The twins are startled when I come bounding into the playroom, shouting, "The new issue of Parenting is here!! The new issue of Parenting is here!!" Soon enough, though, their fear dissipates and turns to mere bewilderment.
"Well, you might not understand; but you certainly will reap the rewards," I tell them as they go back to chewing on spent AA batteries.
Although I'm confident that my childcare instincts are sound, it can never hurt to get some practical tips from the experts; and Parenting (Early Years), which mysteriously started showing up in the mail, should be just what the case worker ordered.
I thumbed through the last couple issues when they arrived, but I didn't have time to really put my arms around what I'm sure were sensitive treatments of the pressing issues facing modern parents. I seem to recall something about a vibrator giveaway. Nah...that must have been some other magazine.
So I skim the pages of the April 2010 issue to get a quick sense of what a Parenting parent looks like. The pages are filled with photos of happy, beautiful children and equally attractive parents, all in stylish clothes. These are people I can identify with! And diverse? It's an ethnic rainbow inside, featuring gorgeous people of every shade! This is a magazine I can feel comfortable with because, like many white people, I firmly believe in media images of a happily integrated society.
I finish my once-over and pause.
Well that's curious, I think, starting from the back and flipping my way through the pages again. Although ethnic groups from Ethiopians to Azerbaijanis are represented in the photos, there is one thing conspicuously absent in the vast majority of these model parents: a Y chromosome. (For those of you who, like me, barely made it through high school biology, Y chromosomes are what make dudes dudes, genetically speaking. I consulted with my wife on this.)
In all, I count five images of fathers in the entire magazine. One (a caricature) is teaching his son to be a good loser. One, pictured from behind such that only the back of his head, his stocking feet, and his remote control hand are visible, accompanies a feature in which an advice columnist explains how to deal with us typical guys who ignore our families so that we can watch sports on TV.
The other three men are fixin' to get buck wild with their babymommas. This IS the magazine that had the vibrator giveaway in a previous issue!
In the issue I'm looking at, a feature article called "Mama Sutra (Hot tips for a more satisfying sex life)" advises, "A hand job here or a blow job there will go a long way toward keeping him physically satisfied and the pilot light (for both of you) smoldering." Elsewhere in this issue are a chart with foods that will increase your libido and a review of mom-tested vaginal lubricants. This is not the parenting advice I was expecting.
The only other place (aside from a very small number of ads) where I can find even a suggestion that there could be a man somehow involved in this whole parenting enterprise is in the "Hot Dad Alert!" where the reader is asked to go to the website to submit pics of her hot husband.
Okay, I get it. This is not really a "parenting" magazine so much as it is a "mothering" magazine. I'm sure there are other publications out there for parents that are directed to a mixed audience. Right? I realize that stay-at-home dads are a statistically irrelevant minority not worth advertising to; and probably most of us don't actually care that we aren't represented in glossy magazines full of diaper ads.
But when men are mostly "out of the picture" in depictions of family, and the few times they are included they are portrayed as boorish obstacles who nonetheless must be kept on standby for booty calls, the ideal of gender equality is not served. I suspect that the writers and editors of this magazine don't actually condone a society in which moms do all of the parenting (even sometimes parenting of the dad himself), and there is probably nothing more pernicious happening here than marketing and social attitudes reinforcing one another in an endless cycle that guarantees a glacial pace in movement away from traditional gender roles.
So should fathers feel slighted by the clear message that their role as parents is not only secondary, but insignificant to the point of being invisible? Sure. Should women be exasperated that, despite their advances (and the demands placed on them) in the working world over the past half century, they are still expected to do all the heavy lifting in the area of child-rearing? Of course. Should I, as a stay-at-home dad, be indignant because I am largely ignored by the parenting media? Absolutely. Will I work up a sense of righteous indignation sometime in the very near future? Probably. But right now, I have other things on my mind: