The New New Fatherhood

About a year or two ago I read a feminist (can't remember who or where, sorry) waxing rhapsodic about how she overhead two men at work discussing how they dealt with their children's illnesses. She was just in disbelief at how far we've come - even 10 years ago, men would never have been talking about how to raise children in such a hands-on, day-to-day way.

Presumably the men that this writer had overhead were relatively enlightened types, conscious of the historical unfairness of domestic arrangements to women, and the consequent need to split parenting duties more equitably with women, who were now equal partners in the enterprise.

We have officially come further than that. The nitty-gritty of parenting has made its way even to unenlightened fathers.

I was with my son at a playground today, as were two dads with their sons. The dads were chatting and I overheard them. They were exchanging parenting tips of the everyday sort formerly reserved for mothers: discussing the various merits and demerits of local playgrounds, how to deal with recalcitrant nappers, etc. One of them, however, was wearing a T-shirt. I managed to find the image of his T-shirt online:

Now to be fair, it could be some kind of critique of this hilarious item. But going from violent to merely sexist seems an unlikely critique. More likely, the guy at the park really is a sexist idiot. Which means sexists now change diapers, too!


  1. please Elizabeth, you are going way overboard, for all you know it was a gag gift from his own wife, and would you feel anywhere as offended if the sexes were reversed, or for that matter if the picture is meant to be a teen boy tuning out his own mother, which given what it says seems far more likely to be the target audience? I can easily picture any number of 15 year old boys wearing that, not any 40 year old men.

    And I am also sorry that the feminist is herself so sexist as to imagine men have always been clueless or indifferent to their children's health, but have only lately started to care. Of course men talk with their friends when their children are sick. They also talk to each other about health issues. And I have heard such conversations all my life (I am in my late 40's). Do you really think men only talk about sports, sex, or politics when they are together?
    And I am from a blue collar background in a small working class city. It might come as a shock to you, but many men are fully realized human beings as well, and they didn't need sensitivity training to get there.

    I just don't know how you can claim to be enlightened while rendering wholesale judgment of all men based on one overheard conversation by one woman, and one overheard conversation by you. And yes, the shirt is stupid, but it is not detestable like the other one, and you simply have no context with which to base it on, certainly not enough to call him a sexist idiot.

    By the way, I remember one time when I took my young son to a park in upscale Norther Va. while visiting family. I overheared part of the women's conversation there and it was trite and vapid. Their husbands were the breadwinners and their lives sounded uninteresting, not liking to eavesdrop I engaged in a nice convesation with a family from India. Now I am not going to claim the women are in fact idiots, they were probably engaged in stress relieving chit chat. I have heard my own sister have similar conversations and she is very far from being an idiot.

    Finally, please stay away from these overgeneralizations. What has changed is not men's love for their family, or unwillingness to talk about it, what has changed is mens willingness to discuss it within the framework of the society at large, which is a welcome thing to be sure, but not the whole story.


  2. Charo -

    I think I came off far more seriously than I meant to. Not making any real generalization, just thought the juxtaposition of shirt and conversation was funny.

  3. TO elaborate, I don't for a second believe that men don't really talk about children, care about children, love their families, etc. And that they have done so for a long time. There has, however, recently been a fairly dramatic change in what is expected from fathers. My husband does far more than either my father or his father ever did, and while I don't have any data in front of me, I don't think they are anecdotal exceptions.

    I do think it is safe to draw some conclusions about people by what is printed on their T-shirts. (And, for the record, I really dislike shirts of the "girls rule!" variety, too.) The shirt really is sexist, and for whatever reason, a thirty-something man was willing to wear it out with his very young son. There might be some extenuating circumstances, but I think it's unlikely.

    But overhearing a snippet of conversation? Of course not. I'm sure people who have overheard me have thought me insanely stupid/superficial/what-have-you.

    That said, as I said in previous comment, I was so not seriously making a generalization or purporting to make any real insight. I have no idea how widespread a phenomenon involved fatherhood is, just that it is more than it used to be. Just thought it a funny way of framing a funny situation. Apparently it wasn't. Yikes!

    And also, please don't think for a second I associate "enlightened" with upper class. I've known far too many exceptions on both sides. My husband is from a working class background where he's the only one with a college degree, and is far more enlightened (as are some of his family) than the members of my wealthier, Ivy-educated family.

  4. Zzzzzzzzzz. Did I just fall asleep?

  5. fair enough Elizabeth, (that anonymous above is not me and have no idea what that persons problem is, and in a way proves my point, snap observations cloaked in feelings of superiority as though I am sure sleepy above him or herself is so penetratingly interesting that they can't be bothered to make a practical comment) if your posting was meant more lightly then I see what you mean, the contrast is funny. I also thought the father was in his young to mid 20's, which made a lot more sense to me.

    On a T-shirt related note, I have a T-shirt with the brand name and logo of Bimbo, which is a Mexican bread company, the brand is common in south Texas but I am not sure if I should wear it up north.


  6. Funny you should mention "Bimbo," charo. I saw a guy in the grocery store here in Maine the other day wearing a soccer jersey with "Bimbo" all over it. I could tell that it was a product logo of some kind, but I had no idea what the hell it was for. Thanks for the clarity.

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