Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Talk about getting the dad thing completely wrong: a loyal reader e-mailed this blog entry based on this story from a UK paper based on a study that said that kids don't want dad as playmate because he's too competitive. I wish I could find more complete data from the study to help poke holes in it; essentially, it claims that very few kids (1 in 16) would pick dad as their primary playmate, meaning dad lags behind siblings, friends and moms.

Now, this isn't that surprising. In my youth, my brother and my friends would have outranked my dad, who was a super guy noneetheless. No, the surprising part is the explanation: kids don't like to play with dad because he's too competitive. I have seen no evidence to support this, and the guy promoting the study doesn't convince me:
Tim Gill, director of the Children's Play Council, said: "Dads have difficulty not being too competitive. Several fathers said they found it hard to get down to their children's level."
This runs contrary to everything in the academic literature (see Yale's Kyle Pruett for more detail), which suggests dads are most likely to engage in active play with their kids. I'm willing to grant that most kids don't see dad as playmate because dad is the "giver of laws" (to use Pruett's phrase) or because dad is simply not around as much. But to suggest there is something innately bad (overcompetitiveness) about the way fathers play with their kids is doubly bad. It's wrong, and it's damaging to the idea that dads are intrisically good parents.

C'mon. If there's one thing that all the dads I've met are damn good at, it's playing.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Changes! In my post-convention excitement, I've begun tacking a few more things up around the site. I now have a link to a wonderful handout on starting your own local at-home dad group from the Dayton dads. In addition, I'm trying to add to the site a list of all local at-home dad groups with websites (or, barring that, Yahoo! Group pages). I'll be borrowing heavily from lists at Slowlane and the Cincinnati dads. If you have others to add (or if I have out-of-date information), please drop me a line.

Regularly scheduled posting will resume one of these days. Until then, here's Peter Baylies' take on the convention.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Final Convention posting of the year (probably), to wrap up loose odds and ends before the holiday. There's also a mounting mountain of non-convention bits to get to ... but not today.

First, news ... Kyle Pruett dropped one piece of brand-spanking-new information during his talk on Saturday: fatherhood changes men's brains (and changes them different from the way motherhood changes the brains of women). Pretty said a student of his studied the brains of new fathers using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and found increased activity in the parts of the brain related to bond formation, auditory processing and the ability to distinguish cries from laughter (no easy trick in the first weeks). It adds to Pruett's well-established point that hormone levels get nutty around a child's birth, and emphasizes his conclusion that these changes mean that men are indeed programmed by nature to parent.

Also, inspiration. The weekend brought back my longstanding goal of adding content to this site. I'll start by, over the next month, listing local at-home dad groups that have web pages along the right rail. I'd also like to add some of the content from the convention itself, and have asked some of the presenters for their handout. Part of what spurred the interest is Jay Massey's conclusion that Slowlane is going to have to be re-thought as a dynamic site. Jay is committed to re-building it but said he plans to have it exist as a lower-maintenance, more static resource. So I hope to pick up some of the slack and keep updating and adding to rebeldad.com content.

Finally, sex. I said I'd post my slides from my presentation. Here they are. They ain't very well done and they ain't very interesting. You really had to be there to listen to the discussion, which was informative and eye-opening. I'll never think of minivans the same way again. Thanks to all who participated. I really feared that I'd give my ten-minute presentation and then have to talk about sex all by myself for half an hour. But as it turns out, you guys had plenty to say.

As you can imagine, I'm curious if anyone put any lessons of the convention to work. Let me know if you did ...

Monday, November 22, 2004

Special convention thank you edition: the official thanks are pretty straightforward. Thanks to Barry for putting the event itself together. This was the strongest program in my three years of attendance. Thanks to Bob Frank for his continued support (and thanks to Oakton for continuing to underwrite the event). Thanks to sponsor Peter Baylies, who said such nice things about this site. And special thanks to keynoter Kyle Pruett.

The unofficial thanks list is much longer, and I apologize for those of you I’ll miss. Noonan gets extra credit for arranging everything everything outside of the official program, from drinks on Friday to dinner last night to the excursion (which I somehow missed) to some kick-ass bar (look forward to the photos, Chris). Thanks to Dayv and Dave for providing (or at least encouraging) the wonderful midnight entertainment Saturday night. Reindeer and cats and three-speeds, oh my!

Thanks to Phil and Tim for continuing the tradition of strolling Chicago, thanks to Gary for the reminder that we all have the same headaches. And thanks to all the new guys for coming out this year -- see you next year.

I have a few final items in the notebook (snippets from Pruett’s talk, my Powerpoint, etc.) that I’ll post in the days to come. And if you’d like to share your experiences with the readers, feel free to use the comments here or e-mail me, and I’ll post those musings.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

See you all tomorrow ... or maybe Monday. Not a whole lot more to say today -- a good time was had by all, and no one was so offended/disappointed by my session that I was hounded off the stage.
I take it all back. I've argued twice now (here and here) that the At-Home Dad Convention has little to do with fatherhood and everything to do with fellowship. And while I still believe in the fellowship part of it, the third go-round for me has exposed something I'd overlooked in the past: the guys here are really good at parenting, and they make me want to try harder to be an even better parent.

Fathers who aren't volunteering in the classroom are rare. Everyone is up on the latest parenting strategies. Sessions supposedly run by "experts" quickly evolve into roundtable discussions -- if you're a dedicated enough at-home dad to make it out to the event, you yourself are about as much an expert as session leaders. The fact that so many of the guys here are so involved made the professionalism easy to miss the first couple of times around. But now that I've seen a lot more parents over the years, I have more than enough experience to make the judgment: these guys are indeed committed.

It's not entirely clear whether I'll get the chance to post again this afternoon -- I'm prepping for my presentation and don't want to miss the bus out afterwards, so this might be it until the evening. (I'll post the PowerPoint slides next week. They ended up being a bit sloppy, so I'll clean 'em up, remove any copyright problems and upload 'em before the holiday.)

Thanks to all who're tuning in.
History Lesson: One of the frustrations about thinking about at-home fatherhood is the limited range of experience. I know what I'm going through, what my peers are going through even what some of the older guys (like many I've met out here) have gone through. But Kyle Pruett's keynote this morning broadened the perspective even more and served as a real reminder that even though involved fathering is becoming more common, we are at the "vanguard" of a radical change that has only begun in the last generation.

Pruett explained how he started his research on at-home dads in the 70s, and how the very idea that at-home fathers could be beneficial (or at least benign) was a rare position to hold. ("It was not clear that what you are doing was OK," he said.) He couldn't get grant funding for his survey of at-home dads, which remains the most descriptive academic work on SAHDS. But one of the triumphs of Pruett's work (and the work of others) over the past 20 years is that no one thinks that I'm harming my kid by the sheer force of our family arrangement.

We're making progress, he reports. Co-parenting, as a shared value in newly married couples, now ranks #2 of 15 different values. In 1981, co-parening ranked 11th. That's progress. Thanks, Kyle.

(I'll touch on a couple of other Pruett points in a later post (and I'll work on adding links and maybe spellchecking, too), but for much of his presentation, I'd really have to just recommend his book, "Fatherneed." And it's worth noting that Pruett was a perfect fit for his audience: I've never seen a convention presentation attract so much in the way of discussion/questions/challenges. We're all thisty for someone with Pruett's perspective -- it's a shame there aren't more like him.)
Inside baseball: if you've come to the convention before, know that everyone's here. With the exception of Hogan Hilling -- whose at home for a number of damn good kid-related reasons -- the cast remains the same. A handful of the guys ended up at the Pruett event last night, and another good number was already at the hotel, hanging out.

For most of these guys, who have been here before, this weekend is a reunion more than anything,and it's relieving to see that the faces haven't changed. One guy I knew who showed up for the first time last year is clearly a vet this year -- he already knows all the names, all the stories. The big question, of course, is how many new guys get brought into the fold this year.

Friday, November 19, 2004

DATELINE DES PLAINES: You asked for it ... (or at least a couple of your did) so here are some quick updates from the At-Home Dad Convention in Chicago. For starters, this didn't look like a promising trip. Nothing worse than a middle seat. But ... Hertz is out of Ford Focuses, so I was forced to accept a Mustang instead. Lemon yellow. I'm traveling in style this weekend.

I hit Kyle Pruett's talk tonight. He'll speak tomorrow -- with more of an at-home dad focus -- but his presentation tonight was wonderful. I'd read his stuff but never heard him speak before, and I won't pass up the opportunity to do it again.

Pruett is tuned into a lot of things that feel like the cutting edge of fatherhood, trends that seem to be emerging. He talked a fair amount about work-family stress and the way it hits fathers. I know that I ramble on here incessantly about work-family street, but it was encouraging to hear the world's authority on fatherhood say, in no uncertain terms, that work-family stress is "the first social plague of the 21st century."

More to come ... off to catch up with the boys.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

I'm ready for Oakton. The convention kicks off in just a couple of days, and it reminded me of a piece I wrote about a year ago, as I prepared to attend my second At-Home Dad Convention. As it turned out, I couldn't sell the story -- my first-person views on the event aren't terribly marketable, apparently. But I thought I'd share it with you. It's been sitting on my laptop for some time, and now, here it is ...
Humorist Dave Barry once warned that giving men responsibility for housework was a recipe for disaster. "The trouble is that men, over the years, have developed an inflated notion of the importance of everything they do, so that before long they would turn housework into just as much of a charade as business is now," he wrote. "They would hire secretaries and buy computers and fly off to housework conferences in Bermuda, but they'd never clean anything."

When I heard of the National At-Home Dad Convention, I felt a certain inescapable curiosity. I was a proud at-home father, who spent the days shuttling my toddler from coffeeshop to playground to swimming pool. The idea that my peers absolutely required a weekend of keynote speakers and breakout sessions to keep current with the latest fathering trends struck me as inherently silly. I had to see it for myself.
Click here to read the rest.

Also: I'd encourage you not to watch TV tonight. Wife Swap is apparently featuring an at-home dad (not one of the swappers), and I fear -- as I always fear with television -- that it will be ugly. Not only will I be keeping the tube off, I'll be covering my eyes, too, to be extra safe.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

And I Think I Have It Bad: being a dad in a mom's world. Kudos to the New Orleans Times-Picayune for running this profile of Dale and Chris Liuzza. Dale and Chris really hate mommy-centrism, too:
On the video shelves, Dale notices the words "Moms' #1 Choice" on the cover of a "Baby Einstein" DVD and shakes his head in dismay.

"That really bothers me," Dale says. "Why can't it just say, 'Parents' No. 1 Choice'?"
Dale and Chris are gay parents, and, judging by the story, great parents. And I'd love to live in a world where only the latter matters.

Also: Florida at-home dad Ray Alzamora got his 15 minutes of fame on local TV: "'I think that a lot of people get caught up in the stereotypes, and I think that's unfortunate.'" Thanks, Ray.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Quickie Magazine Roundup. Fair warning: my life has again taken a turn for the chaotic, so posting this week may be sporadic and brief. But I will be at the At-Home Dad Convention this weekend, and will post (perhaps sporadically and briefly) from that event.

But I wanted to flag three magazine bits worth noting. The first is Caitlin Flanagan's latest piece in the New Yorker on baby-related overconsumption. This is, I believe, piece number two for the New Yorker, and she seems to have entirely squelched her tendency to use every assignment as a way -- backhandly or not -- to take a swipe at working women. As I noted in June, Flanagan seems to be ignoring the mommy wars bits altogether. This is major progress: at the Atlantic, she managed to take swipes regardless of topic (nannies, sex and 50s housewives all segued into implicit or explicit working-mom bashing).

I have no idea whether Caitlin has had a change of heart or whether David Remnick is less tolerant of such ranting, but I'll take it, either way. And I have a new pledge: as long as this new leaf remains turned over, I won't waste any more space talking about Flanagan. (You can, as always, look to Greg for analysis in the future. Like the good consumer he is, he has listed all the objects of consumption that Flanagan mentions in the piece.)

Second, RebelMom and I had interesting reaction upon reading the "Dads" page in the latest Parents. It covered how to talk to toddlers about football and the appropriate age to stop taking your daughter into men's rooms. In addition to some slightly weird advice, we agreed that the page read suspiciously like something not conceived of by a dad. Thoughts?

Finally, Best Life -- a Men's Health spinoff -- has a story in its December issue about work-life balance ... in men. Leaving aside my amazement that a men's magazine would even touch the subject, it was very well-done, getting not only the stats right, but also pushing the angle that running faster on the corporate treadmill is not the way to balance or happiness. Amen to that.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Sign O' The Times: Men's Health magazine just published its December issue, complete with its "Tech Guide 2005," which features "The 100 Best New Products for Men." What makes the list significant is that along the MP3 players, the power tools and all manner of digital cameras and big-screen TVs, the list includes not less than four -- four -- vacuum cleaners.

Let me say that again: the manly magazine whose December cover promises you can "Beat Fat for Good" and "Drive Her Wild Tonight" has decided that four of the best new products for men are vacuum cleaners. (Also worth an exclamation point: they throw a dishwasher in there, too. Now I'm not surprised they included a $135 toaster over, but a dishwasher? Wow.) (No strollers in there, though. Sorry, Greg.)

So, manufacturer and advertising companies, let's be clear: you may officially market household products to men. Men's Health says it's OK. We have entered the 21st century. Now if only we could do something about those bumbling dad ads.

(I know you're curious as hell, so here they are: The Alessi SG67 Stainless Steel Vacuum Cleaner (#87), the Dyson DC-11 Vacuum (#72), the Electrolux Trilobite (#64, a robo-vac), Thermodor HD dishwasher (#44), the Karcher RC3000 (#23, another robo-vac). For comparison's sake, the venerable iPod came in at #78.)

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Talk about service journalism: Marilyn Miller of the Marshfield (WI) News Herald published this profile/plea for help about a local dad named Al Haasl. Al would like to hook up with some dads in similar situations. It'd be a bit of a haul for Rebel Dad, but if you're in the area, give him a call. Marilyn put Al's number in the story, too, so no one would have an excuse.

Also: It looks like a big company finally crossed the wrong group of guys. Verizon has been running a commercial (.WMV file) in which a dopey dad is brushed off by his daughter and scolded by his wife for being a clueless pain in the ass. By my increasingly jaded standards, the bit isn't more offensive than any one of a dozen other campaigns. But it caught the attention of both man-defending radio personality Glenn Sacks and, apparently, the folks at Dads and Daughters.

According to the widely published AP story, Verizon is now "looking at" the ad, with no solid plans on what to do next. I'd be impressed if Verizon buckles, and if you want to do your part, Glenn has a page set up.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

It's actually been a while since I've seen a plain-vanilla local-paper at-home dad story, so I was delighted to see this piece in the Baraboo (WI) News Republic. There are no facts you haven't seen before, just two more guys getting to talk about how happy they are with their choice.

How convention-happy should I be? Oakton Community College apparently has a Wi-Fi network in place. I don't plan on liveblogging the event, but could be persuaded if there's any outpouring of interest. Those with opinions know how to make themselves heard ...

Monday, November 08, 2004

Convention Press Alert: Bob Frank and Barry Reszel managed to get this nice piece about at-home dads placed in their hometown paper (Chicago Tribune, Reg. required.) The main suggestion in the article -- at-home dads rarely divorce -- is certainly a positive one, though I'm not sure that the research supports that. But the underlying reasoning is sound: dads who stay home tend to have rich family lives.

The placement of the first major convention story of the year has prompted me to open the final pre-convention Rebel Dad contest: any attendee (other than Barry) who can get their local paper to cover their trip to Oakton wins beers from me in Chicago. It shouldn't be a stretch. Call the metro desk (or a metro columnist) at your paper and tell 'em what you're up to. Or offer to write up a first-person take on your experience. (Not an impossible task. A few weeks after I launched this site, I had my convention reflections published by my local paper. If I can do it, so can you.)

I've spoken to a great many dads who say they'd love to get more attention for the local at-home dad group, but the media blows them off. Here is a chance to give them an "event" to hang the story on. (If you're shy, e-mail me and I'll call/e-mail your paper for you. But don't expect me to buy beer, too.)

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Some convention updates and other assorted items about the at-home dad community at large: for starters, the plane tickets have been purchased. I'll be getting into O'Hare a bit after 5 p.m. on Friday. I plan to hit the Kyle Pruett speech at Oakton before heading downtown for the festivities. And I'll be staying through Sunday morning before rushing back home. If you're headed in and need a ride, let me know. I've got a rental.

Not surprisingly, I'll be decked out in Rebel Dad gear, so I'll be easy to spot. If you're looking for some gear of your own, keep in mind that shipping takes about a week.

Finally, a longtime poster on the "dads-at-home" group on Yahoo!Groups asked "where are the new AHD's?" last month. It's a good question. It seems that the number of at-home dads on the net is growing, based simply on meetup.com and dad blogs. Are those forums replacing the e-mail listservs? The Yahoo! dads-at-home group is one of the largest and tightest-knit online dad groups I've found, but it is dominated by a core of posters who know one another (mostly from the convention), and I wonder if that has kept people away. So I'm interested in hearing from some readers here to know which -- if any -- online dads groups they frequent, and why. (I know Russ has a list on his site, but I'm curious who is drawn to which groups.)

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Need a new place to direct your anger? Try Home Alone America, a new book that happily lays most of the problems with today's kids, from obesity to Ritalin, firmly at the feet of working mothers. The New York Times tackled the book yesterday in an insightful piece. (Disclaimer: I haven't read the book. But the author, Mary Eberstadt has published a few pieces in Policy Review, so it sounds as if the Times fairly outlines the book.)

Eberstadt doesn't exclude men from her book, but it sounds like she goes after the low-hanging fruit (especially for a conservative) of divorcing dads or unmarried fathers who disappear. I can't find anything in the Times -- or past Eberstadt writings -- to suggest that she thinks men should be staying home full time at greater rates (though the back of the book, apparently, has an illustration of a kid clinging to a male pant leg. The cover -- natch -- has a kid clinging to a pantyhose-clad leg.) I'm not the first one to question Eberstadt on this. Check out this aging up still spot-on piece from Reason for a similar take on Eberstadt.

Obviously, I believe (like Eberstadt) that there's a lot to recommend at-home parenting. Eberstadt says her work "isn't a finger-pointing book." But blaming the decline of our youth on women who work makes it clear that Eberstadt believes there is a right choice when it comes to work/family balance: staying home (if you happen to be female) or staying married and, presumably, working (if you happen to be male).

This is a mommy war book, no doubt about it, and like every other mommy war book, it sounds like it largely misses the central point when it comes to work, family and kids: (all together now) Flexibility is key. There has to be flexibility in work arrangements so that work and family are not set in opposition to one another. And there has to be flexibility in gender roles so that no husband or wife is consigned to a family role on the sole basis of their sex.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

In honor of election day here, I will be linking only to non-U.S. sources in this post. If you expect this blog, like every other, to opine on what the better-than-expected turnout of left-handed orthodontists with one dog, one cat and no kids means for Bush's re-election effort, I suggest you look elsewhere.

But in my alternative universe in which all news pertains to parenthood, there was one heck of an encouraging piece in the Japan Times about at-home fathers. The peg is the surprising success of a new TV show about a stay-at-home father, which sounds remarkably nuanced (it's billed as a drama). And there's apparently a book called "Wisdom of Househusbands" that's about to be published over there. Japan has a longtime stereotype as a work-first country, so this emergent trend suggests that cracks are forming in the male stereotype the world over.

The story isn't breathless about the trend, acknowledging that TV is "a half-step ahead" of the rest of the society. But on the stat front, the best estimate of at-home fatherhood in Japan has doubled since 1996 to more than 80,000. (An aside: on a per capita basis, that's a far, far higher number than the silly U.S. Census estimate for at-home dads.)

Across the other pond in the UK, the Independent runs this story about messing with gender roles at work. The at-home dad's story appears at the bottom. (Another aside: the story says there are 155,000 at-home dads in Britain. That number would put the per capita number of at-home dads over there somewhere around 10 times the "official" U.S. number. Hmmm. Could it be that the "official" U.S. demographers have something wrong?)