Thursday, December 30, 2004

Bailing me out: I promised, during my rant on the NY Times story earlier this month to write and post a letter to the editor in response. I didn't get around to it, but At-Home Dad Convention Czar Barry Reszel copied his thoughtful letter to the Times to the dads-at-home Yahoo group and gave me permission to re-post it here.
To the Editor:

It's a shame the New York Times didn't send a reporter to cover the Ninth Annual At-Home Dads' convention this November near Chicago before running the Housewives, Try This for Desperation: Stay-at-Home Fathers Face a Stigma, and Isolation article on December 22. A reporter there would have gleaned an entirely different, and fresh, angle to the story of at-home dads in our country. While isolation is an issue to be faced and dealt with by at-home parents of both genders, the Times' focus on this seclusion offers only a superficial glimpse into the lives of at-home fathers.

The reasons more men are assuming the role of their children's primary caregiver are because more couples are refusing to play day care roulette with their children, society is finally figuring out that women can be extraordinary businesspeople and men are understanding that involved fathering means putting their children first, for the benefit of the entire family.

At the convention, Yale researcher Dr. Kyle Pruett pointed out that outcomes of involved fathering include smarter, more empathetic and tolerant children and more mentally and physically healthy parents (Fatherneed: Why Father Care is as Essential as Mother Care by Kyle D. Pruett, M.D.). "Men do not belong in the cheap seats of their children's lives," Dr. Pruett said.

As an at-home dad of more than 10 years, I couldn't agree more with Dr. Pruett, or less with the quote in the Times article that says at-home fathering "takes ones manhood, chews it up, spits it out and does it again." On the contrary, I say there is nothing more important, more necessary, more manly than being the best possible father to my children. I'm lucky to have a wife, family and countless peers who agree. Others who are man enough to take on this role are cordially invited to the 10th Annual At-Home Dads' Convention near Chicago next November, where we talk about the sometimes frustrations, along with the everyday joys of at-home parenting. Details will be found on in the spring.

Barry J. Reszel, At-Home Dads' Convention Coordinator

Monday, December 27, 2004

A quick, encouraging item: here in Omaha, the paper ran this piece from the Boston Globe last month about changing preferences " how young men and women are overturning some of the conventions about who makes the ideal bride or groom." The upshot? Women who plan to work and men who like to cook and aren't afraid of washing machines are increasingly in demand.

Now, I'm ready to grant that some of this might be a trend-happy reporter taking demographics further than they ought to go, but it feels real: the coming generation is going to be increasingly egalitarian. I have to wonder if we're getting closer to a tipping point, where traditional gender roles are consciously discarded. I can only hope so.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Back in the saddle after the holiday. I am staying at my in-laws for the rest of the week, so though posting will happen, it may be sporadic. I'm in Omaha, and I hope to plug into the wonderful Nebraska at-home dad network to help pass the time ...

Just a couple of quick items. Conventioneer Caleb sent along this link to a Contra Costa Times story (reg. required) about Survivor contestant Chad, who is now doing the at-home dad duty. It's a cute story, and Caleb wants to grab Chad for the convention next year. Sounds like fun.

Finally, the Boston Globe published this story about how staying home is the new status symbol ... for women. There is probably plenty to think about and debate there (I don't think the story gets the numbers quite right in painting at-home moms as an upper-class thing), but given that this site is dedicated mostly to kvetching, let me point out the one point where at-home dads come up:
Only 98,000 men are stay-at-home fathers, according to the census. Most of them say they are out of the labor force because they cannot find work.
This is, of course, wrong. These men are out of the labor force explicitly to care for family. On this, the Census folks are pretty clear. So I'm a bit disappointed that a) the lowball at-home dad number was used and b) we're further dismissed as guys who are persistently unemployable, rather than men who have made the same reasoned choice that the moms in the story talk about.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Wanna meet Star Jones? "The View" is trying to get on the "Desperate Househusbands" bandwagon by offering a few at-home dads a day of NYC pampering. Interested? Break out the video camera and read on:
Desperate Househusbands: You've heard about the Desperate Housewives, how about the Desperate Househusbands? They're the men who have no time to themselves because they're constantly doing chores, whether it's driving the kids to soccer practice, fixing the leaky faucets or mowing the lawn. If you're one of them or know one who is, take heart. The View's thinking about flying in a few deserving dads to N.Y to give them the break they deserve! The potential Desperate Househusband should send a VHS tape, 1-minute or less, explaining why he deserves to be pampered for a day.

Mail to:
Joy's Desperate Househusbands
The View
320 West 66th Street
New York, NY 10023

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

"Paper of record"? The New York Times decided to do their own edgy "Desperate Housewives" story today, focusing on how much more desperate things are for househusbands. It was an ill-conceived story (anyone who has spent time in a newsroom can imagine how the story came to be) on how miserable we are. The final result has me slamming my head into the wall in frustration:
While television audiences are gripped by the suburban drama of "Desperate Housewives," stay-at-home dads face their own forms of desperation: strange looks from moms and nannies, snide remarks from former colleagues, and elusive play dates.
I'll be penning a letter to the editor as soon as I get enough perspective to write a thoughtful response. I'll post it when I get to that point. Lacking that now, here is a quick, unedited rant focusing on the two dumbest elements of a story that is pretty dumb, through and through:

1) The guys are generally happy: the author, Jennifer Medina, manages to find five quote-worthy guys for her piece on how terrible it is to be an at-home dad. But three of the guys seem content -- if not happy -- with their lot in life, including two in an at-home dad group (I think it's this one) that has bar nights and a Vegas trip. Of the two malcontents, one is quoted only in the final paragraph. The other, who provides the story's lede and much of the commentary, manages to admit that he doesn't like the local moms (who shut him out of playgroups), the dads (too wrapped up in status) or the kids (too snobby). So I'm not sure he's the best person to talk about "isolation." If that's the best the New York F@*&ing Times can do to find "desperate househusbands," then we're doing pretty well.

2) The story is set in fantasy land. Think "Wisteria Lane" -- where "Desperate Housewives" is set -- is imaginary? Here's Medina on (real-life) suburban NY:
In the unspoken rules of suburbia, mothers broker the play dates with an exacting calculus, weeks and even months in advance. For some moms, socializing with each other while their offspring crawl around is as essential as whether or not the children get along.
I assure you that mothers do not make playdates months in advance, and should you meet a parent capable of scheduling a playdate that far in the future, you should by no means accept.

(I expect the blogosphere to light up on this one. Right now, Daddy Types is on it. I'll try to bring you the best links on this as they appear.)

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

I always love reader mail, especially when I get pointed to a story I would have otherwise missed. So thanks, Jen, for flagging this Chicago Trib story on housewives so angry that they've started their own rock band. Jen makes this point: "I for one am sick to death of people bemoaning mothers' schedules, and talking about "taking time back from the kids", while simultaneously ignoring the completely absent dad."

In fairness, the story does mention husbands -- once:
And what about fathers? To these stay-at-home moms, many of whom have husbands, dads aren't a big part of the equation. Moms have taken on virtually all of the burdens of high-maintenance parenting and now they're beginning to regret that choice.
Now, I am all for scaling back expectations of parents, reducing over-scheduled kids and generally removing 90 percent of the parenting help books from the bookstore shelves. But Jen is right: there is never going to be balance in the home if there's not a commitment to shared parenting. (Or a rock-solid understanding that parenting will not be shared. The caveat here is that very "traditional" marriages tend to not to have these problems, according to the research I've seen. But I have a hard time imagining such a relationship, so I have to take the word of the academics.) It's fun to pitch the idea that parenthood sucks. "Desperate Housewives" gets a good number of yuks from that idea, and the Trib story plays the frustration angle for grins. But anyone who wants to take a break from the bitching and find a solution had better spend more than 50 words wondering where the dads are.

Brief item: check out this encouraging bit of text from the Providence (RI) Journal:
New Mommy/New Baby Program : Mothers are welcome to bring their babies to help build their knowledge, skills and confidence in caring for their newborns, as well as themselves. Stay-at-home dads are welcome, too. Program is offered at Charlton Memorial Hospital, 363 Highland Ave. The cost is $25 for 6 weeks. For upcoming groups or for more information, call (508) 679-7308.
"Stay-at-home dads are welcome, too." Progress!

Finally, I'm updating the dad's groups to the right. There's now a site for Baltimore, Maryland, which looks poised to become far more than a local resource. And I've added the Long Island at-home dad group, too. I've removed the now-defunct Maine group. As always, please let me know about additions and errors.

Monday, December 20, 2004

I have a hard enough time squeezing the important stuff in at this time of year, so I’m not all that surprised that I managed to miss Bruce Willis’s True Dads show on Spike TV. (I did manage to catch Jim Chapa – commissioner of the famous at-home dad fantasy baseball league – on "Back to the Blueprint" on the History Channel this weekend.)

The reviews were mixed. Greg at Daddy Types asks if he was the only one who thought the show "kinda blew":
It was pretty serious Lifetime, almost like a Very Important Message some women felt men Need To Hear. And I've never seen a grimmer Bruce Willis annunciate more momentously: "It is not finding a fish, but it is finding the time...and the heart...that makes him a true dad."
Loyal reader Dayv, in the comments section to last week’s post, said he caught the end of the show and found it "very touching."

In the moving pictures department, I caught this piece in the NY Post on “Meet the Fockers,” the second installment of the Stiller/De Niro vehicle. Plot point worth noting: Dustin Hoffman, as Stiller’s dad, plays a lawyer-turned-at-home-dad.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

It's a roundup day, starting with credit where credit is due: Modern Day Day tipped me off on the Bruce Willis thing. I neglected to give him the shout-out on Monday. Apologies.

Also, thanks to Russ for nominating me in the "Daddy" category in the Best of Blogs awards. I don't think I fit the criteria very well, but I wish Russ the best of luck. The collection of nominations serves as a wonderful list of daddy blogs, and I've added two nominees to the at-home dads to the list at right: Ty Miller and Patricide.

Finally, in the local news category, we can add Brian Feehrey to the list of guys who have been profiled by their newspaper. Read his story here in the Daily Southtown (IL). Bob Frank is quoted, too.

Monday, December 13, 2004

One of the problems with the promotion of involved fatherhood is that it is rather tough to find a good spokesman. Regular guys -- outside of your occasional local newspaper story -- just can't get enough attention to be influential, and famous kid-centric dads are easily dismissed as utterly unlike Joe Father. I presume that if I were making a couple of films a year and bathed in hundred-dollar bills, I'd be even more involved in my child's life.

That said, the fact that Bruce Willis is hosting "True Dads with Bruce Willis on Spike TV (the suddenly sociologically inclined Spike TV) is a good sign. Because even though I wouldn't turn to Bruce Willis for parenting advice, having him beat the drum can't but help. And Willis will give a selection of "Joe Fathers" the chance to get some airtime (along with Matt Lauer, Cedric the Entertainer, Jorge Posada, etc.). This is progress. I can't promise the show won't be saccharine, but it is being aired, after all, on Spike. They can't get too touchy-feely.

So set your TiVo -- Dec. 17, 9 p.m. -- to meet these guys:
NASCAR legacy -- Kerry Earnhardt talks candidly about the influence the relationship with his famous father, Dale Earnhardt, Sr. had on his own experience as a father. Kerry pushed racing aside to be present in his children's lives, but has recently decided to pursue the sport that took his own father's life;

-- Dr. Jonathan Clark, husband of late astronaut Laurel Clark who was killed in the 2003 Columbia Space Shuttle tragedy. Now a single parent, Dr. Clark has taken on the challenge of raising his now nine-year-old son on his own; This story includes never seen before NASA footage of Laurel talking to her husband and son from space;

-- The Daniel Men: the story of African-American father and son, Professor Jack Daniel and Poet Omari Daniel, who have penned a candid tale about their sometimes stormy relationship in their book, "We Fish: The Journey to Fatherhood;"

-- James Madison University football coach Mickey Matthews thought life was perfect when his son became a star quarterback. But after a car accident paralyzed his son, Coach Matthews' life goal shifted from doing whatever it takes to win games to doing whatever it takes to get his son to walk again;

-- Joseph T. Jones, a one-time heroin addict and deadbeat dad, Jones changed his life around and now wages a tenacious crusade to save Baltimore's children from the same fate, one father at a time;

-- First time father, Ben Passmore, experiences the amazing moment of the birth of his child -- a life altering event that reconnects him with his own father and teaches him that becoming a dad, is becoming a fully adult man.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Sure, I blog. But let's face reality: I'm already behind the curve. The next great revolution in communications is supposed to be Podcasting, or so I read. But I don't Podcast. I don't even have a pod. (Yet. A non-Apple MP3 player is on its way as we speak.)

But a guy named Dan Klass has already staked his position as the first (?) at-home dad podcaster and was featured in this Christian Science Monitor piece on the phenomenon. His show, "The Bitterest Pill," is archived here. I already like this Klass guy. He is an actor -- and could therefore reject the title of at-home dad -- but his podcasting page describes him as an "at-home dad/shut in." Go Dan.

On the subject of what title ("actor" or "at-home dad") to embrace, Jammer from Homo domesticus has clarified his decision to walk away from the "at-home dad" title:
It seems to me that what I object to on some level is the seeming limitation of the label of "stay at home dad". It strikes me as every bit as limiting and non-explanatory as the older label of "housewife" or "homemaker" was to another generation. Perhaps that is just my own biases rearing up too strongly. Perhaps to many other SAHD contains multitudes. I don't know.
I understand where he's coming from. "Rebel Dad" was chosen in part to get around those exact semantic issue.

Finally, those who are interested in exploring "ER"'s examination of parenthood would be well-advised to go back and read Half Changed World's post on the topic. Thanks for the reminder, Elizabeth.

Enjoy your weekend all. I'm off to see what this Klass guy has to say ...

Thursday, December 09, 2004

News from around the blogosphere: Let me start with Ms. Musings, which posted this bit regarding the TV show "ER." I really don't watch much ER anymore, so I missed the introduction of a new -- if marginal -- TV at-home dad:
Also last month, I recorded this bit of dialogue between Dr. Kerry Weaver and Dr. Susan Lewis from the TV show ER. It is titled ?The Swiftest Resolution to the Work/Motherhood Dilemma Ever Broadcast on a TV Drama?:

Weaver: Let me guess, you want to extend your maternity leave.
Lewis: I was wondering if you found a replacement for the chief of emergency medicine.
Weaver: No. Is there someone you want to recommend?
Lewis: Yeah, me.
Weaver: Well, I tried to offer you the position before, and you turned me down.
Lewis: That was pre-baby.
Weaver: Post-baby that bad?
Lewis: Turns out I like kids better when they?re not sucking the life force out me, and Chuck doesn?t mind being a stay-at-home dad so long as we can make up for lost income.
Weaver: A grand more per week with a two-year commitment?
Lewis: Deal. When do I start?
Daddy Types dug up this great newspaper story about the Japanese city of Ota, where men will be forced to take 40 days paternity leave and then report back to their colleague. In a country where 0.4 percent of men take any paternity leave, this is radical stuff. Worth watching.

Finally, Jammer over at Homo domesticus has decided to chase some of his writing and acting goals and is walking away from the title of "at-home dad." Fortunately, it sounds like he'll remain one, by my liberal definition. Best of luck, Jammer, with everything.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Someone mentioned the potential appeal of a magazine for dads during the At-Home Dad Convention convention this year, to which Kyle Pruett shot back that you can launch a magazine for anyone, so long as you can find advertisers. The upshot for dads is clear: are we a group worth marketing to?

The answer, historically speaking, is no. The landscape is littered with failed efforts (Dad Mag springs to mind, and I know there are others). The problem is, as Pruett suggests, figuring out who wants to sell stuff to dads. Marketing firms are obsessed with moms -- this NYT mag story profiles a company that targets nine different "types" of mothers -- but I've yet to read of anyone targeting dads.

But there's a new guy trying to re-write the conventional wisdom. This Atlanta Business Chronical piece tells the story of former KPMG consultant Bruce Gibbs and his effort to launch Real Dad Magazine. His goals are modest: a circulation of 20,000 readers. Gibbs told me to expect an issue later this month. I have no idea what to expect, but I applaud him for trying. Best of luck, Bruce.

Monday, December 06, 2004

I have, in the past, argued that the United States is not an especially good place to be a parent. Leave policies at both the government and the corporate level are laughable by the standards of any other developed nation. I could spend hours summing up the ways in which we're failing to measure up to the rest of the world; fortunately, two professors have already done the hard work in this thoughtful (if not entirely surprising) brief (boiled down from this report) from the New America Foundation.

The take-away message is unambiguous: the US trails the rest of the world in leave policy and preschool quality and opportunity, and our parents and kids are worse off for it.

Publications like this make me sad, more than anything, because no one in any particular place of power seems to be listening. The authors suggest an annual investment of between 1 percent and 1.5 percent of GDP -- a staggering $100 billion to $150 billion a year -- to bring this country in line with the global trend setters. But such ambition verges on the ridiculous in a country where congresswoman Lynn Woolsey's modest and thoughtful "Balancing Act" is consigned to irrelevance.

Also: Hogan Hilling flagged this story from the L.A. Daily News about Boot Camp for New Dads. Hogan was upset that the author (who has a 15-month-old of his own) decided to define parenthood mostly as cleaning up poop. I have to back Hogan on this one. Being a parent requires a lot of skills and a fundamental change in world view. The diapers are the easy part. But you'd never know it from the piece.

Finally: At-Home Dad has more on the Verizon decision to yank its doofus dad commercial, and he manages to highlight *another* dumb commercial for a phone company. It raised the question of why the one Verizon ad seemed to stir such deep passion, while dozens of other escaped notice. I wonder if it's that the Verizon ad bordered on drama. Will we tolerate doofus dads only if the ad goes for yuks?

Sunday, December 05, 2004

More actual content! I've added a link (right above here, and right below the big REBELDAD) for stay-at-home dad statistics. I've long wanted to aggregate all of the different counts of rebel dads put forth by the Census Bureau and others, and the new link is an effort to make that a reality. If there are estimates that I have failed to add, mistakes I have made in compliling the list or additional comments worth making, please don't be shy about speaking up. I have no editor here; I rely on the readers to keep me honest.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Around the horn. The Census report flogged yesterday was not without news. Kudos to the Hartford Courant and the Christian Science Monitor for running stories on the data that, while they touched on the at-home parent numbers, didn't treat the at-home parent stats like some sort of groundbreaking finding.

Credit where it's due: Glenn Sacks managed to get Verizon to pull its bumbling dad ad. As I said before, I didn't think the spot -- about a computer-clueless father -- was worse than a dozen or so other commercials playing off the dumb dad image, but more power to anyone who takes aim at such stereotypes.

Welcome, Jeremiah Lee, to the ranks of the at-home father. Extra kudos for posting your resignation letter. I'll add to the blogroll soon.

Not quick enough: At-Home Dad's Peter Baylies has been a posting machine lately. Drop by to get his take on the convention (the insights are razor-sharp, especially the nice things he says about me), the Census stats and the husbands edition of Wife Swap, which I intentionally missed.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

It's one thing for the Census Bureau to horribly undercount at-home dads in well-buried government documents. It's quite another to have the largest paper in the United States unquestioningly parrot those numbers. But that's the world I awoke to this morning. A3 in USA Today. The Census report has its problems and its interesting points (more on them below), but let me start by taking the story (by Sharon Jayson, who I don't believe is on staff) to task. Fair warning: the story only touches briefly on dads, but moms are being undercounted, too.

Tuesday's report finds that 20% of stay-at-home moms live in households earning $100,000 or more, while 2.3% are in households earning less than $10,000.

Mothers who stay home are concentrated in the top 5% of household incomes and the bottom 25%, says Stephanie Coontz of the non-profit, non-partisan Council on Contemporary Families.
Wrong. Sure, 20 percent of moms are in the six-figure bracket, but the bulk of at-home moms are in a much more modest income bracket. The first paragraph seems to make that clear. Why the author would then choose to make the at-home trend into a fringe lifestyle for the rich and very poor, I have no idea.

About 98,000 dads also stay home, but only 16% say they were out of the labor force to care for children; others cite illness or disability (45%); could not find work (11%); going to school (9%); or other reasons.
Misleading: This makes it sound like only 16 percent of the 98,000 guys (15,680) are true at-home dads. The report, however, makes clear that 16 percent of the one million dads at home can be considered at-home dads. As reported, it's staggeringly confusing, if not wrong.

Experts say the data don't signal a return to the days of the male breadwinner.
No kidding!: year-over-year, at-home mothers are up a whopping 3 percent. Sure, the numbers have been inching up over the past decade, but USA Today makes no effort to provide that context.

The definition used for this report is based on married couples with kids under age 15 in which one parent worked and the other was out of the labor force for the previous year to care for home and family.
That's it? That's the entire treatment of how the numbers were calculated? I've mentioned before the ways that such a measure underestimates the impact of at-home parenting, but there's no thoughtful analysis here. Too bad. On my street, six of seven moms would probably answer yes to the question "are you an at-home mom"? (The seventh is Rebel Mom, FYI). But the Census folks would have to throw out four of those women for not meeting the definition. On my block alone, then, the number of self-identified at-home moms is 200 percent higher than the Census stats.

Let me get to the report itself, which uses the numbers first highlighted by Half Changed World two months ago. For starters, it offers an interesting breakdown of at-home income levels, age, number of children, etc. But it also offers a look at how it excludes fathers from the "at-home dad" category.

There are a million fathers at home with kids under 15. But demographers then throw out the 455,000 who are ill/disabled, the 108,000 who are retired, the 90,000 in school, the 111,000 who "couldn't find work", the 88,000 "other" and the 59,000 whose wives were out of the labor force for even a single year. The final tally: an anemic 98,000. And don't even get my started on the bizarre notion of throwing out anyone who does part-time work, no matter how little.

The final irritation: the report dismisses the Bureau's own "2 million at-home dad" estimate of the 1990s, mentioning that 1.6 million of those guys were actually working. That assumes, then, that .4 million -- 400,000 guys -- really were at-home parents. But even that low number is four times higher than the current estimate.

My head is now hurting. Read At-Home Dad's take if you want to get deeper. (Please note: Peter Baylies apparently tried to explain all this to the reporter, apparently to no avail.)
I'll get to this morning's USA Today story based on the latest silly Census numbers just as soon as I can. Needless to say, the Census stats (some of whichhave been discussed here earlier) are still misleading, and the story does nothing to address that.

By the way, apologies on the slow posting. Blogger (I think it's Blogger's fault) has been staggeringly difficult to deal with.