Monday, January 30, 2012

Dads Aren't Second Class Parents and Boys Aren't Second Class Readers

Over the weekend I read an article in Parenting Magazine that pissed me off. As a quick aside I think it's funny that I read the actual article in the actual magazine and only later discovered that my anger wasn't alone and that it developed organically. But I digress...

The part of the article that pissed me off was a small part of an otherwise bland article but it *was* a part that sent off alarm bells.

I mentioned the article on Twitter on Saturday morning and much to my amazement I wasn't the only one who noticed the article.

So first let's get to the article.

The article appeared in Parenting Magazine. CNN ran it on their site. The comments section blew up. And Jezebel picked up on the story.

The article was called "The New Playdate Playbook" by Senior Editor Deborah Skolnik. Here is the offending passage:

The Sitch: You've accepted a sleepover invite for your daughter, not realizing that only her pal's divorced dad will be home. You're not OK with it. What to do?

The Solution: "Call and say 'I'm sorry, and this is about me and not you, but I just don't feel comfortable with a man supervising an overnighter,' " says Paone. Offer to host the girls at your place instead, if you can, or ask to turn the sleepover into a "late-over," where your daughter stays only till bedtime. In the future, always ask who'll be on duty before you say yes to a sleepover.

Oh, where to start.

First of all why would you accept a playdate and not know the familial situation (never ever “sitch”). Second why is the father in the example stigmatized with “divorced dad?" Why isn't he a single dad? You've essentially agreed to a sleep over having only dealt with the dad beforehand or you've dealt with his girlfriend or wife or significant other and are now changing the rules of the game. Or, worse yet, you've accepted an invite from his ex-wife and are caught off guard about something you should have known about.

Third of all What the Fuck?!

Really Deborah and fictitious mom. Really. Dad's aren't to be trusted with little girls is what your saying. How about saying this instead. Get the fuck over it. Men are parents too and increasingly they are the caregivers I might add.

Look, I've been a single Dad and was one for years. I sat on the floor with my daughter watching Saturday morning cartoons teaching myself how to braid and do other hair styles. I've played Barbie and I've played war.

Because when it comes to the line of demarcation between traditional fathers and the kind I'm trying to be, it always comes down to the hair. We've all seen little girls out with Dad, and their hair just looks crazy, almost as if they just rolled out of bed. There are pieces sticking out everywhere, there aren't any barrettes, and, if there are, they're just kind of stuck on there. And, as a community, we say, "Yep, she's out with Dad," as if that's an excuse for the little girl to look like some kind of nut.

If I had a dollar for every time I would take the kids out to the store when they were little and a woman said to me “Oh, is it Daddy's day out” in a cloying and condescending tone of voice I would be a rich man.

Here's the thing, I've also been the one to comfort and teach. I've been the one who dealt with middle of the night sickness. I've taught how to read and laughed over the simple joy of Sponge Bob in the morning.

Women don't have a monopoly on the parenting game any longer, and they shouldn't. Dad's are in the game too. Things need to change.

The advice to the mother should have been. "What the hell is wrong with you accepting an invite to a house you don't know anything about and you should have your damn head examined for your sexist attitudes." Plus, I can braid like a motherfucker too.

In addition to the many things I would call myself I am a parent and I take that responsibility very seriously. One of the things that I've noticed as a parent is that boys are being left behind and left out.

Earlier this week I watched a TED talk given by Charr Chellman called “Gaming to Re-Engage Boys in Learning”. It's a short talk that highlights some of the many issues but doesn't get in to the meat of solutions. First you've got to know the problem before you can start to solve it.

In her talk Chellman points out some of the systemic and institutionalized rules and policies that are effectively eradicating behaviors in boys that would largely be considered “normal” and creating an environment where they are being left behind.

One of the things that I want to focus on right now is this quote from the talk:

“Another way that zero tolerance lives itself out is in the writing of boys. In a lot of classrooms today you're not allowed to write about anything that's violent. You're not allowed to write about anything that has to do with video games -- these topics are banned. Boy comes home from school, and he says, "I hate writing." "Why do you hate writing, son? What's wrong with writing?" "Now I have to write what she tells me to write." "Okay, what is she telling you to write?" "Poems. I have to write poems. And little moments in my life. I don't want to write that stuff." "All right. Well, what do you want to write? What do you want to write about?" "I want to write about video games. I want to write about leveling-up. I want to write about this really interesting world. I want to write about a tornado that comes into our house and blows all the windows out and ruins all the furniture and kills everybody." "All right. Okay." You tell a teacher that, and they'll ask you, in all seriousness, "Should we send this child to the psychologist?" And the answer is no, he's just a boy. He's just a little boy. It's not okay to write these kinds of things in classrooms today.”

I have two children that are elementary school age. One of the biggest things that I have noticed over the years is that there aren't any male teachers or administrators. The only males in the building are the janitor and the gym teacher. What kind of message are we sending to our boys with this very obvious signal? Many of our educational problems with boys would likely be solved with this one very simple addition. We need more male teachers for our young children in general but our young boys specifically.

But the bias of the article from Parenting Magazine carries over and there is a tendency to view male caregivers as inferior at best or pedophiles at worst.

A great companion to this is Philip Zimbardo's talk, “The Demise of Guys?” wherein he tells us that:

Boys' brains are being digitally rewired in a totally new way for change, novelty, excitement and constant arousal. That means they're totally out of sync in traditional classes, which are analog, static, interactively passive. They're also totally out of sync in romantic relationships, which build gradually and subtly.

There is a widespread problem hiding in plain site.

So my son spent a couple of hours this weekend at the dining room table hard at work. His finished product was some illustrations and a story synopsis that he plans on fleshing out in to a bigger story.

It's awesome and it's pure “boy”.

“Another immortal planet will collide with earth. But...We need the undead to stop it. If we fail a fatal war will end all forms of life. Two brothers and their 16 friends are up against 68 million werewolves, corpses and vampires. The skeleton key necklace could end their world not ours. What will be needed is a sacrifice. A risky sacrifice that will end their world...or ours.“

If we look at what boys want to write then we get a glimpse into the kinds of books that they want to read. Because boys aren't reading and most YA sales are girls and adults. Folks, if you want boys to buy books then write books they want to read.

My son, in all of his 10 year old wisdom, is more than happy to tell people what he wants to read. He wants lots of fights. Lots of monsters. And it should be “action-y”. Boys don't want romance, or a moral, or a lot of exposition or narrative. They want more action.

I remember one time asking Duane Swierczynski if he had ever considered writing YA. One because our kids are near the same age and two because his writing style for adults would be perfect for boys.

Look, I could go on and on but there's no action in that. The bottom line is that everything is connected. What happens here affects what happens there and nothing takes place in a vacuum. As crime fiction fans we know this. That's why we like reading about how a killer is made, or the after effects of a crime, or any number of things. Sloganeering is popular these days. Reducing something to a simplistic shadow of it's reality and complexity and nuance are shunned.

If we continue to dismiss the legitimate roles of men in our society, we're conditioning the men of tomorrow to expect to be excluded and discriminated against, to be overlooked in classrooms and in family matters. How can we complain about boys being hyper and addicted to video games when we exclude them, by failing to engage their interests, provide suitable role models and lowering their expectations for legitimacy and acceptance within society?

As my wife would put it, "I'm tired of people lowering their standards for boys because of their gender, and I'm tired of a society that claims Dads have equal rights to Moms, yet overwhelming denies Dads joint custody, or an equal share... a society that assumes every man is evil and forgets the Casey Anthonys and Susan Smiths.

Consider this:

"In the United States, women commit only two crimes as frequently as men. The first is shoplifting. The second is the murder of their own children."

We need to work harder, all of us.

Currently reading: From the Darkness Right Under Our Feet by Patrick Michael Finn; El Gavilan by Craig McDonald; Brit Grit Too


Unknown said...

Great post. I have a son, and it is a worry.

Dana King said...

I'm the divorced, non-custodial father of a daughter who is now pretty much grown. For several years I lived in a different city from her and her mother, and flew in on some weekends for visits. I'd also take her with me for week=long stays at my small apartment. I've done the middle of the night trips to the drug store, watched DUMBO eight times in a week, crawled through playlands and jungle gyms built for someone 1/4 my size, cooked meals, done laundry, fixed cuts, and threatened to lay out an airport traveler who kept bopping my daughter upside the head with her careless luggage handling. I've stayed in the same hotel rooms as her on cross-country trips, taken her shopping, and hung out in malls reading while she went to parties at friends' houses until it was time to get her.

Her mother was always the primary caregiver, but anyone who wants to tell me to my face I didn't bust my ass to be a good (and safe) parent who loves his kid just as much as her mother had either be able to take me, or have a lawyer handy.

Kieran Shea said...

Brian: This screed is exceptional. I'm so with you on every singled $#@T*& point.

Thomas Pluck said...

Excellent post. I've shared it all around. The "Father's Rights" movement got hijacked by misogynist deadbeats, so we have to start anew.

Abusers have no gender or sexual orientation. The only thing they have in common is access to the circle of trust. This discrimination against male caregivers is what allowed a female NJ babysitter to molest a 5 year old repeatedly. She was only caught when her cell phone videos were found on a boyfriend's computer. She was never suspected.

If I wasn't allowed to write about violence as a kid, I never would have written. I wrote about Killer Cars. A mutant genetic hamster that attacked a city. Alien starfish that sucked out your brains.

This is scary stuff. While I generally think it is very easy to be a man these days, this is one area where it is most certainly not, and thank you for writing about it.

YA Sleuth said...


And I hate commercials where women do all the cleaning, and guys are portrayed as blubbering idiots who can't do anything without their wife.

Unknown said...

The 'Daddy's day with the kids' one is funny. I've been the single parent of two daughter since they were 11 months and almost 3. The amount of times I have shop assistants, waitresses etc say "Oh giving mum a break are we dad?" or similar would be too long to list here.

I used to let it slip with a half smile/grin. But when I eventually spoke up and said no I have them full time I was then greeted with another platitude- "Oh I'm sorry."they'd offer. Why were they sorry. I was having a great time. Sure I never slept, had no social life and was permanently broke. But boy it was a joy to be able to bring these two wonderful girls up.

Even when they would give me a proverbial slap on the back and tell me I was doing great, not many men do it, I would still get annoyed. Why was it so special because I'm a man and why is not as special if you area female singe parent? I know a few single mother's who would be sneered at yet I was getting smiles. Why?

Eventually people get used to it. Though those first few years were a real eye opener on how society judges single parents in general, single mothers and the role of a father.

Ben said...

These are two difficult issues to deal with. First that article is really appalling. It's really instigating fear of everything with a penis. It's saying that every dad is a potential case of pedophilia. The worst part in that is to see a woman in a position of great influence (renowned editor), saying something so irresponsible and damaging.

As for boys reading, this is a veyr deep problem. I have went to almost the top of the literary academy (stopped before PhD) and the problem is rooted right there. What is read in classrooms is often decided in a university office and the people "canonizing" novels are old and not in touch with the reality of today's youth.

I remember my brother-in-law went to a high school specialized for more manual kids (where he did great, btw) and I had this discussion with the mother-in-law because she thought it was great that they made them read "action packed adventure stuff for tough boys". I was like "Every boy would like to read this. Don't you think the kid who has to chose in between Jane Austen and Ezra Pound wouldn't like to read Catch Me If You Can too?" Times have changed and old farts like Harold Bloom who behave like everything nowadays is raping the sanctity of aesthetic don't help. I'd make Swiercynzski and Elmore Leonard mandatory reads in high school. The number of boys picking up reading in my class would skyrocket.

Diana said...

Excellent post.

This has been a big problem for a long time now. When I got divorced in the 90's and started looking for additional male role models for my son I noticed the same thing that you have. There are no men in daycares or elementary schools. He had been surrounded mostly by women and very few men.

I think the root of this can be found back in the Fifties where the ideal family the mother stayed home and the dad went to work and didn't spend time or take care of his children. That was the mother's responsibility. My generation, the Baby Boomer generation, didn't have active male role models to learn from; the men had to figure it out on their own and some didn't bother. As a result, I had a neighbor tell me that she couldn't go out and do something because her husband could not take care of the baby. WTF? He has two arms and a brain, he can change a damn diaper. It isn't rocket science.

It's better now. Men are taking a more and more active role in raising their children. There are men like you and the other dads who have responded here who are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. Good. Good for you. Our children need more men like you in the world.

Smudge said...

Yep. Very well said.