The poetry of a Swedish autumn (and a Chinese one)

We spent the weekend in the country in our drafty peasant cottage, and while the forest has settled into a dull mass of gray and brown and green, save for the rotting row boats tied up along the river and now suddenly visible, our yard was full of texture, of fallen crunchy yellow mottled leaves, of a towering sunflower still blossoming, of a crunch to the high grass already bowed low by the autumn.

The house was cold too, though it warmed well with radiators and a fire. We’ve had a mild fall here in Sweden, which is not good, really, because it means lots of days in the 40s (5-10 degrees celsius) with no sun. I happened to read a book of poetry this weekend, and lo and behold, the Chinese poet in the eighth century had a country cottage outside of the city.

This is Wang Wei, translated by Vikram Seth:

Autumn Nightfall at my Place in the Hills

In the empty mountains, after recent rain,
A sense of Fall comes with the evening air.
The moon is bright and shines between the pines.
Over the stones the spring-fed stream runs clear.
Bamboos rustle: washerwomen go home.
Lotuses stir: fishing boats make their way.
At its own will, the scent of Spring has gone.
But you, ‘O prince of friends,’ of course may stay.


Returning to Daddyland as Sweden falls dark

I’m back in Daddyland.  Well, I never left my real Daddyland, that world of the preschool drop off and pick up, of the part-time work, of the increasing commitment at work, of paternity leave fading into the rear view mirror of my tricked out stroller (Ahh, I wish…).

This day to day Daddyland is also a place of five week winter breaks, ten week summer vacation and four weeks more of winter holiday coming up (we were thrifty with our parental leave days and they are good until the kids are 8).  It is a place of six-hour work days, lots of time in the sand box, and the joy of a cottage in the country with a yard filled with strawberries, wild strawberries, raspberries, cherries, gooseberries and apples, not to mention the blueberries covering the forest floor.

But now I am back in this virtual Daddyland, to go with my real Daddyland.  I’ve been busy writing a book proposal, which I will post parts of, and have gone all political on masculinity, fatherhood, Occupy Wall Street, journalism and democracy and the yawning economic and social horror of the U.S., a place I want to move back to someday but only if my kids have a future beyond fast food and debt.

Yes, I am still addicted to socialism, except now that I’m back at work at my techie day job, I’ve also got these techie, business phrases for it now – how my time in the sandbox made me more innovative, more creative – exactly the skills we need in the already-here, turning out scary digital age.

But I’m also tired of just writing all day at work and writing all evening at home.  So maybe I’ll actually post more photos, links, music.  And I’ve still got those kids, with every day built around them (we have been crafting a lot lately … yes, crafting, and I am not a crafter, though I may give Martha Stewart a run for her money after this winter is over).

Then there is the challenge, ripe for justified moaning, of living in shy, sweet, reserved, sort of awkward Sweden through the brutal winter dark.

Oh, and I’m on Twitter now too.  And you can “subscribe” to me on Facebook.

Now if only my daughter will stay asleep long enough for me to finally post this …

stay at home daughters live in the bizarro version of daddyland

If you ever want to know what bizarro Daddyland is like – the photo negative version of my life as an involved, feminist, welfare state-loving dad in Sweden – read this Time story on daughters devoting themselves to their fathers until they are married.

Time covered this story from Bitch Media to be ironic and provocative.  This is no big social movement.  But still, I can’t resist:

Growing numbers of young women are forsaking education, forgoing employment and devoting themselves to their fathers with the goal of becoming “keepers of the home.” In your face, feminists!

In the latest offshoot of the Christian Patriarchy Movement, which argues that men should lead and women should quietly follow, the Stay At Home Daughters Movement wants girls to believe that they’re under the complete authority of their fathers—until the menfolk decide to pass control on to the women’s husbands. Stay at home daughters (SAHDs) don’t work. They view personal ambition as anti-family. And they spend their days crocheting, knitting and making soap …

Bitch reports that a 23-year old woman in the film describes her dad as “the greatest man in my life. I believe that helping my father in his business is a better use of my youth and is helping prepare me to be a better helpmeet for my future husband, rather than indulging in selfishness and pursuing my own success and selfish ambitions.” Apparently the word “helpmeet” is making a comeback in certain circles…


dutch men do not live in daddyland though dutch women are very happy

When I moved to Sweden, I thought it would be kind of like living in the U.S.

I was wrong.

If you asked me if life in the Netherlands is like life in Sweden, I would say, “Probably.” Northern Europe, good English, strong welfare state.

Apparently, I would be wrong.

I read two things recently about Dutch women. The first is a great personal American take from Slate on how most Dutch women do not work full-time:

Dutch women could be considered extremely progressive when compared with most other women in the world—they have enviable reproductive rights and rates of political participation. But they are often responsible for only a small portion of the family income—25 percent of Dutch women do not even make enough money to be considered financially independent. The gap in pay between genders is among the highest in Europe, but because women are working only part time, this is not fodder for gender wars. Instead, women are more concerned with protecting their right to part-time work. In 2000, a law was passed mandating that women have the right to cut back hours at their jobs without repercussions from employers.

“We look at the world of management—and it is a man’s world—and we think, oh I could do that if I wanted,” says Maaike van Lunberg, an editor at De Stentor newspaper. “But I’d rather enjoy my life.”

But then there is this from the New York Times in 2007: They apparently are very happy.

“It has to do with personal freedom,” said de Bruin, whose work, sure enough, is titled “Dutch Women Don’t Get Depressed.” “Personal choice is key: in the Netherlands people are free to choose their life partners, their religion, their sexuality, we are free to use soft drugs here, we can pretty much say anything we like. The Netherlands is a very free country.”

This story also references the tendency of Dutch women to work part-time.  I get confused trying to write about this, it is so different from Sweden, where women seem to work as much as men (they are much more likely to work part-time to pick up the kids from preschool, but that has a different vibe).

And what about Dutch men? Sounds like they are getting the short end of the stick – forced to work the long hours, not getting to be at home as much.  No tennis, no coffee.  Just work.  It feels all wrong to a man in Daddyland, who is working part-time himself.

The Times does address the man issue in terms of happiness:

Modern Dutch men are expected to share the chores at home, “without being told, or when told,” de Bruin said. The Dutch woman “wants the man to do housework to help her feel equal, but he has to do it her way.”

Which perhaps raises the question, do Dutch men get depressed?

Not much, according to de Bruin, who says that the behavior of the sexes evolved simultaneously, that Dutch men like their women bossy while Dutch women are not keen on macho men. Still, she sympathizes with men who have to negotiate a jungle of rules that they never understand and that are always set by women.

I prefer co-parenting.  I prefer an equal relationship with my wife.  But I guess if they’re happy …

a royal wedding in britain makes me a royal watcher in sweden

I am now, officially, a royal watcher.  This might be the greatest moment of my life.  I can’t wait to get the badge and the fancy hat.

Last summer I wrote a column for The Faster Times on the royal wedding here in Sweden.  I also ranted and raved about my dislike for the monarchy here.  Then I pondered the wedding twice at, unsure before the wedding, and glowing afterwards.

That got the attention of Carol Zall at The World, a big public radio show in the U.S. and Canada.  In the wake of the recent announcement of the upcoming British royal wedding, she took a a look at all the other royal families of Europe, Sweden included.

You can listen to the story below, or go to The World here. I’m at the beginning of the story.

dreaming of bread, roses and joe hill in the stockholm subway

When we moved to Sweden three years ago, I stared every morning at a quote etched in the floor at the Näckrösen subway stop.  It was by Joe Hill, who I knew nothing about, but it was beautiful.  In English it goes something like this, “Give us not only bread, but roses too.”

It summed up everything I liked about Sweden, about the welfare state, about the reasons we more or less fled the New York City exurbs for a land of paid parental leave and universal healthcare.  I’ve meant to write about that quote for three years.  And yesterday I finally did at The Faster Times, where I am the news and politics editor and write the Big News column.

Here is the lede:

“Ninety-five years ago last week, the government of Utah murdered Joe Hill, lining him up and shooting him for a murder he might or might not have committed.

Hill was a labor activist and song writer, an immigrant with a checkered past, a fighter willing to dedicate his life to a cause – the kind of man the American left does not produce anymore, or if it does, the kind of man the American left ignores.

This is important with the rise of the passionate Tea Party and with the lack of a counterweight to the organized American right, with a president who wants to get things done, but seems to need to be led by the people, not to lead them.

Hill was born Joel Emmanuel Hägglund in Gävle, Sweden, which happens to be my wife’s hometown.  His birthplace there is a museum, with a twisted tortured statue outside.  I visited the house years ago on a frigid February day, wracked with the flu on a failed travel book tryout.  The museum was closed, so I did not read then about the hard knock misery of 19th century Sweden, the kind of poverty that drove a quarter of the country to the United States.

But a Swedish February day was not a bad time to go – it helped me understand in a more visceral way why a man like Hill would wander into the American desert, fleeing all the darkness and illness that still drop like a veil over the country in the winter … with the world class safety net still decades away …”

You can finish the story here.

the united states could pay for daddyland, no problem

I always assumed that the cost of parental leave in the US would be too high, that it would take some massive overhaul of our entire system to make Swedish-style parental leave a reality.  So I always talk about how we have to find an American way, a way that I can’t come up with myself, but there has to be some way – American ingenuity and all that.

Then in the recent Newsweek cover story on masculinity, a Columbia professor – Jane Waldfogel – is quoted saying that giving every working parent a full year of paid parental leave would cost about 25 billion dollars a year.

Oooh, that sounds like a lot, right?

It’s nothing.  If true, people should be knocking down their politicians’ doors to get this done.

Here are some numbers.  In nine years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. has spent 1.1 trillion dollars.

That equals about 44 years of paid parental leave.

Citizens Against Government Waste says that congress earmarked 16.9 billion dollars worth of projects in 2010.  That takes care of a lot of the parental leave.  I know that pork projects serve as a kind of local stimulus, but, believe me, paying parents is a better way.

The conservative Hogue News listed a whole lot of wasteful federal projects, including references:

  1. The federal government made at least $72 billion in improper payments in 2008.
  2. Washington spends $92 billion on corporate welfare (excluding TARP) versus $71 billion on homeland security.
  3. Washington spends $25 billion annually maintaining unused or vacant federal properties.
  4. Government auditors spent the past five years examining all federal programs and found that 22 percent of them–costing taxpayers a total of $123 billion annually–fail to show any positive impact on the populations they serve.
  5. The Congressional Budget Office published a “Budget Options” series identifying more than $100 billion in potential spending cuts.

I’m sure the Hogue people wouldn’t the savings to go the safety net, but tough luck.  I’m seeing the future of an American Daddyland in that list.

We wouldn’t even notice 25 billion a year, a drop in the bucket.  Start taxing corporations right and we can even let the hypocritical Tea Party folks have a tax cut or two …