i’m not martha stewart

So, after a long unintended hiatus, I’m back in the parentblogosphere. [Didja miss me? Heh.] And I’m back now, not just because there’s so much to catch up on in the lives of The Pumpkin and The Button and their parents, but because a recent and forthcoming swirl of unlikely publicity is finally giving me the  motivation to get off my ass and restart this thing. [Hence the nice, clean WordPress relaunch. See ya, iWeb!]

So, a few months ago, African American Dad, who I know from a few years of co-appearing on NPR’s Tell Me More‘s annual dad roundtable, gave my name to an editor at Marie Claire who was looking for SAHDs for a story. The writer for the piece, Hilary Stout, turned out to be a fellow Brunonian and prolific freelancer on parenting topics (like the NYT piece on shouting as the new spanking), and she spoke to both me and la dra. by phone about the dynamics of being in a stay-at-home-dad/breadwinning-mom household. We both thought her questions were thoughtful and balanced, and we hoped for the best.

Fast forward a few months after hearing nothing, and the editor at Marie Claire emails to say that the story turned out great and is being prepped for the September issue and do we have some photos they could use? Then, jump to just a couple weeks ago, and again the editor reaches out to all the dads in the piece to see who’d be willing to be filmed for a video package for a story on the Today Show pegged to the publication of the September issue in mid-August.

Yes, that’s right, the freakin’ TODAY SHOW. On NBC. And so, after talking to la dra. about it, and I said, sure, why the hell not?

How do I get myself into these things? Oh yeah—I open my mouth.

So last Thursday a segment producer (and new dad!) from Burbank drove up and spent like five hours with us, both with just me and The Button at home (The Pumpkin was on a week’s grandparental-spoiling vacation), with la dra. at her workplace (the p.r. folks there were surprisingly enthusiastic about it all), and with all three of us at home.

For all the time the producer spent with us, it’s all gonna get chopped down to a couple of minutes. So I can only hope that the segment, which is supposed to air today, Tuesday, August 10, in the 8 o’clock hour (as far as I know—I had assumed they stuck the parenting stuff into the Kathie Lee hour, but what do I know!), doesn’t make us look totally stupid. We tried to talk about work/life balance, about communication, about making the choices that work for your family, even tried to inject some political consciousness into the whole thing (class and privilege issues, family-friendly legislation, gender roles and changing the culture—I mean, we’re us, what’d you expect us to do?).

But, after all, the piece is supposed to be the lead-in to a segment pegged to a women’s fashion-and-relationships [which, judging by a quick scan of their website, translates to sex and body issues] magazine’s article headlined…

Wait for it…

“What’s the new status symbol for alpha women? A stay-at-home hubby.”

Oy.

Woohoo! I’m a trophy husband!

So it was with trepidation that I grabbed the fresh-on-the-newsstand copy that I found walking down Larchmont in LA on Saturday, yes, at an actual newsstand [you didn't know they still had those in LA, did you?], emblazoned with the visage of one of the Olsen twins. I don’t know which one. Yes, I could go read it off the cover, but I’m not going to.

And so I flipped to the table of contents to find the page number, flipped to the article deep in the middle of the magazine, and read it.

Double oy.

The article features a couple of families, with pictures to accompany the text, with both the husbands’ and the wives’ voices represented, talking about the good and the challenging about the family arrangements they’ve chosen, but, in the end, ending on positive notes about devotion to family and not worrying about what other people think.

And there, on the last page of the article, was our family portrait that la dra. took with her tripod and the timer in front of our house a few months ago. With a big, giant pull-quote next to it: “I have to check myself—he wasn’t Martha Stewart when I married him, and he won’t be Martha Stewart now.”

Okay, I thought, fine. They used a juicy quote for the pull-quote, let’s see what else they used. And this is what I found:

And the second-guessing doesn’t always stop at the park. Michelle Quiogue, a physician whose husband, Jason Sperber, stays home with the two kids, finds she has to curb her critical impulses when she walks in the door after a long day of seeing patients. “It’s a challenge not to say anything when there are dishes in the sink,” she admits. “But I have to check myself — he wasn’t Martha Stewart when I married him, and he won’t be Martha Stewart now.” Still, there are some things a mother can’t tolerate. Jason, a former teacher, is a wonderful, patient father, “but Lucy’s hair is often not properly combed,” says Michelle. “I know he tries, but I don’t think he tightens the ponytail enough.”

That’s it. For all the emphasis of the piece on the husbands, and for all the balance of the portrayals of the other couples in the piece, I’m not quoted at all, and there’s no positive to balance out the negative that her quote is used to represent in the piece.

When I showed it to la dra. [yes, I know I just quoted her real name, and the piece has the girls' names in it, but I'm still gonna use my original noms de blog for them], her first reaction was to laugh. Which is better than being upset, I suppose. She told me that those answers were to a specific question, that after talking about how good our life is, the writer said something like, “He sounds wonderful, but there must be something he does that you don’t like!” And that her answers, especially the Martha Stewart line, were said in a light-hearted, humorous tone—because who wants to be married to Martha Stewart?! Heh. And, of course, the hair thing is something I readily admit to [of course, I don't think it's a gender thing more than a "me" thing, as I've never known what to do with my own hair, even in high school surrounded by guys with meticulously scultped, product-laden 'dos, including one dude who looked like Edward Scissorhands].

But with the Today Show thing looming, I started to get nervous. I wrote to the article’s writer, Hilary Stout, who immediately wrote back and gave me permission to reprint her response here:

“Thank you for your note. I am very sorry that you are unhappy in any way with this story. I did, of course, use much more of our
conversation in the original story I submitted to Marie Claire. I talked about how you and Michelle met as students at Brown, about your experimentation with different types of childcare arrangements,
about your dashes to the day care center at the end of the day when Lucy was a baby, about how you came to realize you disliked teaching and decided to take a break, about the routine of your day now and how you were able to soothe Emi to sleep while you spoke to me and that she slept on your lap during the entire interview. Unfortunately all of it got cut during the editing process — as did a lot of other material from other people. As you know that happens all too
frequently but I do feel bad about it.

I feel especially bad that you think your situation came across as “negative.” Michelle’s quotes were said in a loving and lighthearted manner and she also said you were a wonderful Dad. I thought they came
across that way in the story. Marie Claire’s readers are almost 100% female and I really do assume they take her remarks as affectionate tweaks.

[...]

Again I’m sorry. Editing is painful for writers but I realize it can be far more painful for sources. I really appreciate the time both you
and Michelle gave me and I’m sorry if you’re unhappy in any way.

Her response meant a lot. Now, we can only cross our fingers and see how the Today Show thing plays out, and hope that any discussion that comes from it and the Marie Claire article is productive, going beyond “alpha woman”/”trophy husband” stereotypes to talking about moving our culture to one that is truly family-friendly and family-centered, in which flexibility is not only accepted but is a given.

If you’re stumbling on this blog because of Marie Claire or the Today Show, or if you’re an old friend thinking, “’bout damned time he got his ass back to the keyboard, lazy frakker!” I hope you can lend your thoughts on how we can get to a time when “the stay-at-home-dad story” isn’t a story anymore.

About Jason Sperber

Jason Sperber is a stay-at-home-dad of 2 daughters and a writer in Bakersfield, California. He blogs (very infrequently) at daddy in a strange land and co-founded Rice Daddies, the group blog by Asian American dads, and is the resident hapa Trekkie at The Nerds Of Color. Follow him on Twitter at @dad_strangeland.
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13 Responses to i’m not martha stewart

  1. honglien123 says:

    Hah! I just sent you a note about the article. I was unhappy for you my friend. And blogging again? That’s fantastic!

  2. Lisa Wuertz says:

    Well, I know you know about editing, you did have that brief time in news. It is tough.

    Still it is really frustrating that the story slants that way. I read the section the same way you did and I’m probably in their target audience.

    This is also one of many reasons I know I will never go back to news even when our kids are grown. I was far too much of a critic to fit in and I still am, I think. As much as the media prides itself on being unbiased, etc., they also don’t respond well to criticism from within or without when suggestions of the opposite are raised.

    I don’t know if I have any answers to this one. Western culture in general just seems so weird about families and family life.

    Looking forward to your return to blogging though!

  3. daddy in a strange land says:

    Well, that went really well! :-)
    Richard Adams, the Burbank-based segment producer for The Today Show, did a great job whittling down hours of footage into those couple of minutes.
    And I have to say, Matt Lauer is my hero for throwing the Marie Claire editor’s “trophy husband/status symbol” framing right back in her face!
    Here’s the link:

    http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/26184891/vp/38638860#38638860

  4. Bout damn time that lazy slacker got his ass back to the keyboard.

    Glad I saw the Today show clip before I read the article, though, or I would still be seething. You all look so cute!

    I expect you to sign all future correspondence to me as “Jason Sperber, Trophy Husband.”

  5. Wassup, Trophy Husband! ;)

    OK, I’m totally cheering for Matt Lauer. Good for him for calling b.s. on the spin of that – and I’m cheering for you for writing the freelancer directly to let her know how you felt instead of just griping about it privately. I’m glad you spoke up about it.

    Being quoted is ALWAYS a tricky thing. Never know how the editor is going to angle things. I remember a couple of years ago a magazine article with me featured heavily edited and taken out-of-context quotes of mine about confronting racism in my extended family. Goodness, my family was pissed because the editing made it seem like I was saying they were total racists, when in fact, I was saying the exact opposite.

    Anyway, glad you’re back to blogging. ;)

  6. Pingback: More on the Today Show and Marie Claire | RebelDad

  7. Jae Ran says:

    Yes, I was surprised (but relieved) that Lauer questioned the framing of the piece. I haven’t read the magazine piece but I thought overall your filmed piece was great. I was just super, super annoyed at the way the magazine editors framed the story. I know they’re thinking they’re provocative and draw in readers this way, but it’s an insult to women to portray mothers as shallow (expecting their husbands to be Martha Stewart or styling their daughter’s hair perfectly, whatever that is).

    I thought you guys were great though, and it was so fun to watch you on tv!! :-)

  8. Pingback: DT Friday Freakout: Summer Vacation Edition | sg

  9. Jason,

    Just watched the Today Show piece & thought you did a great job representing at-home dads across the country. the piece was honest and positive! “What I’m doing is not babysitting…it’s parenting.” True that! Just posted the link for all of our readers to enjoy & linked you on our blog roll.

    Lance @ NYC Dads Group

  10. Pingback: INT DO! » DT Friday Freakout: Summer Vacation Edition

  11. HapaMama says:

    Kudos to you for having the chutzpah to email the reporter directly. I didn’t see the Today show segment, but I’ve been on both sides of the fence, as a writer/editor, and also as the subject. Quite honestly, I think that as a “spokesperson” it is quite rare to feel like your story has been completely portrayed the way you want it to be. Added pressure for the writer/editor side now!

    Great job in helping to put your story as stay-at-home dad out there. The more voices are heard, the less they will be a novelty. Or so we can hope.

    Grace @ HapaMama

  12. Pingback: Trophy husband, one year later | daddy in a strange land

  13. Pingback: guilt by association | daddy in a strange land

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