Friday, December 22, 2006

Nightline: A Decade Behind the Time

There was a time when I might have celebrated last night's Nightline on at-home dads -- a profile of a happy. high-achieving guy who just decided it would be better for everyone if he were at home.

But now I'm more jaded. The piece was by-the-numbers, except that the producer seemed convinced that at-home dads were some kind of novel creation, inhabiting the fringe of society. That was strike one. Strike two was the title of the piece: "Alpha Women and Beta Men." Calling at-home dads "beta men" is just insulting and inaccurate, a point made by the on-camera interviewees. So what did Nightline do? It repeated the phase 14 times.

How hard-headed was Nightline? Check out this back and forth between the Jami Floyd, the mom in the story, and Kirt Fleninger, the dad in the piece:

Jami: You don't care at all that some men judge you?
Kurt: No.
Jami: You really don't care?
Kurt: I really don't care.
Jami: At all?
Kurt: I just don't care about that.

Look -- Kurt doesn't care. It's a non-issue with him. It's a non-issue with me. It's a non-issue with 99 percent of the at-home dads I know. Why take valuable airtime to hammer that point over and over?

That is just the start of the criticisms. The piece made it sound like marriages with an at-home dad were somehow risky. ("Psychologists say it takes an exceptional couple to make this kind of partnership work.") It made it sound like everyone assumes that woman can't be primary-breadwinners. "(It may surprise you, but 25% of working wives earn more than their husbands.") And, of course, they use the silly Census numbers.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

More Manifesto-Inspired Thoughts

One of the great things about putting your thoughts out into the ether of the Internet is that you get feedback that is immediate and (usually) insightful. And so it has been with the manifesto effort. My originial manifesto contained one element that a few folks have taken issue with:
3. Outsource your anxiety. Pediatricians are trained to tell when a bout of the stomach flu is worth worrying about. Call them early and often, but trust 'em when they tell you it's OK. (And if you can't trust 'em, find someone that you can trust.) Same goes for teachers, guidance counselors, etc.
My intention was to let parents know that you can't live in perpetual worry; you have to retain the belief that the experts will let you know when something is awry. This, of course, has its limits, and there were plenty of comments and manifestos that suggested -- far from outsourcing anxiety -- parents ought to trust their gut and not remain the first, last and fiercest advocate for their kids whenever anything was amiss. To that point, I received this e-mail last week:
I wholeheartedly disagree with Item No. 3 posted below your request for information.

My sister passed away (before I was born) because my parents listened to the pediatrician. She was born with health complications, and when she was sick at one month, the pediatrician said they were booked and she would have to come the following day. A few hours later, she had passed. I am sure my parents regret to this day, not demanding that she be seen, or taking her to the ER.

I suppose for your hypocondriach readers, the advice in No. 3 is suitable. My advice (coming from a non-mother) would be to trust your instincts when dealing with a sick child, and do not always trust the pediatrician who is giving you advice over the phone, when your gut tells you otherwise. Better safe then sorry when dealing with the health of an infant.
Despite my initial don't-worry-be-happy stance, I find it hard to disagree with these sentiments. There is a balance, I'm sure, but this note is a reminder that a few false alarms are far preferable to even one serious but rationalized-away problem. I stand corrected.


Monday, December 18, 2006

Cleaning Out the Mailbag

There are a few things piling up in the inbox that have been neglected lately, and I wanted to bring some of them to you. Lemme start with Dad Center an online dad magazine from Don Leiser, the guy behind Don is looking for some working dads to contribute, so if you're interested, surf on over.

I also received an e-mail from Rhonda Present flagging her Illinois organization, ParentsWork:
We're a grassroots organization of Illinois parents and grandparents dedicated to ensuring that all moms and dads have the time, resources and support we need to care for our children and families. And, of course, paid family leave is top on our agenda!
Rhonda is trying to snag 100,000 parents by the end of the decade, so if you're in Illinois, please offer your support.

In addition, I have some updating to do to the blogroll. Trying to get that updated by Christmas.

Finally ... there are two new manifestos up. Please keep 'em coming.

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Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Manfesto Project: First Nuggets of Wisdom

OK. We're up to 19 manifestos online at the Parenting Manifesto Page, and I hope you'll keep sending them in. There is some brilliant stuff in there, and it's becoming an interesting parenting guide for a couple of reasons 1) seeing the areas of broad agreement really emphasizes the core skill set you need to get by as a parent and 2) there are the occasional items that -- while not generally part of the parenting canon -- are absolutely, positively true.

Among the highlights so far:

From Al Arsenault:
4 - if they make their bed, they lie in. Don't always go rushing in to clean up their messes. If they break something, they bought it.
From Slurry Feed:

2. Read to your kids! Instill in them the power and joy of a good book! Added bonus: if/when your wife is pregnant with a second (or third, etc.) child, your reading aloud benefits both kids!
From Sue Mort:
3. Do not project your fears about your child's safety on to the child. Your child should believe that most people are good and the world is a wonderful place. Teach her how to be safe, but don't make her fearful.
From Elizabeth at Half Changed World:
This doesn't mean that everything you do will work out right. Sometimes your best just isn't good enough, or what you thought was the best turns out in hindsight to look like a mistake. Be able to step back and laugh at the situation. All you can ever do is try something, and see what happens. If it works, great. If not, you try something else.
From Hedra and Will:
4. Identify with yourself, not them.
· Don’t take it personally.
And that's just the start. There's lots more wisdom in there, and I'll keep highlighting as I read and re-read everyone's stellar submissions. Thanks!

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Friday, December 15, 2006

Kids Think the Darnest Things (?!)

I'm not sure whether to be angry or confused or depressed over research from the University of Maryland that found that while kids between 7 and 10 years old think that moms are perfectly capable as parents *and* wage-earners, they're less impressed with a father's ability to stay home. Waaay less impressed:
Most kids said that dads should go back to work and not stay at home because "they would probably sit on the couch with potato chips and not much around the house would get done."
The findings -- dropped in an ABC News piece as part of their aneurysm-inducing "mommy wars" series, came from conversations with more than 100 kids, but the piece was light on the numbers and heavy on anecdote. I don't mean to suggest that the children interviewed by researchers Melanie Killen and Stefanie Sinno didn't knock the idea of dads-as-parents, but the lack of detail makes it difficult to pick the conclusion apart.

I'm sure there is some blame to go around here. I'd love to know whether the researchers controlled for parental involvement -- did the kids who saw dads as incapable parents have distant/workaholic dads? Did children of egalitarian marriages have more charitable views? And where'd these kids come from? I imagine that 100 kids in my progressive neighborhood -- even the ones with nose-to-the-grindstone fathers -- know at least one super-involved dad of one of their friends. But though we're probably not representative, I have no way of knowing how representative the University of Maryland sample is.

If the results *do* reflect reality, I'd also like to portion some blame to the media. Where in the world did the sit-on-the-couch-eating-potato-chips-while-the-house-falls-apart stereotype start? Oh yeah! 1983, with Mr. Mom. (Followed by Al Bundy, Homer Simpson, Jim Belushi, etc. etc.)

Fortunately, by age 10, these impressions start to fade. But still -- oy! -- it sounds like we have some work to do with the little ones.

Manifesto Update: Thank you all tons for the wonderful manifestos. There are a dozen or so already posted, with a few more in the hopper. Please keep them coming. And, of course, thanks to Hugh for the inspiration.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Manfesto Project

As I hinted yesterday, I'm on to a new project to gather some big-picture thinking on parenthood from my readers. More in today's On Balance,which includes *my* big-picture thinking:
Today, I have a challenge: I want you to share your universal truths about parenthood. E-mail me (at a manifesto of no more than 500 words on any parenting/balance topic you can think of, and I'll post them all at and highlight the best of them on the main page and/or this space.

I'm inspired by a recent project from one of the more interesting bloggers out there, Hugh MacLeod from (occasionally NSFW). He's been calling for manifestos of 500 words or less on any topic and posting some of the more interesting ones. It's fascinating to see the big-picture thinking that has emerged. I want to expand this kind of knowledge-sharing, so please pass along your thoughts. They don't have to be perfect. Just true.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Quick Hits

As it turns out, is as hip and dad-friendly as they claim. You've gotta love a place that rounds up The Zero Boss, MetroDad and, apparently, DaddyTypes. And let's face it, any publication that dares to take on Masiy the Mouse is worth a second look.

I've be using the RebelDad space for a new project beginning tomorrow. Check out my On Balance post ... should be up at 7 a.m. Details here shortly thereafter.

Finally: I only point this out twice a year (Father's Day is the other excuse), but if you're looking for a gift for a dad in your life, please take a gander at the available Rebel Dad gear.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Old Time Rock and Roll Dad

I have to be honest: I really hadn't noticed that Bob Seger had all but disappeared from the rock scene for the last decade. But apparently, the musical genius behind "Old Time Rock and Roll," had indeed taken some time off to do the at-home dad thing, according to a piece in the Kansas City Star (the city, apparently, had its mind blown by playing host to the At-Home Dad Convention and now can't resist writing about dads). So add Seger to the list of celebs who have done the at-home dad thing.

Waiting on Babble: is apparently launching tonight. The New York Times profiled the hipper-than-me online mag on Sunday, but what struck me as revolutionary was not that the pub would be hip, but that the folks behind it expected to capture ... dads. Best of luck in that effort, and I can't wait to see the product.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Everything You Wanted to Know About Dads

It seems like it was just last week that I was lamenting that no one ever seems to take a look at family dynamics through the prism of dads, practically begging for a comprehensive report to fall from the sky. And yesterday -- voila! -- a comprehensive report on dads did indeed fall from the sky (more accurately, it was introduced at a DC press conference. But close enough).

The National Fatherhood Initiative's effort, the Fathering Attitudes Survey (PDF), is a great piece of work. It's built on what seems like a strong 701-father survey and analyzed with some statistical rigor. NFI is focused pretty tightly on thinking about ways for men to be "involved, responsible, and committed fathers," and it's a goal worthy of a lot of support.

I don't have the space to go through all the of the results, or even all of the important results, but I encourage you to take a look at the 30-page report. It is probably worth calling attention to a few of my longstanding -- though often thinly supported -- beliefs that are backed up by the NFI survey:
1. The media isn't doing dads any favors. The report ranks "media/popular culture" as the no. 2 obstacle to good fathering, behind "work responsibilities" but ahead of "financial problems" or "lack of knowledge." Of survey respondents, 65 percent agreed that "The media (e.g. commercials and TV shows) tend to portray fathers in a negative light."

2. It also confirms the importance of guys connecting with each other. The survey found 73.9 percent of dads drew on "other fathers or men" for help in being a dad. That was no. 2 (after "wife, partner or child's mother" but ahead of "their mother" and "their father.") And 77 percent agreed that "as a father, you feel a responsibility to help other fathers improve their fathering skills."

3. This generation of fathers is increasingly confident in the daddy role. A huge number -- 99 percent -- agreed that "being a father is a very important part of who you are," and 78 percent say they have the skills to be a good father.

4. We need to continue to think on ways to prepare guys for fatherhood: 54 percent of dads felt adequately prepared for the gig when they first became fathers.
These snippets don't do the report justice ... it has some nice demographic breakdowns and gives a novel picture of fatherhood.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Family Leave Needs *You*

The United States has staggeringly weak family leave laws, so any attempt to muck with what little we have makes me very, very nervous. So I was, naturally, alarmed when I read at Half Changed World that the government had put out a Request for Information on the Family and Medical Leave Act (and even put out a press release about it.)

Though it seems hard to contemplate that FMLA could actually be made *worse*, but longtime readers will remember my alarm in early 2005, when the government began making noise about changes.

This has been quiet so far -- Moms Rising is on it, and there's an AP story on the effort that quotes Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families:
Ness does not want to see sweeping changes "that could seriously undermine the protections that people now have, and our worry is that this is a step toward doing that," she said in an interview.

I know a lot of the readers here have experiences with FMLA -- I know I have -- and it is vitally important that your experience be on the record. The government is taking comments until Feb. 2 at Please, please drop a comment noting your support for FMLA (or -- heaven forbid -- a *strengthened* FMLA.

If you're looking for a silver lining, today's New York Times has one. Apparently, incoming Dems are ready to fight for paid sick leave. It's not a huge step (we need paid family leave, we need more flexibility to FMLA, etc. etc.), but every little bit helps.