Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Evidently, They Don't Get Forbes in Canada

A couple of days after the silliness of the whole Forbes career woman thing broke (I spared you my naval gazing on the subject, but it's elsewhere on the web if you are really, truly curious) there appeared this wonderful piece in the Hamilton, Ontario Spectator. It's a neat piece that shows the growth in families where the wife brings home the bacon, a figure that now stands at 29 percent. And while that is too low to begin doing the happy equality dance, it is a marked improvement in only a couple of decades.

But what really made me smile was that -- unlike MCP Michael Noer -- the Spectator piece made clear that families where the breadwinning was done by mom were not miserable exceptions to the natural order, but rather something to celebrate.
A growing number of women are bringing home a majority of the bacon.

And most men are eating it up.
Gotta love the extended bacon analogy.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

All News Can't Be Good News

If you've been coming here for any length of time, you know that I believe wholeheartedly that fatherhood has changed in the past two decades, and that today's new fathers are more committed to balance generally and fatherhood specifically than any past post-industrial generation.

So I was a bit shaken when I read some new research from the UK that finds that, after becoming fathers, dads tend to keep the same sort of work patterns as non-dads. Hopeful after reading the headline on the release ("Dads want flexibility, not shorter working hours"), I pulled the complete study. Unfortunately, while the study author, Esther Dermott, clearly thinks that fatherhood is evolving, there's not much evidence that we're all fleeing the traditional grind for part-time or flex-sked gigs. (Though working hours do dip in the first year of a child's life.)

Of course, looking at the limits of the research puts this in some perspective and makes me think that I'm not completely bonkers for continuing to claim that dads have changed. I've made a big deal in the past about Gen X and Gen Y fathers being particularly attuned to dad stuff, and this report doesn't exactly stick a fork in that. Dermott uses two datasets, including one that followed a group of guys born in 1958. I mean no offense to readers who may have been born in 1958 (or before!), but looking at 41-year-old guys (the last data is from earlier this decade) is not the best way to assess current patterns of fatherhood. Show me that new twenty-something dads are pulling 50-plus-hour weeks at the same frequency of their dads, and I'll accept defeat. But I don't think that's the case.

If anything, the study highlights how tough is it to say anything about modern fatherhood. The ground is shifting quickly, and what was true 10 years ago ain't necessarily the case now. Dermott seems to recognize that -- she really wants to say that dads have changed, but she's not working with the right tools. Of course, I don't have the right tools, either. Any idea if anyone is tracking truly new dads?

Friday, August 25, 2006

Media Roundup

If you're not willing to plunk down your $9.50 to see Trust the Man, but would still like to get some good at-home dad media, this has been the week. For starters, please read this nice first-person piece from the Boston Globe. Nothing profound, no extended musings on the nature of gender roles or at-home fatherhood, but a wonderful slice-of-life from a guy who happens to be a SAHD. Even better, the Globe says this is "One in a series of occasional articles on stay-at-home dads." Nice.

The mainstream media is even beating me nowadays in finding new blogs. The Winston-Salem Journal profiled some of their local dads this week, including Mike Miller, who blogs at Adventures in Parenthood. It's not the on the blogroll, but it will be. Overall, standard-issue story.

Finally, the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel follows up on last month's WSJ story on the rise of the grandfather-as-caretaker with one of their own. It's a solid piece, even if it is derivative, and I gotta say: those Florida newspapers, they know their grandparents.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

No Need to Trust the Man

You may have notice that I neglected to post on Friday's (disappointing) opening of Trust the Man, an ensemble comedy with a relatively decent cast. It features David Duchovny as a stay-at-home dad.

I have to admit that I didn't see the movie and probably won't. The reviews have been tepid, and I have waaay to much popping right to sit through two hours of middling Hollywood fare.

And even the at-home dad aspect isn't all that interesting to me. As with last year's Meet the Fockers, at-home dad characters seem to be less important in the grand scheme of things -- no one dwells on their at-home-ness, and it tends to be more a plot vehicle than a radical profession to display. (From what I read in the book "Little Children," soon to be a major motion picture, the same will be true for that flick.) The old, hokey "Mr. Mom"-can't-parent seems to have been dropped. And not a moment too soon. At last, we can have relatively boring at-home dad characters.

On a side note, silverback at-home dad Peter Baylies has thrown up a couple of posts on, including one that appears to show the phrase "Mr. Mom" is (finally) in decline.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Tackling Paternity Leave

The pile of stories to get to is piling up, but I really have to post on this one, which is just wonderful. Daddy Types pointed me in the direction of Eric Butler, a Kansas University defensive tackle who is currently trying to get the NCAA to restore a year of eligibility for a year he took off to care for his newborn child.

It looks like Butler's fight is going poorly and that the NCAA's rules, when taken literally, don't give him much of an out. That's unfortunate, since the facts as I understand them make Butler out to be a real stand-up guy.

But I am thrilled that he made the case and pushed on this. I have been grilled by corporate HR offices on why, exactly, I was planning to take paternity leave, given that I wasn't, you know, giving birth. It's a sweaty-palms moment, and I can't say I enjoyed it. But this was an even bigger gut check for Butler, who had to make his case to an unsympathetic NCAA in full view of the country.

The response I've seen seems to be one of general sympathy for the guy, and though pyrrhic victories probably don't mean much to Butler -- he wants to be on the field practicing right now -- I have to believe that his fight has normalized (if only a little) the idea of men taking paternity leave. And I'll take all the help there that I can get.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Up to Date

I've taken advantage of this lull in dad news to make sure that my blogroll is up to date. If you have an at-home dad blog that isn't included, please let me know.

I also wanted to flag one of the more interesting dad sites I've run across: a Digg clone for father news called Dad Daily. No idea if there's enough of a community there to keep it up, but it's an effort I'll keep an eye on ...

Friday, August 11, 2006

Big Media Roundup

It's nice to see that dads haven't been completely ignored by some of our larger newspapers, magazines and websites -- this week has provided quite the range of pieces, some sublime, some jaw-droppingly dumb.

Let's start with the New York Times, which ran a piece on how a women used animal training techniques to train her husband. This is a weird piece to run in the NYT. It's generally offensive to men (the undertone: we're so simple that we can be treated like Shamu) and it's not particularly novel (the BBC has an entire TV show on training husbands like dogs). What exactly was the point? Relationship humor? Can't the nation's most powerful paper do better than that?

Time magazine was a little more thoughtful. Po Bronson (making his second RD appearance this week) and Ashley Merryman wrote a piece for Time on "gatekeeper" moms and how that affects involved fatherhood. That gatekeeping is one of the elephants in the room when it comes to talking about active dads and is certainly worth more discussion. I haven't written much about it, but I'm sure I'll return to the topic.

Finally, Slate ran a piece in praise of the 16-year-old how-to-be-a-man tome, Iron John. But the author's take on the book itself was less important than his observation that no one is talking -- in real terms, without machismo or ideological ranting -- about how to be a man in the new millennium:
Irony, and the fear of ridicule, have, in a way, made any serious discussion of men's emotional lives impossible. This new repressiveness turns up all kinds of unexpected results: not just polemics like Flanagan's and Mansfield's, but "iconoclastic" arguments in favor of male stoicism, like the one Malcolm Gladwell recently made in an essay praising The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. And the result is that we still lack a basic vocabulary for, say, the experience of a stay-at-home father, or the difference (from a man's point of view) between flirtation and harassment at work. If we don't find a way of emulating Bly's generosity of spirit and willingness to risk truth-telling, we're going to remain stuck with recycled arguments and archetypes, lacking a language that applies to our own era.
Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Want to See the Revolution? Look for the Babies.

Once again, Keith has sent me scurrying down a rabbit hole of interesting links and stats and conclusions. Via my account, he pointed out this post from Time columnist Po Bronson.

Bronson's post crows that active dads are on the march, despite the general lack of good data to suggest that what I am seeing on the playground is actually a national trend. And he unearths some nuggets of information that appear to show that very new dads -- those with a 9-month-old in the house -- are involved in a way that we haven't seen since before the industrial revolution.

The nuggets come from the U.S. Department of Education's exciting-sounding Fathers of U.S. Children Born in 2001:
Findings From the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study Birth Cohort
(PDF). As in most dry government surveys, this did not catch only gentlemen with Yale diplomas -- 70 percent had no more than a high school degree.

I agree with Bronson that the stats from these guys -- tracked down nine months after birth -- are pretty impressive. For starters, these are confident men who are happy about the kids:
*79 percent had fathers who said they were a better than average father or a very good father.
* 69 percent had fathers who reported that they talked all of the time to family and friends about the child.
* 74 percent had fathers who reported finding themselves thinking about the child all of the time.
And these are guy who are taking their dad duties seriously. Seventy-two percent read to the kids at least once a week (remember, these are pre-verbal nine-month-olds), 71 tell stories, 89 percent sing songs. Seventy percent are changing at least one diaper a day, almost 80 percent are feeding the kid at least once a day.

But it was the less-obvious signs of involvement that really struck me. Thirty-seven percent "always" or "often" are the ones up in the middle of the night. About a third "always" or "often" go to the pediatrician. A quarter "always" or "often" is the parent to stay home when the kid is sick.

There are impressive numbers, especially when you look at similar stats from the CDC that look at fathers with older kids. It sounds there is even a difference between a new father and one that was initiated even 10 years ago. This report suggests there's a new generation of involved fathers, and I can't wait to see the stats on how this group of guys evolves.

** Caveat: I am talking here about the stats for resident fathers.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

More Agony from Hollywood

As has been noted before, at-home fathers are seeing a lot of screen time in the movie biz, and quite a lot of what is coming down the pike has the potential to be at least sort of respectful of that particular gig. (Not glorifying, but not insulting, either.)

But my guess is that The Intern, a new vehicle for the guys who write The Office, won't take the high road. The plot is apparently about an at-home dad who goes back to work as an intern, and I think we can expect that the SAHD stuff will be used as an opportunity to re-use all that Mr. Mom stuff from 1983 that -- fair warning to the writers -- doesn't resonate with the same humor 25 years later.

(I should mention that though I've had this link bookmarked for a while, Jeremy at Daddy Dialectic -- a blog well worth sticking on your must-read list -- beat me to the post.)

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Children Are Our Future

When the whole NYT Yale-Women-Are-All-Ready-To-Chuck-It-And-Stay-Home story broke last fall, I quite reasonably pointed to some posts that asked where the men were in this story. But I let you all down: I didn't follow up.

So kudos to Business Week's Working Parents blog for thrusting this in front of me again. The BW post follows up with more details about what the graduation classes of 2006 at Yale and Princeton expect in terms of work-life challenge. Probing those links, I realized that people actually have asked the college guys -- and not just the future moms -- what they expect. And the answers are kind of interesting.

For starters, a poll done at Yale last fall, in the wake of the NYT story, assessed the reaction of men. Now, there was certainly some traditionalist chest-thumping among some of the Yale grads-to-be: 34 percent expected their wives to stay home. But it looks like there is a significant minority of Yale guys who are on the fast track to 21st century fatherhood. A majority of the guys said that family would be the highest priority or a slightly higher priority than work (with another 32 percent looking for equal balance between work and family).

Fifty-eight percent of guy said it didn't matter who makes more money in a marriage, and 6 percent of Yale guys -- the top of the college heap -- say they'll stay home while mom works. Six percent may sound like a drop in the bucket, but for that many childless 22-year-olds at the outset of their lives to acknowledge the desire to do the AHD thing is absolutely amazing.

Princeton made a similar effort, polling its graduates for a story in the alumni mag this summer. Again, while there's a strong I'll-Grow-Up-To-Rule-The-Universe vibe, there's also a strong awareness that combining work and family is, you know, tough. Sixty-seven percent of the men say they'd temporarily interrupt their careers for kids, 33 percent expect work-family conflict. Thirteen percent of the guys say they'll work part-time once they have kids, and one brave gentlemen sees himself as a homemaker in ten years. All of those numbers are much lower than the numbers for Princeton women, but they reflect a growing recognition among guys (and, one would assume, high-earning-potential guys) that work-family will hit them, too.

It would be easy for wags to claim that all these surveys -- if you can consider them valid at all -- show there's a huge gap between men and women. But I think if you could consider the historical perspective, you'd see how quickly men's concerns are growing. Yale men picking family over work by a three-to-one margin? That's got to be progress.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Do SAHDs Subvert the Paradigm?

The measure of success of the wicked interesting San Francisco Chronicle SAHD story is the fact that it alone along the hundreds of SAHD stories published in the nearly four years I've been blogging has prompted the blogosphere to do some navel-gazing about whether rosy at-home dad stories do any good. Salon, as you may remember from last week, suggested the Chronicle story was based on a certain traditionalist bedrock and disguised it by talking about caregiving men. I didn't see it that way: stories about SAHDs are not stories glorifying '50s-style housework with a new twist, they're stories celebrating the end of '50s-style gender roles.

But Elizabeth over at Half Changed World (full disclosure: Elizabeth may be jealous of me, but I have some envy issues with the fact that she managed to get in the Times), who I respect a great deal, comes down on the side of rebel dads being, well, not that revolutionary when it comes to changing the workplace:
We don't challenge the "ideal worker" model -- the idea that employers are entitled to employees who are largely unencumbered by family responsibilities, who don't have to run out the door in the middle of the day when the daycare calls because a child is sick, who can stay late without hesitation.
While it's certainly a worthwhile reality check, I'm not sure I see things the same way ... while I would love to see more workers from both genders fighting against the ideal worker model, I think that moms (even moms with SAHDs at home) are probably doing the best job of it. Law prof Joan Williams once suggested as much in a Washington Post op-ed, claiming
Employed mothers typically are less willing to consign all child care to the stay-at-home spouse. So children in families with stay-at-home fathers may well receive more parental attention than children in households with stay-at-home mothers.
Regardless of where you come down, it's an interesting question: do at-home dads/reverse traditional families simply allow moms to be saddled with the onerous 'ideal worker' stereotype, or are they a more humanizing influence on the work world?