Exactly one year ago today, The Today Show told the entire morning-news-watching nation that I, as a stay-at-home-dad married to a doctor, was an example of a new status symbol for “alpha women.” I was a trophy husband.
If you watch the entire segment linked here [having trouble embedding it, sorry]—which was pegged to a Marie Claire article for which la dra. and I had been interviewed for an hour each and in which we were reduced to a family photo and one quote about (not by) me presented very much out of context—you’ll see that the NBC videographer who shot and cut the piece ignored the magazine editor’s “trophy husband” framing and that good ol’ Matt Lauer actually went after her for it, closing with a reference to “the guy in the piece” who said “‘it’s not babysitting, it’s parenting.” [My new catchphrase. Heh. I need to make t-shirts.]
In the intervening year, the conversation in the mainstream media and in the parentblogosphere about changing roles, especially in an uncertain economic environment, and the redefinition of fatherhood has continued. Fatherhood gets talked about in the context of a larger re-envisioning of modern manhood online, dadbloggers plan their own testosterone-centric take on the momblogger conferences only a few of us dare to crash—and yet, things like SAHDs, involved fatherhood, and equally shared parenting continue to be treated as “trend stories,” as anomalous and intriguing oddities that are newsworthy because they’re not “normal.”
Just a week ago, AngrySAHD Josh K. wrote some guidelines on “How Not to Screw Up the Conversation About the Modern Dad” on the site of The NYC Dads Group after watching another group member and dadblogger get set up in an adversarial moms-vs.-dads conversation about parenting skills on iVillage. His “list of a few things to think about when being an involved dad, and especially when discussing it, whether it’s on TV or the playground”:
- Don’t be the boob.
- Be involved in everything—not just major discipline.
- Be on top of your stuff.
“For better or worse,” he writes, “part of the ‘job’ of being an involved dad is helping to change the incorrect impressions people have of all dads. Set an example, live that example, and correct people when they are wrong.”
I was lucky with how my Today Show experience turned out. I had no control over how the finished article portrayed me and my family, and no control over how the video piece would use us as an example of a stay-at-home-dad/breadwinning-mom family with which to introduce the topic on the show. I totally lucked out in having Matt Lauer virtually have my back and fight against the usual mom-vs.-dad, stay-at-home-vs.-work-outside-the-home adversarial framing of much of the media coverage modern parenting gets.
In a comment on the NYC Dads Group post, I wrote, “[I]n terms of how not to screw up the public conversation, a lot depends on the luck of having sympathetic allies involved in the set-up and presentation of the discussion. We can’t assume folks’ll have our back or be on the same page, and if they aren’t and we’re all by ourselves, especially if we’re on their media turf, it’s very easy to get steamrolled no matter our intentions.”
As I said earlier, this stuff still gets portrayed in the media as the funny little human interest story, “hey look, they’re doing things different [read: not normal], maybe it’s a trend [read: not mainstream].” But as hinted at above, we’re not waiting around for the mainstream media to tell our stories or just sitting around waiting for the day that what we’re doing is so non-remarkable that there is no story. We’re telling our own diverse, not-always-agreeing-with-each-other stories, moms and dads, SAH and WAH and WOTH and full-time and part-time and everything in between, in every possible permutation of “parent” and “family. We’re connecting with each other virtually and IRL and creating fluid, fluent communities of interest and support, on new blogs, on Twitter, in books [like the new Rad Dad: Dispatches from the Frontiers of Fatherhood, to which I am a proud contributor], everywhere.
And so that’s how we continue to shape and “not screw up” the conversation—by having it with as many different people in as many different venues as we can. I recently had a conversation with another dadblogger about his mixed feelings on being lumped into a “trend” of redefined fatherhood when all he felt he was trying to do was raise his kid and be himself. But he was a part of it, I countered, whether he liked it or not, simply by the fact that he had chosen to talk and write publicly about who he was and how he was raising that kid, as a dadblogger. Mere presence, while not enough to make real changes, is enough to start—and I think that there are enough of us out there writing and talking about what we’re doing and living to be sure that this is, indeed, the start of something.