Monday, March 03, 2008

What About Dad?

I enjoy reading Parenting magazine, about the same way I enjoy reading Cosmopolitan or sitting around kibitzing about the stuff of daily life: parking, the weather, corrupt politicians, the movies, and corrupt politicians.

It's a cheap pleasure -- as it should be, considering I didn't pay for it, but cashed in some frequent flier miles for this and a subscription to Wine Spectator. And I have to admit that, all in all, Parenting has yielded more useful care giving tricks than Wine Spectator has helped me become a true connoisseur.

Like Cosmo, Parenting: What Matters to Moms gives this Dad a cozy and sometimes reassuring feeling of already knowing what everyone is talking about -- with the exception of breastfeeding and postpartum issues. Though, if you pay attention to your partner (assuming this person is a woman), it's not hard to get this stuff either. Aside from that, it's pretty basic. Feed your children. On a regular basis. Don't drop them, and make sure they have clothes. Do this every day for about 5 to 10 years, sometimes longer. Et cetera.

Of course, Parenting sometimes has very useful information that satisfies my desire not to read a 300 page book on every developmental issue known to the American Academy of Pediatrics. When, for example, children will begin to want privacy, all about food allergies, or what to do when Spot has a fever. In the end it's all fairly simple.

But unlike Cosmo, with which I have a fairly straightforward reader relationship, of being either completely uninterested in a given topic (I will never use that line of cosmetics), or feeling able to judge a matter based on some degree of personal experience ("13 Tricks to Jump-Start Your Sex Life"), when it comes to the place of "Dad" in Parenting, it's a much weirder relationship. As the title makes clear, they're not really talking to me, though they do try to keep me in mind.

Which is why, in just about every monthly issue, there is at least one article in which Dad makes an appearance, mostly as a sort of Appendix to whatever is being discussed.

One instance of Dad-As-Appendix appeared in an article on how to bond with your baby. Certainly something every mom wants to know. The article runs through some crazy and discredited theories from the 70's, and then, inducing a sigh of relief from the reader, goes on to summarize the current less-crazy theories. Part of what makes the new theories less crazy than the old ones, it turns out, is that they make room for dad -- a little bit. As the heading of the last section asks, "What about dad?"

Yes, well, what about dad? The answer is basically that "bonding can (and should) occur between father and child." Once that principle has been absorbed, the next thing to remember is that you can't be afraid to "dumb it down" a little bit. If mom really wants to make some progress, she should let go and just leave once in a while to let dad sort things out on his own.

I don't disagree with any of it, of course, except the "dumbing down" part; how difficult is this, really? To its credit, the Parenting piece recognizes that most dads have to go back to work shortly after their child's birth, and so aren't around to figure everything out through experience. But that's nothing that a little eagerness to be with your new, tiny hominid won't cure. And chances are it really doesn't have to be dumbed down that much; it's much easier than advanced calculus, or trying to get the perfect risotto.

But more importantly, I wonder what would happen if the editors of Parenting and similar magazines tried out a different marketing strategy: if they moved from being magazines about What Matters to Moms, with articles dealing with Dad-As-Appendix, to What Matters to Parents, with articles dealing with Dad-As-Half-The-Family-Situation. Would they lose the interest of the majority of their readers, or would they gain new ones? Does the orientation of Parenting magazine to Mom reflect the demographic reality, or reproduce it? Would it make business sense for anyone to launch a print "Dad" magazine?

It's nice to see yourself reflected somewhere in the culture, more or less accurately, once in a while. I don't expect to all the time, especially not in mass media. I can't afford the $500 bottle of Bordeaux that Wine Spectator wants me to know about, I don't really need Cycling to tell me how to train 50 miles a day for a criterium or which space-age composite bike to get. I'm not really into having my aspirations egged on, just my reality reflected back a little, once in a while.

11 comments:

Doodaddy said...

Well, yes. Parenting and its kin shoot for mass appeal by addressing the mode: two-parent hetero families in which mom has the bulk of the one-on-one parenting experiences. As boring as I feel, it always amazes me that, to the "parenting advice" establishment, we're outliers.

I tend to read that kind of stuff by doing liberal pronoun replacement inside my own head. (Read "he" where you see "she" and so on.) As you say, that works for everything except the lactation articles. And, perhaps, the recommendation of capris in bold colors for this spring.

chicago pop said...

Hadn't thought of the pronoun substitution -- might try that with the next issue, if my subscription hasn't run out by then.

And I suppose one could always read "manpris in bold colors for this spring..."

Uhura said...

It looks like Parenting is simply falling into lockstep with the conventional wisdom of today's popular media: Dads aren't the "real" parents, moms are.

chicago pop said...

Of course, the great thing is that, as "outliers" (and I'm a boring one, too, doodaddy), we have such great resources in the blogosphere; if Parenting were less conventional, we wouldn't have had so many good, virtual conversations!

chicago pop said...

Whoa! Nice make-over of the blog. I check back in and there's this orb-gizmo up on top of the post. It looks dialectical.

Cool.

Jeremy Adam Smith said...

Yes, I'm experimenting. The drawing is, I think, by Leonardo--something to do with mathematical dialectics. But don't get too attached. I'm trying some other things, and I may create a special logo.

chicago pop said...

And I should also mention that I'm glad you put that photo of you and Liko up there. Seems right.

As for the butt-grabbin' over on the blog-logo, well...

Jeremy Adam Smith said...

Huh. Yeah, that is a lot of ass grabbing, huh? Especially since the contextual implication is that this depicts a dad trying to pull and/or push his double into a new world--I mean, is that kind of like some weird form of masturbation? Well, I'll keep searching.

For readers who are coming along later, Chicago Dad and I are discussing a series of images that I'm posting with the logo. It will all resolve itself soon.

Uhura said...

That is a nice photo.

Jeremy Neal said...

Great post! I have had this same type of conversation with dads all over the blogosphere lately, and I think that there is a huge gap in the market for websites, magazines and other resources aimed at dads.

Parents magazine is good at what they do, but we are not their target market.

We get the magazine at our house, and I have to say that it doesn't appeal to me at all. As you said, dads are an afterthought. While I don't believe it is intentional, these types of magazines only help to perpetuate the problem.

The majority of dads that I know are involved in their kids lives, but the difference is that they don't seem to identify themselves as a "parent" as much as a "person" who has kids.

Dads seem to maintain their identity after the kids are born, even if they are highly involved as SAHDs or WAHDs.

Glad that I found your blog! -Jeremy @ Discovering Dad

chicago pop said...

jeremy neal writes: Dads seem to maintain their identity after the kids are born, even if they are highly involved as SAHDs or WAHDs.

This rings true for me as well.
It's a big psychological issue, and probably, for this SAHD at least, more imposing than any idea of maintaining a proper "masculinity" as a father. There seem to be 2 impulses that run somewhat counter to each other: the zen impulse, to just let it all be, and be absorbed by it; and the individualistic impulse to hang on to a record of achievement, ambition, and forward motion of differentiation.

The irony is, I may wind up being zen despite my best efforts to the contrary.

The great flow of being has a heavy pull. And in the end, isn't it the greatest truth?