How many working fathers does it take to screw in a light bulb?

One. But only if a working mother bought some while shopping for diapers on sale before picking the kids up from soccer practice and ordering a pizza for dinner on the car phone.

Published April 24, 1998 7:00PM (EDT)

A new survey published last week by the Families and Work Institute trumpeted the good news that working fathers are punching in for a bigger slice of the Second Shift: spending more time caring for, or at least hanging out with, their kids. During the work week, they spend an average of 2.3 hours per day with their kids (up from 1.8 hours in a Department of Labor survey done in l977), closing in on the average three hours that working mothers spend daily on child care. On days off, dads spend an average of 6.4 hours with the kids -- up from five hours in l977, but still lagging behind the 8.3 hours moms spend. Plus, men are spending more time on housework than they did 20 years ago, and women less.

Cigars all around? Not so fast. The authors of the study owned up to some suspect methodology -- parents self-reported the results (allowing dads who watched the Bulls while Junior snoozed in the Swing-O-Matic to theoretically log 2.5 hours of "child care"), and they could "double-dip" -- getting credit for both child-care and chores if they, say, folded the laundry while prepping the kids for a spelling quiz.

Critics of the study noted that it didn't cover activities outside the home -- school, sports, etc. -- where the rubber really meets the road. They also cited competing surveys with more rigorous record-keeping that indicated no major difference in working dads' participation on the home front.

Yeah, yeah. I must confess I'm a little jaded by these sociological pissing contests. Just wake me when the dads are doing 50 percent. Period. There's your headline news.

Or at least give us a survey that yields more useful data. A survey that reflects and quantifies the real psychic energy and time-suck of child rearing. Who really gets stuck with shouldering more of the immense data bank of information about caring for the kids, plus the intense, guilt-saturated drive to implement it? I reject any claim of gender equity that doesn't account for these factors, and no study I've seen has done that. To remedy the situation, I propose a new SAT: Superparent Achievement Test.

OK, moms and dads, grab a No. 2 pencil and let's begin.

Part I: Verbal (or Pre-Verbal if your child is under age 2). Score yourself one point apiece for each of the following correct answers.


What are the names and numbers for the pediatrician, pharmacy and fastest pizza delivery? (Partial credit for speed dial, but only if you programmed it yourself.)

When's your child's next check-up? Dental appointment?

What are your kids' clothing and shoe sizes?

What's a good price for boneless chicken breasts?

How much is a three-pack of Funtoons underpants on sale?

Where is the extra toilet paper? (Subtract one point if you know and never replace the empty roll.)


What are the names of your kids' teachers? The principal? How much should you spend on a teacher's present at Christmas and at the end of the school year? (Subtract one point if you didn't know these gifts are mandatory.)

When are your child's gym days, and why does that matter?

To whom must you recycle egg cartons?

When is bus pick-up and drop-off?

How much does a school lunch cost? A carton of milk?

How many PTA meetings have you attended in the last year? (Score one point per meeting; double if you had to bring cookies and pretend you baked them yourself.)


What are the names and phone numbers of the kids' Emergency Back-Up Playdates? (Double credit if you know the parents' and/or baby-sitters' names.)

Who has custody of the Cookie Cupboard? How much are a box of Thin Mints? Which are lower in fat, Iced Ginger Daisies or Lemon Pastry Cremes?

When are drop-off and pick-up for gymnastics, baseball, basketball, Chess Club, ballet and Musical Mondays? Who could cover you at car pool if Save the Earth Day runs overtime?

When is camp registration due?

How many minutes a day must your child practice his or her musical instrument? What days do instruments go to school? If the instrument has a spit valve, do you know how to empty it?

Are stud earrings allowed at soccer practice? Do socks go over or under the shin guards?


Who are the three Hansons? Which is the youngest? The cutest?

Who is "Leo"?

If you had to choose between Spunky, Valentino and Garcia, which Beanie Baby must you have? (Subtract one point if you didn't know that the answer is all of the above.)

Who is Lisa Frank?

What kind of animal is Arthur?

Quick -- kittens, puppies or unicorns?

Can you dance the Macarena, Electric Slide, Chicken Dance and "YMCA"? (Score one point per dance; subtract one point if you still remember how to do the Hustle.)

Who are the five Spice Girls? (Subtract one point if you forgot Scary.)

Part II: Math

Word problems

You stayed home from work, waited two hours at the pediatrician's until they could "squeeze you in" with a feverish, whiny child plastered across your lap and bullied the receptionist into phoning in the prescription so you wouldn't have to wait at the pharmacy too. Given your current state of depletion and the fact that you are developing both a fever and an embarrassing diaper rash across your thighs, calculate how long it will take you to scrub out the bubble-gum-pink stains when your child spews every drop of antibiotic on the new Persian rug. (Score one point per minute.)

You reserved the time at Discovery Zone for your child's birthday party, mailed out the invitations, shelled out a low three figures for themed paper goods and, on the appointed day, assembled and doled out the goody bags despite your throbbing head. How long after the designated parent pick-up time will the last straggling adult come to claim the screaming child whose idea of a gracious thank you is, "But I wanted a BLUE balloon"? (Score one point per minute.)

Bonus Round: 5 points apiece

You made up a grocery list and shopped for a week's worth of meals. (Double credit if you took the kids along; triple credit if you did all of the above without once asking, "Honey, do we need ...?")

You took the kids to buy new shoes. (Ten points if you took them to Stride-Rite to have their feet properly sized, then doubled back to Marshall's and bought Stride-Rite shoes at half-price. Subtract 10 points if you bought the kids $90 Nikes or allowed them to persuade you that jellies are acceptable "school shoes.")

You noticed that the rug had weird pink stains and arranged for the steam cleaners to come on your day at home.

You called the nighttime sitter and reserved the restaurant. (Double credit if you know which baby-sitters tidy up and which snarf down the secret stash of Peak Freens like truffle pigs.)

Bonus Round: 3 points apiece

You sequestered two-liter soda bottles for the class's terrarium project. (Double credit if you sent in a few extras to cover for the negligent parents; triple credit if the bottles were for caffeine-free soda.)

You emptied the kids' backpacks every evening this week and separated the paper detritus into piles for "one parental signature required," "both signatures required" and "your child has been exposed to head lice/pink-eye/strep."

You gathered up all the library books and returned them before the due dates. (Double credit if you took your kids with you for a refill.)

You poured the milk, microwaved the chicken nuggets, peeled the carrot sticks and mopped up the spilled milk before changing out of your work clothes.

You bathed your 4-year-old and gave her rapt, undivided tubside attention while she told you a five-minute story about a rock she'd seen -- or maybe it was a bird, or a book; its' not completely clear -- even though the new issue of "People" just arrived.

Multiple Choice: Score one point for every A) response

What would it take for you to volunteer as Field Trip parent?

A) The prospect of spending more time with my child and his/her little friends

B) The chance to suck up to the little friends' parents so I can arrange more "away" play dates

C) A mid-six-figure bribe

D) The National Guard

What do you love most about Brownies and Scouts?

A) They instill good values in my kids and help them learn caring and cooperation

B) The chance to spend two hours grocery shopping alone

C) Someone else shows my child the joys of camping while I get to stay home where the flush toilets live

D) They can take my Shrinky Dinks and shove them where the sun don't shine

True/False (circle one): Score one point for each "true" response

You braved the dreaded Pink Aisle at Toys 'R' Us for the third birthday party this month and still didn't get stuck using gift wrap that said "It's a Boy" or "Happy Hanukkah."

You packed the lunch boxes every day this week and never forgot who needs the turkey not to touch the mayonnaise and who cries if they get the grape juice box instead of the apple one.

You never once considered feigning that you didn't notice the baby's dirty diaper.

You guard your sippy cup lids like pieces of the True Cross.

- - - - - - - - - -

If your total score is:

65 points or higher: Congratulations! You are a Superparent. Please seek therapy.

50-64 points: You're not there yet, but you fake it well.

35-49 points: You're an average parent. You should feel guilty. Really guilty.

20-34 points: You're being lapped in the Superparent race. The rest of us have been talking about this behind your back.

19 points or lower: You are a male.

I've now administered the new SAT to dozens of working couples, analyzed the results and discovered some fascinating findings. Unfortunately, I don't have time to write them down. I need to get to Caldor's right away. I hear the Funtoon underpants are on sale.

By Elizabeth Rapoport

Elizabeth Rapoport is an executive editor at TimesBooks/Random House. Her last story for Salon was How many working fathers does it take to screw in alightbulb? She is a contributor to "Mothers Who Think: Tales ofReal-Life Parenthood," edited by Camille Peri and Kate Moses, forthcoming from Villard Books in May.

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