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May 25, 2007

Housebreaking Dad

I was delighted when I saw a headline on Judith Warner's New York Times blog reading, "A Warm Welcome for Dad Lit" (TimesSelect subscription required), and when I read this opening paragraph:

Back in 2002 when I was in the thick of conducting interviews with groups of mothers for my book “Perfect Madness,” I began to think that it would be a great idea to turn the tables and interview groups of dads. After all, I was listening almost daily to mothers venting (in the nicest possible way) about their lazy, self-indulgent, oversexed, under-involved husbands; there had to be, I thought, another side to the story.

Finally, I thought, good dads were going to get their due. And high time, too. But not so fast. Warner continues:

I shared these anecdotes – and this vision – with the many men who, after the book’s publication, reproached me for not having included fathers in it.

Don’t shut us down with stereotypes, they said. Some of us are living the same life as you – and we are capable of talking about it.

Did you catch that? Some dads are "living the same life as you." In other words, those rare and wonderful dads who are worth talking to are the ones who are acting, not like dads, but like moms. Warner even admits as much, or nearly does.

That’s because what I found in these books about fatherhood wasn’t at all a journey into some dark continent of maleness. Instead, time and again, I found myself.

Not surprising, you might say, for a narcissist – but let’s leave that aside.

No, let's not, because it's a pretty important point.

Warner's self-admitted narcissism is a typical symptom of the wrong impression that too many women have of what fathers should be, to their children's detriment. The whole point of having a mom and a dad, as we used to know before we deemed fathers disposable, is that their strengths and weaknesses complement each other. If dads are merely second moms, if their strength and their masculinity has to be tamed into something unrecognizable to make them acceptable to have in the house -- if they all need to, in Warner's words, "[reject] traditional fatherhood to become, in a certain sense, 'moms'" -- then what are they bringing to the table? You might as well have two moms. (Why do I get the feeling that Warner is probably a hearty advocate for same-sex marriage and parenting?)

I'm pretty sure, in short, that Warner wouldn't approve at all of the book I mentioned yesterday. Meeker's chapter titles, for instance, include "She Needs a Hero," "Teach Her Humility," "Teach Her to Fight," and my favorite, "Protect Her, Defend Her (and use a shotgun if necessary)." But I'm more sure than ever that dads, and moms, ought to read it.

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