Giving men the chance for parenting joy

I am insisting that if we women truly want equal partners in the home, then we can’t ask our husbands to be “equal” on our terms. They get equal say, even if we disagree. And indeed, if we can discover the joys and satisfactions of professional success, why shouldn’t men be able to enjoy the rewards and satisfactions of parenting and homemaking? For years, mothers have gotten that special rush when a child reaches for his mommy and says no one else will do; do we really think a father doesn’t get the same wonderful sense of being needed and valued when a child insists on his daddy?

via The Immense Value of Giving Men More Control of Household Tasks – Anne-Marie Slaughter – The Atlantic.

This article focused on a now widely discredited New York Magazine story on feminists giving up on work to enjoy the bliss of being a housewife.  I won’t get into that, but the story led to some nice articles surrounding it, with this included.  Things have definitely changed just since I started this blog three years ago.  Men get included in the conversation, even if near the bottom and still not totally in the mainstream.

Needless to say, after all my paternity leave, and my shorter working hours, I do get that rush from being equally bonded with my kids.  And I wouldn’t trade it for the world, even if it comes with all the grind as well.

the unspoken rationale for America’s crappy social safety net

On the contrary, much of the unspoken rationale for America’s crappy social safety net—with work-based healthcare and no day care and so on—is the continuing image of the 1950s family as an ur-standard. You don’t need day care because mom’s at home; you don’t need government healthcare because all the daddies work. Articles like Drexler’s, which erase the past, paradoxically keep those antiquated gender roles around. The “traditional” family is always something we’ve just left behind, always something we’re just adjusting to. The truth, though, is that these changes are of long standing, and the adjustments we need to make have little to do with the ambivalent feelings of male millennials, and a whole lot to do with policy changes that are long, long past their time.

via Hey, the Gender-Role Revolution Started Way Before the Millennial Generation – Noah Berlatsky – The Atlantic.’

It’s tough in the US because the society hasn’t moved en masse but here and there, region by region, class by class. How do you judge how people perceive a massive social shift?  In Sweden, they instituted nation-wide rules in the 60s and 70s and everyone shifted accordingly, even if it’s slow going.

masculinity, feminism and the new york times magazine in daddyland

I know that I am biased and on the lookout for this – hoping for this – but I sense a momentum to this whole Daddyland thing, specifically the need for both men and women to redefine masculinity to, at the very least, include child raising as a core value.

Now, I know the topic is not new.  It goes back to the roots of feminism for sure, at least in academia.  And there have been a bunch of books and documentaries and daddy blogs devoted to the changing father.   But I’m talking about a certain mass media uptake, a certain capturing of the American zeitgeist.

The New York Times story in June.  The Newsweek cover.  The acceptance of my Slate essay.  A Chicago Tribune column (more on that another day).  Now the New York Times Magazine.

Lisa Belkin writes the Motherlode parenting blog at the Times and certainly has focused her fair share on dads.  But here is she in a more concentrated magazine essay – one that includes a book from 2008 that I will have to check out:

In her new book, “Reshaping the Work-Family Debate: Why Men and Class Matter,” Joan C. Williams describes how men find themselves caught between meeting cultural expectations and a growing dissatisfaction with the constricted roles shaped by those expectations. “You have to ask why, if women are asking men to change, and if men say they want change, it hasn’t happened,” she says. “Either they are all lazy, or they are under tremendous gender pressures of their own.”

The life-work dilemma for women has long been that “the workplace has changed in their favor, but home hasn’t,” she says. Men, however, “have the opposite problem. More is expected of them at home, but expectations have not shifted at work.” Which explains why the percentage of fathers in dual-income households who say they suffer work-family conflict has risen to 59 percent from 35 percent since 1977.

Younger couples say they want and expect parity in their relationships. But many women still carry a chip on their shoulders, chiseled in part by years of keeping all those to-do lists in their heads. And if men can find no relief from the pressures of work, they are not going to be able to fit into the revamped economy of home.

There is a lot in there that I’ve tried to articulate in this blog – that men are not lazy, that men need to fight for change, and that women need to let them in.

And because Sweden and Daddyland are so forward on this, here is Belkin’s almost obligatory Sweden paragraph:

By steering men toward a particular path, Sweden redefined the nature of choice. Parental leave was transformed from a way to escape the world of work into a way to maximize the benefits available to families; from an emotional decision to a financial one; from something mothers do to something every parent does. Would that same kind of redefinition — of the relationship between work and home, of the roles of men and women — work on this side of the Atlantic?

meditations on velour as a daddy in sweden

The big Swedish paper Dagens Nyheter recently ran a big ongoing series on paternity leave and the changing role of the Swedish father.  It was OK.  The first article was cool and so was the one last Monday, mostly because it featured the only other American blogger I know in Daddyland, Van Taylor who writes at dadinsweden.com

In between were some articles on fathering groups and daddy bloggers and single profiles of dads, which I thought were a bit easy, like they rushed this a bit.  I mean, there is some serious stuff going on here in terms of gender roles, and they come up with a two-page story off one visit to a fathering group?

In DN’s defense, they run these huge feature articles every day.  It is space that a newspaper reporter in the United States could only dream of.  But it often feels like they don’t have the staff to fill the newshole.  So we get these amazing concepts – like paternity leave – and then a bunch of inflated, one-source stories.

I digress.  What I did love was the name, a Swedish word I had not heard before.  Since the 1970s, a sensitive Swedish dad – at this point meaning a guy on paternity leave – have been known as a “velourpappa” or “velour daddy” in translation.

As a child of the 70s, I revel in this term.  I wore velour!  Until middle school!  Which I should not admit.  But who wears velour now?  Do some of you not even know what velour is?

Here is a description from Wikipedia -” It combines the stretchy properties of knits such as spandex with the rich appearance and feel of velvet.”

Fake velvet.

I do not know why this tickles me so.  Must be that middle school thing.

A fake velvet daddy.  A daddy who combines spandex with the rich appearance and feel of velvet.

That is so cool.  I am a velour daddy (I tried to come up with a serious comparison or reflection on velour and paternity leave but it escapes me – there is nothing spandex-y about it, and fake velvet?  Time with my kids is all real, baby.)

I need to track me down a velour top.  Not a track suit either.  That is kind of hip-hop, right?

Nope, I just need a purple sweater-thing to wear over my dorky un-pegged cords.

puzzled by the Swedish disappointment over Daddyland

I’ve been researching paternity leave on a more formal level, trying to get a magazine pitch together based on this blog.  And what stuns me is the tone of disappointment from almost everyone regarding Daddyland.

To pick a random example, here is a story from the AFP in 2008 (the story is otherwise an excellent roundup on the topic):

Swedish fathers enjoy one of the most generous paternity leave policies in the world but few dads take advantage of the opportunity, with mothers in gender-equal Sweden still leading the charge in childcare.

Fathers take on average only 20 percent of the 16 months of paid parental leave offered in Sweden to either mums or dads, according to Statistics Swede—a skimpy average that has sparked a broad debate over how to encourage more fathers to take the paid time off and reduce inequalities in the home.

Ummm, hello?  Sweden has the most generous parental leave in the world, and men take more than 20 percent of it.  That percentage alone is good for second best in the world (behind only tiny Iceland), and if you calculate the gross number of days, it must be staggering.

Yeah, I get that progress has been slow, that women still struggle hard for equality in probably the most equal country in world history.  It sucks.  Sweden offered paternity leave in 1974 – the first country ever – and it’s only up to 20 percent almost four decades later.

But really.  We are talking about the most deeply held gender roles – the care of babies and young children.

So please, researchers and government officials and people in general, look outside Daddyland a bit – the other Nordic countries don’t get above 11 percent at best for paternity leave.  And don’t even glance at the rest of the world or, god forbid, the United States, one of four countries (soon to be three) without paid parental leave for moms or dads.

No reason to be complacent, but still, enjoy the success …  Daddyland is revolutionary.

are stay-at-home dads putting their children in danger?

The Swede Life passed on this link to a column from late March in the Swedish tabloid Expressen.  The author –  Eva Sternberg – is a family counselor and based her column on a news article based on a new report as well as government statistics.   It ostensibly said that there has been a rise in the number of dangerous accidents involving Swedish babies.

She actually got her facts wrong, and had to apologize to the study’s author, but let’s let Sternberg have her entertaining say, for her opinion has nothing to do with any facts  (this is a modified Google Translate English version):

Why are accidents increasing for children under one year old?

Why only in Sweden?   Everyone in childcare knows.

But only I dare say it.

These accidents – such as babies scalded by hot water spilled from pots set on the edge of the stove – happen because a majority of Sweden’s political parties have decided to interfere in the lives of families with young children, from birth. Mothers who surrender responsibility for their baby to dads even get a bonus from the state, if they do it early enough in the government’s eyes.

For years I have observed, that the Swedish notion that mothers can be exchanged for fathers during the first year is lethal.

The idea itself is too easy to pick apart – again, she got her facts wrong, the study does not examine gender anyway, most babies are home with their mother for more than 12 months, and so on.

But what I did find interesting were the 35 pages of comments.  They show that Sweden has not embraced Daddyland as fully as you might think, especially if you read my blog.  There are lots of comments – mostly from women, by the way – bemoaning the rise of paternity leave and insisting that fathers are not suited for the care of small children.  Then there are comments from exasperated men, sighing that they cannot win either way – they are either not involved enough or considered incompetent if they stay home.

More than 75 Swedish bloggers have linked to the story, though I have not had time to get into that.

The paper also had a poll.  Who is better at taking care of small children, moms, dads or are they equal?

Results so far – Equal 53%, Moms 40%, Dads 7%

Most of the comments, however, seemed to reflect an essence of the Swedish national character.  They dismiss the stupid column, they are matter of fact in their defense of gender equality, and then they state their final opinion with great authority.  This gets lost sometimes in this consensus-seeking, meeting-happy land.  But maybe it is why the consensus method works, with this practical energy behind it.

my nomination for the president of Daddyland

I hereby nominate Gudrun Schyman as the president of Daddyland.

Yes, a woman.

She  is the head of the Feminist Initiative here in Sweden, the former head of the Left Party, now pushing a purely feminist agenda and running – unsuccessfully – for a seat in parliament.

Now Schyman seems to be a polarizing figure in Sweden (allegations of tax fraud will do that), and I want her as the president of Daddyland, not as the prime minister of the whole country.  But I met her once in a coffee shop, and she seemed very nice, and she has a goofy flair in the media that I appreciate in Sweden (Read her blog here).  I also find it hard to argue with one single point of the Feminist Initiative platform, and wanted to highlight the feminist thing, because that is the hidden truth behind all these guys here getting religion on the baby front.

The feminists pushed them into it.  Swedish men were not clamoring for paternity leave.  Many took it happily, it seems.  But there was no male groundswell, even if male politicians finalized the rule changes that made widespread paternity leave a reality.

This is also the unspoken pretext behind all the American daddy blogs I’ve started reading – the guys hide it well behind cool demeanors and snappy attitudes, but they would never – in a million years – be writing a daddy blog without the feminist movement.  I mean, if women can prove they can hold their own in “male” society, then why can’t men nurture, take care of a toddler?

Regardless of how it happened, in Sweden, this bit of social engineering has proved a success, at least to judge by the nine guys I saw at open preschool this afternoon – from the buffed bald guy with the soul patch to the overweight man with greasy hair in a stained golf shirt.

Both their kids looked just fine, by the way.

Anyway, this “feminist” transition in child care has made for a smoother ride here than in the U.S.  Here, guys get to enter Daddyland in small chunks, get their feet wet, and then get back to work.  In America, you get laid off and then, bam!, you go from workaholic to stay at home dad.

I also wrote a little about feminism recently at The Faster Times.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have to go campaign for Gudrun …