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…
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.
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.