Are You Dad Enough?

 There’s a media storm kicking up so much dirt and dust right now that I can barely see my Facebook timeline.

Hundreds of posts have appeared over the past 24 hours about TIME magazine’s provocative cover photo AND story – which appear to be two separate issues of debate and contention. 

Allow me to describe: We have an unlikely depiction of an “attachment parenting” mom nursing what appears to be a 7th grader. Okay, he’s not quite 4, but with clever art direction the sense is that of an older child breastfeeding from his willowy and attractive mother.

Red flags and alerts everywhere: “Sexualizing breastfeeding!” “Unrealistic illustration!” “Inappropriate sensationalism!”

If you get past the cover image then you have a cover story titled Are You Mom Enough? Witness the journalistic bottom of the barrel: pitting moms against one another via their parenting approach. Every sensible woman on the planet has had her fill of the “Mommy Wars” including the idea that SOMEONE out there is doing it better than she is: with a flat belly, no less.

So I’m wondering where are the inflammatory cover stories about the dads’ inner struggles? Imagine the father who walks home from the bus in his leather-soled brogues and wistfully watches a soccer game already in progress. Is he wondering if he’s “man enough” to ditch that last conference call and coach Little League every Tuesday? We simply don’t hear anything in the media about the paternal conflict.

I know it exists and have seen it here in Jersey City – more and more stay-at-home dads who rearranged life in order to be a full-time caregiver. Maybe it’s simply not in a man’s nature to hold his decisions about parenting against his brethren of other fathers. Should the media take a cue from this silence and create the new-fangled “Daddy Wars?” What might they look like?

“Dad Enough” custody: How about the divorced dad protesting that the average U.S. court thinks that one day per week and every other weekend is an adequate amount of time to spend with his children? In general, fathers get the short shift of child-rearing as seen by the courts. The expectation is that he will be the breadwinner, paying child support and spending almost no time raising his child, let alone seeing him. Every other weekend is 4 days per month; even with that one day during the week the total gives a father no opportunity to get involved with sports or homework or the general rhythm of school life. Yet this edict is handed down case after case in most states. Fathers have to fight for their right to parent. Are you “Dad Enough” to fight for your right to FATHER?

“Dad Enough” paternity leave: Since when does the fact of not giving birth make you any less of a parent? Whether you’ve adopted or you’re a birth dad, you should be given a reasonable amount of time off from work to accommodate the changes that have beset your household. Because a dad is not hormonally linked to his offspring the time it takes to simply get to know and adore that baby takes longer. Many fathers require an adjustment period into their role as “father.” Corporate America tells you it does not honor your new role by requiring you to return back to work swiftly, or worse, accept that you’re home but constantly pester you with demands throughout your “vacation.” Are you “Dad Enough” to turn down the noise and surrender to fatherhood with your full attention?

“Dad Enough” attachment parenting: Do fathers even play a part in the philosophy of attachment parenting? If so, do they snicker behind one dad’s back saying, “Wow, does Jim EVER not have that baby glued to his chest? I wonder if he’s lactating yet?” In general, men don’t get openly critical about other dads’ involvement or lack of involvement in their child’s life; but that doesn’t make them immune to scrutiny by others around them, not least of which their own family should they be co-sleeping or teaching baby sign-language, for example.

In terms of attachment parenting, Dr. Sears says, “Babies need loving responses from Dad, too, along with the special comfort and fun only a father can provide. Fathers also help to nurture their babies by loving and supporting their wives. Attachment parenting does not work as well without an involved and nurturing dad. The father creates a supportive environment that allows the mother to devote her energy to baby matters.”

I’d love to see the TIME magazine story that delves into the deeper issues of “fathering” and how today’s man comes to terms with his role as provider and parent. Men are not immune to the judgment put forth by their friends and family either. If they choose to put their career on hold or even join a preschool co-op, they may have to defend those choices – just like the moms feel compelled to defend theirs. Yet we hear so little about that conflict and are unaware of the possible judgment that comes from those who disapprove of one’s choices. Instead all the focus is on the mothers and how badly or bravely they are taking on their role.

That whole “Tiger Mom” story in the news last year gave moms a chance to ridicule the overly-strident mother and give themselves a pat on the back for being lackadaisical. Whether media-invented or not, these dialogues give us a reason to reevaluate and hopefully commend ourselves for being outside of the perceived misdirected parenting technique.

As Dr. Sears says, “Nothing matures a man like becoming an involved father.” And I couldn’t agree more. Maybe it’s with complete acceptance that men straddle their role as provider and nurturer. The inherent conflict isn’t as strong because that expectation hasn’t been skewered and dissected for the past 40 years in philosophical debate. Women will continue to endure invented media “wars” over what’s best for their children and if men can escape the accusations, I suppose that’s all for the better. But I’m hedging my bets that an impending “Daddy War” is about to erupt — but I don’t want to know what that TIME cover photo is going to look like.

Special thanks to Chris Carey, “Man of the Mini-Van” blogger, for giving me the “Dad Enough” idea and supporting the Mamarama ethic.