Dads, can we talk?
I have a completely non-scientific inkling that some of you who read the Parent Chat column fairly regularly (and thank you!) are dads. This is based entirely anecdotally on the fact that many fathers often leave comments or email me directly with feedback (again, thank you!).
Often, the thinking goes that in general dads would like to read and talk about parenting about as much as (insert dreaded activity here). My own husband would agree—he reads my parenting articles completely out of love (and some obligation).
What’s your excuse?
Are you an anomaly? Or, are you evidence, as some have been saying recently, of an audience of men who the parenting media largely ignores, or leaves out because they have assumed that you aren’t interested?
Or is it that you aren’t interested in buying what we’re selling? (More on that in a bit.)
When we began the Parent Chat feature on the Danville/Alamo and San Ramon Patch sites, we assembled a panel of parents from our communities whom we periodically ask for their opinions about parenting issues we’re talking about.
From the beginning we felt it was important that we include at least one dad on the panel.
Michael McGinley of San Ramon, father of two sets of twin boys, has gamely provided “the dad perspective” for over a year now.
I don’t think he’s missed responding to a single topic we’ve requested he comment on, and always does so as thoughtfully as any other parent on the panel.
But, I don’t think McGinley would describe himself, or his willingness to discuss parenting, as atypical of other fathers.
When I asked him this week if he feels “left out” of the media’s discussion of parenting, McGinley responded, yes, he does feel “ignored.” But he said he believes that the media doesn't direct their content towards dads because they are not the intended “target audience.”
The media’s goal is “to sell products and advertising of products,” he said, and “moms are the ones who buy household products.”
He does feel, though, that the singular focus on moms does negatively impact dads like him. Dads are “out of (media) sight, out of mind; trivialized, or portrayed as incompetent in commercials, TV shows, etc."
Others share his view and are increasingly putting their foot down about it.
Dads are beginning to speak up for themselves, steadily staking out their own pieces of the parenting blogosphere, and utilizing social media channels to reach out to other fathers who feel they aren’t represented or supported.
Brands are beginning to notice too.
Huggies, recently had to manage a barrage of bad press, and back track and re-tool an ad campaign, which backfired badly, because it played to the “incompetent father” stereotype.
In talking to other dads, what has become clear to me is that father’s have opinions about parenting, if you ask them, but there is some truth to the assumption that dad’s generally don’t seek out opportunities to discuss parenting.
McGinley said, “(Most) dads just aren’t as chatty about raising kids.”
“We’re like Nike,” he says. “We ‘just do it,’ and don’t spend a lot of time discussing, dissecting, and worrying if someone is doing it better or differently.”
Moms, you should also care about dads being left out of the discussion.
Some well-known bloggers are pointing out that the exclusion of dads is also damaging to women.
Annie Urban, a parenting blogger who created the well respected blog, PhD in Parenting, recently wrote a response in the New York Times to yet another “mommy wars” battle, set off this go around by a provocative Time magazine cover depicting a mother breastfeeding her four-year old son, who was standing on a stool. The photo accompanied a story in the issue about the attachment parenting approach to childrearing, which carried an equally as provocative headline, “Are you mom enough?”
Women everywhere erupted in indignation; moms assumed their battle formations, and the in fighting reached another sad peak of divisive intensity.
Urban argued that this latest installment in the ongoing battle could be blamed in part on the continued hyper-focus we direct at the role and impact of mothers in childrearing.
When the parenting discussion is almost entirely focused on “mothering” rather than “parenting,” she contends, the debate continues to pit mothers and their differing “choices” against one another, rather than working for solutions that serve the family as a whole.
Society (and women) would be better served, she said, if the discussion included “the missing link”—fathers—and pushed for valuing fathers who “strike a balance between their career and family life too.”
Annie Urban, PhD in Parenting, May 3, 2012:
“If we do not talk more openly and frequently about the role that fathers can, should, and often want to play in parenting, then we will not see the societal shifts that are needed to migrate away from the conflict that women feel between their careers and their families.”
To Urban and McGinley’s points, when fathers are excluded from the discussion, and the stereotype of uninvolved, disinterested, and inept dads, who are limited solely to the “provider” role are perpetuated in the media’s representation of parenting, as a result, dads are alienated and marginalized, and women fight it out endlessly and fruitlessly with one another over “choices” that are in some sense rigged.
Consider, for example, that the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that the U.S. falls far short of the types of supports available to families found among 21 of the richest nations in the world.
The U.S. is one of only two countries surveyed that does not offer paid family leave. Additionally, the U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act, which features up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, does not provide for 40 percent of the workforce, due to eligibility requirements. And, among the remaining 60 percent eligible, only realistically serves one fourth of those workers. (There are some provisions on a state-by-state basis, however.)
Leave is also notably non-transferrable between parents, which more often than not results in women leaving the workforce for a time and shouldering the bulk of the childrearing responsibility. (You can read the full report here.)
Therefore, excluding dads from the discussion has a material impact on shaping policies that could better support families as a whole.
Locally, we have evidence that dads want to work on being good parents and husbands.
we spotlighted last year designed to help mentor dads of middle-school aged sons, packed a school auditorium, and has since served as a template for additional talks at other schools in the . And, as the women at the back of the room during that event observed at the time, the dads "weren't shy" to talk about parenting.
So, dads, tell us, how can we in the media better include you in the conversation?