The Women, Action & the Media Conference begins today in Boston. I had been invited to speak on a panel called "Start the 'Opt Out' Revolution Without Me: Media Coverage of Work-Life and Family Issues," but for some personal reasons, I won't be making the trip.
It promises to be one heckuva interesting event, though, particularly the "Opt-Out" session. One of the organizers of the event/panelist, Judith Stadtman Tucker from Mothers Movement Online still asked me for some dad-based perspective on how the media covers fathers. She was wondering where the absolute worst writing on dads could be found.
It was a tough question, actually, and what follows is based on my response to Judy. There is very little bad reporting done on fathers. This is the happy side effect of the not-so-happy fact that there is very little reporting done on fathers (though this is changing, and publications from Parents to Details have done some positive, spot-on pieces about fathers this year). To put it in a more gender-neutral way, there is very little reporting done on the family as a unit. This is a source of deep and abiding frustration for me.
Take the "opt-out" stories. Invariably, these stories (including the original Belkin piece) spend thousands of words talking about mom's "choice." Yet to read these stories, you'd think the choice was made in a vacuum where other people don't exist. These women, by and large, have husbands, but their decisions and motivations are never put under a microscope. We don't learn if the husbands of opt-out women are different than the husbands of opt-in women or if this is about economics or marital power or a generation gap in expectations about fathers.
(Perhaps the most interesting bit in the interesting-bit-packed Elle profile of Caitlin Flanagan was the news that Flanagan's husband went corporate largely to enable Flanagan to fulfill her longstanding desire to do the at-home mom thing. What I wouldn't give to get his perspective, then and now. I don't know if he's happy with his decision or not, but he certainly ought to be a part of the story.)
Until the media starts probing the father's motives as well as the mother's (and the way the needs of both spouses interact), no opt-out story will ever tell a full or accurate picture. So the absence of dads in these stories constitutes lousy reporting.
The other headache is death by a thousand slights. No writer is dumb enough to bash father directly via long-form journalism, largely because the news is so good. Fathers are doing more around the house, young fathers claim to be more committed to work/life balance than the generation that came before, etc. etc. So if a writer -- usually a neotraditionalist woman arguing for a return to the Donna Reed family model -- wants to suggest that dads are, at best, bumbling caretakers, they have to do it subtly, as a throwaway aside. The examples abound.
So while the state of dad-focused journalism isn't terrible, the lack of father consideration in broader family stories means that there's plenty of family reporting that tells half (or less) of the story. posted by Rebel Dad
5:56 AM |
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Steiner Discovers Capable Father
I have been actively ignoring Leslie Morgan Steiner since last week, when decided her whole "Mommy Wars" thing was passe. Among the things I ignored was a blog posting from Steiner on her blog asking for the perspective of some fathers. I was thrilled to see that almost no one commented on that post, which seemed appropriate given her repeated dadbashing.
So I was more than a little surprised to read her blog yesterday and see it had been given over entirely to an at-home dad telling his story in his words. It's a wonderful little piece, forwarded without snark, and the most damning criticism anyone raised in the comments was that the dad, Max from Milwaukee, seemed to be painting an overly rosy picture. (The other criticism that was raised involved whether Max's story -- which Steiner called "so interesting" -- would have been considered all that blog-worthy if he'd been a woman.)
Update: Contrast the Max post with today's entry, in which she tells her husband "You're just not as good at the childcare stuff as I am." I know we're in the realm of the anecdote, but it's another blow to the idea that fathers are perfectly good parents.
For some insight into how today's families are making the at-home dad decision (and what life is like), this extensive interview with two at-home dads in the Newburyport (MA) Current is well worth the read. It all sounds so matter-of-fact, and I dream of a future in which all families make their choices about childcare in the same gender-neutral way that these two families approached it. posted by Rebel Dad
5:18 AM |
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
About a decade ago, I started my first permanent job at a dynamic company. It was full of whip-smart young people, who were lured to this employer by some very friendly policies. We were probably paid more than our competitors, we received great health benefits, a generous 401(k) matching program, and a kitchen area fully stocked with snacks and drinks. I worked a few desks down from a guy named Paul, an intense and very, very good economics reporter.
I left that company not long after my daughter was born after trying -- and failing -- to come to an arrangement that would allow me to balance work and my newfound desire to be an involved father.
As it turns out, Paul, whose professional life was forged in the same crucible, is now also a father. Though he, too, left the company years ago, and he is now writing professionally about ... family issues. He's working for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and just launched a PI-hosted blog called Family Man. It's worth checking out -- some parent hacks, some trendspotting, some other, hard-to-categorize treats.
Paul actually makes the second erstwhile colleague of mine who is doing heavy thinking on family. Another -- a Newhouse reporter named Katherine Lewis -- has also written a great deal on work-family balance (thanks again to RD readers who have helped out Katherine in the past).
The fact three former employees of a company with a hard-driving culture would "grow up" to think more and more about family is fascinating, and probably not coincidental. My former employer could very well be the kind of company that will first feel the pressures of the daddy wars. Though they have tried to give employees what has traditionally been seen as excellent benefits, our experience underscores that until you begin to understand that flexibility is the lynchpin benefit, you won't be able to retain employees, no matter how good the snacks in the kitchen. posted by Rebel Dad
5:05 AM |
Monday, March 27, 2006
Not Angry. Yet.
A number of readers have been nice enough to point to an Associated Press story on new sitcoms loaded up for next season. It looks like a show called The Angriest Man in Suburbia has the green light from CBS. From what I've read, it should be DOA. I give it six episodes. Apparently, the character won't be a single-joke grumpy at-home dad. He'll also hate his new state, California. I really have no idea where the appeal lies, and I can simply hope that the main character's occupation isn't mined for tired, thirty-year-old gags.
It is possible to have a father-based sitcom that doesn't fall into that trap (CBS pulls off its single-father sitcom "Two-and-a-Half Men" without touching the dad-is-a-hopeless-failure-as-a-parent storyline), but simply showing an overwhelmed and irritated father struggling to relate to his smart-aleck kids just doesn't cut it as humor anymore. Sorry CBS.
Also -- File Under "Involved Fatherhood: Benefits": A new study finds that the quality of a father's relationship with his daughter is directly related to a delay in sexual activity. I know no one reading this site needs to be convinced, but it's a nice reminder that your attention makes a difference. posted by Rebel Dad
5:49 AM |
Friday, March 24, 2006
Now that the Leslie Morgan Steiner mommy wars story has played itself out, I'm gearing up for the next onslaught, which is going to be Caitlin Flanagan and her new book: "To Hell with All That." (Because linking on the web is intepreted by Google as a vote of confidence, I'm not linking to the book's profile on Amazon. I'm sure you can find it if you look.) Flanagan's already been booked on the Today Show, there's no hope of her going quietly into the night.
Her book is a rewarming of her five-year career as a magazine essayist/reviewer/bombthrower, and reports are that she's toned it down a little in re-editing those pieces. There's also a new piece on her breast cancer.
If you want to prepare to jump into the Flanagan fray in the coming months, please, please read this profile in Elle magazine. The author, Laurie Anderson, paints a brilliant,damning portrait of Flanagan: her compelling writing, her apparent hypocrisy, her aversion to logic.
... thinking hard about what Flanagan is actually trying to say -- ?what her work stands for beyond the succor of sparkling prose -- may be something she should hope her readers will avoid ...
What is so stunning about Flanagan's writing are conflations such as these, only specious upon reflection, as well as her sudden reversals, as if she's willing to say whatever's most convenient, most clever, and damn the consequences.
Flanagan has always fascinated me. I have never understood how a great writer and could come to such loopy conclusions, and I'm grateful to Anderson for doing a great job of trying to answer that.
(Instant update: Flanagan is officially bait for the blogosphere, and I won't be able to keep up with what will no doubt be some wonderful posts. But Amanda at Pandagon probably has the title for best Elle/Flanagan analysis at this point. Update: In terms of vitriol, Gawker's Flanagan posting is also in the running.)
I really need to watch more TV apparently. Loyal reader Jason ended up channel surfing over to Nanny 911 last week, astonished to find that the show -- generally a showcase of bad parenting -- including "a stay-at-home-dad who was amazing at his job." Apparently, mom didn't do so well with the kids when she returned home from work, necessitating a visit from the reality television gnomes.
From what little I've seen of Nanny 911 and Supernanny, the general plot is almost always the same: there is a well-meaning but usually overwhelmed mother and a father that is almost entirely checked out. I am encouraged -- I might even call it progress -- to hear that Nanny 911 has flipped that structure around. I hope it emphasizes that the gender of the parents isn't all that important: dads can manage the household just find, moms can be overwhelmed ... and vice versa. It's all about the little steps. posted by Rebel Dad
5:43 AM |
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Daddy Wars Definition
I think the mommy wars meme is finally running its course; the number of brilliant anti-mommy wars posts on the web is now growing far faster than Leslie Morgan Steiner can whip up controversy. The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars -- the only mommy wars book with the RebelDad stamp of approval -- is up to number five on Google. (Special thanks to all the bloggers who are part of the mommy wars solution. Keep up the great work.)
So it must, then, be time for the daddy wars. Since I own daddywars.com (currently undeveloped), I get to define the term. Anyone in the media who uses a different definition will be taunted mercilessly in this space. Here goes:
Daddy Wars: The growing conflict between parents -- primarily fathers -- and their employers over flexible and varied work options that allow for more precise work-life balance. This conflict will be fueled by an increasing awareness that knowledge workers, with access to modern technology, are no longer bound by traditional working standards. More and more workers -- able to work at any time from anywhere -- will seek arrangements that allow them to maximize family time. But it won't solely be the always-on crowd that is fighting. As more and more men seek to make parenthood a central part of their life, fathers of all stripes will ask for innovate workplace solutions.
These "daddy wars," unlike the hyperbolic "mommy wars," will include real conflict. Legal battles are already being fought, and increasing attention will be directed toward workplace discrimination against parents of both sexes and from all economic strata. The legal challenges are already well underway -- Joan Williams and her WorkLifeLaw Center have been at the forefront. (The first battle was the fight of Kevin Knussman, a Maryland state trooper fired for taking Family and Medical Leave Act. According to Knussman: "When I protested, she said quote, 'God made women to have babies,' and until I could breast feed a baby, there was no way I could be a primary care provider.")
For daddy warriors, there is a clear objective: change the workforce into a place that recognizes the worth of many types of workers and accommodates employee needs for flexibility. That, I think, is a war well worth waging.
Show Me the Money (or at Least the Paid Leave)
Longtime readers will remember my glee when California instituted a modest but first-in-the-nation paid parental leave program. Sadly, there hasn't been a lot of progress since then. But a group in New Jersey is trying to import the idea, and I'd like to join Miriam Peskowitz in asking "what can we do to make this happen?"
This gives me a great opportunity to get onto my paid leave soapbox: I happen to believe that paid leave offers parents an opportunity to spend time with newborns under better, less stressful conditions than the current stay-home-as-long-as-you-can-economically-stand-it approach. My own experiences with at-home fatherhood were probably a direct result of my paid paternity leave. Paid leave is not a panacea -- examples abound of fathers refusing to take advantage of these opportunities -- but it is an important step in creating the right conditions for not only at-home fatherhood, but more active and involved parenthood, period.
The End of Opinion
I need to note that a great professional parenting blog experiment Opinionated Parenting has come to an end. OP was a weekly face-off between two bloggers who are fantastic in their own right, Laid-Off Dad and Mother in Chief, but the two writers never seemed to be able to break out the Crossfire-style format, which pretty much required that they disagree on the topic. It underscore a flaw similar to the recent mommy wars discussion: parenting is collaborative things, not an antagonistic one.
But I've held my tongue on Opinionate Parenting for a couple of reasons: 1) The two principals are great bloggers, doing their best and 2) I didn't want to do anything to discourage large media companies from hiring thoughtful parent bloggers. The concept was close -- all they needed to do was lift some of the constrains and let LOD and MIC have a *real* dialog.
Building an army: I was amazed to find, in this day of largely invented inter-parent battles, that daddywars.com was still available. So I stuck of the profits from the rebeldad.com store and bought it. In a Google-run world, I think this gives the power to define the term, and I'll share my official definition once I work out the kinds. Other than that, I have no idea what to do with the domain (I don't think I can managed two blogs at my rebeldad pace). I'm open to suggestions.
Catfight? Police Action?
Leslie Morgan Steiner -- the woman at the center of the recent mommy wars resurgance -- makes a sincere effort to distance herself from the phrase "mommy wars," suggesting that there really is a conflict going on between mothers. Well, not really between mothers, but rather, within mothers. In Salon today, she mentions that the book's original title was "Ending the Cat Fight," but that the publisher rejected it. Much better to start a war than end a fight, apparently.
I happen to agree wholeheartedly with Steiner's point that all parents feel pulled by the playground and the conference room. Nearly everyone I know -- mom or dad -- has had to question whether their work-life balance is, well, balanced. "Catfight" might be a bit strong, but I understand the larger point. (I have no doubt, by the way, that the essays in the book, on balance, deal thoughtfully with many of the issues of motherhood. But the attention the book has received is based less on the strength of those pieces of prose and more on the catty promise of the title and subtitle: "Mommy Wars: Stay-at-Home and Career Moms Face Off on Their Choices, Their Lives, Their Families.")
But let's not kid ourselves. The mommy wars stories (most of Steiner's media appearances and columns, the GMA bit, the Today show segment) are all pretty clear: this is not a mom-vs-herself narrative. This is being painted as mom vs. mom. Pick a side.
If we were actually talking about the "inner catfight," there would be a policy discussion asking whether such tension between work and home is inevitable. Would having better/cheaper childcare or more generous tax credits for at-home parents or better parental leave laws help? Maybe, maybe not. But it's much more useful to hear that debate than to lock Linda Hirshman in a TV studio with an at-home mom.
Sadly, Steiner appears to realize that -- she laments mommy in-fighting and suggests instead taking the fight to "government" and "employers." Unfortunately, her name is on the cover a book titled "Mommy Wars," which makes it hard to take her seriously as a peacemaker.
Dad for a Day
I used to be amused by stories about fathers (usually newspaper columnists) who -- after years of being the primary wage earner -- decide to take on the role of at-home dad for a day or two. I used to find them encouraging, signaling an additional convert to the ways of the involved parent.
I'm more cynical now (maybe it was the self-satisfied yet largely joyless Hard Tough Could It Be that did me in), so I wasn't that impressed with this Deseret News column about being an at-home dad for a long weekend. The author admits to never caring for his kids alone for longer than a day (his oldest is eight), and the youngest child he has to deal with is three.
I'm glad that the guy recognizes -- at least a little -- what the whole parenting this is about, but I think (I hope) that this is an increasingly anacronistic view of parenting. The guys in my neighborhood are not splitting the parenting duties with their wives 50-50, by and large, but they take on the role after work and on the weekend, and I can't imagine any of them blinking at the idea of getting some good daddy time during a long weekend. And they certainly wouldn't feel the need to crow about it in the newspaper.
The times (and the dads), they are a changin'.
Obligitory Mommy Wars Link: The National Organization for Women is now officially on the record as stating that these stories are trumped up dreck that diverts attention from the real problems facing mothers.
* Ben, the guy behind the incredible Trixie Update has formally released his track-your-baby's-every-poo software package. The power of Trixie Tracker, a web-based app, can be yours for less than $5 a month.
* On the subject of web stuff for parents, every other parenting site has linked to the very pretty and easy-to-navigate Minti. So I might as well, too.
* I am all for gender equity, but Dial's call for men to Take Back the Shower isn't really where we should be fighting the battle. (Thanks to Feministing for the link.)
* I can't help myself: turns out the mommy wars are full of conscientious objectors. Leslie Morgan Steiner's Washington Post piece seemed to generate a one-sided response: the paper printed two reader responses, both of them negative. And Steiner herself mentions on her blog that at the first reading for her book, "There wasn't any anger." Of course there's no anger. There's no war.
Bonus Steiner link: Check out her posting from today. And then read the comments. Glad to hear the revolution in fatherhood has finally reached her home.
Too Quick to Judge?
OK. Maybe I was too quick to condemn the recent rash (destined, I fear, to speak) of stories about the mommy wars stories. If you're paying attention, we've had Newsweek stories about it, Washington Post stories, an ongoing Good Morning America series and (according to rumor) some Today show segments.
(I'm intentionally not linking to these sources, since they contribute very little to what should be a serious discussion of work-life options for all parents. Suffice it to say that I've been unimpressed, particularly with Leslie Morgan Steiner's Post piece, which included this jaw-dropping line: "Wouldn't we be far better off if we accepted and supported all good, if disparate, mothering choices? Aren't moms ultimately united in our quest to stay sane, raise good kids, provide each other with succor and support, and protect humankind from the overly aggressive, overly logical male half of the species?")
But the fallout is shining a bit more light on dads. An intrepid reporter at ABCNews.com, looking for a new way to look at the issues the Good Morning America series is raising, began hearing more and more from dads who wanted to know where the "daddy wars" were at. (For clarification, we're not at war, but fathers would like some acknowledgement that making increasingly difficult work-life choices, too.)
So the reporter, Jen Brown, penned a thoughtful piece about dads and the new realities for fathers. And she's keeping an eye on the daddy space, so this -- hopefully -- will not be the last we hear of the daddy dilemmas.
The Latest from Mr. Dad
Armin Brott -- Mr. Dad himself -- is up to some new stuff that's worth flagging. For starters, he's doing regular dad podcasts, which just tickles me pink. I've had a couple people ask me in recent weeks where Rebel Dad Radio has gone, and I have to admit that it is one of those things that just takes too long to be a serious part of this site. I'll throw podcasts up now and again, but I just don't have the time.
Of course, now that Armin is pulling together slick, professional dad programming, reviving RDR might not be neccessary. His first show features at-home dads, including a conversation with At-Home Dad Handbook author Peter Baylies. (Let it be noted that while the Mr. Dad podcasts are great, my low-quality efforts came first ... Peter and Armin were both kind enough to participate in my early podcasts, and I'll be forever grateful for that.)
In addition, Armin has launched a new site aimed at working dads called Fathers At Work. The site's general argument is that businesses can reap benefits from working to mitigate work-family stress in the dads they employ. It's a great site to have out there (in addition to the ones I wrote about yesterday), especially given the recent concerns about the dearth of working-dad sites.
Hail the GTWD
I've been so absorbed in the stupidity of the mommy wars discussion that I've yet to post on the best Blogging Baby post in a long time -- this one on "go to work dads." It's a fantastic topic, and one that hasn't received nearly enough attention.
As much as I go on and on here about at-home fathers and the explosion of interest in guys who stay home, the real family revolution in the next decade will be centered on the increasing family roles played by of working fathers (especially young working dads. For most families, two wage-earners is a reality that can't be avoided, and talking solely about at-home parents cuts them out of the discussion. If I'm serious about advocating more involved fathers -- and I am -- the real opportunity for support is for the working fathers.
The BB post referred to a couple of other blogs that are well worth the read. Check out this Miles, etc. post for the closest thing to a GTWD manifesto:
So, if you've got a GTWD in your life - the kind who busts his ass all week and, from time to time, still takes the kid(s) to the park on weekend mornings so you can sleep in - do me a favor and give him a hug today, and tell him it's from me.
Okay, just give him a hug, and skip that part about me.
The Mommy Wars Solution
I promise I'll do my best to make this the last mommy wars post of week. I've spent part of the weekend despairing over the attention that the new Mommy Wars book is getting. I've been turning over ways to silence this meme. Sadly, I don't work for the Washington Post, and my work isn't excerpted by Newsweek and my book hasn't been picked up by Random House. All I have is a small corner of the web.
But I've decided to leverage this small corner, and if you have a blog and write about the mommy wars, I'd ask you to pitch in. If there's one book with "Mommy Wars" in the title that folks should look at, it's Miriam Peskowitz's The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars. And I would like to see The "Truth Behind the Mommy Wars" continue to outrank the new book on Google for the term "Mommy Wars."
So from now on, whenever I first use the words "Mommy Wars" in a post, I'll like to Miriam's book's entry on Amazon. If enough people associate that link to the "Mommy Wars" term, "Truth Behind the Mommy Wars" will remain at the top of the rankings. It's a small act, but I have to do *something.*
I've decided against withholding judgment on the new "Mommy Wars" book. My opinion, not having read the book, is that it won't get us a smidgen closer to addressing the very real dilemmas parents face in balancing paid work with family. My confidence in this judgment is based largely around a BusinessWeek interview with the book's editor, Leslie Morgan Steiner.
There are tantalizing clues that Steiner might actually understand why fanning the "Mommy Wars" flames is a bad idea, but in general, she seems to relish the mom vs. mom element of it.
But the thing that has pushed me over the edge is Steiner's treatment of fathers:
Do you expect to see a book on Daddy wars? It would be a very short book. Men aren't that introspective. When kids come, their lives haven't changed as much dramatically. When husband goes on a business trip to New York, he just packs his little suitcase. When I go away, I have to write a three-page memo for the nanny. I have to talk to three moms to arrange for people to pick up my kids from school. I have to send a note to school to tell them to call my husband in case of an emergency. And then I have to tell my husband to keep his cell phone on.
Look, I don't speak for all fathers here, but dads -- by and large -- are moving away from this stereotype. I expect this sort of bashing from the Darla Shine-types, but I honestly expected better from a Washington Post staffer.
Here We Go Again
I've written far too many posts about the "mommy wars" (or, more accurately, the "stupid mommy wars"), but it looks like I'm destined to write far too many more. There is the coming Caitlin Flanagan book, which is sure to re-open old wounds. And today I find out about a coming collections of essays with the migraine-inducing title "Mommy Wars: 26 stay-at-home and career moms face off on their choices, their lives, and their families". (Thanks to the BusinessWeek working parents blog for flagging this.)
The book isn't out yet, but I'm also tensing myself for disaster. Newsweek excerpted part of one essay, in which the writer, Sandy Hingston, comes to the not-entirely-subtle conclusion that her decision to embrace career contributed to a general meltdown in the behavior of her children. The take-home message: working moms shortchange their kids. And it shows. Perhaps the rest of the book will be more balanced, and maybe the overall thesis is that parenthood requires a set of compromises -- compromises that will differ for every parent, every family. But given Hingston's excerpt and the book's title, I won't hold my breath.
Of course, they lost me at "Mommy Wars." The mommy wars story is a complete fiction for three main reasons, and "mommy wars" is a term that no thoughtful writer should ever use without scorn. It assumes:
1. There are two warring factions. This is, of course, complete bunk. Just about every at-home parent will do a stint working outside the home. And in an era of increasingly flexible work arrangements (especially for, say, book contributing writers), there's a growing gray area between "working" and "at-home."
2. This is a war someone can win. No single arrangement is going to work for everyone. As much as I've enjoyed the various work-family permutations in my household, I don't preach them as gospel to the couple next door. The most options, the better. Being at home isn't the best option for everyone. Neither is working 60 hours a week. We don't need a take-no-prisoners crusade for either one.
3. The discussion only involves women: Thank goodness for the Time piece from earlier this week calling for a daddy war. We don't really need a daddy war, of course, but fathers need to be a part of the conversation about work-family balance. In a two-parent family, decisions about working and staying home are not made in a vacuum.
There is a bright side. As much as this whole thing pains me, at least I'm not Miriam Peskowitz, who wrote The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars, a brilliant piece of writing that should have ended the whole moronic debate once and for all. This sort of stupidity must *really* get to her. posted by Rebel Dad
7:05 PM |
Cartoons and Seriousness A couple of things worth flagging. For starters, eagle-eyed Peter Baylies, the man behind the At-Home Dad Handbook made a rare post on AtHomeDad.com, noticing today's Stone Soup comic strip. I'm not entirely certain what it means -- that non-traditional gender roles make for lousy parents, as measured by school lunches? I'm too tired to gin up outrage, but I suspect that the strip probably deserves at least a small dose of it.
Dads-at-home will be a tiny minority for as long as parents have to scramble to keep their heads above water, trying to make enough money to survive and give their kids the best life possible, under the circumstances. If Americans -- we fat, rich, selfish, sadistic, TV-watching bastards --? really wanted to encourage stable families and more paternal responsibility in raising kids, we'd raise our boys to be caregivers, guarantee health care for everyone, build more affordable housing, and require and incentivize employers to give all new parents, poor and middle-class, a break. Until all that happens, don't talk to me about trends.