Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Dumbest Dumb-Dad Story of All Time is Resurrected

Those with long memories will remember that about 5 years ago, I went all apoplectic over a Parenting magazine piece that suggested that women treat their husbands like children. Literally. The only saving grace was that the piece was entombed in the print edition and -- or so I thought -- was now safely rotting in our nation's landfills. But no, it's a zombie piece. It has returned, online, via CNN. If you want to find it, Google it yourself. I will not be linking to it. It's that bad.

But -- for the record -- I am republishing my original post. And if you want the follow-up (the reporter, Fernanda Moore, was stand-up enough to write me afterward), that post is here.
Over the last couple of weeks all sort of people have been asking me the same question: "What do you think of that stupid Parenting Magazine story?" And my answer has been that I hadn't seen it. My subscription lapsed, and, in the interest of keeping my blood pressure low, I didn't re-up. (Longtime RD readers will remember my pissed-off letter to the editor of April 2003. I just couldn't take it anymore. I have a subscription to Parents now, which has a dad's page and doesn't appear out to marginalize half the nation's parents. I'm much happier.) 

But I've bowed to the perverse pleasure of reading really bad stuff and purchased the magazine, which runs this on its cover: "Rewards? Time-outs? Strategies that work on husbands too." (Parenting isn't available online in any meaningful way. You'll have to buy/borrow/steal your own copy.) 

Let me start by trying to undermine the article's purpose. (I'll get into the usual Rebel Dad stuff in a moment.) This is some of the worst marital advice ever offered in print by anyone, anywhere. It is written by Fernanda Moore, a journalist, not a therapist, and it never escapes her entirely first-person take on events. There are no actual marriage counselors quoted, no experts to back up her five-strategy approach, no examples from other parents. This is good; I'd hate to think that there's an institutional backing for her advice. 

Among Moore's successful tactics? Telling hubby to "Go to your room," and "use your words," among other things. In short, the article proposes you treat your husband like a kid. A young kid. A toddler, really. (This stuff wouldn't work on teens.) 

Here's a public service announcement from me: if you order your significant other to his or her room, he or she is unlikely to act like Moore's husband who a) goes to the room and b) returns waving a white flag an hour later. He or she is more likely to act out in extreme anger and make the situation worse. (Moore's husband, by the way, returned home at 7:30 p.m. after telling his wife he'd be home at 7-ish. That was the crime. Seriously.) 

But the element of the story that really irks me is Parenting's decision to continue to push the outdated and dangerous idea that men are incapable of doing anything around the house. The magazine has completely given itself over to the elevation of motherhood above parenthood (count the number of headlines addressed to "mom" to see what I mean), and that's leaving kids shortchanged. Lately, I've been blaming the uncaring American workplace -- not societal stereotypes -- for the daddy disconnect between guys who say they want to be involved and the (lower) number who are. But it seems the stereotypes keep getting a good airing, and Parenting is doing its part to drive a wedge between men and caregiving. 

Mothers may giggle at the breezy, just-between-us-moms tone of the mag, but if a wife is serious about having dad to play a role in the lives of his kids, she'd be well-advised to send Parenting right to the recycling bin.

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