Wednesday, June 30, 2004

This is a bit painful, but if Caitlin Flanagan can change tunes (somewhat) on her view of parenting, then I can change my tune (a bit) on Flanagan.

I read her first New Yorker story, in this week's issue, and failed to come away angry. Charting Flanagan's works at the Atlantic wouldn't have predicted this; she appeared to get more and more traditionalist with each passing article, her last one, on the Nanny Wars, ticked me off royally. And she just dug her hole deeper in her replies to the letters that article generated.

The New Yorker story, "To Hell With All That: One woman's decision to go back to work," tells the tale of Flanagan's mother's decision to return to the professional world when Flanagan was 12. In short, the move made mom happy and daughter despondent and apparently began Flanagan's longtime obsession with the subject of staying home with the kids. But now that she's done the job herself for six years, she seems to have a harder time embracing the kind of all-consuming motherhood that she has sung the praises of in the Atlantic. She found the job isolating, the lack of stimulation stifling. And her transition from at-home mom to magazine superstar has softened her view of working parents, even as she retains fondness for traditional mothers. Her conclusion is there are no easy answers:
For many women, the choice amounts to the terrible prospect of either relinquishing a measure of influence over their children or abandoning—to some extent—the work they love. For them, this will always be the stuff of grinding anxiety and regret.
Coming from anyone else, this wouldn't be shocking. But Flanagan has made a career of denying that such anxiety should exist -- that there is a correct answer when it comes to parenthood, and that answer is at-home motherhood. Now that she's a working mom (with, presumably, a very flexible schedule), she seems to be seeing it both ways.

I'm not set to judge the new Flanagan just yet. Perhaps she hasn't changed. Perhaps the nice Mr. Remnick has toned down her parenting ideology. Perhaps she has changed her tone for a new audience. She lets past targets of her ire off with no real barbs (Betty Friedan and work-life balance for men get brief mentions without the usual full-on Flanagan assault). And to give credit where it's due, unlike her Atlantic stories, she doesn't sing an ode to housework (which sound strange coming from a woman who has proudly claimed that her nanny does many of the unpleasant household tasks).

Monday, June 28, 2004

I don't want to panic you, but Caitlin Flanagan's first New Yorker article is on newsstands. Mail forwarding issues pretty much mean that I won't read it until later this week, unless I decide to make the trek to Barnes & Noble. I thought you should all be forewarned so you can get good and liquored up before you crack the cover.

(The title: "To Hell with All That: A mother decides to go to work." Do you suppose that means she's figured out the washing machine?)

UPDATE: The New Yorker has digested the story as part of its weekly press release. Looks to be a full-on assault upon working mothers ...
Every once in a while, an article will begin with a premise so silly and fundamentally flawed that I am left speechless. The latest version of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's "woman to woman" is one such piece of work. (Reg. required. Sorry.)

This week, the question was "How has the women's movement hurt men?" Not "Has the women's movement hurt men?" not "What has the effect of the women's movement been on men?" Nope, the AJC screwed up the column from the outset. The question was "debated" by two women from either side of the ideological spectrum. I put "debated" in quotes because, really, once you load the question, what's left to debate?

The "left-leaning" columnist basically laments that men have been hurt because, although lip service has been paid to equality, men are still kept out of a key role in the family by society. At least, I think that's what she's saying. The entire argument is based on the (flawed) idea that " ... we don't see a trend in men who are opting for homemaker." That is, of course, untrue on its face. Men are doing more of the childrearing than ever before. There are more at-home dads than ever before. And household labor is split more evenly than ever before. Why? Because, in some small ways, the fruits of the women's movement have, in fact, opened that door. Now you can certainly discuss whether getting men taking on new family roles should have been a more important goal of the women's movement, but don't imply that fatherhood today is as it was 20 or 30 years ago. It's not (and we can thank the women's movement for a big part of that).

The "right-leaning" columnist (Shaunti Feldhahn, who seems to have gained her measure of fame from writing a book about "A Balanced Christian Approach" to Y2K) gets right to the old-school stereotypes about men: "They need to provide. It is at the core of most men's identity in a way that it simply isn't for most women." To back that up, she lets loose with results from a survey she commissioned: 78 percent of men want to be providers even in the absence of financial need.

This, of course, bucks a good deal of other research and left me wondering about the study. I mean, I want to provide for my family, too, but my desire to raise the kids is stronger. Am I a part of that 78 percent? I know I'm part of the 40 percent of fathers who would stay home if they could afford to.

But the offensive element of her argument, to my ears, is that her traditionalism is disguised as biology, the idea that men are the hunters and women are the caregivers. Period. End of story. This, of course, contrasts with family life as it exists today in the U.S., where we've show that men are perfectly good at raising children (and women are perfectly suited for bringing home the bacon). More women, perhaps, feel the tug to stay home, but raising children isn't -- and shouldn't -- be institutionalized (again) as women's work. And that's just what Feldhahn does.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

While I was obsessed with stories about at-home dads, a couple of other bits worthy of analysis flew by me, and I wanted to address them now, before my mind goes.

For starters, I mentioned an Alijon Finance survey last week on how tough it is for at-home dads to re-enter the workforce. It was, in a great many ways, a weak study in that it asked a random sampling of people how hard they thought it would be for men to go from home to work (as opposed to business execs or HR officials or someone who might actually have some perspective on the issue). So the survey is probably better to considering what stereotypes are entrenched, rather than an actual job-market snapshot.

But one of the interesting items in the survey that didn't make the press release was this question about at-home dads: "In general, which of the following statements BEST describes your opinion of men who take time off from work to raise children?" Here's the good news: 42 percent said they don't think of them any differently than women who stay home. Another 42 percent said either that those men are strong enough not to worry about manly men stereotypes or that they have strong family values that trump career. That's 84 percent with awfully positive impressions. (Four percent admitted to thinking we're submission to our successful wives, and another 4 percent said we're staying home because it's easier. Seriously.)

In my mind, those are great numbers, and I only wish I had historical data to compare. It suggests that, one way or another, much of the country has come to see this choice as no big deal. Which is exactly as it should be.

It's also worth pointing out the Dads and Daughters poll that was just released. I can't say there's much there that was all that interesting (the men surveyed seem to have had rather tepid responses: most said they had a good relationship with their daughter, but only 33 percent said they're involvement was vital to their daughter's health and well-being), but a one stats does bear mention: only 18 percent said mothers are naturally better at raising daughters. My bet is that's a number that's been falling, and it's small enough to give me reason to smile. (See the poll results here.)

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

The final Father's Day wrapup follows, but let me make a quick, self-important note about at-home bloggers. This year, for the first time, at-home dads with blogs have become spokespeople of sort for the dad-at-home setup. Russ Louch of the Daily Yak has received some nice attention, as has Mike from Full Time Father (see below). Greg at Daddy Types has become something of a media star, too. It's not a bad changing of the guard: a lot of the usual suspects in the at-home dad game -- Jay Massey, Hogan Hilling, Bob Frank -- are busy raising teens and thinking about their next move. The folks who are filling their shoes -- the Yakkers and the Full Time Fathers -- are still in their preschool years and bring back that perspective. I'm not saying that raising a 3-year-old is easier or more newsworthy than raising a 13-year-old, just that the range of voices has expanded, thanks in no small part to blogs.

Washington Post: Russ and Mike get mentioned in this business section commentary about dads who are "Trading Business Suits for Brownies," which gets bonus points for referring to the American University study on union treatment of family matters.

Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle: Good Page One play for this detailed story on modern at-home fatherhood. Major bonus points to reporter Chris Swingle for this sidebar noting that "Parents are made, not born." The upshot: dads can do this job just as well as anyone.

Baltimore Sun: The Sun goes with a column, rather than a straight news story, that takes an interesting perspective: where in all the "mommy mania" currently gripping the media, is the discussion of the dads? Well worth the read.

Brainerd Dispatch (MN): Leave aside the "Mr. Mom" in the headline, and what you see is a nice profile of a rural at-home father, with good details on how the household operates.

The Jackson (MS) Clarion-Ledger: Profile of Mississippi dads serves as a reminder that this isn't a local phenomenon -- this is happening everywhere.

Rocky Mountain News (CO): Great bit here, which I can second: "She's also sick of reading stay-at-home dad stories that go like this: Man has job. Man loses job. Wife must find work or work more. Dad stays home with kids. Dad suffers identity crisis. Dad wakes up one morning and realizes how precious the time with his children has been.

'Why does this situation always have to be bad first?' Sara asks.

Hampton (VA) Daily Press: Extra credit for the author's effort to explain why our numbers are swelling. Her best bet? The increasing acceptance of women in the workforce.

Fond du Lac (WI) Reporter: Another great set of anecdotes, especially the red-winged blackbird one. And if you don't believe at-home dads are poised to overrun Wisconsin, check out the Green Bay Press Gazette's take.

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: The standard fare, but extra credit for exerpting Buzz McClain's masterwork.

Stamford (CT) Advocate: Dorothy, I don't think we're in Stepford anymore.

Monday, June 21, 2004

The hip thing to do last weekend, if you were a newspaper editor, was to run a story about at-home dads. I have a sky-high stack of such stories that I'll run through as soon as I get the chance (probably tomorrow). Instead, today, I'd like to take a look at how the nation's paper of record dealt with Father's Day. (Thanks to Amy and Greg for the links.)

The Times ran two different stories, each lamenting the present situation of the modern husband. Let me take 'em one at a time.

The this Week in Review piece by Judith Warner, titled "Guess Who's Left Holding the Briefcase? (It's Not Mom.)," is the latest in a tired genre of Mommy Wars stories that pits working women against at-home moms. But give Warner credit: unlike past efforts (see Flanagan, Caitlin, Belkin, Lisa or Garnder, Ralph), she comes up with a new twist, drawing men into the battle (on the side of the working women). Her point? That women should work because at-home motherhood financially shackles men into working too hard. An added drawback: being an involved mother all day long leaves women drained and forces working men to -- horror of horrors -- play a role in the household management and upkeep.

I don't want to say that the modern gender roles are straightforward or easy. They're not. And there is no magical family setup that maximizes family time and income while minimizing family stress. Warner never spells out exactly what she thinks the ideal family should look like, but it's pretty clear it's one where men work less, and where less is expected of them around the home. She writes longingly of a time when men came home from work and were "appreciated" -- a code word, I suppose, meaning "not asked to do anything else." Warner may choose to pine for a Nick-at-Nite world, but modern life -- with all its complexity -- suits me just fine.

The second piece, which may be even more bizarre, is by Rick Marin and titled Count Me Out of Hard Labor (and runs under the heading "Beta Male"). It is a straightforward piece of advocacy suggesting that fathers not join their wives in the delivery room if they'd prefer not to. Now I can understand that the "joy" of childbirth is an event that many men (and women) would just as surely do without, but even this is a bit extreme, for a couple of reasons. 1) Seeing your child born is a life-changing experience. It's neither pretty nor particularly fun. But it is important. 2) If I may speak for women here, the more support they have, the better. Marin says up front that he had his wife's blessing to skip the whole delivery room thing, but I'm guessing couples like that are in the vast, vast minority.

Now even the Lamaze folks have acknowledged that ever dad need not play the role of the super-involved "coach," and that there are other ways for a husband to help his wife through labor. But it's hard to take seriously the option of sitting it out altogether. Though Marin says he was forced into it by the OB (here invoking the phrase "Stepford Husband), he's the exception. Dads are not holding their wives hands through labor because of some sort of maternal mandate. They do it because this is important.

Of course, all this suggests that Marin won't be super involved after the baby, either. He mocks celeb dads who dare to be fathers: "But Chris Robinson, Ms. Hudson's husband, and Chris Martin, married to another new mother, Gwyneth Paltrow, seem to have had their rock-star mojo sapped by pram-pushing duty for ever yummier mummies. Guy Ritchie, one of the mas macho directors around, strollers Madonna's little ones to play dates with a cabala bracelet on his wrist."

Apparently, Rick Marin won't be caught dead strollering his kids to play dates. I wouldn't want him to lose his mojo. Of course, he's setting himself up to lose a good chunk of his kid's childhood. Rick: it's your loss.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Quick note on paternity leave: I cast some doubt on Bonnie Erbe's statement on NPR this morning (see her column on the subject here -- thanks Daddy Types!) that 42 percent of Family and Medical Leave Act takers were men (she used a slightly different figure on the radio, but this is clearly what she's talking about). As it turns out, I'm (mostly) wrong. The government said in 2000 that 42.3 percent of leave-takers were men.

*But* ... I had assumed that when we were talking about FMLA, we were talking about parental leave (and Erbe's column seem to make a similar assuption). But as it turns out, most FMLA leave (52.4 percent) is to attend to one's one health. Caring for a newborn clocks in at 18.5 percent. Give that, the 42 percent statistic is not a terribly useful measure of men taking paternity leave. Still, I'd love to see the day where 42 percent of parental leaves are taken by fathers ...
I'm unlikely to post again until the weekend is over, so Happy Father's Day to all. I'll try to wrap up as many of the newspaper stories as I can here, and I'm sure I'll have another stack of 'em pile up on Sunday.

Chicago Sun-Times: A neat first-person take on a dad's year at home. Like Austin Murphy, only without feeling like a stunt. His kicker: "I once heard a ballplayer say every major leaguer should get to spend a year playing in Wrigley to appreciate the ultimate venue. The same can be said for full-time parenting."

Christian Science Monitor: A nice summation of the current state of at-home fatherhood -- and the forces make it a more popular choice. But the headline writers lose points for making at-home fatherhood seem like leaping tall building in a single bound. ("Superdad becomes the new standard for men," blares the headline, hyperbolically. "Today, 'good fathers' must do more than earn a paycheck. They're expected to nurture the kids and do housework, too.")

Washington DC's WUSA: Fellow blogger Russ Louch gets the spotlight in this nice piece on DC area dads. And Russ is a damn good spokesperson.

The Westchester Journal News: Brief mention of an at-home dad in a larger Father's Day story. But it gets to why at-home fatherhood can be so powerful for a child.

Jackson (MI) Citizen Patriot: Nice profile of a family that made the at-home dad move after some discussion and are pleased as punch with the decision. The negative spin in the headline: "Stay-at-home dad has no regrets." That's the news, according to the editor. That the guy has no regrets.

The Princeton Packet: A catalog of the slings and arrows at-home fathers must still face (mostly the assumption of our incompetence and isolation). Of course, I think those problems are lessening significantly -- and quickly, but it's good to have the dose of reality. Mike of Full Time Father gets a plug.

Tampa's WTSP: Brief, but "really fun."

I'll get to the newspaper stories that are swarming in soon enough, but I wanted to flag today's Morning Edition on NPR, which ran this segment on at-home dads. (Disclosure: they mention this site, which predisposes me to think it was a genius bit of broadcasting.)

The slant of the conversation was that dads at home are becoming more and more common, and that we're not the Y-chromosomed freaks we once were. Bonus points: reporter Bonnie Erbe notes that we're not big fans of the phrase "Mr. Mom." Extra bonus points: she mentions the case of Kevin Knussman, the poster child for discrimination against fathers who wish to take paternity leave.

But Erbe also lets loose with an interesting factoid: that 45 percent of eligible men take their Family and Medical Leave Act. I think that's almost certainly wrong. (I seem to remember seeing a big consulting firm bragging that its male employees had a rate up around 45 percent, but I don't think that's true for eligible employees as a whole. James Levine of the Fatherhood Project has estimated that the rate is closer to 15 percent, with many men -- as Erbe notes -- taking "underground" leave.)

Still, good press is good press ...

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Quick thoughts on Kerry's child care proposal: if you put aside the reliance on the phrase "at-home mom" in his press release, it sounds like a great idea. (His campaign never got back to me on whether at-home dads would be shut out. I'm operating on the optimistic assumption that the staffer who wrote the release was too narrow-minded to consider dads might possibility be at-home parents, not that dads would actually be barred from getting the benefit).

In some ways, Kerry's proposal is slick: he bumps up the tax credit available for childcare, throws a bone to at-home parents and sticks in an everyone's-gotta-love-it plank on afterschool programs. What's not to like? Even the Bush folks have chosen to attack the proposal on economic grounds (where will the money come from, they ask), rather than suggesting more money for child care is a bad idea on its face.

This is campaign season, and nothing anyone says can be taken seriously, but if child care does becomes a front -- even a small one -- in this election, kids will probably benefit ...
Blogs are media, too, so let me take a moment to flag some noteworthy postings:

For starters, Peter Baylies has the scoop on what ABC is looking for in its new series Wife Swap. I've been planning a cynical, negative post on the show and its reinforcement of gender stereotypes, but Peter -- who actually appear to do real reporting and speak to actual human beings on the telephone before posting -- reports that the show is looking for some at-home dads, too. So let Peter know if you're interested in subjecting yourself to reality TV from the inside. I find it encouraging that ABC is looking at at least some men, but my hunch is that I'll still end up throwing up a negative post on the show. But I'll reserve judgment until I see the show ...

And Cathy Seipp, who got me all worked up yesterday, has posted her asinine column to her blog, where she is subject to the whims of her comment system. Check out the comments on her blog for a nice treat. (Also, thanks to Greg of Daddy Types for his Catherine Seipp timeline.)

In other blog news, Mike at Full Time Father says he liked Austin Murphy's "How Tough Could It Be, though he has his own cynical viewpoints on a couple of items, too.
I'll get into the details later, but let me point out John Kerry's ambitious child care plan, which includes tax credits for at-home parents in addition to larger subsidies for commercial day care.

The big problem? "And Kerry will allow stay-at-home moms of infants receive support from the tax credit," says the release. I'm assuming that the choice of the gender-exclusive "stay-at-home moms" was an error, and that all at-home parents will be eligible. But it suggests a certain tin ear on the subject ...

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

OK, as long as the nap is holding ... let me get to this comically bizarre piece titled "Meet Today’s Dad: A model to avoid," by Catherine Seipp in the National Review. (It makes Caitlin Flanagan sound like Plato.) Let's start by going over some of her thoughts on involved fathers, shall we?
Often this is a guy whose wife slaves away at an office job so dreamy artistic dad can pursue his dreamy artistic dreams ...
... On Halloween, he ... trails along with a cooler of gin-and-tonics while bossy mom plans the trick-or-treating route ...
... his childcare skills aren't always quite as honed as he imagines ...
... with that serenely self-satisfied expression I notice these guys often assume ...
... like many guys he found it difficult to do things at once — like watch a child while chatting with another adult. ...
... men in charge of small children are like women and parallel parking: Attention must be paid or something's going to get dented ...
...sensitive Today's Dad types are quick to dismiss women like me as Mean Ladies ...
... he can't be bothered to enforce proper behavior ...
... Today's Dad is ... screaming at third graders on the soccer field ...
... as we all know, in real life the day-in, day-out toting and chauffeuring generally falls to Mom.
Now Seipp hints that she has her own wound on the topic (a husband who walked out on his 10-month-old infant), but I can't imagine that's a very good excuse for ignoring reality. I don't much care when writers celebrate old-school, tough-love parenting over more touchy-feely fathering (at-home dads, like at-home moms, are all over that spectrum), but to boldly assert that we are incapable of caring for children at a basic level just doesn't mesh with the evidence.

I feel bad that Seipp carries such bitterness toward men -- especially men who are working to equalize the gender imbalance in the home. The current generation of men have a more open view of childcare and household responsibilities than any in more than 100 years. I understand perfectly well the argument that those men shouldn't be celebrated for doing exactly what millions of women do, but they shouldn't be excoriated for it, either.
Apparently, June 20 is a good excuse to bash involved dads, too. I'll comment on this unhinged Catherine Seipp rant in the National Review as soon as I get the chance. (A sampling: "To borrow Samuel Johnson's observation about women preachers, seeing a man take care of children is sometimes like seeing a dog walk on its hind legs: It is not done well, but you are surprised to see it done at all.")
Still trying to keep up with the sudden and temporary interest in fathers stimulated by this Sunday's holiday. We'll hit the heavy stuff today ...

The report from American University's Work-Life Law center that I wrote about on Friday came out this week. It's an novel look at the link between union contracts and work-family balance, which is generally a place where academics have spent little time. One upshot is that balance issues are generally not spelled out in union contracts, leaving a huge area of potential conflict up in the air, often to be settled by arbitration. The report recommends that unions fight for family-centric policies and work with management to promote better communication and understanding. The bad news: a Nexis search turned up zero references to the report -- titled "Work/Family Conflict: Union Style," and overseen by American Law Prof. Joan Williams.

The other deep piece relates to a new Canadian proposal for universal daycare. This came to my attention when a reader e-mailed me urging me to sign a petition opposing the move. The reasoning was simple, and I've heard it before: why should at-home parents, who have made financial sacrifices to stay home, help subsidize their rich next-door neighbor's childcare? I can't say that argument gets me much worked up.

Here's my thinking: There is a shortage of quality daycare in the U.S. (and, I presume, Canada), and by no means is at-home parenthood an economically viable choice for many, many families. Economists, social scientists and demographers all seem to agree that the middle-class lifestyle all but demands two wage earners. So for a great many families, daycare is a necessity, and I believe that society ought to make sure that necessity is of high quality and affordable price. This means, to be sure, that some parents who don't need the subsidy will benefit, but the vast majority of the benefit will be on families just barely making it financially. Universal daycare helps alleviate an impossible choice: economic danger or low-cost, unregulated, poor-quality care.

This is a topic that tends to get readers worked up, and you're welcome to have a go at it in the comments section ... I've got to keep moving on -- the Dad's Day articles continue to flow in ...

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

First of all, I have to point to the good press that Daddy Types received yesterday in an article in the Deseret News. With attention like that, Greg may single-handedly stimulate a design revolution in kids toys/furniture/transportation.

The Charlotte Oberserver (Reg. required) yesterday ran this piece on at-home dads re-entering the workforce. I can't say it goes much beyond this Wall Street Journal story of a year ago, but it does cite some facts from a new study from Ajilon Finance. The staffing firm confirmed that it is indeed tough for men to transition back into the workplace. (Or, at least, that it is perceived to be tough. The poll got Americans at random, rather than, say, HR executives. On the other hand, that may be a good thing.)

But there was encouraging news, too. Being a father, 77 percent of respondents said, makes for a better employee. (There were also some bizarre stats that didn't seem to have much grounding in my understanding of demographics: that there are a million at-home dads and 7 million at-home moms and that at-home dad rates have jump 70 percent since 1990, compared to 8 percent for at-home moms. I'll have to follow those numbers up; they don't seem to be related to the usual Census stats.)

Monday, June 14, 2004

Welcome to Dad Week: with Father's Day coming up on Sunday, the media will explode with stories about dads in an effort to touch every conceivable angle. A great many of these stories will focus on at-home dads, and a great many will focus on other dad topics that I find interesting. I plan on trying my best to keep up, but I'll ask your patience in advance -- I'm going to get swamped. Still, if you see anything good, drop me a line at and I'll be sure to take a look.

In some ways, the deluge has begun (plus, I've yet to catch up with older news). Magazines have already come out with their June issues, many with dad-centric bits. Men's Health had an interesting bit where readers shared stories about what they learned -- emotionally -- from their fathers, and the magazine's Best Life spinoff ran this dad piece on 10 things he'd do differently. Both pieces show a side of fatherhood that I ignore here an awful lot. I focus on really, really involved fatherhood -- at-home dads and such. But it's worth noting -- and these stories demonstrate -- that dads can be effective in thousands of other ways. That doesn't mean that anyone should aspire to be a distant dad who offers his son one or two poignant moments in life, but it does reflects the variety of ways we can touch our children.

One other story that's been sitting on my to-do list is this column by the Wall Street Journal's work-life columnist Sue Shellenbarger. It's an interesting look back at five dual-earner couples she'd profiled previously, and she comes to an interesting, but not shocking, conclusions: it's damn hard to have a family and run two careers at 100 percent. These five families show that there has to be some give in work to make room for family. And the optimistic note: many of the dads in Shellenbarger's stories seem as willing to bend as the moms.

That gets me almost caught up, but there's a whole new crop of stories that hit the newsstands today that may have to wait until tomorrow ...

Friday, June 11, 2004

One additional comment on corporate America was forwarded to me (thanks David!) from Fast Company. The column is a thoughtful take on how to make sure a workplace is right for you. And it contains this troubling gem:
Find out the take up rate of family policies. In many companies, it never gets above 5%. Why? When everyone believes that there's a price to taking family leave, they don't take it. As one HR director confessed, "They're really just designed to weed out the losers." You may not have children now -- but what happens when you do? Of when elderly parents need you?
More frightening HR honestly. May such companies perish, starved of the brilliance and hard work of those who want the modest goal of balance in their lives.
I have just received a most amazing link (thanks Amy!) of a conversation taking place on a human resources board. This is well worth examining. Here's the question that kicks it off:
We have a male employee that we hired a few months ago to head a department in our company. We have sent him to extensive training and he will be taking a major certification exam that the company paid for next month.

Apparently, last week, at an out of town seminar, he mentioned in dinner conversation to one of his managers that he and his wife were planning on trying to start a family in a few months. He told the manager that, when the child is born, he would quit his job and stay home.

Our company has spent a significant amount of money to invest him, can we approach him and ask what his plans are since he openly volunteered this information? What liability would we face? We would make it clear that his job is still secure, as his performance is satisfactory at the moment. Help!
The replies that follow show a degree of general ignorance and/or arrogance on the part of corporate officials who ought to know better. I have long relied on a paradoxically optimistic/cynical view of workplace rights for fathers: I assume that men and HR departments (generally) know their rights and policies and just choose not to exercise them (because of social expectations, fear of subtle reprisal, etc.). This conversation suggests that everyone may be a little hazy on those rights and policies themselves.

But the evidence suggests that these HR folks may not be outliers. Here's the lead paragraph from a press release touting a study due to hit next week:
WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 9, 2004) Working class fathers risk pay loss, disciplinary action, and even dismissal when they choose family responsibilities over work, according to a new study on work/life balance in working class families released by the Program on WorkLife Law at American University Washington College of Law.
The sad fact is that men face all sort of societal pressures that drives them from the caregiver role. We sure don't need businesses -- acting illegally or unethically -- to compound the damage.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

I've almost cleared the backlog from my week of non-posting ... here's one more from the pile:

I had completely neglected, in celebrating Parents magazine's celebration of great dads to mention how nice their one-page "Dads" section was in June. It took on the subject of at-home isolation head-on, speaking to Hogan Hilling, and had a great piece on paternity leaves. Well worth digging up and reading -- the segment is only two months old, but it seems like Parents is really making a go of a regular (if brief) section on fathers. (By the way, Hogan's too modest: he flagged the Great Dads bit without mentioning his own bit in the mag.)

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

The at-home dad portion of the blogosphere has spoken,, and we're in agreement that Austin Murphy's How Tough Could It Be is a pretty lousy addition to the at-home dad canon. I checked in with this post last month, and now a couple of other dads have chimed in.

Evan from Dads on the Couch let loose with his take, in which he (correctly) points out that the Murphy marriage and division of labor is absurdly all-or-nothing, an arrangement that is defended to the hilt in the most childish of ways. (Other Rebel Dad letter writers have pointed out the same thing: this is a household arrangement no one should want any part of.)

And Peter from At-Home Dad also checks in, pointing out what I agree is the book's the largest flaw: the near-total absence of the kids. (Peter also notes the bizarre relationship dynamics, too.)

Monday, June 07, 2004

Normally, I would love to laud Working Mother magazine, which usually has a level-headed take on the whole work-family balance thing. But an alert reader (thanks Dayv!) sent me a bit of the June 2004 issue that's fodder for the dartboard. It's not available online, sadly, so you'll have to take my work for it.

The story is on "Trusting Dad." The question the story tries to answer is "can you trust your husband with the kid?" And the answer to that question, apparently, is "no." The story details the lists moms must make for when the child is left in the care of dear old dad, and features some nice horror stories about how we're bumbling morons who generally don't pack enough diapers. If there's optimism expressed, it's that "by the time the second or third child arrives, the instruction lists shrink or disappear altogether." And the story ends on the encouraging news that one of the bumbling fathers now has the kid-care drill down pat.

(Bonus points for dad-bashing: a sidebar quoting kids talking about their dads includes this line from a four-year-old: "Daddy doesn't mind when I eat the dog's food." Funny? Yes. Typical? No. Offensive? You betcha.)

It's broken record time: this is a stereotype that is rapidly becoming out of date. More dads are more involved and more educated about their kids, especially fathers in dual-income families where childcare is shared more equally. Studies bear me out on this. If New York magazine, which sometimes seems to have story angles beamed to them directly from other planets, had run this story, I would have shrugged and ignored it. But this is Working Mother magazine. These are our sisters in arms.

You could certainly run a very useful story about how to get men up to speed on childrearing tasks -- an effort that the American Academy of Pediatrics is now pushing full-force -- without mocking men's efforts. And there were the seeds of that kind of piece within the Working Mother story, which is a good thing. But given that the ain't-men-dumb current dominated, I'm not sure what the brief article accomplished, other than perpetuating an equity-destroying myth that men make lousy caregivers.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

I swear this is my last Caitlin Flanagan post of the week, but I seem to have missed the May letters to the editor in the Atlantic in which Flanagan defends her decision to have the nanny -- and not her husband -- perform the less-than-fun act of changing the sheets. Here's the quote (as is becoming the case with Flanagan, it requires no additional comment):
As for my husband's changing sheets—why in the world would I want him to do that? He is the head of the household, and I treat him as such. But I'm not a feminist, so there's no surprise there.
And here is Flanagan explaining what the hell she means by that (this from the NY Observer piece):
Consider that line about her husband being the "head of the household." What does she mean by that term, exactly? "How old are you?" was Ms. Flanagan’s response. "What do you think I mean?" To the suggestion that the term implies that the man of the house gets a free pass from doing domestic chores, she responds demurely, "I mean by it whatever anyone would think that I meant," adding, "if my husband pops a button, I sew it back on."
And to think: crap like this got her a job at the New Yorker.
Now I'm Baa-aack: in the last 10 days, I have lost my broadband connection and, for four days, all incoming e-mail. Needless to say, blogging dropped off my priority list altogether. But the high-speed juice is flowing again. I'll probably never catch up now, but I'll at least flag a couple of things in the coming days, starting with ...

... the fact that I'm not the only one ticked off at Caitlin Flanagan. A New York Observer piece chronicles the anti-Flanagan backlash, leading with Rebel Dad's favorite work-life guru, Ann Crittenden, who has this to say:
Why the hell did The New Yorker hire this person who’s utterly not serious and turn her loose on a serious social issue? ... It’s a really big issue bothering a lot of people. ... She’s got a shtick: attacking other women. Catfight sells. Nasty, ad hominem, bitchy attacks on other women sell magazines. She’s made her name by this stuff.
Also worth noting: the piece more or less labels Flanagan a fabricator on the subject of what -- if any -- domestic labor she's done as an at-home mom.

(General note: I have a policy of not criticizing anyone's care situation or family arrangement -- everyone is doing the best they can. And in many senses, I don't care that Flanagan has had a longtime nanny and never cleaned a set of sheets. But if you want to sell yourself as an uber-mom who speaks from experience to glorify 50s housewives and Dr. Laura while denigrating working women, you had damn well better have had that experience. And, increasinly, it looks like Flanagan has never played the role of at-home parent the way most of the mothers and fathers I know have played it. That's not a crime on its face. It's the hypocricy that drives me batty.)

(Thanks to the back and better-than-ever Ms. musings for the link.)

(Also, some of the links from last month were found via Daddy Types and Apartment 11D. Apologies for not giving credit more immediately.)

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Apologies: I have been having severe technical difficulties, along with a more mundane set of personal commitments. It's likely there will be no posts this week, but I'll be back with a vengeance next week.
- rD