Monday, June 30, 2008

Help me find a new title!

I finished my book, formerly called "Twenty-First-Century Dad: How Stay-at-Home Fathers (and Breadwinning Moms) are Transforming the American Family." I turned it in to my editor at Beacon. He gave it to the other editors and business people at Beacon. They laughed at the title.

OK, maybe they didn't laugh. I wasn't there. But they do want to change it to something that is either more catchy or more specific, preferably both. I'm having a bit of trouble picking a new one, and so I turn to you, blog readers, for feedback and suggestions. Consider yourselves a kind of focus group.

The new subtitle will be something along these lines: "How Stay-at-Home Dads, Breadwinning Moms, and Shared Parenting are Transforming the Twenty-First-Century Family"--with certain words changed depending on what the title ultimately becomes.

As for the main title, here's what I've come up with so far (in order of my current preference). Imagine yourself browsing in the parenting section of a bookstore. Which one would you pick up?

Father Nurture

The Daddy Dialectic

Beyond Breadwinning

When Dads Stay Home

Full-Time Father

A Father’s Work (as in, "is never done...")

The Birth of Stay-at-Home Fatherhood

Dad Redefined

Half the Work

Dad’s Turn

At-Home Dad

Dads at Home

But if you like "Twenty-First-Century Dad" best, say so. I can take your comments to Beacon as evidence that someone out there likes that title.

You can learn more about the book here. I'd love to hear other suggestions. In fact, I'll give a free copy to whomever thinks of a winning title.

Incidentally, the Beacon business people are not the first to criticize the title. At the Mesa Writers' Refuge, I had the following conversation with a Very Famous Writer (VFW):

VFW: Twenty-First-Century Dad is a terrible title. I wouldn't read that.

Me: Do you have any suggestions?

(Thinks for a minute, chin resting on knuckles.)

VFW: I got it! You should call the book Mr. Mom!

(He's smiling broadly; he believes that he has just saved my book from obscurity.)

Me: Um, a lot of stay-at-home dads don't like the term Mr. Mom.

VFW: Fine. You can call it, Don't Call Me Mr. Mom! I would read that!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Diaper Rap

-Some hip hop to sooth babies on the diaper mat-

That's right
I'm gonna change your diaper
I'm gonna wipe ya
Gonna put you on the mat so I can swipe ya
Off the old nap
Flush the new cr@p
If I do this right we'll overnight ya

Yo yo yo yo you got a biscuit
Yeah it's in your basket
But I'm gonna fix it
And when I'm done you'll feel fantastic

Uh huh

Hip hip a diddy
Hip hip a diddy diddy
Hip hip a diddy
Hip hip a diddy diddy

Yo there you go again
Up off the mat it's naked man
Big gut two skinny legs just like a Bears fan
But see I'm not done yet
Just come back and hit reset
Cuz I got this diaper and my motto's "Yes we can"

Hip hip a diddy
Hip hip a diddy

Yes we can naked man
Come on back for change you can believe in

Hip hip a diddy
Hip hip a diddy

Daddy Dialectic: The Interview

Back in April, Chicago Pop and I were interviewed by the blog Whinydad about Daddy Dialectic. Since this is a slow week here at DD and since there's a lot here that might be of interest to DD readers (both of you!), I'm reposting it:

WhinyDad: What was the biggest challenge to starting and continuing Daddy Dialectic?

Jeremy Adam Smith: The biggest challenge was translating my life into writing. I had been a writer for many years before I became a dad, but I mostly wrote about books, authors, and ideas for publications like The Nation, The Bay Guardian and the SF Chronicle. I was good at dissecting big ideas, but bad at dissecting my own (and other people's) feelings and experiences.

And yet when I became primary caregiver for my son, I found it to be really emotionally challenging, and I wanted to write about that as a way of trying to understand how I was changing. At the same time, I was fascinated by the social world of parenting and where I fit in as a caregiving father, and I wanted to understand the forces that shaped that world. I started researching the family — psychology, anthropology, history, biology, all of it. I used my experience to illuminate and guide the research, and I used the research to illuminate my life. I read during my son's naps; I read early in the morning, before he woke, and late at night, after he went to bed. I really put myself through several graduate-level courses in family studies.

I couldn't relate at all to the parenting magazines out there, but one day I did a Google search for "stay at home dad" and discovered this world of dad blogs, as well as smart, progressive mom blogs. I saw my life reflected in those, and I learned a lot. It took about a week for me to realize that I could start my own blog without too much trouble.

I tried to write when I got the time, in early-morning or late-night snatches. I discovered that blogging is really an ideal vehicle for writing when you're being constantly interrupted by a crying baby. My posts are still just a series of rough drafts; I think of the blog as a notebook. I've since turned many posts into magazine articles or integrated their ideas and information into my book. In the blog I try to be aggressive and adventurous and experimental. As a result, sometimes I am just wrong or off-beat — but I really try to listen to my reader's feedback. Some comments on the blog changed my ideas, or pointed me in new directions, or helped me to understand my life as a father better. I'm very grateful to my readers.

WD: Why and how did DD evolve from a lone blogger?

JAS: I wasn't seeing very many blogs out there trying to do the same thing I was trying to do at Daddy Dialectic — that is, writing thoughtful, introspective posts based on experience and evidence. I wanted a blog that tried to capture complexity and contradiction, intellect and emotion. I started to realize that were other dads out there who shared my sensibility and I thought that my blog might be a forum for different voices and get us talking to each other. Also, my role in my family was changing: my son got older and went to preschool, and I started work as senior editor of Greater Good magazine and I got a contract for my book Twenty-First-Century Dad. But I still wanted to keep that stay-at-home dad voice and continue to explore those issues, even as I moved on with my life and into a new stage of fatherhood.

And so I carefully sought out dads who might contribute. Some of them, like Chip, I found in the blogosphere; others, like Chicago Pop, I ran across in real life.

WD: Chicago Pop, recently you credited your dad with great philosophical wisdom when he said "it's fun" to have kids. Was that a guiding principle when you began blogging?

Chicago Pop: Not at all. I've only begun to realize how fun it is, and how right my father was.

WD: How much of your dad is in the blog?

CP: More than I even know. Being a parent is like going forward and backward in time, all at once. I am learning to be a father while remembering I was a child, and remembering my childhood father now that I am

WD: What have you written that you think might "horribly" embarrass your son years from now when he search engines it — or calls it up in whatever manner then exists?

CP: Nothing yet; once he hits puberty, everything; when he's 30, probably nothing

JAS: Tough to say. I've written about his imaginary characters; that might be embarrassing, but he also might think it's cool. Frankly, I hope he does read about my experiences as his caregiver, warts and all, because I want him to be a caregiver someday and I want him to be prepared for it. I've also written about how much I love him. That might embarrass him. Actually, I think Chicago Pop has the best answer to this question.

WD: Other than sometimes as subject, how does your child influence your writing?

JAS: He reminds me of my own fallibility. I try so hard to be a good parent, but I sometimes fail, and sometimes I feel so right about something but then later it turns out that I had it all completely wrong. It's important for a writer to remember that. Of course, you can come to believe too much in your own fallibility; I have to refrain from beating myself up all the time. You just have to do your best and hope for the best, but remember that you're not perfect and try to keep on learning. That sounds a bit like a cliché, but I think it's a good guideline for life.

WD: What is the most important thing you've learned about being a dad from working on the site?

JAS: I've learned that I have a lot in common with other parents; I get this from real life, too, but you can go much deeper in writing than in casual conversation. Paradoxically, I've also learned in a deep way that parents are different, and different things work for different people.

WD: Daddy Dialectic seems more political than most SAHD or Dadbloggers. Do you think it is a fair assessment and was it a conscious choice when you began?

JAS: I've always been involved with politics and that didn't change when I became a parent … well, I did become less politically involved, but my values didn't change. To me, parenting intersects with every sphere of life, including politics. Nobody parents in a vacuum. It's a social activity, and our choices are shaped by economic and political forces. Take, for example, parental leave: many dads aren't able to take time off after the birth of their child, they have to go right back to work. This hurts their relationship with the mother as well with as the kids. Parental leave for fathers is a political issue, because employers and their allies in Congress have battled against it tooth and nail for decades.

So if we want men to be better, more involved fathers, we need parental leave and we also need more flexible workplace policies for both men and women. Some people claim that dads won't take leave even when it's offered, but we know when it's been offered in places like Germany and Sweden and Quebec, men have indeed taken it and gotten more involved with their families. These changes didn't happen overnight. Public policy has to change, but so has the culture of the workplace and the way couples relate to each other, and the way extended families relate to couples. When bosses take leave, so will employees. When grandparents and aunts and uncles are supportive of dad's involvement, dads will be more involved.

Right now, the pressure goes the other way, to make more money. Until that changes, fear and anxiety will drive the choices that fathers make, and they bring that home with them. I want every father, both caregivers and breadwinners, to stand up together and for government and workplaces to recognize the essential role they play for their children and the mothers. I think this is a fight for both moms and dads together, not apart.

WD: Which are the two or three most interesting dadblogs ... other than yours?

JAS: I like Rebeldad for its consistent coverage of fatherhood issues. I love Lesbian Dad and Doodaddy for being so honest and real. I also really enjoy Rice Daddies. Equally Shared Parenting also has a lot of useful things to say, and Evolution of Dad is probably the closest blog out there to Daddy Dialectic's sensibility.

It's not a blog and it's not for dads, but I've always thought Mothers Movement Online has really smart coverage of parenting issues. I think dads can learn a lot from reading it.

I should also note that the Center for Law and Social Policy and the Council on Contemporary Families both do really important research and outreach.

That's more than two or three, I'm afraid. I could list even more.

WD: A few words on how you'll continue to cure the planet of evil?

JAS: There's a huge gap between public policy and the way people live in this country. Policy is designed to support suburban heterosexual male-breadwinner, female-homemaker families. But families today are very diverse. Most moms work; there are stay-at-home dads and highly involved fathers. There are gay and lesbian families. The divorce rate is falling, but it's still high and still a part of the landscape, and so are step families. And many people today have children without ever getting married. As the historian Stephanie Coontz once pointed out to me, policy needs to help these families to leverage their strengths and minimize their weaknesses.

I think MomsRising deserves a lot of support, though they do not recognize the stake dads have in their issues. They say they do, but I don't think they really get it. I know they started a companion project for all parents, but to me it feels like a token effort — sort of like those "parenting" magazines that are written from a mom's POV but toss in an occasional article designed to appeal to some stereotypical dad: the articles assume dad is an idiot who can't cook and doesn't know how to do the laundry, but here's a few helpful tips on how to manage the big lug. Well, not every dad is like that, and many dads have a strong interest and stake in the issues championed by MomsRising.

Still, I agree with every change they are advocating for, and, of course, it's true that dads have not started a parallel organization of their own — not one that's claimed wide support, anyway.

Fathers, I think, are either more prone to wrestle with these issues on an individual level or they are more likely to work on these issues through larger organizations like labor unions. To move men, I think the advocacy language needs to be crafted to appeal to a sense of self-reliance. It also needs to come from a position of respect for fatherhood and assume that fathers are looking out for their families instead of their social dominance as men. In other words, you have to appeal to their better natures and provide some hope and role models, not beat them over the head with the manifold failures of mankind. I think an advocacy organization for fathers will need to recognize this, if it to be successful. I wish the Democratic Party was more progressive on families. They're really not. They don't want to offend constituencies that think things went downhill after the 1950s.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Comment dit-on "stay-at-home dad" en français ?

I think this is real interesting:

The idea of being a stay-at-home dad is five times more popular in Quebec than in the rest of Canada, due in large part to generous parental leave programs available only in that province, a Statistics Canada report released Monday has found.

In 2001, the federal government changed its parental leave program for new parents, increasing the length of government-paid benefits to 35 weeks from 10 weeks and eliminating a second two-week unpaid waiting period for parents sharing the responsibility of staying home with children.

Five years later, Quebec introduced its own parental insurance program as a substitute for the federal program. It offered higher benefits rates and coverage for self-employed workers, eliminated unpaid waiting periods before benefits are paid out, and introduced a five-week leave solely for fathers.

As a result, Statistics Canada saw the number of Quebec men claiming parental benefits nearly double in just one year, jumping to 56 per cent in 2006 from 32 per cent in 2005.

For fathers outside Quebec, participation in the federal program remained constant over three years, at just 11 per cent

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Changing Your Name

Lisa Belkin at the NY Times writes on her blog:
One surprise while writing this article [about equally shared parenting] was how most of the women had taken their husband’s last name. While that is clearly the norm in the country as a whole, I would have guessed that this subgroup, which had made equal sharing their priority, would be more likely to keep the name they were born with or create something hyphenated with their spouse.

I also found this to be true of many of the couples I interviewed for my book about reverse-traditional families--in many of them, the breadwinning mom changed her name.

I never asked why, but perhaps I should have. I suspect for many of the couples there's no "why" about it; they just did what was traditional. The fact that they later embraced a reverse-traditional arrangement as parents speaks volumes about the degree to which new gender roles are more of a response to changing social conditions than the product of a left-wing pinko conspiracy.

My wife and I gave our son an awkwardly hyphenated name--his full name is Liko Wai-Kaniela Smith-Doo. Many people consider it noteworthy that we stuck her name at the very end, and I had the impression it was important to my wife, but I just thought "Smith-Doo" sounded marginally better than "Doo-Smith." Neither of us even considered just giving him my name. We married a year after he was born (that's us, below, getting hitched) and decided to just keep our separate names. "Jeremy Adam Smith-Doo" just didn't do it for me.

One interesting nuance in this discussion: I've encountered many lesbian couples (OK, three lesbian couples) who gave the name of the non-biological mom to the child, as a way of establishing the parental relationship. This makes sense and casts a new light on the tradition of giving the father's name to a child--since the child wasn't born of his body, perhaps it's culturally important to provide a personal and social link between the two of them.

So I'm curious: How did your family come up with its last names, and why?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Yee Haw! Father's Day Media Round-Up!

Better Fathers: Courtesy of the Sexual Revolution: "Little attention has been paid to the impact that women's liberation has had on men. The unacknowledged truth is that men have been transformed too. Today, men have more freedom, flexibility and choices -- in the most meaningful ways."

When Mom and Dad Share It All: "Gender should not determine the division of labor at home. It’s a message consistent with nearly every major social trend of the past three decades — women entering the work force, equality between the sexes, the need for two incomes to pay the bills, even courts that favor shared custody after divorce. And it is what many would agree is fair, even ideal. Yet it is anything but the norm."

First-time dads have a few more gray hairs: "I've interviewed many people who became parents in their 30s and 40s who said that parenthood revealed to them how selfish and silly they had been in their teens and 20s - and I think that definitely applies to me."

When moms criticize, dads back off of baby care: "Both partners have moments of uncertainty over making the right decision for their child. But it may be that some dads need a little extra cheerleading is because, culturally, the father's role in caring for an infant isn't as well-defined as the mother's."

Gay Unions Shed Light on Gender in Marriage: "A growing body of evidence shows that same-sex couples have a great deal to teach everyone else about marriage and relationships."

When Father's Day is a double celebration: "Devin and Geoffery, both 44, can celebrate Father’s Day on Sunday secure in the knowledge that their ranks are growing. Gay, lesbian and bisexual people across the nation are pushing for parental rights and increasingly are seen as a valuable resource by the child welfare system in dealing with the tens of thousands of American children who need foster and adoptive homes."

My life as a stay-at-home dad: "One day I noticed something different. I wasn't depressed. I wasn't bored. I was a dad. I don't know when it happened or why. Perhaps, I just needed time to adjust to the new me, the stay-at-home dad."

Obama's Father's Day Speech
: "He did it in front of a black crowd, and it was the right thing to say. But reporters need to stop acting like this dude is the only civilized black man in the world." See follow-up post here: "My heroes in this business are virtually all white (how many black people are doing long-form journalism these days? I'm still stuck on Baldwin)... And yet so often, these same writers whose minds are so nimble and nuanced, go rigor mortis when it comes to black people. I don't get it."

Why Obama and Cosby comparisons are annoying: "There is no doubt that Obama’s speech was tailored for his black audience, however his lessons are not limited to them. The importance that he gives to higher expectations, increased responsibility and teaching children empathy and self-respect are lessons that all can take away—black, white or brown. Unlike Cosby whose arguments are clearly framed as a problem restricted to the black community."

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Spot Hits the Beach: A Father's Day Tribute

In honor of Father's Day, being a father now, and doing my best to do as my father himself had done, I thought it appropriate to put my family through a sort of major fiasco in the way that only fathers know how to do, generally ensuring, as a result, that whatever form of recreation was attempted during the fiasco is subsequently avoided by all the other family members for the rest of their lives.

So we went to the beach.

The tell-tale warning signs of a fiasco were all there, had I cared to notice them: a few hissed and disparaging remarks about "sand" from Spot's mom; the fact that Spot responded to the sand in the sandbox as if it were a kind of flesh-eating rash that had to be scraped off immediately; and that morning's Weather Channel radar displaying a pastel colored band of tornado-spawning storms, roughly three states wide, bearing due east upon the lower Great Lakes region from somewhere in Nebraska.

It is from volatile conditions such as these that the true family fiasco is made.

So we get to the beach, which is a place we here in the Midwest call The Dunes. Properly speaking, it's not a beach, really, it's much wilder than that, though there are no sharks, and it is interspersed with power plants and steel mills.

If you hit the Dunes on a day when a strong wind is blowing onto the Lake from the shore, which is relatively rare, the effect is one of a sandstorm, a cloud of fine grain that rushes toward the water at up to six inches in elevation. Since Spot himself doesn't rise that much more than six inches in elevation, he wasn't too keen on this phenomenon. So mom sat down with her back to the wind and formed a shelter in which he wailed for the next 45 minutes.

Perhaps a trip to water's edge with Dad might help things? After all, that's what we came for, fun in the water. Up and over to the waves we go, mild waves, but still noisy and much more violent than the ones Spot makes in his bathtub. I can only attempt a crude, but honest, translation of Spot's reaction as we approached them:


Discouraged, I returned Spot in the shelter of his mom, where he wailed some more in the sandstorm, and the mixture of sunscreen and makeup on my wife's face began to liquefy into a whitish substance with the consistency of Hollandaise sauce. I swam out to the sandbar and back, did this again, and even thought about running down the beach for a few miles.

But I had to check on Spot first. "How's he doing?"

"He's really not enjoying this. I think I'm ready to go."

"You're sure? Some women pay hundreds of dollars to get exfoliated at the spa, you're getting it for free."

"I think it's time to go." That was it. Spot's mom had raised the red buoy. Out of the water.

It is in the nature of The Fiasco -- and it shares this in common with The Wild Goose Chase -- that Dad usually enjoys himself almost to the end, up to a certain point when he realizes that he has alienated absolutely everyone around him, and when he has to admit that reality didn't conform to his fantasy in some way, that maybe Spot won't be the little beach comber companion that he secretly hopes for, maybe he'll be like all the other videodrome joystick babies that won't be able to tell which way is north, or the difference between a maple and an oak tree. Mom is already a lost cause, she hates the beach, we conveniently forgot that fact, and probably will again, but she's never coming back. But Spot?

"I think it's time to go," said Spot's mom again.

Indeed, it was. It was getting dark out, a line of heavy gray clouds appeared on the western horizon, and within 30 minutes, the Upper Midwest was sacked with the latest in an unending series of downpours. Visibility on the road fell to 20 or 30 feet. I can only imagine what it was back on the beach. We crawled home along the southern toe of Lake Michigan at 35 miles an hour.

But at least we had an hour on the beach. And just before we left, in the shady picnic area, off the beach and out of the wind, Spot had regained his composure, began circling the picnic table and waving his spoon, erring in widening loops towards the edge of the woods. What was back there, anyway? Surely a curious tot would want to know. Next time, we'll find out. If Spot's mom lets us.

How to Reclaim Father's Day from Ties and Work

The other night, we had a wonderful “celebrating parents” event at Book Zoo in Oakland, California. It was amazing to see so many kids running around, parents relaxing, and parent allies enjoying the stories the readers shared with the audience. We fantasized about doing a reading and softball game next year…..

One of the things I shared from rad dad 7 was a list of ways fathers (and others) can fight patriarchy. Feel free to add more things and I’ll include them in the next issue of rad dad…Here it is:

Things Fathers (or really anyone) can do to challenge Patriarchy

1. Remind yourself and others that parenting does not equal mothering.
2. Wear your baby in a sling.
3. Take your kids with you everywhere you can—grocery stores, errands, to your place of work, Sunday afternoon celebrations, meetings
4. Believe in other men’s ability to parent. Talk to other men about fathering.
5. Vocalize your support of breastfeeding moms
6. Consider being a stay at home dad.
7. Take any parent infant class you are interested in. Be proactive in your parenting.
8. Talk to your kids about gender, class, and racial privilege. Be proactive in addressing the subtle ways these things are taught to your kids.
9. Start a new dad’s group, one where you take the baby with you.
10. Volunteer to help set up child care in the organizations you are a part of.
11. Ask others, especially non-parents, to help. Be a parent ally!
12. Make a point to ask if there are changing tables in the men’s restrooms everywhere you go.
13. Fight gendered parental roles – make dinner, do the laundry, mop the floors, clean the bathroom, watch the kids.
14. Combat images of bumbling fathers in the media. Talk to your kids as you encounter these stereotypes ala “Daddy Day Care,” “Mr. Mom,” “The Pacifier,” “Big Daddy.”
15. And, of course, write for Rad Dad as well as create your own fathering/parenting projects. And invite others to participate.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Evolution of Dad

Dana Glazer is a New Jersey-based documentary filmmaker. His film, The Evolution of Dad, is due out on Father's Day 2010, and here's a trailer:

I'm looking forward to seeing it.

Also: If you live in the Bay Area, I'll be joining Rad Dad tonight (Thursday, June 12th) in celebrating "the pleasures, pains, and politics of parenting." The reading will be held at 7:30 at Book Zoo, 6395 Telegraph Ave at Alcatraz Ave, in Oakland, California. Open mic to follow. If you're a Daddy Dialectic reader, say hello.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Father's Day Books!

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.

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, unusually paced, and interestingly illustrated story.

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.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

The issue is power

From the June 5 New York Times:

Race and place of residence can have a staggering impact on the course and quality of the medical treatment a patient receives, according to new research showing that blacks with diabetes or vascular disease are nearly five times more likely than whites to have a leg amputated and that women in Mississippi are far less likely to have mammograms than those in Maine.

The study, by researchers at Dartmouth, examined Medicare claims for evidence of racial and geographic disparities and found that on a variety of quality indices, blacks typically were less likely to receive recommended care than whites within a given region. But the most striking disparities were found from place to place.

For instance, the widest racial gaps in mammogram rates within a state were in California and Illinois, with a difference of 12 percentage points between the white rate and the black rate. But the country’s lowest rate for blacks — 48 percent in California — was 24 percentage points below the highest rate — 72 percent in Massachusetts. The statistics were for women ages 65 to 69 who received screening in 2004 or 2005.

I automatically related this to more research showing the degree to which feelings of powerlessness affects health:

Research shows that members of poor communities do not merely experience higher levels of violence; they are also more likely to have high blood pressure and frequent periods of increased heart rate, which contribute to a higher mortality rate. What's more, similar health problems have been shown to afflict the least powerful members of nonhuman primate species. Taken together, these and other findings suggest that the psychology of powerlessness can wreak havoc on people who sit low on the totem pole of any social structure.

"Poverty, and the poor health of the poor, is about much more than simply not having enough money", says Robert M. Sapolsky, professor of neurology at Stanford University. "It's about the stressors caused in a society that tolerates leaving so many of its members so far behind."

Which made me think of this:

According to a study by the Families and Work Institute, a decade ago, 27 percent of employers offered fully, paid six-week maternity leaves. Today, just 16 percent do, which means fewer working mothers can now afford any leave at all.

"I had my son on Thursday and, on Monday, I had to go back to work," said Selena Allen, a 30-year-old mother who was working at a non-profit agency near Seattle when she had a baby five years ago.

No paid maternity leave for Allen meant leaving her premature son, Conor, in the hospital for weeks without being able to care for him.

"I was an emotional wreck, I was devastated, but in order to feed my family, I had no other option," Allen said.

Parental leave is usually framed as an issue of equity and work/life balance, but, ultimately, it's a mental and physical health issue, for both parents and children. It's also an issue of power: If poor and working- and middle-class parents had more of it, you can bet we'd see policies that benefit their health. The evidence is clear: The absence of those policies is harmful.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008