Thursday, December 25, 2008

Santa Witch!

Scrooge Loose!

Liko and I love Gumby, although when was a kid it creeped me out.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Chrismahanukwanzukah Daddy Books

I'll be taking the rest of December off from blogging, but just in time for the holidays, I'm posting a revised, updated version my list of children's books that depict men as caregivers (originally written back in June). If you're looking for books to buy, you might also take a look at my family's list of most-loved children's books. Have a nice Chrismahanukwanzukah! See you in January!

It's an empirical fact that fathers are comparatively rare in children's books — when economist David A. Anderson and psychologist Mykol Hamilton studied 200 children's books in 2005, they found that fathers appeared about half as often as mothers. Mothers were ten times more likely to be depicted taking care of babies than fathers and twice as likely to be seen nurturing older children.

No surprise there, of course. Moms are still the ones most likely to be taking care of kids and there’s no point in nursing a sense of grievance over the invisibility of fathers in children’s books.

But where does that leave families who don't fit the traditional mold? And how does that help parents who want to provide caring role models to their sons?

There are books out there, few and far between, that depict dads as co-parents and primary caregivers. In an effort to find them, I consulted bookstores in San Francisco as well as my local children’s librarian.

My list is not exhaustive; these are only the ones I can recommend, and there are many titles I found online that I wasn’t able to read in real life. And because these kinds of books are so rare, I’m willing to bet that there are plenty out there that few people know about.

I look forward to reading your own suggestions!

My list is arranged according to target age, from youngest to oldest:

Mama’s Home! By Paul Vos Benkowski, illustrated by Jennifer Herbert (Chronicle Books, 2004; ages 1-3): I bought this board book, which tells the story of a stay-at-home dad and toddler waiting for mom to come home from work, for Liko when I was taking care of him. It turned out to be a genuine comfort for him to read (over and over!) in the hour before his own mom came home from work, and he delighted in the simple, fanciful storyline: “Is that Mama? / No, that’s not Mama….that’s just a pirate ship.” Strongly recommended.

Kisses for Daddy, by Frances Watts and David Legge (Little Hare Books, 2005; for ages 1-5, I’d say): This is a simple, lightweight picture book with bears, whose title pretty much says it all.

When Bunny Grows Up, by Patricia and Richard Scarry (Golden Books, 1998; ages 1-5): Baby bunny's family tries to guess what he will be when he grows up--a fireman? a lion tamer? a train conductor? Nuts to all that. Baby bunny wants to be a full-time daddy when he grows up. Originally published in 1955, When Bunny Grows Up was way ahead of its time, and it's perfect for families with a stay-at-home dad.

The Complete Adventures of Curious George, by Margaret and H.A. Rey (Houghton Mifflin, 1941-1966; ages 1-5): Is the Man with the Yellow Hat the equivalent of George’s father? If not that, I’m not sure what he is.

Daddy’s Lullaby, by Tony Bradman, illustrated by Jason Cockcroft (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2001; ages 2-5): Dad comes home late from work and sings a lullaby to his baby. A very tender book, which shows a working Dad in a caring role.

My Dad, by Anthony Browne (FSG, 2000; ages 2-5): With one or two lines of text per page, the goofy pictures dominate. Dad (in a bathrobe, PJs, and slippers) engages in various fantastical adventures, from jumping over the moon to singing opera with Pavarotti. Silly and sweet.

A Father’s Song, by Janet Lawler, paintings by Lucy Corvino (Sterling, 2006; ages 3-6): A simple, somewhat solemn verse story about a father and son’s day in the park, beautifully illustrated.

Mama’s Coming Home, by Kate Banks, pictures by Tomek Bogacki (FSG, 2003; ages 3-6): Similar to Mama’s Home (above), a solid and heartfelt portrait of a reverse-traditional family in action. Dad and the kids clean up, cook dinner, and set the table, as a parallel narrative shows Mom trudging through sleeting rain and New York subway stations on her way home from work. Especially recommended.

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, by Mo Willems (Hyperion, 2004; ages 2-6): Why is this story such an instant classic? There's something about Willems's tone, pacing, and combination of words and pictures that kids think is tons of fun, and I confess this is one of the books I most look forward to reading to Liko. Don't miss the sequel, Knuffle Bunny Too. Willems's daughter shares a name with the protagonist of his books, and these stories feel like mini-memoirs, depicting a dad who shares life with his growing little girl.

Daddy Calls Me Man, by Angela Johnson, paintings by Rhonda Mitchell (Orchard Books, 1997; ages 3-6): Dad doesn’t actually appear until near the end. And yet I think every previous page points to that moment, as a little boy paints a picture of everything that’s most important to him.

Papa, Do You Love Me? By Barbara M. Joosse, illustrated by Barbara Lavallee (Chronicle Books, 2005; ages 3-6): A father in a Kenyan village tells his son how much he loves him. This is a lovely book; the images in the words might be even more evocative than those in the pictures.

Tell Me One Thing, Dad, by Tom Pow, illustrated by Ian Andrew (Candlewick Press, 2004; ages 3-7): Dad reads Molly a story, but she’s not sleepy yet. She asks to hear one thing he knows about polar bears, crocodiles, and so on; at the end, Molly tells Dad things that she knows about him. This is a gentle, beautifully written, unusually paced, and interestingly illustrated story.

Horton Hatches the Egg, by Dr. Seuss (Random House, 1940; ages 3-7): You probably already know that Dr. Seuss was a genius. Not just a genius, but probably one of the most successful progressive writers of his day. From environmental responsibility (The Lorax) to anti-racism (Sneetches & Other Stories) to resistance to tyranny (Yertle the Turtle & Other Stories), Dr. Seuss could tackle any topic, no matter how terrible, and teach children something about how the world really works in ways that are inspiring and fun. In Horton Hatches the Egg, Dr. Seuss gives us an elephant hero who hatches himself an elephant-bird baby--and in the process, gives children an archetypal model of male caregiving.

And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, illustrated by Henry Cole (Simon & Schuster, 2005; ages 3-7): This picture book tells the somewhat-true story of Roy and Silo, two boy penguins in Central Park Zoo who shacked up together and adopted a baby penguin of their own, named Tango. And Tango Makes Three isn’t a boring “message” book that tries to teach your kids to be tolerant. It’s genuinely fun for kids to read. Gay dads might also want to check out Daddy’s Roommate, by Michael Willhoite.

A Father Like That, by Charlotte Zolotow, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (HarperCollins, 2008; ages 3-7): This picture book is actually about a boy who doesn’t have a father, but fantasizes about all the things they’d do together if Dad was around. In the end, his mom assures the boy that while he might never have the dad he wants, he could grow up to be the father he imagines. Yes, it’s somewhat depressing, and yet I think this could be a great Father’s Day gift for boys who really don’t have a dad in the picture. Single moms raising boys, take note.

Finally, for older kids, I’d like to mention Danny, Champion of the World, by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake (Knopf, 1975; ages 8-12): “When I was four months old, my mother died suddenly and my father was left to look after me all by himself,” says the narrator, Danny. “There was just the two of us, my father and me.” This is a beautifully told, amusingly imaginative, politically radical, and profoundly emotional tale of a son’s devotion to his father and a father’s devotion to his son. I read this out loud to my 3 year old. He followed the story and liked the characters and incidents, especially the bit when 9-year-old Danny drives a car. However, the plot is driven by the father’s desire to poach a rich man’s pheasants, which was too far outside of Liko’s experience for him to find it interesting. But this book is an outlaw classic that older kids (boys especially) may find evocative and thrilling.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Enforcing heterosexuality

Two brothers were attacked, and one killed, when a SUV full of homophobes saw them walking arm in arm:

[Jose] Sucuzhanay (suh-KOO-chen-eye) and his brother Romel, 38, were walking arm-in-arm after a night out when a sport utility vehicle pulled up near them at a Brooklyn stoplight, police said.

Witnesses said they heard the men in the car shouting anti-gay and anti-Hispanic slurs at the brothers. The attackers jumped out of the car and smashed a beer bottle over Jose Sucuzhanay’s head, hit him in the head with an aluminum baseball bat and kicked him, police said. Romel Sucuzhanay was able to get away; the attackers drove off after he returned and said he had called police, authorities said.

Alas, A Blog comments:

This reminds me of stories my father tells of when he used to walk arm-in-arm with a blind friend of his, and people would shout epithets at them out of car windows.

Both of these would, of course, be equally reprehensible if they involved actual gay couples. (In my father’s case, I think the harassment would be much more reprehensible if it had involved an actual gay couple, because my father and his friend could laugh off the insults in a way that would have been more difficult if the insults had functioned, as intended, as a way of reinforcing second-class status based on sexual orientation.) However, situations like these do remind me of something else that strikes me as important: Occasionally, I see discussions cropping up about why many men in America often aren’t physically affectionate with their each other. Well. There you go. A man’s being physically affectionate with a brother, or a male friend, isn’t just a violation of taboos about showing femininity. It’s assuming a risk of harassment and violence.

The lives of gay men are more affected by this, of course, in shocking and horrible ways. But the enforcement of masculinity and heterosexuality is bad for many men, gay and straight.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

"Fail to walk the air"

Something really freaking smart from Ta-Nahesi Coates:

In the arena of racial progress, I know of only a few more destructive forces, than the black pathology disciples, the coterie of writers, editors, scholars and pundits who see black folks mainly as pure-bred descendants of slaves, and the worse end of a gaggle of socio-economic data. This isn't a left-right deal. The theory of the black automaton programmed simply by oppression, on the left, or dysfunctional culture, on the right, leaves no room for Rakim, for Zora Neal Hurston, for my woman's clear, beautiful skin, for actual humanity.

This is why neither lefties nor righties can get a handle on this blacks and gay marriage thing. Instead of asking how groups who've been oppressed have traditionally behaved toward other groups under duress, they posit a black version of the madonna/whore complex, in which blacks are supposed to be this font of American liberalism, and are ripped when we don't live up to that standard. It's a trip. This country was built by white people fleeing oppression. Yet to hear these fools tell it, you'd think that experience stopped them from slaughtering the Indians and enslaving blacks.

And therein is the ultimate upshot of reducing black humanity--it ultimately reduces white humanity. It pretends that whites are always perfectly rational, and that their interactions with race aren't complicated and contradictory. Dig's Arana implicit proposition, for instance, that there is some pure strain monoracial strain of black--or even white--and how it basically eradicates one of the great unspoken crimes of slavery and Jim Crow--the widespread rape of black women. Once you understand your own fraility, your own contradictory nature, once you understand (to take it back to Baraka) that you yourself are beautiful though you "sometimes fail to walk the air," once you get your own flawed genius, you'll understand ours. Because in the end, there is no fundamental difference.

Supremes uphold rights of lesbian moms

Good news from bad:

The U.S. Supreme Court has let stand a ruling that Virginia must enforce a Vermont court order awarding child-visitation rights to a mother's former lesbian partner.

The high court Monday declined to hear the case of Lisa Miller, who claimed that the Virginia Supreme Court improperly ignored a state law and constitutional amendment that prohibit same-sex unions and the recognition of such arrangements from other states.

The decision let stand a victory for Janet Jenkins, who has been fighting for visitation rights since the dissolution of the civil union she and Miller obtained in Vermont in 2000. Miller gave birth to the daughter, Isabella, in 2002, and the child was at the center of a legal battle closely watched by national conservative and gay-rights groups. (Associated Press)

I can't post this without noting that this family is obviously in a terrible situation. As Mothertalkers notes, "Few things annoy me more than a lesbian mom who splits from her partner and then sues for custody on the basis that the ex's sexual orientation makes her unfit to parent"--which is, in fact, what happened. But this is still a victory for the rights of lesbian moms.

Monday, December 01, 2008

"Thank you for clarifying this very sensitive issue"

'Gays Too Precious To Risk In Combat,' Says General

Transracial adoption

Via my pal Howie, here's an imperfect but interesting essay in the Seattle Stranger about transracial adoption:

It would be easier for white people if race did not exist. Or if everyone could agree that race did not matter, that is. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "transracial" first appeared publicly in a 1971 Time magazine article. The article introduced transracial adoption, or adoption across racial boundaries—most often white parents adopting children of color—and reported a strange phenomenon. According to a study in Britain, some white parents "tended to 'deny their child's color, or to say he was growing lighter, or that other people thought he was suntanned and did not recognize him as colored. Sometimes the reality was fully accepted [by the parents] only after the very light child had grown noticeably darker after being exposed to bright sunlight on holiday.'"

It's such an outrageous finding that it sounds like a joke. Stephen Colbert's dimwitted white-guy alter ego has a joke like this, when he says on The Colbert Report, always in the most ridiculous of situations: "As you know, I don't see color." The joke is funny because in so many ways it's true. Plenty of white people don't see color. We refuse to look at it, prefer not to see too much difference, because difference almost always makes us feel bad by comparison.

Transracial adoption is awkward to discuss at first, because although it is designed to chart a radically integrated future, on the surface its structure repeats the segregated past. Just look at the basic structure of a family and apply race to the equation. The most crude way to put it: Whites are in charge, children of color are subordinate, and adults of color are out of the picture. And that's not even talking about class.

And yet there are more of these families now than ever. The exact number of transracial adoptees in this country is unknown, but the practice, which began in earnest in the 1970s, has been on the rise for at least 10 years. Twenty-six percent of black children adopted from foster care in 2004—about 4,200 kids—were adopted transracially, almost all by white parents, according to a New York Times analysis of data from the National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect at Cornell University and the Department of Health and Human Services. That figure is up from 14 percent in 1998 and, according to adoption experts, it has continued to climb. The 2000 census, the first to collect information on adoptions, counted just over 16,000 white households with adopted black children. In the last 15 years, Americans have adopted more than 200,000 children from overseas, but that trend is cooling off, partly because international adoptions are so expensive.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Kids vs. Religion, continued

Two years ago (!) we at Daddy Dialectic had a very good, substantial discussion about whether kids need religion. (The original post was written by contributor Chip, who is now "retired" from blogging.)

The discussion continues. A fellow named Wes stopped by and posed some interesting questions: How do agnostics best approach the Christmas season and traditions with their children? At what age would you begin cultivating that appreciation of the differences between the faiths? At Jewish Community Center preschool (which my gentile son attends), if asked by another child if he is Jewish, what would your child say? And so on.

I confess that I've only given Wes some half-baked responses; I'm too distracted by holiday activities to come up with something coherent. But perhaps you, dear reader, have intelligent things to say? You can leave them here or revisit that discussion thread.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Caring for our Parents

This is an interesting dimension of rising rates of male caregiving:

The Alzheimer’s Association and the National Alliance for Caregiving estimate that men make up nearly 40 percent of family care providers now, up from 19 percent in a 1996 study by the Alzheimer’s Association. About 17 million men are caring for an adult.

“It used to be that when men said, ‘I’ll always take care of my mother,’ it meant, ‘My wife will always take care of my mother,’ ” said Carol Levine, director of the families and health care project at the United Hospital Fund. “But now, more and more men are doing it.”

Friday, November 28, 2008

Gender We Can Believe In

Writer Lauren McLaughlin blogs:

The November Atlantic has a fantastic article by Hanna Rosin about transgender kids, which I read hungrily in the hope that it would add to my understanding of the topic. Sadly, it confirmed many of my worst fears. There’s a heart-rending story about 8-year-old Brandon who, from the moment he could speak, has insisted he was a girl. His bewildered parents, who live in an area where “a boy’s a boy and a girl’s a girl,” eventually wind up at a transgender conference where they meet kids and parents going through the same kinds of challenges. The article outlines in broad strokes the evolution of attitudes on the subject of gender identity, though I’m not sure “evolution” is the right word. “Pendulum” seems more appropriate since we seem to swing back and forth between the two following dogmas:

Gender is hard-wired and immune to cultural influence


Gender is entirely cultural with no biological basis

Otherwise known as Nature versus Nurture.

The fact that gender could be a mix of these two things seems not to have entered into the minds of the “experts” who treat these kids. Notably absent from interviews with them is any awareness of the fact that they may not have at their disposal all the information required to form a comprehensive theory of gender. And since all of the kids (and indeed all of the psychologists, physicians, and researchers who study them) exist within a cultural framework, it’s nearly impossible to isolate non-cultured traits. In fact, the few twin studies performed on the subject have revealed that, while sexual orientation seems to have a strong biological basis, gender identity does not.

Lauren concludes:

Is there another way? We don’t demand rigid conformity to norms in all things. Why gender? The average man is taller than the average woman, but we don’t demand that short men take human grown hormone or that tall women have their legs shortened. Is it possible that we’re demanding too much of these children and not enough from society as a whole? Shouldn’t we be better than the mother of Brandon’s former best friend who rejected him on “Christian” grounds? Perhaps if it was okay for a boy to wear make up, Brandon wouldn’t be faced with the prospect of puberty-blocking hormones. And why shouldn’t it be okay for a boy to wear make up? It doesn’t hurt anyone.

Utterly absent from this otherwise insightful article was any mention of compassion. Not once did someone suggest that Brandon might be encouraged to love his body as it is and still enjoy playing with dolls. Not once did anyone question the ethics of endorsing rigid gender boundaries despite ample evidence of the pain they cause. Perhaps when faced with a little boy like Brandon, instead of figuring out how to fix him, we should figure out how to fix ourselves.

Right on. I can only add my experience: My son likes to wear dresses once in a while (mainly at birthday parties; he thinks that dresses are more festive) and has shown more interests in ballet and figure skating than sports and hockey, but at no point has he indicated that he wants to be a girl, and he still rough houses and does the whole playing-with-trucks thing. Recently, he's started to show a bit more self-consciousness about gender roles--he actually did not request a dress for our last birthday party--which I'm pretty sure is one outcome of socialization at school. We're not pushing either way. These are his decisions, as far as we're concerned.

The rest of Lauren's entry is well worth a read. She's the author of the young adult novel, Cycler, which is about a girl named Jill who turns into a boy named Jack for four days out of the month. I'll definitely be checking that one out.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happiness and Its Ambiguities

I spent Monday at the “Happiness and Its Causes” conference in San Francisco, which was co-sponsored by my employer, the Greater Good Science Center. The title might suggest a shallow preoccupation with happiness for its own sake, and yet the morning panel was startlingly ambiguous and profound.

At one point, for example, psychologist Paul Ekman linked the recognition of suffering to the possibility of happiness, an insight that both science and religion have discovered using completely different tools. Buddhism and Darwin, he said, agree about the roots of compassion: If I see you suffering, that makes me suffer, therefore ending your suffering can cause me happiness. For Darwinians, this compassionate loop emerges because our biology wires us together; for Buddhism, we are linked through the spirit.

Later, Stanford University psychiatrist David Spiegel argued that Buddhism provided a similar insight about death, believing that the best way to deal with the idea of mortality is to make it familiar, something confirmed by a fair amount of empirical research. I later thought that you see similar processes at work in other religions--what is the image of Christ on the cross if not a reminder of our mortality? If we fear death too much, implied Spiegel, happiness is impossible. And, he said, suppressing sadness can prevent happiness.

Quite a few of the panelists actually argued that happiness should not be the ultimate goal of existence. Philosopher and psychologist Owen Flanagan paraphrased Kant: Happiness is one thing, being good is another. And indeed, he said, preaching contentment for its own sake only serves the interests of the powerful.

Spiegel went on to add that in bad times, the goal should be to convert corrosive emotions (that reinforce helplessness) into emotional states that provoke action or reflection: convert anxiety into fear, depression into sadness, illness into meaning. Happiness becomes possible only when we act or reflect, and try to make the world, if only our little world, a better place.

In the end, summarized moderator Alan Wallace (a Tibetan Buddhist scholar), true happiness is seeing reality for what it is. This might sound counterintuitive to some; the message we hear most often in our culture is that happiness is possible only when reality is viewed through rose-colored glasses. But Flanagan, Ekman, and Spiegel all agreed: Part of the challenge is to recognize the reality of limits and interconnectedness. Happiness, in short, is other people.

I thought about all this in relation to parenthood. I think most parents would agree that parenthood involves a certain amount of suffering. We see it in our children from the moment they enter the world weeping, and we feel it in ourselves, through sleepless nights and deferred desires. The biological and spiritual ties we feel with offspring are the most intense most of us will ever know. This can cause unhappiness on a day to day basis, and yet I think if those ties are allowed to grow over time, there is no deeper source of happiness.

[This is the revised version of a post to the Greater Good blog.]

Friday, November 21, 2008

Why are all the Hapa kids sitting together?

Three weeks ago I went to pick up Liko from preschool and found his class gathered outside the school, waiting for the mommies and daddies.

Something struck me: The white girls huddled in one group and the white boys in another.

Where was Liko? He and his three other part-white/part-Asian classmates, boys and girls, were off to one side, hanging out with each other.

(A note on demographics: Since this is a Jewish Community Center preschool, most of the kids, including the half-Asian ones, have at least one Jewish parent; there are no black or Latino kids in his class. I should also note here that the white/Asian mix is very, very, very common in San Francisco, as it is in Hawaii, where my wife grew up.)

Now, this perception has to be taken with a grain of salt. When it comes to sources of social tension like race, adults see what they're prone to see, and I'm no exception.

But this morning we had a parent-teacher conference and his teachers (one Jewish, one Asian, incidentally) unknowingly confirmed my suspicion: Liko and his Hapa classmates have indeed formed a posse. ("Hapa" is a Hawaiian word for half and half, usually meaning white/Asian. I would actually characterize my son as being "a little bit of this and a little bit of that," but I have no idea how to say that in Hawaiian.)

The teachers didn't put it that way; instead they said, "Liko really enjoys playing with O. and L. and they engage in lots of fun activities like...etc." I was the one who privately noted the racial mix of the posse.

I thought about bringing this up in the meeting, but I decided against it. I guessed (wrongly?) that the teachers would greet my observation in a defensive way, as though something bad is going on in their classroom.

But I don't think that at all. I think what's happening is normal and healthy, and I have absolutely, positively no problem with it.

A couple of months ago, I reported on new research into kids and race: kids do notice race from an early age; by the age of three, they will start sorting themselves into racial groups; it's not unusual or unhealthy for children to gravitate toward the familiar; studies find that kids "who recognize these kinds of differences from an early age show a stronger general ability to identify subtle differences between categories like color, shape, and size—which, in turn, has been linked to higher performance on intelligence tests."

Knowing of this research is a comfort to me, and should be to you, as well.

This doesn't mean that Liko and I, and all of us, aren't facing a perilous racial landscape. Racism is a system of privilege based on race, one that still shapes our society. As Beverly Daniel Tatum points out in her 1998 book, Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?, when racial segregation combines with cultural misinformation and inequalities of power, the results are toxic for individuals, institutions, and cultures.

Like does indeed usually attract like, but prejudice is not the inevitable result. Other, considerably less innocent and natural, factors are in play. It's us adults, not the kids, who are responsible for the stereotypes and the power.

There are lots of things children do that we as adults help them to grow out of. We teach them to share, and to say please and thank you, and how to clean up after themselves, and how to cross the street, and much more. All of these lessons are a struggle; our kids resist every step of the way, until they don't. This is just one more item on that list. No need to hyperventilate, no need to feel guilty.

I'm not going to tell Liko, or anyone else's kids, whom to play with, but I will do my best to help him expand his world, and try to help him see through stereotypes, and, when he gets old enough, fight against power imbalances. That's what counts the most, or so I believe.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Who(m) do you trust?

The new issue of Greater Good magazine (where I serve as senior editor) is now mostly available online. It focuses on trust. Highlights for Daddy Dialectic readers:

Can I Trust You? A conversation about parent-child trust, between renowned psychologist Paul Ekman and his daughter Eve. Plus: Trust across the lifespan.

Surviving Betrayal: Romantic betrayal is traumatizing, says psychologist Joshua Coleman. But couples can learn to trust again.

The Hot Spot, by Lisa Bennett: Climate scientists wonder why people don't do more about global warming. Social scientists have some troubling answers.

Windows of Opportunity, in which author Daniel Goleman talks about mindfulness training in schools.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Be my friend, dammit

Last week, three separate people--count 'em, three--said to me, in tones that conveyed irritation, "Why aren't you on Facebook?"

So I joined Facebook. If you're a Daddy Dialectic reader, feel free to become my friend. That sounds pathetic, doesn't it? Well, I'll try this social networking thing and we'll see if it holds my interest and/or proves useful.

The only other social networking thing I do is Goodreads, which I genuinely enjoy. I like seeing what my friends and favorite writers are reading; it's even useful for my work, as I am in part a book review editor and book reviewer, and I could foresee it one day becoming a useful tool for promoting my own book. (Be my friend there, too, if so inclined.)

Speaking of my book, I just received the almost-final cover from Beacon--that's it on your left. Very exciting. You can pre-order The Daddy Shift at

I'm not sure if pre-ordering confers any advantages to the book. It seems to me that in this day and age chain buyers might check Amazon pre-orders when making decisions about how many copies of a book to buy. But who knows?

Well, if you plan to read The Daddy Shift, it sure couldn't hurt if you ordered your copy now.

Monday, November 17, 2008

"It's not going to happen."

Two weeks ago my wife and I went to Kindergarten information night, sponsored by the San Francisco Unified School District.

A quick word about how it works in SF: Parents turn in a request for their top 7 schools. There is a lottery (which is part of SF’s effort to integrate its schools); it is commonplace for families to not be assigned any of their top 7 choices, though sometimes people get lucky. Luck is a big part of the process.

At the information night, it was great to meet the parents, teachers, and principals. After hearing public school parents speak about their experiences on a panel, I thought confidently, No problem, we’ll find a school for Liko.

Then a school district representative stood up to talk about the application process. Here are my notes: The process is stressful and so complicated that even I don’t understand it; we’re facing budget cuts at the same time as enrollment is climbing, both due to the bad economy; you probably won’t get a school in your neighborhood. Also, be sure to bring your application to the office in person, because we might lose it otherwise.

So now we’re also looking at private schools, even as we tour public schools on our list. It’s an eye-opening experience. On Tuesday we visited a public school that is widely considered the best in San Francisco, and indeed, it appeared to be a very good school.

The tours were run by parents, with the principal taking some time to answer our questions, and I saw many parents in the hallways and classrooms. High involvement is obviously key to their success. ("And just in case you're wondering," said a dad, "there are lots of fathers who volunteer.")

But one other thing struck me right away: Things like the large school library, including the librarian’s entire salary, and “extras” like the arts and the computer lab, are totally funded by the parent organization. In other words, the parents fundraise in order to get many programs that were taken for granted when I was growing up.

Yesterday we visited another school, not one of the best in the district. This one also sported high levels of parent involvement, but not quite as much, and they weren’t nearly as organized or affluent.

The difference showed: The tiny school library was only open two times a week (for two-hour blocks), and the school lacked many "extra" programs. The adult-to-student ratio in the classrooms was lower; meanwhile, the school’s diversity, economic and cultural, was much higher.

Afterward, I was talking to a mom who was also a teacher in the district. She told me a story about how one school, facing budgetary uncertainly, sacked all its teachers at the end of the year. They were re-hired by the end of the summer, but many, she said, were demoralized.

I'm not even going to talk about my wife's experiences as a teacher in training; she went through a special program that took her on a tour through the district's lowest performing schools. Liko won't be going to any of them. It's not going to happen.

That's a mantra I keep hearing from other parents: "It's not going to happen."

This is always understood as referring to the possibility that their child might end up at a substandard school. It's our way of saying that we are not going to just accept whatever the SF public school lottery gives us.

The vast majority of parents I know, irrespective of their personal politics, are applying to both public and private schools, with the private ones as backups. If they don't get anything they want, or the financial aid they need, they simply quit San Francisco for a Bay Area city with a better system.

Few people want to send their kids to private schools. They value public education and they want their children to be part of it. Plus, what non-rich person wants to spend 20K or more on their child's elementary school education?

But these are also people (that is, the kind of people who go on school tours) who value education, period, not to mention safety.

For this reason, I find the guilt-tripping public vs. private debate to be tiresome. The ideological presumption is that pursuing what's best for your child involves kicking someone else's to the curb. And to be sure, that's exactly how our society works right now: Some children have more chances than others. America has been kicking groups of kids to the curb since the days of the Declaration of Independence.

We do indeed have a responsibility to each other, for each other. We should all be working for an education system that serves all kids; that's one of 4 million reasons why I voted for President-Elect Obama.

But families are making decisions with in the matrix of a system that is rigged against them; indeed, a system that is at war with itself. The American education neurosis manifests itself on every level of our society, from the way some of our political leaders attack "educated elites" as well as teachers, to the way education is funded to the way it's managed to the panicky ways parents make their decisions.

San Francisco's system is particularly dysfunctional and inhumane. It's gratuitously, even cruelly, stressful for parents, students, teachers, and administrators. If some people opt out, and my family might be among them, will any amount of guilt tripping bring them back?

I don't have any grandiose answers; I just getting used to all this and I'm just starting to learn. I can see that the teachers are doing their best. Many parents are volunteering and fundraising. Many administrators are doing their best; some of their efforts might even be called heroic. Olli and l will just keep going and see how it unfolds; this will become a perennial topic here at Daddy Dialectic.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Mind in the Eyes

The "Mind in the Eyes" test was devised by autism researcher Simon Baron-Cohen (cousin of Sasha) to diagnose empathic deficits. The test subject looks at letterbox images of eyes and tries guess the emotional states they represent. You can take the test here.

The normal range is 22-30, with a score above 30 indicating a high level of empathy; I scored a 27, which sounds like the high end of average.

In analyzing my own responses, however, I found a disturbing bias: It seems that I tend to see negative emotions when there are none--for example, I read a playful pair of eyes as irritated; interested eyes as incredulous; and so on. This characterizes nearly all of my wrong answers...and I was super-accurate when it came to perceiving the negative emotions. My private world is perhaps a hostile one.

You shouldn't put too much stock in a one-shot test like this one, but the mildly depressing thing about this insight is that I think it's true; I'm one of those unfortunate people who is often overly vigilant in social situations, quick to perceive threats or slights, wary of connection.

The ironic thing is that I write about the science of positive emotions and social connection for a living through my work at Greater Good, plus caregiving fathers.

However, I think this is a commonplace irony. Sometimes it appears to me that people (you know..."people") imagine that one has to be something in order to write about it.

But I've met many, many writers in my life, some of them famous, and I can tell you that this is rarely the case, especially for the most interesting writers. The men and women who struggle most with something, who believe they lack that thing--e.g., love, wealth, faith, whatever--are the ones who will pursue it most fiercely and sometimes have the most insight into its contradictions. The distance between wanting and having, ideal and reality, is what makes them interesting.

I'm not saying, of course, that I'm interesting; that's not for me to say. But it just occurred to me that closing the distance is part of what motivates me to write in the first place.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Pulling kids from day care

This article suggests that parents are pulling kids from day care as the economy falters. As is often the case in journalistic trend stories, the writer only provides some anecdotes and interviews to make his point, and no big-picture numbers. Probably none are available at this early stage. However, I don't doubt that this story is true; every economic contraction creates a pattern like this. But what does it look like on a family by family level?

You do see spikes in stay-at-home parenthood; people make do with a lower standard of living and try to enjoy the time with kids. I predict that when the next census numbers come in, we will see spikes in both stay-at-home motherhood and stay-at-home fatherhood.

This won't represent an "opt-out revolution" (to use Lisa Belkin's memorable phrase), but instead an involuntary retreat. I interviewed couples whose reverse-traditional arrangements arose from layoffs for my book and I know that when families are willing to retool their emotional lives, they can actually thrive. And periods of economic trouble always fuel calls for decoupling fatherhood and breadwinning (it wasn't an accident that the film "Mr. Mom," about a laid-off auto worker who become a stay-at-home father in Michigan, came out during a deep recession).

On the other hand, I have a friend who, as an infant and toddler, was left alone for the better part of the day. His mother (an immigrant) tied a rope around his ankle and a table, put food on the floor, and left for her job every day. She had to work; staying home with him wasn't an option. (He's fine, by the way, except for the fact that he's a lawyer... I'm joking; I know one or two or three lawyers who are good people.)

This is echoed by one of the anecdotes in the article, about a "woman in New York who, unable to find anyone to care for her 4-year-old daughter while she went to work in a shoe store, simply left the girl outside in a car with a sandwich and water, checking on her every hour. The woman's decision, which came to light when someone spotted the child and called authorities, underscores the desperate situations facing a growing number of parents."

Imagine the stress and pain involved in these situations.

Alternatively, poor and working-class, and even some middle-class, people put their kids in cheap, unlicensed care. Sometimes that works out fine; "unlicensed care" is a very broad category that can include baby-sitting by close friends as well as caring individual providers. Sometimes, however, it is very risky. Many studies show that care in an unregulated environment comes with increased likelihood of abuse or neglect.

All of this really underscores that the need for America to step up and improve its child care infrastructure. This isn't a public vs. private thing--individual companies (like Google's amazing day care facility) need to step up, and so does every level of American government. To me, this is an issue that should go hand in hand with health care; both are about economic development as well as the well-being of parents and children.

Friday, November 07, 2008

The wind at our backs, the struggle ahead

Many wonderful things happened on Tuesday. But in California, one awful thing happened: Proposition 8, which enshrines bigotry in the state constitution, passed. Specifically, prop 8 bans gay and lesbian marriage.

You wouldn’t have known it if you were walking through the Castro on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. Thousands of people were on the streets in the world’s largest gay community. They knew that prop 8 was leading, but people were exhilarated, even ecstatic, about Obama’s victory.

I kept walking, wanting to see how San Francisco’s neighborhoods were reacting; I was tired but I wanted to see all of it.

I stopped at the home of my friends Viru and Beth; it hit us that if a man named Barack Hussein Obama could become president, so could my boy, Liko Wai-Kaniela Smith-Doo, or their little girl, Anna-Priya Saiki-Gupte. America is now officially a multiracial country. It means a lot to us. This is personal, not political.

Back on the street strangers shook my hand and said, “Congratulations.” At one point I was walking down Market St. and a black man walked past me singing, “We got a black man as president!”

One member of the white gay couple walking in front of me shouted back, “Hell yeah, we got a black man as president!” The two men, one black and one gay, high-fived each other, and laughed.

Their voices sounded equally joyous; that moment encapsulated the best of the night for me. All of us saw the election as a triumph for our city, for San Francisco values, for progressive urban values: Cosmopolitanism, tolerance, thoughtfulness, fairness.

It’s three days later. I’m writing this in a crowded Castro café, and people all around me, most of them gay and lesbian, are still talking about Tuesday, recalling the thrill and the feelings of unity. (The barista is greeting costumers with, “Happy Obama!” which keeps getting a delighted little laugh.)

So Prop 8 won, but life goes on, and, for the first time in a very long time, we can feel the wind at our backs. The biggest question people in my social circle are asking is, what will happen to the 18,000 gay and lesbian couples, including our friends, who have been married?

For now, it appears, their marriage vows will be respected. California Attorney General Jerry Brown has stated in court papers and affirmed in the media that those marriages should remain valid in the wake of prop 8’s passage.

“I believe that marriages that have been entered into subsequent to the May 15 Supreme Court opinion will be recognized by the California Supreme Court,” Brown told the Chronicle. He noted that prop 8 is silent about retroactivity, and said, ‘I would think the court, in looking at the underlying equities, would most probably conclude that upholding the marriages performed in that interval before the election would be a just result.”

In time prop 8 will be overturned. America is urbanizing. It’s becoming steadily more educated. These are progressive developments, but they create contradictions, especially widening inequality.

Right after I watched the gay man and the black man celebrate together, I walked past someone sleeping on the sidewalk and someone else rummaging through a garbage can. Both homeless people were white; today in America, the lost and dispossessed can come in any color. They seemed oblivious to the election and they were utterly isolated from the people and city around them.

Perhaps I was just tired, but I ended the evening feeling sad, an emotion that seemed to arise from the certain knowledge, visceral and intellectual, that we never stop struggling. But at least now, for the moment, many of us can struggle together.


A note: I feel like the recent focus on the election has cost Daddy Dialectic some readers; comments and traffic are both down. And that's fine on both counts: I had to focus on politics, I couldn't think about much else, and it is supposed to be a blog about fatherhood. No apologies, no regrets, but we'll be turning back to fatherhood in the coming weeks, and I hope you'll consider joining in on the conversation.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Forty-five years later

“For the first time in my adult life..."

"I am proud of my country."

Election Day Mental Health Break XI: Sigur Rós-Sæglópur

Best if played LOUD

Election Day Mental Health Break X: Subway!

I love the music and urban sensibility of classic Sesame Street...

Election Day Mental Health Break IX: A Canadian working in the American idiom

My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," but the stage version blew us away. If you get a chance, see it. In the meantime, I think the movie has quite a bit to say to all of us on this wonderful/horrible day of days. Three classic moments:

Election Day Mental Health Break VIII: The Vulgar Boatmen perform "Foggy Notion"

This is awesome.

The Vulgar Boatmen were one of my college bands; they were led by one of my professors, Robert Ray, who taught Introduction to Semiotics, The Avant Garde, and more--almost everything I've ever forgotten about critical theory, I learned from him. Here are the The Boatmen covering a sort-of-obscure Velvet Underground tune called "Foggy Notion," with nods to "No Fun" by the Stooges and "EMI" by the Sex Pistols. Incidentally, Liko loves this song.

I'll be posting mental health breaks every half hour until 4:30 pm PST.

Election Day Mental Health Break VII: I'll be your mirror

I can't resist. More Velvet Underground.

Election Day Mental Health Break VI: I'm waiting for the man

Daytona Beach, FL, 1986: My history teacher, Mr. Salter, worked summers at the local indie record store. One day my friend Annette and I came in to browse. At the time, I was into Bruce Springsteen. Mr. Salter gestured me over to the counter. He had this weird looking album with a banana on the cover.

"Jeremy," he said, "this is the Velvet Underground. I think you should buy it. I have a feeling that you're really going to like this band."

Mr. Salter was right. The Velvet Underground changed my life.

Election 2008 Mental Health Break V: Lando Calrissian for President!

Via Ta-Nehisi.

See more funny videos at Funny or Die

Election 2008 Mental Health Break IV: Stevie Wonder on Sesame Street

Thanks Alex!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Election 2008 Mental Health Break III: Peanuts Dance to "Linus & Lucy"

Election 2008 Mental Health Break II: Madredeus in Lisbon Story

I saw this on a freezing cold night, at the Harvard Film Archive, and I was completely transported outside of myself.

Election 2008 Mental Health Break I: "Pat & Mat"

For the next 24 hours, I'll be posting whatever amuses me at the moment.

I think we'll start with Eastern European cartoons. At the end of the twentieth century, my wife and I lived in the Czech Republic. "Pat & Mat" was one of our favorite cartoons, no czech required.

Trust and the Election

This morning I was interviewed (along with two other researchers) on the Forum with Michael Krasny about the nature of trust, why it's declining in America, and what role it plays in this election (this is the topic of an essay I just wrote with sociologist Pamela Paxton). You can listen to the show here:

And that's the last thing I have to say about this election. Don't forget: Tomorrow, reach out to your sanest friends, family, and neighbors, and remind them to vote. And after that, the work begins.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Beautiful Melancholy of Peanuts Holiday Specials

This is great:

What sound is most evocative of autumn? The crackling of dry leaves? The singsong chant of trick-or-treaters? The zip-zipping of corduroy jeans as you walk down the street? For anyone who remembers watching the original Charlie Brown Christmas special in 1965—or in any of the 42 years it's aired since—the single best aural reminder of the waning year has to be the bouncy piano vamp of Vince Guaraldi's "Linus and Lucy," better known as the Peanuts song. The Van Pelts' theme doesn't appear until midway through A Charlie Brown Christmas, but it was so instantly and indelibly associated with Charles Schulz's characters that it became the opening song for subsequent specials...

The whole thing is worth a read. I love watching these specials with Liko.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Longest War

A reader responds to Andrew Sullivan.

Earlier this week, in your post “The Top Ten Reasons Conservatives Should Vote For Obama”, you wrote under Point 4: “A truce in the culture war. Obama takes us past the debilitating boomer warfare that has raged since the 1960s. Nothing has distorted our politics so gravely; nothing has made a rational politics more elusive.”

On the one hand I agree with you; on the other hand, you don't go nearly far enough. An Obama presidency means much more than a truce in the 60’s culture war. It means the end of a much older and more terrible war, in which the 60's was merely one battle: the American Civil War. That is what is at stake here.

The Civil War was fought from Sumter to Appomattox, from April 12, 1861, to April 9, 1865. But the roots of the war predated 1861, and the consequences lived on long after 1865. In reality the Civil War never ended, it just shifted from a military to a culture war - the same culture war that is still going on today....

The 1960’s was part of that larger war, marking the struggle to end Jim Crow, the century-long regime of American apartheid (Vietnam was, in my opinion, related but secondary). The end of apartheid was a second humiliating defeat for the forces of the conservative "South" at the hands of the liberal "North", and it subsequently gave rise to those decades of distorted and irrational politics you so deplore, as the reactionary and fundamentalist forces regrouped and mounted yet another rearguard insurrection against their liberal "oppressors", culminating in their partial ascension to power under Bush...

So let's be clear - it is not "boomer warfare" which has distorted our politics, or made rational politics so elusive since the 60's: it is something far deeper, something far older, something which has been with us from the beginning in this country, and which we in turn brought with us from the Old World; something which in fact traces back to the very origin of humanity - spiritually, psychologically, politically, evolutionarily. That depth is what gives the American story its pathos and its importance. That is why the world watches us: to see if we can work it out - to see if there is hope.

Seems like a stretch? Check out these three maps.

This one represents the pattern of support for McCain (red) and Obama (blue):

[Source: FiveThirtyEight]

Compare that to a map of the two sides of the American Civil War:

And here's the 2004 electoral map:

All three maps also closely reflect population density, a big topic I tackle in this sprawling 2006 essay on anti-urban politics in America.

Three conversations with my four year old

First conversation:

"Last night I had a dream, Daddy."

"Tell me about it."

"I dreamed that Mommy and Daddy took me to a museum, and in the museum we saw everything that is alive and everything that is not alive, and there was a wall, and there were monsters sitting on the wall."

Second conversation:

"Mommy, I'm an announcer for Obama!"

"What are you announcing?"

"I'm telling everyone that it's OK for girls to marry girls and for boys to marry boys!"

[The Obama campaign wishes to state that, in fact, it does not endorse gay and lesbian marriage, that Liko is not employed by the campaign, and that Liko will have no role in an Obama administration.]


Liko is taking a book off the shelf in a bookstore, direct quote: "'I want to read this book,' he said, as he took the book off the shelf." And later, eating pizza: "'I love this pizza,' he said, as he ate another piece of pizza."

This is becoming a pattern: Liko is narrating his own life, living simultaneously in his life and in the story of his life. His imagination is his life. It's a little bit disconcerting to watch, but also kind of cool.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Don't let this happen to you

Infidelity: Brought to you by the Internet (thanks a lot, Al Gore!)

New studies reveal that "younger women appear to be cheating on their spouses nearly as often as men."

How many are we talking about? "University of Washington researchers have found that the lifetime rate of infidelity for men over 60 increased to 28 percent in 2006, up from 20 percent in 1991. For women over 60, the increase is more striking: to 15 percent, up from 5 percent in 1991."

In other words, almost three out of ten men have cheated on their wives by the time they hit 60; meanwhile, 1.5 women out of ten have cheated on their husbands. Another survey shows that in any given year, 12 percent of men and 7 percent of women say they have had sex with someone who isn't their spouse. Which sounds about right. For the youngest cohort of happily marrieds, women and men have achieved rough equality when it comes to deceiving their spouses.

Why the increases for both men and women?

Personally, I have no idea, but researchers advance a number of theories. On the female side, it is likely that more women are just more likely to report infidelity--but it's also the case that contemporary women, who spend less time with young children, just have more opportunities to cheat.

In the past, said Helen E. Fisher, research professor of anthropology at Rutgers, men have wanted to think women don’t cheat, and women have wanted men to think they don’t cheat, "and therefore the sexes have been playing a little psychological game with each other."

On a practical level, being universally charged with care of young children also pretty much zeroed out opportunities for extracurricular sex for the moms. (As most caregivers of preschoolers know all too well, the Little Children scenario, in which a stay-at-home dad and stay-at-home mom get it on while their respective kids nap every day at the exact same time, is very unlikely.)

And as women gain more personal freedom and sexual mores loosen, more women are fessing up to infidelity. It's probably not a coincidence that in urban areas the youngest group of husbands and wives also earn more or less the same amounts of money.

These days, "married women are more likely to spend late hours at the office and travel on business. And even for women who stay home, cellphones, e-mail and instant messaging appear to be allowing them to form more intimate relationships." One Atlanta psychiatrist who specializes in family crisis and couples therapy told the New York Times "he has noticed more women talking about affairs centered on 'electronic' contact."

Technology might also be driving male infidelity. Researchers blame the widespread availability of pornography on the Internet, which is known to affect sexual behavior, as well as the invention of Viagra, which essentially makes sex outside of marriage possible for senior citizens.

OK then. People are cheating more, or at least becoming more likely to cop to it. And this activity is being facilitated by technology.

But what's interesting about these studies is that it appears to still be the case that most people, a two thirds majority, don't ever cheat. That goes for men (who are still vastly more likely to admit that they do it) as well as women. You'd expect that over the course of a lifetime most baby boomers (because that's the group we're talking about here) would have dallied at some point--but empirically it appears that they have not.

I've often thought that the stereotypical notion that men think with their sexual organs (and its corollary, that women never do) is fundamentally flawed; this usually goes hand in hand with the idea that men are by nature emotionally stunted.

Of course, men have rich emotional lives and their relationships with women are more than just sexual. Quite a few studies of womanizing husbands suggest that it is emotional, not just sexual, craving that motivated them to cheat. (I'm not suggesting anything about the maturity of these emotional needs; that's a separate issue.)

I think few people would dispute that men are, in general, more consistently horny than women. That makes a certain amount of biological sense: men are constantly producing sperm but women's hormonal cycles make proneness to arousal more periodic.

However, as I think most wives (secretly?) realize, the vast majority of men deal with this mismatch through covert masturbation, not cheating. Frankly, it's a complementary part of married life for men, and not a few women.

Neither sex is a slave to its biology; our bodies may provide the raw material, as it were, but morality, emotion, and imagination (which allows us to imagine long-term consequences) play much stronger roles in regulating our day-to-day behavior than biological drives ever will.

Friday, October 24, 2008

One more reason why Macs are better than PCs

Apple posted this to the very top of their homepage today:

No on Prop 8: Apple is publicly opposing Proposition 8 and making a donation of $100,000 to the No on 8 campaign. Apple was among the first California companies to offer equal rights and benefits to our employees’ same-sex partners, and we strongly believe that a person’s fundamental rights — including the right to marry — should not be affected by their sexual orientation. Apple views this as a civil rights issue, rather than just a political issue, and is therefore speaking out publicly against Proposition 8.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Doing the right thing

The more I think about it, the more moved I am by this post from Ta-Nehisi Coates:

I've reflected a lot--personally--on Obama's campaign and the values of parenting. I often think about how his Dad left him, and never knew that his son would be within days of the presidency of the greatest power in history. Think about this--what else could a father want? My own Dad often says that too many black men see child-rearing as "responsibility" and not "personal investment." They forget about the joy that children bring, and instead focus on the bills, or on stupid, petty beefs with women. As my own son creeps past eight, I've been reminded of that.

Obama's mother, a relatively young woman when he was born, will not be here to see him inaugurated, should he win. Whenever, I think of that I just get sad--mostly because she did know the rewards of parenting and threw herself at her kids. There's something unjust in the fact that she won't get to see the results of all her work.

But now, more than anyone, I am thinking of Barack Obama's grandparents. One of the big mistakes we make when we look at the history of race in this country is to focus on big people and big events. What should be remembered is that, though our racial history is mired in utter disgrace, though the deep cowardice of post-reconstruction haunts us into the 21st century, at any point on the timeline, you can find ordinary white people doing the right thing. Frederick Douglass, himself a biracial black man, is a hero of mine. But arguably more heroic, is Helen Pitts, his second wife--a white woman, who traced her history back to the Mayflower, whose ancestors founded Richmond Township, NY, and who was cast out for marrying Douglass. Here is a white woman who spent the best years of her life fighting for suffrage and racial justice. After Douglass died, she dedicated the rest of her life to seeing him honored, when everyone else was on the verge of forgetting.

Likewise, I was looking at this picture of Obama's grandparents and thinking how much he looks like his grandfather. And suddenly, for whatever reason, I was struck by the fact that they had made the decision to love their daughter, no matter what, and love their grandson, no matter what. I'd bet money that they never even thought of themselves as courageous, that they didn't give much thought to the broader struggles in the the world at the time. They were just doing what right, honorable people do. But the fact is that, in the 60s, you could be disowned for falling in love with a black woman or black man. There is a reason why we have a long history of publicly biracial black people, but not so much of publicly biracial white people.

We often give a pass to racists by noting that they were "of their times." Fair enough, and I know Hawaii was a different beast, but still, today, let us speak of people who were ahead of their times, who were outside of their times. Let us remember that Barack Obama learned the great lessons of life from courageous white people. Let us speak of those who do what normal, right people should always do when faced with a child--commit an act of love. Here's to doing the right thing.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Dads, girls, and sports

Lisa Belkin has a perspective I share:

A study released this week, called “Go Out and Play: Sport and American Families” finds, not surprisingly, that kids who are physically active are healthier and happier. Their family lives are more satisfying and less stressful too, according to the survey of 2000 students (third grade through 12th) and 850 of their parents by the Women’s Sport Foundation.

Also not surprising, in a less welcome way, is the finding that things are still not equal for girls and boys when it comes to resources for athletics, particularly in urban areas.

And somewhat surprising, and very welcome, is the suggestion in the report that there is a real role for dads in setting the ratios right.

When girls were asked to name their mentors when it came to sports and exercise, they mentioned coaches and physical education teachers. In other words, people outside their families. When boys were asked, the top two answers were coaches and fathers. Forty-six percent of boys, compared with 28 percent of girls, credited their father for teaching them “the most” about sports and exercise.

My response to news like this is complicated. As a former middle-school girl, back in a day when we wore “bloomer” uniforms for gym and weren’t really expected to ever break a sweat, I root for the girls and the new expectation that they can be strong, too.

But as the mother of two sons who are still in the middle of the sports-centric world that is adolescence, I am troubled by the emphasis on athletics, particularly for boys.

One of the surprises of parenting is how hard it is to keep a child physically active if they are not athletically talented. Both my kids have sports they enjoy, but they aren’t stars in the sports that have currency here in suburbia – soccer, baseball, football, basketball.

Back when I was a kid, you didn’t have to be the best in order to play. There were pick-up games and informal neighborhood play, most of which is now gone. Any time a child older than 7 or 8 takes the field in many neighborhoods, it is with an adult and wearing a uniform. The message comes early — in third grade, maybe fourth — that if you aren’t good you shouldn’t really be on the team, and if you aren’t on the team there’s no place to play. Those fathers who are trying to coach their sons are most likely doing so for a team, not just for the joy of running fast and breathing hard.

There is an interesting finding in the foundation’s 180-page report, which says that girls enter sports (read: organized sports) at a later age than boys (7.4 years old compared with 6.8 years old in general) and that girls also drop out sooner than boys. “Girls’ late start may set them up for failure in sports during the middle-school years,” the report says.

Failure? By sixth grade? Because you didn’t start at age 6 instead of age 7? That can only be true in a culture in which the only definition of success is making the team. And if, as the foundation finds, our children really are emotionally and physically healthier when they are physically active, then that’s not a definition that is helping them.

I understand the lifelong lessons that can be learned on teams. But there are others, which last as long if not longer, that can be learned without them.

I didn’t discover that I had muscles, nor the exhilaration of using them, until I was an adult and found a trainer at a gym who dragged me out of my psychological bloomers. My husband, always athletic, did not get on a racing bike until he was 40, and now he rides every chance he gets. My sons, in turn, discovered tennis in their teens, and while they probably won’t be playing Wimbledon, it is a central part of their lives.

If fathers want to prepare their daughters for a lifetime of health, then coaching their teams is not the only way. Sometimes it might even be the wrong way. Take your girls for a bike ride. Or on a hike or a run. Or just throw a Frisbee for the fun of it. It counts as a victory, even if nobody wins.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Wages of Sexism, Part II

A creative new study reveals a new dimension of the wage gap between men and women:

In previous studies, academics have looked at variables like years of education and the effects of outside forces such as nondiscrimination policies. But gender was always the constant. What if it didn't have to be? What if you could construct an experiment in which a random sample of adults unexpectedly changes sexes before work one day?

Kristen Schilt, a sociologist at the University of Chicago and Matthew Wiswall, an economist at New York University, couldn't quite pull off that study. But they have come up with the first systematic analysis of the experiences of transgender people in the labor force. And what they found suggests that raw discrimination remains potent in U.S. companies.

Schilt and Wiswall found that women who become men (known as FTMs) do significantly better than men who become women (MTFs). MTFs in the study earned, on average, 32% less after they transitioned from male to female, even after the authors controlled for factors like education levels. FTMs earned an average of 1.5% more.

Good things

You might have heard about this:

A group of San Francisco first-graders took an unusual field trip to City Hall on Friday to toss rose petals on their just-married lesbian teacher - putting the public school children at the center of a fierce election battle over the fate of same-sex marriage.

The 18 Creative Arts Charter School students took a Muni bus and walked a block at noon to toss rose petals and blow bubbles on their just-married teacher Erin Carder and her wife Kerri McCoy, giggling and squealing as they mobbed their teacher with hugs.

Mayor Gavin Newsom, a friend of a friend, officiated.

A parent came up with the idea for the field trip - a surprise for the teacher on her wedding day.

"She's such a dedicated teacher," said the school's interim director Liz Jaroslow....

The students' parents are planning to make a video with the children describing what marriage is to them.

Marriage, 6-year-old Nolan Alexander said Friday, is "people falling in love."

It means, he added, "You stay with someone the rest of your life."

The San Francisco Chronicle article has drawn over 3,000 comments, many of them full of hate. “It’s just utterly unreasonable that a public school field trip would be to a same-sex wedding,” said Chip White, press secretary for the anti-gay-marriage Proposition 8 campaign. “This is overt indoctrination of children who are too young to have an understanding of its purpose.”

As a straight parent in San Francisco--who is raising his son on Castro St., right on the border of Noe Valley and the Castro--I want to tell these people: In San Francisco, this is normal. Hell, my family is going to a lesbian wedding this weekend. There will be something like twenty kids there, all of them members of my son's community.

I can pretty much guarantee that the hateful comments on the Chronicle article are from people who don't live in San Francisco. Because those of us who are raising children in neighborhoods with large numbers of gay and lesbian families know a secret: They are great environments in which to raise kids. We have a good community and we're happy.

To people like Chip White, I say: You can rant, you can rave, you can shout your ignorance at my kid through your TV ads, Prop 8 might even pass, but you can't win. Gay and lesbian families are here to stay, and that makes our world a better place.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Mad Men vs. Mr. Moms

OK, this is kind of funny: Hey, Mr. Mom: Your Wife Wants To Bang Don Draper. (And here's the funniest reader comment: "I think you're preachin' to the converted, dude. Mr. Mom wants to fuck Don Draper, too.") C'mon. Laugh. You know it's funny.

I just started watching Mad Men, largely on the recommendation of my pal Jessica (who is getting married this weekend! yay!).

The writing and characters are gripping, but Mad Men is also a fascinating sociological and historical study of womanhood, manhood, and gender roles at a dramatic point of transition.

It made me think right away of Susan Faludi’s 1999 book Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man--in fact, the parallels between the POV of both the series and Faludi’s book makes me think that Stiffed must be required reading for Mad Men’s writers.

In both, traditional masculine values like self-reliance, steadfastness, and dedication to community welfare are steadily undermined by the encroachments of a culture that prizes image and performance over principle and real accomplishment.

It's a process that pushes both the interview subjects of Faludi’s book and protagonist Don Draper of Mad Men into a state of spiritual free fall.

At the same time, however, we’re reminded by both works that we cannot go back: Thanks in part to its terrific attention to the details of its characters’ lives, Mad Men makes a sexist social order real and concrete, and reminds us of how far we’ve advanced from the “good old days” when women were prisoners in their own homes.


It's important to remind ourselves that these people are not America. Every poll is now saying that Americans are rejecting the McCain campaign's scapegoating stupidity.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Not so different

I've been pondering why this stuff bothers me so much. There was never any doubt that I would vote for Obama: I support reasonable government intervention in the economy, environmental protections, a nonviolent foreign policy, and so on. So yes, I'm a progressive. I was ten years ago, I was five years ago, I am now.

But I wasn't always a parent. And as a childfree person, I don't think I would have been nearly as disturbed by this ugliness as I am now. When I see this stuff, I feel a kind of panic sweep over me. If I put the panic into words, it sounds like this: "No, no, no, I don't want my son to grow up in this kind of world, no."

The roots of this panic are probably evolutionary; of course, we all want our kids to grow up in a safe, stable environment. When that environment is threatened, the fight or flight response kicks in.

I have no doubt that the parents in these mobs would agree with me, and, indeed, conservatism by definition seeks to slow social change in an effort to maintain stability. That's what people mean when they say that parenthood made them more conservative. It's true for me, too; in a personal sense, I have become more conservative since becoming a parent.

But political conservatism can turn into its opposite when the changes come too fast and furious. It mutates into extremism. And when in groups, people will sometimes behave in ways that fly against their individual values and morals. Social scientists call this phenomenon deindividuation.

Faced with the end of an era, the people at these rallies are feeling a sense of panic that resembles my own. They're not so different from me. And so I think we all have to pause and look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we're doing our best to create a world that is safe for children.

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The campaigns address work-life balance

Sue Shellenbarger at the Wall Street Journal has a solid overview of work-life issues in the presidential campaign:
Ellen Galinsky, president of the nonprofit Families and Work Institute, a nonpartisan research organization, quizzed spokesmen for both candidates’ campaign organizations recently in a conference call with more than 100 corporate executives and advocates. Transcripts were published today on the Institute’s Web site. [Note: If you have the time, click over to the transcript; it makes for instructive reading.]

The transcripts pose some sharp contrasts. Sen. Obama supports expanding federal mandates for both paid and unpaid leave for employees, a spokeswoman said. He would move to require employers to provide seven paid sick days a year for employees who are ill, or who need to care for a sick family member. He backs expanding the Family and Medical Leave Act to cover more employees, including those at businesses with 25 employees instead of 50, as the current law requires. He’d expand allowable purposes for family leave, including more elder-care duties and children’s school matters. He’d provide some federal funds to encourage more states to mandate paid leave. Sen. Obama also backs setting up a formal process for employees to petition their employers for flexible hours, with employers mandated to at least reply.

Sen. McCain wants to make labor laws more flexible, to allow employers to pay workers for overtime in compensatory time off, rather than money. He advocates creating a bipartisan commission on workplace flexibility, to figure out how to overhaul and update labor and tax laws to promote flexible hours and telecommuting. He wouldn’t back expanding the family-leave law or mandating paid family or sick leave. “Sen. McCain has not been one to issue mandates on what a business would choose to pay” for leave, a spokeswoman said. He does propose to bring down health care costs to give businesses more latitude to provide paid leave if they choose.

Bottom line: The Republican Party is on the side of employers, the Democrats are on the side of parents, especially poor, working- class, and middle-class parents. As if you needed any more reasons to vote for Obama.