Are the "daddy wars" next?

An article portrays stay-at-home dads as laid-back about their kids, blas

Published July 24, 2006 6:06PM (EDT)

Peter Hartlaub, a dad who takes care of his 15-month-old son one day a week, wrote an article in yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle about the culture of stay-at-home fathers. His observations, gleaned from interviews with several dads in an East Bay fathers group, include:

  • Stay at home dads are less stigmatized than they used to be.

  • Anecdotally, dads seem to take a more laid-back approach to parenting and exhibit a greater tolerance for things like germs and scrapes.

  • Many dads come to the job of full-time parent thinking it will be easier than it actually is.

  • Many stay-at-home dads did not have fulfilling careers before they had children, but nevertheless see their stay-at-home status as temporary. They seem to assume that when they're ready to go back into the workforce, their old jobs will be there, or they will easily be able to land another one.

  • Gender stereotypes remain even when a man takes on a historically female role. "The big difference between a moms group and a dads group is the guys in the dads group drink more beer," yuks stay-at-home dad Peter Weschler.

    While it's refreshing to see a piece that treats stay-at-home fatherhood as a viable and positive choice -- the 2002 U.S. Census reported 189,000 stay-at-home dads -- it's hard not to imagine the shit storm this piece would have produced had it been about stay-at-home moms.

    "I came away feeling like any article that praised moms who stayed at home in the same terms would get absolutely pilloried for trying to send women back to the kitchen," wrote one Broadsheet reader. "Also, the dads interviewed seemed to feel like they could get away with saying things that I felt would be very controversial coming from a woman's mouth."

    Our reader is referring to quotes like this one from Wayne Wilson: "I don't want my babies to be raised by anybody else." The Broadsheet reader continued: "I mean, if a stay-at-home mom suggested that a working mother was not raising her own kids, but having someone else do it, it would be yet another bomb thrown in the 'Mommy Wars.'"

    So, our reader asks, what's the takeaway from an article like this? "That working dads feel so secure in their role that they brush off the implication that they are not raising their own kids? That stay-at-home dads are so few as to be irrelevant, so their opinion doesn't matter? That someone's random, somewhat judgmentally expressed opinion only matters if they are the same gender as you? That the whole Mommy Wars thing is a media construct? That men are tactless (thinking of my own experience when a man asked me if I was 'just a mom' at the tot park one day)? That it is cool when men stay at home since it's opposite their traditional role, but it's lame and antifeminist if a woman does it?"

    Very good questions. What do you think? And if there are any stay-at-home dads out there, please weigh in.

  • By Lori Leibovich

    Lori Leibovich is a contributing editor at Salon and the former editor of the Life section.

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