brucekluger.com

    USA Today, April 18, 2001

    Fantasy of full-time fatherhood falters

    By Bruce Kluger


    Two months ago, I was browsing through the magazine section at Barnes & Noble,
    accompanied by my daughters Audrey, 2, and Bridgette, 5. We were searching for
    the new issue of Dads magazine, in which my latest essay about being a father was
    scheduled to appear.

    "OK, Bridgey," I announced, after unsuccessfully scanning the racks for a few
    moments, "Dads is spelled D-A-D-S. Whoever finds the magazine first wins." Always
    up for a contest, Bridgette combed the shelves for only 45 seconds before
    announcing, "There it is!"

    As Bridgette ran to get me a copy, I lifted my eyes to read the name of the section
    in which the good people at B&N had chosen to display the magazine: "Women's
    Interests."

    "Of course," I grumbled to myself. "Why didn't I think of that?"

    Then again, I'm used to the dis. I left my full-time job as a magazine editor in 1999
    to begin freelancing out of my living room, writing primarily about parenting. Now
    well into my second year as an at-home dad, I have come to learn that, despite our
    society's impassioned call for more participation by fathers in the family unit,
    America isn't all that crazy about daddydom.

    As it turns out, my essay would never appear in Dads. Launched in the midst of a
    mini daddy-boom that flashed through the popular culture last summer, the bi-
    monthly journal, a handsome and noble effort that portrayed fatherhood in an
    upbeat, refreshingly hip way, ultimately folded after three issues—along with
    Offspring (a parenting magazine whose editor-in-chief was uncharacteristically
    male), the Website odaddy.com and two TV situation comedies, Normal, Ohio and
    Daddio, both of which portrayed fathers as the primary caregiver. All of these
    efforts debuted—and tanked—within the same year.

    The rapid rise and fall of this fatherhood fad is, to say the least, troubling, but not
    nearly as baffling as the ire the fleeting trend seemed to generate among, of all
    people, women. Indeed, when Dads magazine first appeared last summer, an
    opinion piece by freelance writer Joyce Winslow printed on this page greeted the
    new publication not with a clap on the back or a friendly rib (e.g., "It's about time!")
    but instead with open disdain. Winslow mocked Dads for everything from the
    selection of its cover subject—the peerless role model, Cal Ripken—to its exclusion
    off any articles on ballet. (In the 38 years I knew my father, we never once
    discussed Swan Lake.)

    Unfortunately, from my vantage point, Winslow's disregard for fatherhood seems to
    be more the rule than the exception these days. In response to an essay I wrote in
    Newsweek about how fathers are undervalued in our society, a woman from
    Charleston, S.C., wrote: "As long as it is women, not men, who suffer through the
    ordeals of pregnancy and childbirth, and as long as breast milk is considered
    superior to formula, fathers will indeed be parental also-rans. It's biology. Get over
    it."

    Now, I ask you, were a man to address, say, sexism in the workplace with such a
    cavalier shrug—in other words, if the stiletto were on the other foot—would women
    tolerate it? Would a magazine even publish such a boneheaded letter?

    Curiously, hard statistics vividly illustrate how America continues to overlook the
    true value of the father’s role in society better than any sitcom or dad-friendly
    Website could hope to. A recent study by two economists from the University of
    Southern California, Santa Barbara, for example, reports that children who are
    raised in fatherless homes are more than twice as likely to become male adolescent
    delinquents or teen mothers than those raised with fathers on-site.

    And yet, in his new book, Father And Child Reunion: How To Bring The Dads We
    Need To The Children We Love, Warren Farrell, Ph.D., reveals that, in the case of
    broken homes, the United States government spends 340 times as much money in
    its efforts to get fathers to pay child support as it does to ensure that those same
    fathers have continuing access to their children without interference by the mother.

    Bottom line: In other words, even as evidence mounts that a father’s influence on
    his children’s lives is both profound and invaluable, the government seems
    interested only in his paycheck.

    Consequently, with the Feds dropping the ball on the fatherhood front, it is once
    again up to the mass media--the Dads and Daddios and odaddy.coms--to get the
    word out on our behalf.
        
    And yet, I watch in amazement as this unique journalistic niche, so promising a year
    ago, closes before my very eyes. Four essays I recently submitted to Parents
    magazine were rejected because, as the editor-in-chief explained to me, "we
    recently ran a piece by a dad," as if a father's contribution to the editorial mix was
    more novelty than elemental, sort of like the way Hollywood casts a dwarf in
    comedy, just to liven things up a bit.

    Then there was the essay I submitted to Oxygen.com, America's leading all-women-
    all-the-time Website, which bought the piece with reservations ("Can you knock out
    the word exhilarating when you talk about being a dad?" asked the editor. "I mean,
    do you really, honestly find it exhilarating?) only to bump the article at the last
    minute in favor of a story about New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's extramarital affair.

    But the coup de grace came courtesy of the ever perky NickJr.com, which earlier
    this year unceremoniously dumped my regular column about the joys and fears and
    magic of fatherhood, replacing me the first month with—I kid you nota pair of
    articles called “Five Things to Do With a Shoebox” and “How to Make a Sock
    Puppet.”

    In the interest of journalistic science—and to prove to myself that my beef with the
    mommy-bias of these parenting publications was based in reality, and not just
    because they weren’t buying my stuff—I decided to conduct a little experiment.
    Plunking down three bucks of my own hard-earned cash, I picked up the most
    recent issue of Parents and gave it a serious thumb-through, page by chirpy page.

    Wow. If I wasn’t entirely sure before that, journalistically speaking, dads are
    routinely being relegated to the ol’ editor’s spike, I am now. To be sure, a few of the
    writers featured in the current Parents are indeed men, but their names are almost
    always followed by letters, indicating (to me, at least) that their presence among the
    formidable team of female contributors in the issue is more because of their
    academic credits than their fathering skills.

    Furthermore, even in those articles in which parents are mentioned as a unit, closer
    scrutiny reveals (to me, at least) that, it still always comes back to Mom.

    Case in point: In an article entitled, “What Makes a Great Parent?” (in which the
    term “parent” was presumably intended to refer to both mothers and fathers), the
    text is awash in data that is strictly maternal—e.g., “60% of moms say they have
    more fun with their kids than their parents did with them,” “52% of moms agree that
    kids who are raised with strict rules grow up to be the best adults,” “72% of moms
    say that religion should play a strong role in family life.”

    Reading the piece slack-jawed, I got the queasy feeling that Parents had
    begrudgingly decided to invite dads to the party, but then instructed them not do
    dance. I felt ripped-off.

    But, alas, toward the end of my search I finally happened upon one page in the
    issue—one out of a total of 222—that finally addressed fathers in their own right.
    The column was called “Time For You: Sex & Marriage,” and it included three
    letters from readers seeking advice.

    In the first letter, a woman complains that her husband races through sexual
    foreplay, leaving her unfulfilled. The expert responds that perhaps hubby is worried
    about climaxing too soon.

    In the second letter, a man reveals that his wife is angry with him for buying stock
    without her permission. (The expert’s advice? “Admit that you were wrong, and tell
    your wife that you won’t make financial decisions again without her agreement.”)

    And the third letter begins simply with: “My husband thinks nothing of slurping his
    food, belching, or passing gas in front of the kids. How can I get him to shape up?”

    There you have it: a premature ejaculator, a selfish spendthrift and a farter.
    Welcome to the American Dad.

    Maybe I simply made a bad career choice here. Perhaps I should forget this whole
    idea of staying home and writing about fatherhood, and instead try my hand at
    something more manly, like boxing. At least in that game, no one's allowed to hit
    below the belt.


    (Portions of the essay did not appear in the original USA Today version.)