As a white straight middle-class male, I live in a culture that almost never makes me feel second rate. As proof of this, most advertising panders to what it perceives to be my base emotional desires – money, sex, power, and humor. You could argue that these desires are shared by everyone regardless of race or gender. But you’ll see what I mean if you try to find a car commercial featuring a strong black woman in a power suit behind the wheel as a scantily clad guy gives her a shoulder rub from the back seat. Somehow, there would be chocolate involved too.
It doesn’t exist.
Instead you’ll find a white guy with a chiseled chin, staring confidently over the wheel while a buxom blond 20-something with a low neck line gives him the Victoria’s Secret stare down.
In fact, for the first time in my life, the marketing culture I live in has made it quite clear that it doesn’t expect much from me, and thus has ignored me. I’m referring to fatherhood.
Take Parenting magazine. On their homepage, there are 10 drop-down menus: Fertility, Pregnancy, Baby, Toddler, Child, Mom, Recipes, Activities, Gear, Community. ‘Dad’ seems to be absent. In fact the only adult male face on the site’s articles I could find was on a page for ‘Single Parent Dating Tips’ and from the looks of it, I don’t think the guy’s got a kid. Parenting magazine is always in the waiting room of my daughter’s pediatrician’s office, and I can’t recall ever seeing a Dad on its cover. It seems like it should be called Mothering, but since it’s called Parenting, it gives Dad’s the message that they aren’t expected to be all that involved as parents, especially of young children.
I feel this every time I go out for a walk around town wearing my daughter in her baby bjorn, as I turn my fair share of heads – mostly grinning middle-aged married women, and flannel-wearing open-mouthed men. Interestingly, both are surprised, but while the women look like I just surprised them with roses, it’s the men whose expressions can’t reconcile their desire to call me ‘gay’ with evidence of my obvious heterosexuality.
The most bizarre twist in the marginalization of fathers as parents, has come from a few mothers themselves. Although it’s never been communicated directly, I’ve gotten the impression from a small number of young moms, that just because I know the secret knock to the clubhouse, doesn’t mean they’ll let me in. As if, motherhood holds an exclusive title to being a child’s primary caregiver. I can’t blame them in a way. We white men already dominate positions of power in most professions except for a few care giving professions like nursing and teaching. Why should these women feel they have to surrender their traditional hold on parenthood?
However, most mothers I’ve met have supportive husbands or boyfriends, and those that don’t want theirs to be more involved. In reality, the bar for fatherhood is set so low, that these moms should count themselves lucky that their partners are even around. According to the census bureau, a third of all babies born in this country are born to single mothers. A third. That’s a staggering statistic. In know that there are many more important causes for this, than the lack of male faces on Parenting magazine. But, the lack of male representation in parental roles by the media certainly hasn’t helped us form a healthy expectation of fathers.
I believe in that quote by Emerson that goes “Trust men and they will be true to you; treat them greatly and they will show themselves great.” Perhaps if we want fathers to be more engaged in their children’s lives, we can start by not being surprised when they are.
And it you wear flannel, hunt deer, and have a circle worn into the back pocket of your jeans, at the very least, when you see another dude walking around town with a baby strapped to his chest, try to open your mind to the possibility that he might not be gay.