Thursday, October 19, 2006

What if it were your family?

A quick follow-up on my Oct. 13 post about Bevan Dufty and his new child: A smart and strikingly sane op-ed on the "what-if" scenarios often posed to non-traditional families appears in today's Chronicle.

Also: Salon has an essay on parenting that's well worth a look.

Also: Check out the blog "Navigating the On-Ramp," documenting Kim Moldofsky's efforts to transition from stay-at-home- to go-to-work mom. "How will I handle a full-time job plus everything already on my plate and not turn into an overstressed bitch?"

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Odds vs. Ends, Once Again, with Focus on TV

Daddy Dialectic readers have been sending me tips right and left. Here are some hot spots:

1) Alex (in Boston, MA) pointed me to this blueprint for a policy program that values families, "including legislation, articles, research reports and other resources, to help legislators and advocates bring these policies to your states." It's an amazing resource.

2) Lara (in Colorado) sent me an incredibly disturbing expose of women who were fired from their jobs for getting pregnant. "I've seen more (pregnancy discrimination) clients ... in the last couple of years than I've seen in the past 10," says an attorney. Meanwhile, Cooper Munroe (in Pittsburgh, PA) shared this piece on a PSA campaign urging women to vote. The link between these two items goes without saying, yes?

3) Today The New York Times covers a new confirmation of long-term trends in work/family balance:

Despite the surge of women into the work force, mothers are spending at least as much time with their children today as they did 40 years ago, and the amount of child care and housework performed by fathers has sharply increased, researchers say in a new study, based on analysis of thousands of personal diaries.

“We might have expected mothers to curtail the time spent caring for their children, but they do not seem to have done so,” said one of the researchers, Suzanne M. Bianchi, chairwoman of the department of sociology at the University of Maryland. “They certainly did curtail the time they spent on housework.”

The researchers found that “women still do twice as much housework and child care as men” in two-parent families. But they said that total hours of work by mothers and fathers were roughly equal, when they counted paid and unpaid work.

Using this measure, the researchers found “remarkable gender equality in total workloads,” averaging nearly 65 hours a week.

Guys, we still need to do better. In ten years, I'd like to hear that men do just as much housework and child care as women in two-parent families.

In "To Be Married Means to Be Outnumbered," The Times tracks the rise of non-traditional families. "The numbers by no means suggests marriage is dead or necessarily that a tipping point has been reached. The total number of married couples is higher than ever, and most Americans eventually marry. But marriage has been facing more competition. A growing number of adults are spending more of their lives single or living unmarried with partners, and the potential social and economic implications are profound."

4) Finally, Chris at the Institute for Southern Studies (in Durham, NC), shared a brief story in Slate about a possible link between TV-watching and autism. "Cornell University researchers are reporting what appears to be a statistically significant relationship between autism rates and television watching by children under the age of 3. The researchers studied autism incidence in California, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington state. They found that as cable television became common in California and Pennsylvania beginning around 1980, childhood autism rose more in the counties that had cable than in the counties that did not. They further found that in all the Western states, the more time toddlers spent in front of the television, the more likely they were to exhibit symptoms of autism disorders."

We don't own a TV. We dumped it shortly after 9/11 and haven't looked back. But we do watch DVDs on our computers and once a month we watch kids' movies with Liko. While obviously we're against excessive TV-watching, I must admit that Liko seems to get a lot out of the occasional Baby Einstein. Instead of staring slack-jawed at the screen, he really interacts, verbally and physically, with what he sees and hears, dancing, repeating words, and pointing to things around the house that he sees in the movie. (He calls movies "moo-moos" and calls my laptop the "moo-moo machine," as in, "Daddy took the moo-moo machine to work.") I guess my position, which seems common-sensical, is that a little bit of TV is fine and even beneficial. But I don't think we'll ever actually own a TV. The temptations, and the potential harm, are just too great.

In today's photo, you can see Liko and me at a game of the Reno Silver Sox, who took the championship trophy of the new Golden Baseball League in their inaugural season. Who wants to see a bunch of preening, bloated millionaires lumbering around a diamond? Minor league baseball is the way to go! Go Silver Sox!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Bevan, Rebecca, and Sidney vs. Pete Wilson

I've blogged before about Bevan Dufty, my representative on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Bevan got together (in vitro!) with lesbian friend Rebecca Goldfader to have a baby, who was born two weeks ago and dubbed Sidney.

Talk-radio host Pete Wilson rushed to the defense of the traditional family:

The Dufty-Goldfader baby is, in my mind, a travesty... I do not now nor have I ever accepted the idea that a baby is a toy, that it is a social science project or a possession. A baby is a human being, a delicate thing, our past, present and future. It is not an experiment. It is not an opportunity to see how far you can carry your views on parenting, alternative lifestyles or diversity in family structures.

I wonder, how does Wilson know that Dufty and Goldfader see Sidney as "a toy... a social science project... or a possession"? His only evidence for this assertion seems to be that Dufty and Goldfader are queer and therefore, in his little mind, incapable of true feeling for a child born of both their bodies.

It is raw, bleeding prejudice that drives Wilson to attack two-week-old Sidney as "a travesty," and it doesn't take much of a leap to connect Wilson's comments to attacks on stay-at-home dads, working and single moms, and anyone else who doesn't fit the version of the family that conservatives pass off as immutable. (In fact, historians date the nuclear family as starting sometime in the mid-19th century, coinciding with the move from agricultural to industrial society.)

So much for stating the obvious. It's much more interesting to think about the impact of the birth on the upcoming District 8 election, in which Dufty is facing off against two opponents who are positioning themselves as culturally, though not politically, to his left. I don't need a poll to know how my neighbors are going to react: now that he and his family have been attacked, we'll circle our wagons around them. Queer and non-traditional families are simply too widespread in the Castro and Noe Valley; residents will take Wilson's comments as an assault on the identity of the district.

I've stopped making predictions about elections, since I'm usually wrong, but in this case I'll make an exception: Dufty was going to win anyway, but as a result of this incident, Dufty will win in a landslide.


Speaking of San Francisco exceptionalism, I recently discovered the Left in SF blog, which has an amusing post on Bill O’Reilly's latest attack on San Francisco. Also, Jason at Daddy in a Strange Land pointed me to the new Anti-Racist Parent blog, which seems promising. Check it out.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Red Families vs. Blue Families

Good news:

Despite their packed megachurches, their political clout and their increasing visibility on the national stage, evangelical Christian leaders are warning one another that their teenagers are abandoning the faith in droves....

“I’m looking at the data,” said Ron Luce, who organized the meetings and founded Teen Mania, a 20-year-old youth ministry, “and we’ve become post-Christian America, like post-Christian Europe. We’ve been working as hard as we know how to work — everyone in youth ministry is working hard — but we’re losing.”

Just to be clear: If kids want to get down with Jesus, that's fine with me. I'm against not against the faith; I'm against the political agenda that's been hitched to the faith. If the base that supports conservative movement political power is in a long-term demographic decline, hallujah!

You know, here's something for evangelicals to think about: as the power of the church grew in Europe, so did its corruption. There's quite a lot of evidence that weaving religion into government resulted in wholesale rejection of the faith by Europeans who were oppressed by the combination.

Are evangelicals digging their own graves, seeking secular power at the expense of their moral power?

Also: my buddy Abby sent me this fascinating essay on red-state families vs. blue-state families. Check it out.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Power of Magical Thinking

For the first year of my son’s life I was the sole means of support for our family. I worked at an independent media organization that by the time of Liko's birth had turned from a dynamic, innovative nonprofit into a failing business. With others I had fought against that direction, but in the end we were beaten. In dribs and drabs, my allies left.

In the summer of 2005 I joined them, depressed and humiliated by what I saw as a professional failure. I sent out a few desultory resumes, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that what I really wanted to do was spend more time with my son. Unfortunately, my wife’s job would not be enough to support the three of us. I knew that I would freelance and consult, but there were no guarantees. In the middle of anxiously sleepless nights, I envisioned us homeless, forced to live with relatives.

Despite our fears, we made the leap into being a “reverse traditional family.” Like many stay-at-home dads, I didn’t want to stay in the house all day. The minute my wife left for work, I’d take Liko out the door and onto the streets. Together we’d walk, moving from shop to restaurant to playground to bench to friends' living rooms and back to the playground, stepping into the flow of the city.

“Unfortunately, nature is very much a now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t affair,” writes Annie Dillard in her essay “Seeing.” This is equally true of cities. It is also true of parenting. They are worlds unto themselves, containers of consciousness, definers of perception; but we are never quite able to hold them in our senses. During these months of uncertainty, San Francisco seemed to constantly shift in and out of focus, and so did my son. The babble from Liko's mouth sharpened into words, the syllables flashing like sunlight on windows. We'd cross the street and on the other side, he'd seem suddenly older.

During these months of transition I found myself doing a funny thing (“found myself,” meaning that thought followed action; perhaps also meaning that I uncovered an aspect of my personality that I'd never seen before). I'd give away money to anyone who asked for it: five dollars to a beggar, one-hundred-and-fifty dollars to a canvasser for California Peace Action, a dollar to the barista who made my $1.40 espresso. Once I found a ten-dollar bill on the sidewalk; without thinking, I turned and gave it to the man behind me. (“Uh, thanks,” he said, and hustled away, maybe worried that I’d change my mind.) This went on for months, and only began to fade once I felt my freelance work was a going concern and the financial uncertainty had ended.

This week I started full-time at my new job, as managing editor of Greater Good magazine, a publication of the Center for the Development of Peace and Well-Being at UC Berkeley. This morning as I edited an article on homelessness and begging, I recalled the period of my life after I left my job, when I gave away hundreds of dollars to absolute strangers.

Why did I do that? It seems crazy, given the uncertainty we were facing. Though it might seem like I am bragging about my own generosity and martyrdom in writing about this, in fact this is the first time I’ve admitted it to anyone but Liko (who merely gurgled mysteriously whenever I gave away cash). My wife did hear about the donation to Peace Action; at the time she gave me a pained, disappointed look. I mumbled something about wanting to stop the Iraq war, which sounded pathetic even to me. In context, my actions seemed foolish and even self-destructive. I hid them like an alcoholic hides a bottle.

The comparison with alcoholism might be warranted. I was addicted to giving away money, with each donation like a hit of some drug that alleviated my burdens. In the instant I handed over the money, my anxiety over money vanished. I felt floating, free, above it all. Of course, in a minute I’d fall back to earth, but that just caused me to want another hit.

Obviously I was not motivated by spiritual love for humankind, though certainly such moments have come up to me from behind, scaring me half out of my wits with their imperious demands that I change my life. I told myself at times that I was just looking for good karma; on a semi-conscious level, I believed that by helping others, it would somehow make people more inclined to help my family and me. I felt that the world was accumulating some kind of debt to me, quite without its consent, and that when I needed it, I could go to the world and ask to be repaid.

(In the article I edited this morning, the author paraphrases and quotes Søren Kierkegaard: “Sure, he said, we think a person who is loved owes a debt of gratitude to the one who loves them. There is an expectation that it should be repaid in kind, on installment, ‘reminiscent,’ [Kierkegaard] says sarcastically, “of an actual bookkeeping arrangement.’ Instead, [Kierkegaard] turns the whole thing on its head: ‘No, the one who loves runs the debt; in feeling himself gripped by love, he feels this as being in an infinite debt. Amazing!’” Kierkegaard was never a parent, but he seems to have understood parenthood well enough.)

There’s a phrase for this: magical thinking. Maybe the magic worked. I got plenty of work as a freelancer and consultant, more than I could handle given my responsibilities as a dad. When I found out about the position at Greater Good, at first I didn’t even consider applying. I was happy having so much time with Liko, making my own hours and doing work I wanted to do. Why mess with success?

Though it fell upon me almost by accident, being a stay-at-home dad irrevocably changed by interests and direction – it might not be an exaggeration to say that it changed the very core of my being, whatever that is. But I picked up a copy of Greater Good and thought about its mission – to “highlight ground breaking scientific research into the roots of compassion and altruism” – in relation to my life and my writing, in which I had increasingly turned my attention to parenting and kids. I met with the staff, and they told me about how they were researching the childhood roots of adult happiness, trying to figure out how to foster pro-social emotions and behaviors, and challenging, on scientific grounds, worldviews that depict human nature as primarily sinful, dark, and violent.

At the same time, I heard about another job at Stanford; this time the attraction was a heap of money. I applied for both and both were offered to me. In the end I don’t think that I had any choice. The mission of Greater Good vastly outweighed the salary at Stanford. Once again, I gave away money, hopefully to someone who needed it more than we do. Once again disappointments and fears dissolved, and I felt some degree of freedom.

So here I am. I go to work in the morning and come home in the evening. Shelly stays home and takes care of Liko. We’re a traditional family again, though we don’t think of ourselves that way. A year ago it seemed like life had kicked me in the stomach; in fact it had given me a gift. For that I’m grateful.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Paddling vs. Waterboarding

Yesterday's New York Times contained an interesting piece on paddling in public schools:

As views of child-rearing have changed, groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Association of School Psychologists and the American Medical and Bar Associations have come out against corporal punishment.

“I believe we have reached the point in our social evolution where this is no longer acceptable, just as we reached a point in the last half of the 19th century where husbands using corporal punishment on their wives was no longer acceptable,” said Murray Straus, a director of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire.

Among adherents of the practice is James C. Dobson, the child psychologist who founded Focus on the Family and is widely regarded as one of the nation’s most influential evangelical leaders.

DuBose Ravenel, a North Carolina pediatrician who is the in-house expert on the subject for Mr. Dobson’s group, said, “I believe the whole country would be better off if corporal punishment was allowed in schools by parents who wish it.”

I also just stumbled across this essay by Randall Balmer, an evangelical Christian and professor of religious history at Barnard College, which I share as a follow-up to the previous two posts on conservative childrearing practices:

The torture of human beings, God's creatures — some guilty of crimes, others not — has been justified by the Bush administration, which also believes that it is perfectly acceptable to conduct surveillance on American citizens without putting itself to the trouble of obtaining a court order. Indeed, the chicanery, the bullying, and the flouting of the rule of law that emanates from the nation's capital these days make Richard Nixon look like a fraternity prankster.

Where does the religious right stand in all this? Following the revelations that the U.S. government exported prisoners to nations that have no scruples about the use of torture, I wrote to several prominent religious-right organizations. Please send me, I asked, a copy of your organization's position on the administration's use of torture. Surely, I thought, this is one issue that would allow the religious right to demonstrate its independence from the administration, for surely no one who calls himself a child of God or who professes to hear "fetal screams" could possibly countenance the use of torture. Although I didn't really expect that the religious right would climb out of the Republican Party's cozy bed over the torture of human beings, I thought perhaps they might poke out a foot and maybe wiggle a toe or two.

I was wrong. Of the eight religious-right organizations I contacted, only two, the Family Research Council and the Institute on Religion and Democracy, answered my query. Both were eager to defend administration policies. "It is our understanding, from statements released by the Bush administration," the reply from the Family Research Council read, "that torture is already prohibited as a means of collecting intelligence data." The Institute on Religion and Democracy stated that "torture is a violation of human dignity, contrary to biblical teachings," but conceded that it had "not yet produced a more comprehensive statement on the subject," even months after the revelations. Its president worried that the "anti-torture campaign seems to be aimed exclusively at the Bush administration," thereby creating a public-relations challenge.

I'm sorry, but the use of torture under any circumstances is a moral issue, not a public-relations dilemma.

Amen to that!

Lastly, I'd like to point readers - especially any readers who doubt the link between conservative childrearing practices and right-wing policy - to this dialogue between Focus on the Family and combat veteran Michael Gaddy about the Iraq War.