of the classes at the local preschool, dad have co-oped for four of the last five class days. To be sure, there's a lot of ground for us to make up. But we're moving in the right direction. And that, hopefully, will mean that Mother's Day, Father's Day and those other 363 days will be happier for everyone involved.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Updating the at-home blogger list. I didn't realize when I posted about it last month that the gentleman behind Trixie Update was an at-home dad. So I've added Trixie to the left. (Read this story, written by an erstwhile colleague of Rebel Dad, for more Trixie info.)

And I stumbled onto CityPop yesterday, which bills the site as "minutiae from an at-home dad in manhattan."

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Rather than complaining about getting fathers involved, pediatricians are now pushing for constructive ways to get dads involved in the health and welfare of their children, according to this piece in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The story is hung on a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics that is well worth reading.

Here's the crux: pediatricians should make it as easy as possible to get fathers into the office, and, once there, the pediatricians should do their best to make sure a father is willing and able to play a key role in his child's life. And it notes the good news that there are more and more dads already involved.

Here are some of the suggestions offered in the report:
1. Remind the family that fathers are not only workers or breadwinners and mothers or partners are not only nurturers or primary providers of child care. They share these roles, complementing one another, often to the benefit of the child.
2. As early as in the delivery room or nursery and if culturally appropriate, fathers can be given responsibilities for caring for and making decisions regarding the child.
3. Encourage fathers to assume some roles in the care of the child, and encourage the mother to let the father be involved and learn from his own mistakes. Early time alone with the child helps a father gain confidence and develop his own style of interaction and provides a mother or other parent with much-needed time alone.
4. Determine how comfortable the father is with his parenting skills and whether he has concerns.
5. Explore with the father ways to decrease maternal stress. This might include his helping with meals or household chores, the involvement of other family members with household tasks, or the hiring of household help.
6. Identify institutions and policies that facilitate fathers’ involvement and work-family balance. Encourage child care centers, support groups, and schools to involve and include fathers. Promote the use of policies such as the Family Medical Leave Act (codified at 29 CFR 825 [1993]) and flexible work schedules as ways to balance employment and family responsibilities.
For what it's worth, I'd like to throw the full support of Rebel Dad behind these steps. I can't think of a better agenda. We need every ally we can get in the battle to make fathercare as natural and accepted as mothercare, and the AAP is one heck of an ally.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

It's Book Review Week! As I mentioned this weekend, I now have a copy of The Bastard on the Couch, which bills itself as "27 Men Try Really Hard to Explain Their Feelings About Love, Loss, Fatherhood and Freedom." I suppose the topic would be interesting on its own account, but given that is a more-or-less direct response to The Bitch in the House ("Bitch" editor Cathi Hanauer's husband edits "Bastard"), it's getting even more attention.

Before I get to the essay by the at-home dad, I should lay out my conflicts of interest here. ONE As Amy, writing in the "Comments" section to my last post, feared, the vast majority of the writers are professional writers. While this makes the group representative of Rebel Dad (and, probably, many readers here), it ain't a real diverse group from which to draw broad conclusions. Writers tend to have flexible schedules, healthy egos and understanding spouses. TWO I went to high school with one of the essayists. I didn't realize that he had gone on to become a writer and live a life that sounds a good deal more interesting than mine. THREE Another essayist now lives in the teeny, tiny town that I grew up in. It's small enough that knowing someone lives there creates a very specific bond.

So ... there is one essay by an at-home dad, a gentleman named Rob Jackson. Rob's story is interesting for a number of reasons (not only because he is not a professional writer). Demographically, he's unique in that he's been an at-home dad pretty much his entire life, marrying into a family of four. And he's been doing the job for going on two decades now, which means he was doing the job long before the recent trend of society warming to at-home dads had emerged.

But his essay deals very little with how society viewed him, instead focusing on how the household roles were allocated within his home. It's perhaps the best snapshot I've seen of how an at-home dad marriage operates -- the ongoing tug between a working woman looking to come home to a house cleansed of chaos and a man whose best efforts can't always keep chaos at bay. Jackson comes off as honest and refreshing defensive at times, especially when he talks keeping "the entire house" -- not just the kitchen counter, but the sewage lines and the frozen pipes in the basement and the shingles on the roof.

The other couple pieces I've read from the book are interesting but not entirely on-target with at-home dad issues. Still, I can only hope that the book becomes ammunition for the very attractive idea that there is no stock father-role worth stereotyping men into.

The Race Is On. Peter Baylies and I both received our review copies of How Tough Could It Be ("The Trials and Errors of a Sportswriter Turned Stay-at-Home Dad") yesterday. Given the backlog in my life, I think you might be better off visiting than waiting around for me to review it. It'll happen. Eventually.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

It's time to clean out the closet and get linking to the at-home dad stories I've been ignoring for the last week or so. There has been a small resurgence in the newspaper slice-of-life pieces on at-home dads which is especially welcome, given that we should be in a pre-Father's Day lull. Michael over at Daddy Designs pointed out this piece from the Tampa Tribune on the lives of the local at-home dad group. Michael liked the piece's focus on the dads involved, without trying to link the fathers to any larger dad stereotypes. And I have to say I agree.

There's a similar story in the Charlotte Observer (reg. required) that takes notice of the way that men in these roles destroy stereotypes. All in all, it's one of the best of these kinds of pieces I've seen in a while. We should be so lucky as to get a barrage of these in a month, as Dad's Day approaches.

And there are the goofy stories: an-home dad and his wife won a house in an Australian reality TV show. And in the US market, Showtime's presidential election reality show, American Candidate, features an at-home dad as one of the would-be commanders-in-chief.

(As an aside, I have now purchased The Bastard on the Couch. I'll be reviewing it here, piecemeal. If you'd like to read a professional review, check out Slate's take on the book, which is far more interesting than the headline makes it out to be.)