USA Today, April 18, 2001
Fantasy of full-time fatherhood falters
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
"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
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.
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 not—a pair of
articles called “Five Things to Do With a Shoebox” and “How to Make a Sock
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.