June 18, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

So far, it’s been a good Father’s Day. By that I mean there’ve been few, if any, article’s shaming, disrespecting, belittling dads. That’s strange, given the fact that, traditionally, Father’s Day is celebrated by much of the mainstream media by telling all and sundry how worthless fathers are. Seizing on the one day in the year when we’re supposed to simply give a tip of the hat to dads and all they do for their kids and wives/partners to instead denigrate them has always appeared to me to be not only cowardly, but in the worst of taste. After all, can’t those people manage to contain their vitriol for a day?

This year seems different. The anti-dad crowd is uncharacteristically muted. Even this article that appears at first glance to be more of the same, actually isn’t (MSN, 6/15/17). Could the lack of dad-hating articles be yet another sign that the worm is turning?

The MSN piece actually means well, even if many of its assertions are questionable. The writer goes by the pseudonym of “Chatelaine,” for reasons I can’t guess at. His general point is that, since we’re moving as a society toward abandonment of traditional sex roles, including workaday dads and stay-at-home moms, why not abandon special days for each? Why not have a single “Parent’s Day” on which we honor both mothers and fathers?

That it seems ill-informed. It seems so because mothers and fathers aren’t interchangeable, so why pretend that each is merely a parent? Mothers and fathers tend to parent their children differently and the synergy they create is uniquely healthy for children. Pretending that mothers aren’t mothers nor fathers fathers, but just generic parents is based on faulty assumptions and necessarily sends a faulty message.

Plus of course we’re already doing too much to convince ourselves that the sexes really aren’t terribly different. Interestingly, we’re doing that at precisely the time when multiple scientific disciplines are all revealing facts demonstrating the exact opposite. The more we know about male and female brains, biochemistry and how they work, the more we realize just how different the sexes are. So it’s ironic that the culture is simultaneously headed in the other (non-scientific) direction.

That said, Chatelaine is no curmudgeon. He’s well enough intended. Still, his problem is that he swallows hook, line and sinker the popular notion that society is headed toward some sort of non-sexual future in which the work of society and families is split up, not by sex, but by what he calls “preference.” That Chatelaine believes preferences to be divorced from sex demonstrates how little he knows about people.

Weirdly, he traffics in the very gender stereotypes he supposedly rejects.

On Mother’s Day, we salute the maternal ideal: Mother loves us! She nurtures us! She feeds us! Her card comes with flowers. Then, the next month, we mark a less inspiring paternal equivalent: Father, um, goes to work? He mows the lawn? He takes us camping? His card shows a man in a tie.

These are all productive uses of dad’s time, but as a set of ideals, they perpetuate a distinct, less-ambitious goal for male parenting.

I realize that he’s saying the culture does this and not that he believes that, say, mothers love us, but fathers’ don’t. Still, Chatelaine is the one saying that what fathers typically do is “less ambitious” than what mothers do. I don’t know about him, but I think that toiling in the corporate rat race to support one’s family is pretty ambitious and at least as important to Dad’s child as feeding, bathing and putting the child to bed. The latter doesn’t happen at all if the former doesn’t. So Chatelaine’s description of the respective values of mothering and fathering seem more a projection of his own subconscious than a real description of those values. Chatelaine was the child of a single mother, so I suppose I understand.

What’s new is the expectation that men share equal responsibility in raising their children, rather than being relegated by default to the career/yard maintenance/outdoorsman role.

Oh? And where might we find that expectation? It’s true that more women work for pay than before and it’s true that fathers are doing more childcare than before. But what’s also true is that women are nowhere nearly equal to men in their earnings or their participation in the workforce. Even women who work full-time work fewer hours than men who do. There are about 30 times the number of stay-at-home mothers as stay-at-home fathers. Dr. Catherine Hakim demonstrates that women’s preferences are far more family- and less work-oriented than are men. Countless studies show women opting out of paid work in order to stay home with little Andy or Jenny. And if it’s not women bringing home the bacon, well, someone has to.

The “expectation” may be there, but, generally speaking, the sexes opt for traditional roles when they can. The difference in men is that we’re biochemically programmed to be fathers, so of course we engage with our kids. For the first time in human history, the Industrial Revolution took men out of their homes and away from their families every day. Now that technology has begun enabling men to spend more of their time with their kids, they’re doing just that. It’s natural.

But nowhere in human evolution do we find males selecting females who are adept at taking on the male role of protector and provider. On the contrary, males, to the extent they selected at all, opted to mate with the best mother possible. Therefore those who appeared to be the healthiest conceived and bore offspring. The same holds true in countless species of mammals and birds.

So if anything, we can expect men to try to open up space for themselves in their children’s lives and mothers to abandon paid work when they can. To a significant degree, we see exactly that. Women married to high-earning men are highly likely to opt out of the workforce when the first child comes along and, interestingly enough, stay out even when the little Andy or Jenny goes off to school.

The reality I’m describing goes contrary to the popular narrative of a nascent Brave New World of gender interchangeability. The problem with that narrative is that it tends to ignore the choices people make in their everyday lives. It’s long on aspiration and short on facts. Chatelaine sounds like a reasonably affluent, well-educated man who believes that his experience and that of his social circle in some way represents U.S. society generally. It doesn’t.

His intentions are good, but his assumptions are less so. For my part, I want to keep Mother’s Day and Father’s Day just as they are. Mothers and fathers aren’t the same and we shouldn’t pretend they are. We particularly shouldn’t do so to serve some screwy notion of a brand new society of interchangeable sexes.

 

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