Westsidedad

Monday, May 22, 2006

PTOs for SAHDs and MOMs. Human Resource Executive magazine (registration required) has had several articles recently that represent good news for dads and moms hoping to work from home. The May 2 issue reported on a new concept that is gaining popularity with companies, PTOs or paid-time-off banks. The article reports that in PTOs, the distinction between sick days and vacation is eliminated giving the employee more flexibility.
These plans have existed for many years, but have become more popular recently. Last year, 37 percent of respondents to Mercer's annual survey of employers' time-off and disability programs provided a PTO plan that combines, at a minimum, vacation with incidental absence/sick days, compared to just 29 percent in 2003. Employers are turning to PTO plans for several reasons. With fewer absence categories, PTO plans make absence reporting simpler for both employees and supervisors. They control the number of total payable days for incidental absences or sick days (including paid FMLA absences that don't otherwise qualify for disability benefits) and they encourage employees to self-manage use of time off and take that time on a scheduled basis when possible.
As we have noted earlier, many workers have been reluctant to take advantage of family leave. Perhaps a PTO bank, with its simpler administration, will encourage dads and moms to take time off more frequently. A separate article in the May 16 issue reports on the rise in the number of employees who work from home. The article cites JetBlue Airways, based in Salt Lake City, where 1,100 employees work from home. An executive with JetBlue described the program:
"We get a lot of housewives, a lot of secondary-income people, a lot of retirees or near-retirees -- 55 to 65 years old," he says, adding that these positions are only offered to employees in Salt Lake City where the company's headquarters and support center are located. "We had several hundred [agents] when we first started. But we have 82 aircraft now and handle 35,000 calls a day." New hires complete a one-and-a-half-day orientation and a four-week training program at the support center that covers the airline's technology systems, culture and operations. During the last week, they field calls at the support center while monitored by supervisors walking the floor. Ward says they can train in the center for up to two additional weeks -- without supervision -- before working from home. The company provides each agent with a computer, phone and e-mail address. Agents must furnish their own desks and chairs and pay $25 each month for an additional phone line. In the early days, says Ward, the company's tech team would perform home inspections, ensuring agents would be working in quiet environments, and would then set up the computer and update the hardware as needed. But the company's rapid growth prohibited that from continuing, he says. Now, employees bring along their hard drives for the initial set-up, repairs or updates when they come into the corporate office for quarterly team meetings. By the time the meeting has ended, the company's tech department has finished working on their computers. The supervisor-to-employee ratio is 32-to-one, he says, adding that supervisors are equipped with detailed reports that include everything from how many calls agents handle during their shift to how long they take for lunch. They monitor and review four calls each month per agent.
This is good news for parents with school-age children. When a mom or dad is working from home, they may not be able to directly supervise their kids when they come home from school, but their presence provides safety and reassurance. Having a mom or dad typing away in the basement is much better than coming home to an empty house.

Big Love, No Big Change. In a review of HBO's new series about a polygamous marriage, Big Love, The New Republic's TV Critic Lee Siegel reminds us that we shouldn't expect anything revolutionary from TV. As Siegal notes "Commercial society's deepest aspiration, after all, is a synthesis of total instinctual gratification with the preservation of the social order." In other words, commerical TV will tease and titillate with views of nondomestic sexuality, but it will never have a show that will actually undermine the current market-oriented, family-based social order. Although Siegal doesn't state it explicity, commerical TV, including HBO, exist to sell products. Siegal compares the impact that shows like Big Love have with the whispers of gossip about "the doings of a mysterious new family" in a small town.

In fact, constructing its shows along the lines of small-town gossip might be the secret of HBO's success. Gossip huddles most intensely in response to the strange, and the overlords of HBO are supremely gifted strangeness-mongers. For all the "cutting-edge" sophistication of shows such as Big Love, The Sopranos, Oz, or Six Feet Under, all explorations of the margins and the peripheries of American society, they have (or had) the same effect that gossip has. Their weirdness both normalizes your own most unsettling impulses and gets your vicarious wheels turning. But the latter effect is much stronger than the former.
Siegal notes that despite the unsettling images in these shows, they have a "normalization" function.

The most incomprehensible reaction to Big Love has been the complaint precisely about these shades and nuances that the actors bring into relief: the complaint that the show makes polygamy look boring. Making polygamy look like fun would hardly calm the slightly more legitimate concern about using a despicable social practice for the purpose of entertainment. (Anyway, polygamy cannot possibly be fun.) In fact, showing the dark side of gratification even as it allows viewers to gratify themselves vicariously is Big Love's essential success. And this is the brilliant mechanism at the heart of HBO's best shows. The Sopranos (now in the middle of its sixth season) is the grotesque spectacle of what happens when people immediately satisfy their basest instincts. Sex and the City exposed the loneliness and the instability that ensue when girls just want to have fun, for years on end. Six Feet Under and Oz were, in their very different ways, tales of self-indulgence and harsh--or brutal--consequences.

Even more than these other shows, Big Love is both the indictment of a commercialist ethos of gratification and the expression of it. As television grows less and less constrained in its imagination of the antinomian and the weird, you wonder where the emphasis will finally fall, on a new type of popular art or a new type of pandering to the appetites.

I am devoted to the Sopranos, but I found Big Love boring, so I haven't been watching it. My wife really enjoyed Sex and the City (which is now running on KTLA in a weird, bowdlerized version). So we continue to cough up the extra $18 a month for HBO. I would like to see some insightful TV criticism about the portrayals of fathers on TV. Bill Cosby was the last strong, competent father. In most contemporary TV shows, the mother is the resourceful, dominating character and the fathers are reduced to a secondary role as a lovable doofus or a sneaky adulterer.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Army Fatherhood. Some of the unusual contradictions that military service imposes upon men were illustrated in a story in today's LA Times. The story described how servicemen are persuaded to re-enlist in the Army. One of the soldier's wives said

I don't want to raise our kids on my own. I saw my mom do it. It's not an easy life," Krissy said in the cheery living room of her home in Spanaway, Wash., near Ft. Lewis, a changing table in the corner awaiting the baby who would soon arrive. "It breaks the kids' hearts. It breaks everyone's heart." But Myers has decided to reenlist in November for four more years. A $40,000 bonus cinched the deal. "It all came down to financial stability," he said. He is scheduled to return to Iraq in January for his fourth tour.

Despite all the Army ads about "be all you can be," serving in the military can be disempowering.
The article quotes another wife commenting on her husbands re-enlistment: His wife, Shannon, prays for him. But when considering the civilian options for her husband, a former drywaller with no college degree, she concludes: "It's scary getting out of the Army."
And a soldier comments
"I wish I could say it was the great Army life, but it was the financial stability," Barnes said. "The Army takes you away from your family, but it keeps your family safe."
I think we all agree that we need to have a military and that the men who put their lives on the line are brave. But when a man thinks he is doing his wife and children a favor by volunteering to go overseas and risk his life on the line for questionable cause and when he thinks he is keeping his family "safe" by doing so, something is wrong.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Guidelines For Communicating With Your Teen. How do you get your monosyllabic teenager to talk to you? Yahoo Health! has a good article with some tips. Here are three of the tips:
  1. Ask questions that go beyond "yes" or "no" answers to prompt more developed conversation.
  2. Take advantage of time during car trips or standing in line at the supermarket to talk with your teen.
  3. Provide activities that offer opportunities to improve communication skills, such as attending or engaging in sporting and school events, playing games, and talking about current events.
Yes, they sound obvious, but we all need reminding. As dads, we need to know what our kids are doing and how they are feeling. This is particularly hard with boys, since many of them have already slipped on the mask of masculinity with its barrier to expressing their feelings. The article has an interesting, clinical sounding description of adolescent communication:

Adolescents essentially communicate in an adult manner, with increasing maturity throughout high school. Teens comprehend abstract language, such as idioms, figurative language, and metaphors. Explanations may become more figurative and less literal. Literacy and its relationship to cognition, linguistic competency, reading, writing, and listening is the primary language focus in this age group. Teens should be able to process texts and abstract meaning, relate word meanings and contexts, understand punctuation, and form complex syntactic structures.

However, communication is more than the use and understanding of words, it also includes how a teenager thinks of him/her self, their peers and figures of authority. They are seeking independence from family and trying to establish their own identity. They are now able to think in an abstract manor and become concerned with moral issues. All of this shapes the way a teen thinks and therefore communicates. Taking time to be with them and listen to them becomes increasingly important so that when they test the limits of their relationship with you, there is an established solid foundation that they will respect.

Good advice.

Model UN. I’m pleased to report that my teenager had a great time at the YMCA’s Model UN conference he went to last weekend. Some 260 kids from across California gathered at the Pasadena Convention Center to discuss international issues.

My son said the most fun thing was the three-legged race and the water-ballon toss they had during the break on Saturday, but I think he really enjoyed the public speaking and debating aspects, as well.

Basic facts: the YMCA’s Model UN is part of the organization’s Youth in Government program. The Model UN programs are open to 7th-9th graders (Youth in Government is for 9th-12th graders). The Model UN conferences are held once a year. Registration and fees come to about $500, so its not cheap, but this includes two weekend field trips (a training trip and the big “General Assembly” meeting).

The delegates are assigned a country. My son was assigned Chile and he prepared position papers on global warming and international drug trafficking. Their positions reflect the student’s beliefs, not necessarily the positions taken by the real country. At the general assembly, the students speak and vote on behalf of their country.

When I picked him up at the local Y, he was in high spirits and bidding goodbye to some of the new friends he’d made. He told me his only regret was that he didn’t sign up for it last year (as a 9th grader, this was his last eligible year).

My wife and I have been somewhat disappointed with the academic standards at our local high public high school, so we were pleased our son got a chance to interact with civic minded, intellectually oriented kids from around the state.

Prom More Prominent. Today's Washington Post has a very sweet story about how high school boys are using inventive methods to ask girls out to the prom. The story says that in today's celebrity-driven, over-the-top entertainment culture, asking a girl to the prom has turned into performance art. The article notes
Prom proposals, as these humbling exercises are now called, have been more elaborate than ever this spring, according to Promspot.com's associate editor, Kate Wood. Promspot solicited examples this year and received hundreds of responses from teenagers all over the country, "even North Dakota," says Wood. "This is not just an East Coast/West Coast thing." Clearly, though, it is a big thing. A chat with her girlfriends, a phone call or a quick conversation by the lockers between classes won't do anymore. That's so 2005. In 2006, the request has to be painted on a giant sign parked in front of her house or accompanied by 50 red candles, hundreds of Hershey Kisses and an original poem. Why? For the same reason guys go to prom: because girls want it that way
. Why the emphasis on elaborate preparation? Apparently, many teens were inspired by the characters in MTV's "Laguna Beach" who were seen making these elaborate proposals. There's also another reason, the Post reports, quoting one 17-year-old girl,"The romance is gone from everything else. All we do is go to parties and hook up. Prom is like a real date."

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Teen hits. Dating violence is common among U.S. teenagers, according to a new survey published by the federal Centers for Disease Control. The report is summarized in a Yahoo! Health story. According to the report, nearly 1 out of 11 high school students is subjected to physical violence from their boyfriend or girlfriend each year, the CDC found. The article notes that

In response to these findings, the CDC is launching "Choose Respect," a program to prevent dating violence and foster the early development of attitudes, behaviors and skills that help form healthy, respectful relationships.

The initiative, to be conducted in 10 cities during the summer of 2006, will be directed at adolescents between 11 and 14 years. The activities and materials will include online games, podcasts, videos, posters, and public service announcements.

Those who had experience physical dating violence, compared with their peers who had not, were 3.3 times more likely to have attempted suicide and 1.7 times more likely to have engaged in fighting during the previous year.

Having five or more alcoholic drinks or smoking on at least 1 of the previous 30 days was associated with dating violence, as was engaging in sexual intercourse during the previous 3 months.

"Adolescents need encouragement, examples, and guidance from parents, schools, and communities about how to relate to other people," Dr. Ileana Arias, director of CDC's National Center for Injury and Violence Prevention, states in a CDC press release. "Not only do such efforts reduce the number of immediate injuries, they can improve the overall health and well-being of our nation's children."

I wonder if the researchers pondered the link between dating violence and rap music. I am not a rap music fan, but like any modern parent, I am inevitably exposed to it at social events and in stores. I have noticed that "slap that bitch" and other references to male-on-female violence are common in rap music. If a kid hears that sentiment enough, he may be conciously or unconiously influenced to think hitting women is acceptable behavior.
In the mid '60s, when I was a teen, Ed Sullivan made the Rolling Stones change the lyric of their hit song "Let's Spend the Night Together" to "Let's Spend Some Time Together." He considered the sexual imagery unacceptable. How innocent that song seems now.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Most teens who come to the ER have used drugs. A new study, reported in Yahoo! Health, finds that some 40% of teenagers treated for injuries an a hospital emergency room had traces of alcohol or illegal drugs in their blood. Based on this high rate of substance abuse, the researchers recommend that all young people treated for traumatic injuries be given drug tests. According to the news story

The team at the University of Michigan Health System studied 443 patients aged 14 to 17 who were admitted to the University of Michigan's hospital for treatment of a severe injury between 1999 and 2003.

They found nearly 40 percent tested positive for something they should not have been using -- 29 percent of them for opiates such as opium or heroin, 11.2 percent for alcohol, and 20 percent for marijuana.

"The two major preventable health issues facing adolescents are injuries that result in death or disability, and lifestyle choices that have long-term, adverse health consequences," said Dr. Peter Ehrlich, who led the study.

"To help alter this risk-taking behavior, it is essential that drug testing and brief substance abuse intervention programs be included in the treatment of all injured adolescents," Ehrlich said in a statement.

Speaking as a healthcare marketing consultant, I can say that as a public policy idea, this recommendation is not going to be implemented any time soon. Hospital executives, already saddled with a lot of unreimbursed care, are not going to administer another test. Still, the study is valuable in pointing out the number one danger facing our teens: drug and alcohol use. If you haven't educated your teen about this issue, buying him a "tracking" cell phone (reviewed in an earlier post) won't help.

Helicopter Parents. Will your kids live with you after college? The current Newsweek has an interesting article on how baby boomers cope when they send their kids off to college. Here are just a few of the stats:
  • 76% of boomer parents say they are closer with their kids than they were with their parents at that age.
  • 57% of 18-20-year-olds get help from parents with chores (averaging 527 hours per week).
  • 48% of students graduating in 2006 say they will move back into their parents' home after graduation.
The article notes:
Letting go. Are there two more painful words in the boomer-parent lexicon? One minute, there's an adorable, helpless bundle in your arms. Then, 18 years go by in a flash, filled with Mommy and Me classes, Gymboree, Little League, ballet, drama club, summer camp, traveling soccer teams, piano lessons, science competitions, SAT prep classes and college visits. The next thing you know, it's graduation. Most boomers don't want to be "helicopter parents," hovering so long that their offspring never get a chance to grow up. Well versed in the psychological literature, they know that letting go is a gradual process that should begin when toddlers take their first steps without a parental hand to steady them.
While the percentage of young adults living with their parents is probably higher than in past years, the concept is not really new. Humans all over the world live in extended families. I lived with my mother for a year after getting my BA and I lived with an aunt and uncle when I was attending graduate school. My older brother lived with my parents when he was finishing graduate school in the late 1950s. My mother lived with her parents at several points in her life. Anthropologists report that most ancient human societies were patrilocal: a young married couple went to live with the husband's family. The importance of patrilocality vs. matrilocality (living with the wife's parents) has greatly diminished in the 21st century with the rise of low-cost air travel.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Wet badge of courage. When I was growing up, if a man cried in public, he was considered weak, effeminate or emotionally unstable. Now, it's not just OK for men to cry in public, its a show of strength, a display of sensitivity and (supposedly) emotional honesty. The wet badge of courage. In case you missed on TV or the web, new White House Press Secretary Tony Snow teared-up during his first briefing today. As The Washington Post's Dana Milbank reported the briefing took on the look of Oprah.
The new White House press secretary gave his first televised briefing yesterday, and the former Fox News commentator was dispatching questioners with a sprightly blend of barbs, colloquialisms and one-liners. Then a local TV reporter in the back asked why Snow was wearing a yellow wristband.

"It's going to sound stupid, and I'll be personal here," Snow, a survivor of colon cancer, said of his Lance Armstrong bracelet. Then he choked up. Unable to speak, he raised his hand, gripped the lectern and drummed his fingers while 10 seconds of silence passed. "Having gone through this last year," he continued, and then he lapsed into another silence. Finally, he added: "It was the best thing that ever happened to me."

Nine more seconds of awkward silence followed as Snow struggled to regain his composure. "It's my Ed Muskie moment," he quipped, and the briefing room filled with laughter.

The ironies here are amazing. A conservative Republican helping men to crack the "mask of masculinity" and demonstrating how to become more sensitive, more feminine. I wonder what Muskie himself would make of the reference to him by a spokeman for the Bush Administration, whose policies he would almost certainly would have opposed. After losing the race for the presidential nomination, Muskie became President Carter's Secretary of State in 1980. He died in 1996.

Will Congress ban My Space? The latest issue of BusinessWeek Online reports on a new bill in Congress that would ban MySpace and other social networking sites from being used in schools. According to BW,
The campaign to crowd out predators from MySpace.com is gathering steam in Washington. House of Representatives lawmakers proposed a bill on May 9 that would block access to social networks and Internet chat rooms in most federally funded schools and libraries.
"The legislation is aimed at "protecting children from terrible individuals who would aim to use Facebook and MySpace to harm young children," says Michael Conallen, chief of staff to Congressman Michael Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), who sponsored the bill. The idea? Keeping kids and teens off potentially dangerous sites, at least on public school and library time -- not to mention keeping would-be offenders from using library terminals for nefarious deeds.
Critics note the bill has many problems. As currently written, it could potentially ban search sites such as Yahoo! and Google. The article notes:
For starters, it's got too general a definition of sites that should be banned, says Markham Erickson, general council of the Net Coalition, a Washington lobby representing Internet companies. The Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA) defines the restricted areas as those that allow "users to create Web pages or profiles that provide information about themselves and are available to other users" and offer "a mechanism of communication with other users, such as a forum, chat room, e-mail, or instant messenger."
The article generated a ton of comments on the BW blog. Here's one:
Myspace is already blocked in our school district and students just use proxy sites etc. to get around it. There is no way to permanently block a Web site from kids.
And another one:
This is another great example of politicians proposing legislation that sounds good because it's the politically correct thing to do. But in the long run it will have absolutely zero positive impact or should I say intended impact. The fact is, as one reader pointed out, the kids invented the stupid thing to begin with! Parents, you need to take responsibility for raising and nurturing your children with values that will influence the choices they make and the friends they keep. The answer is not in more or less rights, but in greater responsibility from parents and politicians alike. Helloooo!

As a dad with two kids who frequenly go online, banning MySpace at school doesn't seem like much of a solution. When parents or administrators "ban" things, it can backfire and make the object all the more attractive to thrill-seeking teenagers. The vast majority of kids' web use occurs at home and at friends' houses, generally with little direct adult supervision. We need to educate our kids, make them understand and appreciate risks and trust them to act in their own best interest.

Parents: the anti-drug? Two recent news stories reflect the mixed messages kids are getting about drugs. A long story in Monday's LA Times is headlined "Anti-drug programs get mixed grades." The story focuses on DARE, the best known elementary age drug education program and questions whether it works. A key part of the debate focuses on what age to begin drug education. The story notes:
"The harm is that kids don't need these messages yet, and by making them too simplistic, they will dismiss them when they're older and do need this message," Robertson says. She adds that these programs make kids who have never considered using drugs see themselves as potential drug users. "We know that making kids more aware can be dangerous, especially if these are high-sensation-seeking kids," she says. "When kids are ready, they really will ask the right questions. Don't give them more information than they ask for. I don't understand people who give third-graders all the street names for drugs. Why would anyone do that?" Others strongly disagree: "Early and often. That's our cardinal rule," says Judy Cushing, past president of the National Family Partnership, the organization that founded and oversees Red Ribbon Week. "It's never too early to tell kids what's healthy and what isn't to put in their bodies."
A separate story on CNN today reports on a new teen drug survey. The survey found:
1 in 5 teens -- or about 4.5 million -- tried prescription painkillers to get high. Drugs include Vicodin or OxyContin. 40 percent say prescription meds "much safer" than illegal drugs. 31 percent say "nothing wrong" with prescription drug use. 29 percent think prescription painkillers non-addictive. 22 percent smoked, down from 23 percent last year and 42 percent in 1998. 31 percent drank in the last month, down from 33 percent last year and 48 percent in 1998.
Drug and alcohol abuse is a serious problem and one that parents can have a direct and measurable impact upon. A closing paragraph in the LA Times article sums it up well,
The overwhelming evidence supports that the modeling that happens at home will still have the greatest effect on how kids ultimately behave.

Monday, May 15, 2006

NOW vs. Fatherhood Movement. I've been a father for 14 years and I've been writing about the dad experience for the past year. When I started writing about fatherhood, I thought the topic was pretty much like (pardon the pun) motherhood and apple pie. Everyone would be for it. As it turn out that fatherhood, like so many public policy initiatives in the U.S., has become politicized. I'm still learning the ins and outs of the debate, but apparently the NOW (National Organization for Women) has made some statements against the National Fatherhood Initiative. An article in the curent issue of The Gotham Gazette reports on NYC's fatherhood initiative and notes the NOW criticism.

While there is growing support for the idea of government programs encouraging fathers to be financially and emotionally invested in their children’s lives, there are also skeptics.

The National Organization for Women has raised concerns that fatherhood initiatives may divert money and efforts away from helping single mothers, who most often bear the responsibility for raising and supporting their children. And the organization is particularly suspicious of the federal policy that aims to promote the institution of marriage as part of its fatherhood efforts, arguing that it discriminates against nontraditional families.

“We should care about supporting the well-being of all families, regardless of how they are constituted,” Jacqueline Payne, policy attorney for the NOW Legal Defense Fund testified before Congress.

While some organizations like the non-profit group National Fatherhood Initiative have been instrumental in promoting men’s programs, other fathers’ rights advocates say the money and effort would be better spent reforming custody and child support laws, which they argue are rooted in a 1950s idea of family.

“We send these guys to all of these classes so they can learn to be involved with their children,” said Jim Hayes, president of the Fathers and Families in New York. “And many find that there is a whole system that prevents them from doing that.”

Even some advocates for the poor argue that the focus on fathers may be too narrow and question the notion that, if fathers just pay their child support or visit more often with their children, the problems of poverty will be addressed.

I'm for fatherhood, but I do agree we have to get away from the "1950s idea" (e.g. Ozzie and Harriet) of family. This is the era of the working mother, the dual-income couple and, increasingly, the fatherless child. We've got to find some new ways to get men, particularly men of color, back into the picture with their kids. P Diddy did such a great job with Rock the Vote, maybe we could get him to join in. We could call it Rock the Cradle (just kidding).

Mother's Day vs. Father's Day. AARP magazine reports that last year there was a 40% differential on spending for gifts on Mother's Day vs. Father's Day, with $3.2 billion more going for Mom. The magazine notes that one likely reason is that men's median income is 31% higher. Yeah, of course men make more money. But isn't the increased attention to moms due to the fact that they remain the primary caregiver? We dads are doing more and more, but we have a long way to go (on a nationwide basis) before we perform as much as moms do. OK, we've seen the cost of honoring mom, what's the cost of cheating on her? Men's Health magazine has calculated it will cost a man $10,471 to have an affair. This includes $3,600 in family therapy and $4,300 in lost wages (men in bad marriages have low productivity). As the article notes, "If you play, you will pay."

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Mother's Day statistics. Motherhood, in the "Ozzie and Harriet sense" is declining, according to a story in Sunday's New York Times. The story notes that in the last 25 years, the number of single-parent households has doubled (see chart). According to the story,

One-parent households, meanwhile, have nearly doubled in the same period, but there's an interesting quirk in the statistics.

Households where that one parent is the mother, not surprisingly, far outnumber those in which the father is going it alone. But while single-mother households have grown about 60 percent, the number of father-only establishments has more than tripled.

What's happening? This may well be one of those glasses that, depending on one's perch, are alternately half full or half empty. Are some single mothers asserting their right not to shoulder the responsibility, or are more single fathers asserting their right to bear that very responsibility?

If you're looking at this from the child's viewpoint, a single-parent household, whether headed by a mother or a father, is a glass that is half full.

Friday, May 12, 2006

My teenager is in the doghouse. We just got his report card and he got a C in Spanish and and a C in biology (he got As and Bs in his other courses). My wife and I were very disappointed. He is a bright kid and usually gets better grades. Both classes should be pretty easy for him. We are convinced he just didn't work hard enough. Like a typical teenager, he had a lot of excuses. It was the teachers' fault. They didn't treat him fairly, the tests didn't follow the book, etc. I've already talked to one of the teachers on the phone and I'm going to make an appointment to see the other one. In Spanish, he apparently didn't study for the mid-term and failed to turn in a couple of assignments. When he comes home, I always ask him "Do you have any homework?" and he almost always says "No." I think he's just absent-minded, unfocused. He's a very honest fellow, so I don't think he's deliberately lying to me. Last night I told him that as parents we can use the carrot or the stick. My son gets plenty of carrots. He gets a nice allowance, he is enrolled in several expensive extra-curricular programs and he is regularly chauffered around town to friends' houses (he's 14). We are now going to use the stick. Figuratively speaking of course. My wife and I do not believe in corporal punishment. In this case, the "stick" is assigning him our own homework. We bought him a novel in Spanish and he's going to have read it for 30 minutes a day after school. I know what you're thinking: how will I know if he's really reading it? I won't know and its not important. If he's sitting at the table with that book in front of him, he won't be watching TV or playing games on the Internet. It's basically about rewarding positive behavior and punishing bad behavior. According to the Spanish teacher, his main problem is not paying attention in class. One hopes that he will read the book (it's a kids mystery) and improve his Spanish. But even if he doesn't read it, I think that sitting at the kitchen table for 30 minutes without any electronic distractions will have a way of concentrating his mind on his schoolwork. The Yale-New Haven Children's Hospital has a nice site called "A Survival Guide for Living With a Teenager."

Bumpy off-ramp for moms. A new study conducted by the Wharton School found that mothers lose 37% of their earning power if they take three or more years off work. A story on NPR's Marketplace reported on the survey and interviewed Wharton researcher Monica McGrath. Here's part of the story:

SARAH GARDNER: When professional women consider taking a time-out to raise children, they often soothe themselves with the oft-told story of Brenda Barnes. Barnes, the legend goes, quit her job as head of PepsiCo's North American operation to spend more time with her kids. She returned triumphantly to the workforce six years later as the number two exec at Sara Lee. She's now CEO. Margot Diamond of Carrollton, Texas, says she kept thinking about Barnes during a job interview a couple years ago.

MARGOT DIAMOND: And they're like, "Well, you do know it's not a 9-to-5 job and you have kids. And will your husband help with your kids, and will you be allowed to travel? It's like . . . I'm sure this woman didn't have to deal with these questions when she went back to her job.

When mere mortals such as Diamond exit the career track to be with their kids, ramping back ON can be a bumpy ride. Even though Diamond had traveled the globe as a garment industry executive before taking a four-year timeout, prospective employers hesitated. She, in turn, prevaricated.

DIAMOND: It's almost like from "Desperate Housewives" when Lynette went back to work. I mean, you completely have to say, Yes, I'm very cold now and I really don't like my children as much now that I've been at home with them.

Diamond did manage to find another executive position in the apparel industry but she considers herself lucky. A recent study from the Wharton School and the Forte Foundation found that a majority of moms who return to work end up changing jobs, companies and even entire industries, often at lesser pay. Wharton's Monica McGrath:

MONICA MCGRATH: When they left the workforce they felt positive. When they attempted to come back, however, those positive feelings were changed.

Forty-five percent of the women in the Wharton survey, most of them MBA's, ended up starting their own businesses. Others went to work for smaller companies that McGrath assumes were willing to be more flexible about work schedules. McGrath says the women who tried to return to their former positions, or something similar, hit a wall.

MCGRATH: Many of them felt that they'd be willing to work in a lower level position to sort of "prove themselves" because they understood that organizations may not want to take a chance on them if they've been out for over two years. But they weren't even getting an opportunity to get in a full-time position at a lower level.

I would like to see a survey on dads who take a two-year leave and them come back. There probably aren't enough available to make a statistically accurate survey. There's no easy solution to this problem. If a woman can't negotiate a better contract with her employer, she may want to discuss options with her husband. Any man that marries a woman with an MBA and major corporate ambitions should be prepared to look at working part time. We need more social support for Stay At Home Dads. For more information on SAHDs, see the always entertaining Rebeldad site.

Men's rights on campus. I was invited to give a lecture to a UCLA class (about my marketing business, not my blog) and came across this interesting commentary in The Daily Bruin, the campus newspaper. The writer, Lara Lowenstein, states that if "women have the right to choose, then men should too." She notes that
When a woman unintentionally becomes pregnant she has options such as abortion, carrying the child to term, adoption or becoming a mother. But when a man unintentionally fathers a child he has few choices. If the woman chooses to have the child, then the man involved is held financially liable for the child without having any say in the matter. While women seem to have the freedom to have sex without the burden of procreation, men are left at the mercy of the woman's decision. Some men, rightfully, are crying foul. In fact, the National Center for Men has filed a lawsuit in Michigan that specifically addresses this concern, nicknamed "Roe v. Wade for Men." The lawsuit is not trying to give men a say in the matter of whether a woman decides to have an abortion or not; its goal is to provide them the option not to be a father, financially or otherwise. The men involved in this lawsuit don't give specifics as to what restrictions should be placed on the choice to opt out of fatherhood, but given reasonable restrictions, their right to this choice makes sense. If they're forced to make their decision in time to allow the woman to safely choose whether or not to get an abortion, then men should be allowed to make the choice of being a father. In fact, if you're really pro-choice, there isn't an argument to counteract theirs. The arguments that could be used against them are either the same ones used against women who want the right to get an abortion, or they're simply not strong enough reasons to disallow men a right to choose.
I generally support men's rights, but I think that we have to acknowledge that men do have a choice when it comes to sex and procreation. If they engage in sex, they can wear a condom or they can enjoy "outercourse" rather than intercourse. Rather than set a double standard, I think most current laws reflect the fact that often, young women are pressured into having sexual intercourse when they are not 100% ready. As fathers, we can take two key steps. First we can set a good example for our children in our own behavior. Second, we can be pro-active in discussing sexual behavior with our kids. If we can show that we are willing and able to talk intelligently about sex, they will be more comfortable in approaching us when they have questions.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Moms beat dads. In this fascinating chart from Google, the blue line is the search traffic for "moms" and the red line is for the "dads." A lot more people are searching for the term moms, apparently. This tracks with most research reports (see a ClickZ story) on men's and women's web usage. Men and women spend about the same number of hours on the Internet, women are more interested in certain topics. Interested in comparing other topics? You can compare any two terms on the nifty tool available at the new Google Trends site. Note: remember to use the comma.

New implants for women. Men are different than women here (the brain) and there (you know where) and in the knees. Turns out women have been getting inappropriate knee implants for lo these many years. Now, medical science (anticipating the investment of Medicare dollars) has developed special knee implants for women, according to a story in today's New York Times. Let's see if Letterman makes a joke tonight about "getting run out of the joint" or "throwing them a bone."

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Paid family leave. Massachusetts legislators, fresh from passing a landmark health care reform bill, are now considering a bill that would establish the most generous paid family and medical leave program in the country. A recent story in the Boston Globe discussed the details. The bill would guarantee a worker 12 weeks of full pay, subject to a $750 weekly cap, if he or she needs time off to care for a newborn or adopted child. Workers could also take the paid leave to care for a sick spouse, child or parent. California enacted paid family leave legislation in 2004. Under the California law, a worker can take paid family leave earning up to 55% of pay, up to a $840 weekly maximum. Family leave, popular in Europe, has not caught on in America. In California, only 138,000 employees, or about 1% of those eligible, took advantage of the program in 2005. While the Massachusetts "universal" health care bill got a ton of media coverage, I've seen very few stories about the family leave proposal. Maybe people are so worried about losing their health insurance, they just don't care about family leave. When my second son was born in 1996, I worked at a big corporation with generous benefits. I was able to take about 10 days off with pay (I did a lot or work on the phone). For the last seven years, I've owned my own business. The hours are just as long, but I have a lot of flexibility. I can leave my office at 3:30 to coach a Little League practice, but I'll have to go back to work after dinner.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Hank Greenberg League? I'm starting a movement to change the name of the Babe Ruth League to the Hank Greenberg League. Today's New York Times had an article on how Leigh Montville wrote his new book, The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth. The pun in the title is apparently intended. Babe Ruth was a compulsive eater, drinker and womanizer. The new book discusses the Babe's proclivities at length using some new source material. As a contemporary sportswriter for the New York Daily News said in a private letter, "I must report that some of the Babe's paramours for a day would really appeal only to a man who was just stepping out of a prison after serving a 15-year sentence." So let's rename the Babe Ruth League in honor of Hank Greenberg. As the Wikipedia entry notes,
Greenberg was not the first Jewish man to play major-league baseball, but by the end of his career he had become by far the best Jewish player ever, and the first major Jewish star. In the 50 years since Greenberg's retirement, only Sandy Koufax achieved similar success among Jewish players. Greenberg was subject to the most vicious ethnic taunting seen in the sport prior to the arrival of Jackie Robinson in 1947, yet Greenberg nevertheless became a first-rank ballplayer and an icon among Jews in the United States.
Full disclosure: my older son plays in the local Babe Ruth League. It is a fine organization. Editorial note: The Babe Ruth League is a completely different organization than Little League (which is older and somewhat larger).

Press A1 if ur condom broke. In another pioneering effort, the San Francisco Department of Public Health has launced a cell phone based sexual health information service, called SEXINFO. According to a department news release, the service and the text codes were created in conjunction with several focus groups of at-risk youth. The service allows cell phone users to enter a few codes and receive text messages with sex help information. According to a department handout, users should "Press A1 if ur condom broke." Here are a few other codes:

B2 - if u think ur pregnant.

D4 - to find out about HIV.

F8 - if ur not sure u want to have sex.

Two things come to mind. First, this could potentially create a number of new popular culture terms. I can image a number of adult women (and men, too) talking about their dates, saying "this is definitely an F8 situation." Second, let's be clear "my condom broke" is a generic excuse for not using contraception. According to a number of scientific studies (here's one) less than two percent of condoms break during use. So don't tell me it was an A1. I know you were too lazy to stop at the drug store.

Unmarried fathers and the "mama drama." An interesting article in the South Bend Tribune, an African-American community newspaper, describes the rising rate of fatherlessness in black families. The rate of out-of-wedlock births in the black community has historically been high, but has actually risen in recent years, with 70% of babies born to unmarried mothers. And what were the young men thinking when they had sex with their child's mother? Did it ever cross their mind to get married or to share in the child's upbrining? Here are some quotes from the article:
At least some men don't see themselves as totally to blame. They talk of the "mama drama." "I really liked my baby's mama and I used to go over to see my son every week," said Marcus Taylor, 20, of Mishawaka. "But if I was late or didn't show up one week when I said or didn't bring any money, she would start tripping." Some men may lack the skills to handle conflict constructively."I don't hate my baby's mama," he said. "But it's no use in everybody being miserable." "There are just so many women, I don't have to deal with the drama," said Otis Lenny, 25, of South Bend. "But I take care of my kids; my mother makes sure of that."
The newspaper also offers some background into the issue as a "legacy of slavery."
"I think it's important when we are speaking about how poorly African-American men are doing that we understand some things," said Ray Turner, a school counselor for the South Bend Community School Corp. "Black and white men have never been on an equal basis, and slavery and 'Jim Crow' are proof of that," he said. "Another thing is President Bush's fiscal and economic policies have resulted in the loss of millions of jobs during his years in office. His slash-and-burn of job training programs and dearth of tax incentives for the working poor have certainly helped fuel the crisis black men are facing." Turner offered the theory that slavery caused African-American men to suffer in ways that no other people in this country have suffered. "Fathers could be and often were uprooted from their family, even being bred to produce desired offspring for the owner," Turner said. "Slavery deprived African-American men of the leadership of fatherhood, to provide and plan for or even protect his family. Thus, his role was often ... unclear and confused.
As a middle-aged white guy, I find this argument compelling. It is important to note, however, that Sweden, a virtually all-white country (with lots of job training programs), has an out-of-wedlock birth rate topping 50%. I applaud the newspaper and leaders in the African-American community for taking on this issue. Whatever the cause of black fatherlessness, it is not going to go away without strong leadership. There is no commercial interest or bold new government program that is going to kick in and solve it for us. David Blankenhorn, author of "Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem," has written
"Fatherlessness is our most dangerous social trend. It weakens the family, harms children, causes or aggravates many of the worst social problems, and makes individual success more difficult to achieve."

Monday, May 08, 2006

Are men cursed with the Y gene? Women's strength and longevity is due to their two X chromosomes, according to an article in today's Los Angeles Times. Women's stamina and resilience, according to the article, come from combination of biology, social behavior and psychology, which combine to give women a "boost" that men (with their feeble Y chromosome) don't have. The story notes:
Not only do women live longer than men in the United States, this year, for the first time, the longevity gap will likely become a worldwide phenomenon. Thanks to advances in maternal care, women in every corner of the globe will outlive their male compatriots, according to projections published in the April 8 issue of the British Medical Journal. Their health advantage has long been chalked up to hormones. Now scientists are starting to explore the DNA within each cell, and they're finding some protective benefits to having a double dose of the X chromosome, as females do, compared with the X-Y combination that males have.
Actually, the key differences between the female XX and male XY chromosome lineup have been known for almost a decade. Brian Sykes, a professor of genetics at Oxford University has written about it extensively. In his wonderful book, Adam's Curse (Norton, 2004), he discusses the "fatal flaw" of the Y chromosome. Sykes notes that
Far from being vigourous and robust, this ultimate genetic symbol of male machismo is decaying at such an alarming rate that, for humans at least, the genetic modification experiment will soon be over. Like many species before us who have lost their males, we run the real risk of extinction.
Thats us men. All bluff and bluster on the outside, fragile as a porcelain doll on the inside.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Why Maxim won't show nipples. While I don't "read" men's magazines, I can't help noticing them on the rack in the supermarket. As a baby boomer, I "grew up" with (or inspite of) Playboy magzine in the '60s. I've sometimes wondered what made newcomer Maxim so popular. Now the magazine's secret has been revealed and it is - not revealing nipples. In an interesting article in Media Life, the executive editors of Maxim and its "laddie" competitor, FHM, discuss their publications' formulae. Here is part of the Q&A with the editors:
Q. When it comes to advertisers, how critical is the nipple line? Is it as critical as it used to be? Are they less concerned about crossing the nipple line?

Gregory: Very critical. As a matter of fact, GQ and Esquire have both crossed it in recent times, but we are far more respectful, and never cross it and never will. It’s the reason 18 of the 25 largest advertised brands in America have embraced Maxim.

Fields: It’s extremely important. Magazines can be sexy, but you can not cross the line. Nothing you see in FHM can’t be seen in a bathing suit spread in Vogue. There is a reason that the Detroit automotive manufacturers and the Pentagon are comfortable in the pages of FHM: no nudity, period.

Q. Is the lads craze over? Or is the category simply maturing, meaning that ad pages and circulation will remain stable? Or is it ascending? "Lad" is an outdated British word that never really translated to American culture. And Maxim does not exist because of a "craze." Maxim is based on the universal truths that define guys as guys. We deliver a mix of entertainment and service journalism, with humor and attitude, that in the end will make you a better man. These ideas are timeless; they will exist as long as our species walks the planet. They define the natural habitat of men.
Thank goodness the Pentagon is "comfortable" in lad magazines like FHM. At least they know the difference between making love and making war.

A father's legacy. Dozens of articles have alredy been written about Rep. Patrick Kennedy's car crash and his statement on his battle with addiction. Looking at this as fathers, I think we can all be deeply sympathetic to the problem, regardless of how we feel about his family's politics. The media has made many referances to the Kennedy legacy or "curse." Patrick grew up in a family that abused alcohol. A number of his cousins have battled addiction, two have died from drug overdoses. What struck me was the strange parallel with his father's life. I'm old enough to remember July 19, 1969, the day the U.S. landed on the moon. That is the same day that the news story broke about a young senator's car accident. The young senator (he was 35) was in his first term. He apparently had been drinking when he lost control of his car. The local police were slow to investigate and the family's PR counselors jumped in with statements denying that he was intoxicated, although it was later proved he'd been drinking heavily. The unfortunate senator was, of course, Edward Kennedy, Patrick's father. The car accident on Chappaquiddick Island resulted in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne. Patrick has had to follow in his father's footsteps in many areas. As the Washington Post noted in its coverage,
Rep. James Moran(D-Va.), who spoke with Kennedy about the crash, said his friend is "concerned no one is going to give him the benefit of the doubt."

"He's had his struggle with a life he didn't ask for but he has to accept," Moran said. "I think he wants more than anything to earn his father's respect and prove to his constituents in Rhode Island he's much more than someone who's getting by on the Kennedy name."

Senator Edward Kennedy, 73, has born more than his share of sorrow. I'm sure he regrets many aspects of Patrick's upbringing. All he can do now is to hope that his son has enough inner strength and pride to successfully battle the disease of addiction.

Austin Powers in the dugout. In the dugout yesterday, Kenny,10, was walking alongside the bench, asking each player, "Do you know what shag means?" Shag, of course, is a baseball term. But the popularity of the Austin Powers films has made the British slang connotation the more popular one in our culture today. And you could tell by Kenny's mischievious tone which definition he had in mind. I overheard him and paused for a moment wondering whether to intervene. He asked Rikki and Kevin, who both quietly said yes (even thought they probably didn't really know). But then I saw he was about ask Melissa, the lone girl on our team. That was too much. When boys are talking among themselves, I think its natural for them to use a certain amount of slang (but not profanity). But when it comes to dealing with young ladies, they have got to learn to be more polite. "That's enough Kenny," I walked towards him. "It's just a joke. It's in Austin Powers," he said defensively. "That's a movie theater, this is a Little League dugout. We have rules about language and you know it," I said. A few minutes later, it was Kenny's turn at bat. He struck out. That quieted him down for the rest of the game.

Little League & character formation. Those of us involved in Little League as coaches and parents know that it helps the kids learn discipline and focus, but I've never seen any social science that specifically validates this concept. David Brooks' commentary in the New York Times today offers some evidence why organized sports helps children. Brooks begins by discussing a well-know social psychology experiment.
Around 1970, Walter Mischel launched a classic experiment. He left a succession of 4-year-olds in a room with a bell and a marshmallow. If they rang the bell, he would come back and they could eat the marshmallow. If, however, they didn't ring the bell and waited for him to come back on his own, they could then have two marshmallows. In videos of the experiment, you can see the children squirming, kicking, hiding their eyes — desperately trying to exercise self-control so they can wait and get two marshmallows. Their performance varied widely. Some broke down and rang the bell within a minute. Others lasted 15 minutes. The children who waited longer went on to get higher SAT scores. They got into better colleges and had, on average, better adult outcomes. The children who rang the bell quickest were more likely to become bullies. They received worse teacher and parental evaluations 10 years on and were more likely to have drug problems at age 32. The Mischel experiments are worth noting because people in the policy world spend a lot of time thinking about how to improve education, how to reduce poverty, how to make the most of the nation's human capital. But when policy makers address these problems, they come up with structural remedies: reduce class sizes, create more charter schools, increase teacher pay, mandate universal day care, try vouchers. The results of these structural reforms are almost always disappointingly modest. And yet policy makers rarely ever probe deeper into problems and ask the core questions, such as how do we get people to master the sort of self-control that leads to success? To ask that question is to leave the policy makers' comfort zone — which is the world of inputs and outputs, appropriations and bureaucratic reform — and to enter the murky world of psychology and human nature. And yet the Mischel experiments, along with everyday experience, tell us that self-control is essential. Young people who can delay gratification can sit through sometimes boring classes to get a degree. They can perform rote tasks in order to, say, master a language. They can avoid drugs and alcohol. For people without self-control skills, however, school is a series of failed ordeals. No wonder they drop out. Life is a parade of foolish decisions: teen pregnancy, drugs, gambling, truancy and crime.If you're a policy maker and you are not talking about core psychological traits like delayed gratification skills, then you're just dancing around with proxy issues. You're not getting to the crux of the problem. The research we do have on delayed gratification tells us that differences in self-control skills are deeply rooted but also malleable. Differences in the ability to focus attention and exercise control emerge very early, perhaps as soon as nine months. The prefrontal cortex does the self-control work in the brain, but there is no consensus on how much of the ability to exercise self-control is hereditary and how much is environmental.
Baseball, much more than soccer or baseball, is a game of delayed gratification. To be an effective baseball player, you have to learn to wait for your turn at bat, then wait in the field for the ball to come to you. You have to learn to maintain focus, even if you're in the outfield and you never see a ball come to you. We had games on Friday and Saturday against two good teams. We won them both, so the players and parents were celebrating last night. In Saturday's game, we came from behind. The other team scored first, but our kids had the confidence and focus to be patient and we pulled ahead. Coaching has a lot to do with it too, but it would be immodest of me to claim that our team is better coached. Anyway, a good coach always lets his players take the credit.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Surveillance of teens. A recent New York Times article discussed a new service, available through Verizon, that can theoretically let parents track the location of their children. Priced at $9.99 a month, the new "Chaperone" service allows parents to program their child's cell phone for certain geographic regions. The Verizon service spot-checks the child's cell phone and alerts the parents if the kid has left a certain region (e.g. the high school) and entered a new one. The company says it is selling "peace of mind." There are all sorts of privacy, trust and parent responsibility issues raised by this new service. Let's go to the bottom line: will it really make your child safer? I don't think so. According to the web site of the CDC (Center for Disease Control), the leading cause of death for adolescents is car accidents:

In the United States, 70.8% of all deaths among persons aged 10--24 years result from only four causes: motor-vehicle crashes, other unintentional injuries, homicide, and suicide. Results from the 2003 national Youth Risk Behavior Survey demonstrated that, during the 30 days preceding the survey, numerous high school students engage in behaviors that increase their likelihood of death from these four causes: 30.2% had ridden with a driver who had been drinking alcohol; 17.1% had carried a weapon; 44.9% had drunk alcohol; and 22.4% had used marijuana.

So the leading cause of death among teenagers is drinking and driving (i.e. being a driver or passenger). Where is your child most likely to drink? Within a few miles of home, at a friend's house. Clearly it makes sense to educate your child about the dangers of drinking and driving. You can give him a cell phone and say "Call me anytime, anywhere if you're with a driver who has been drinking and I will come and pick you up, no questions asked." I don't see how the tracking service is going to make teenagers any safer. I understand why Verizon is selling it. It taps into a mentality that technology will make us safer, that a parent can buy peace of mind. What really makes your child safer is the self-awareness and sense of responsibility that you instill in your child with responsible parenting.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Washington Post tribute to Tiger Woods' dad. Today's Washington Post carries a moving tribute to Tiger Woods and his late father, Earl Woods. Here are some excerpts from the column by columnist Eugene Robinson:

Earl Woods did much more than raise a supremely talented golfer. In an age when it's rare to read a sentence with the words "African American" and "father" that doesn't also include "absent" or some other pejorative, Earl and Tiger Woods were the world's most visible, and inspiring, counterexample. "He was the person I looked up to more than anyone," Tiger Woods said following his father's death, and even the world's biggest cynic had to know he meant every word.

To me, the two defining aspects of Tiger Woods's career have been his supernatural ability to make a golf ball do impossible things and his relationship with his father. Two moments stand out: The Sunday afternoon in 1997 when Tiger became the first black man ever to win the Masters and cried like a little boy in the arms of his father, who was there against doctor's orders after almost dying in heart surgery and the Sunday afternoon in 2005 when Tiger won his fourth Masters and cried again, because Earl Woods, for the first time, had been too sick to come to the course and root him on.

Another "father" has died. Louis Rukeyser, the father of the financial TV show, died Tuesday. As the Washington Post story put it, he was to investing "what Julia Child was to French cooking." FYI, Rukeyser, a print journalist, founded "Wall Steet Week" on PBS in 1971. Although the Post story didn't use the term father, it did use the genetic metaphor.

Rukeyser's program was in many ways a harbinger of what is now commonplace. You can spy the DNA of "Wall $treet Week" not only on CNBC's yakkety talking-head programs, but also in the format of political shout shows and the Sunday-morning NFL pregame debates."
Editorial note: I had the satisfaction, as a financial PR guy, of placing a guest on Rukeyser's show in 1991. My client, the late Douglas Campbell, was an expert in Mexican stocks. Anyone who followed his advice ("Buy Telmex"), would have done very well.

History of Fatherhood Part II. The U.S. Children's Bureau was established by Congress in 1912 in response to concern about the infant mortality rate. The new department's goal was to investigate and report on children's welfare. The Bureau was expanded under President Roosevelt and in 1932 held a symposium on "the father's role in child nuture." As noted in Ralph LaRossa's great book, The Modernization of Fatherhood, one of the symposium leaders reported on "child study groups" the Bureau had been holding.
It has been discovered that fathers are more likely to attend study groups if they are not asked to break too many established habits. In one instance, fathers were not merely permitted but were urged to bring pipes. Since fathers have for the most part enjoyed very little daily experience in parent-child relationships, they do not respond to an appeal to exchange experiences; on the contrary, they like to be addressed by specialists and authorities."
Men will always be men. We don't like to share emotional experiences. We prefer to learn new skills from specialists.

McDonald's. I took the kids to MickeyD's last night (my wife was at the Dodger game with work friends). My younger son, who said he was tired of appearing in my blog, tried to hide. No luck. Inquiring minds want to know. My teenager was bubbling over with "yer momma" jokes. Sample: "Yer momma's so stupid, she flunked a survey." These remind me of the Henny Youngman jokes. "My wife is so fat, when she sits around the house, she sits around the house." Anyway, he was in a good moode. They had cancelled biology class because a girl spilled perfume on her desk (the teacher is allergic to any kind of scented products). Also, a girl from the Y had called him to remind of the Youth in Government meeting. OK, so it was just a reminder call, but it was a young lady on the phone. Reminds me of a great line from Fran Lebowitz:
As a teenager, you are in the last stage of life when you will be happy to hear that the phone is for you."

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Dad wasn't always acceptable. The term "dad" wasn't always considered polite, according to the book The Modernization of Fatherhood, by Ralph LaRossa. He notes that in the early 20th century, some commentators thought "dad" was too familiar, too informal. Father was considered more polite. The book notes that dad has the tone of "affectionate familiarity." Fast forward 100 years to the early 21st century. Dad, thank goodness, still retains its positive meaning. Daddy, however, has slipped into youth slang as a reference to an older man who is financially supporting a younger man or woman. Think "who's your daddy?" Note the Wikipedia entry. Remember The Music Man? One of the slang terms derisive the kids used was "so's your old man." I wonder if kids still use that term. I'll ask my teenager when I take him out to McDonalds tonight.

Tiger Woods' dad, Earl Woods, died this morning. He was 74. In a posting on his web site, Tiger states:
My dad was my best friend and greatest role model, and I will miss him deeply. I'm overwhelmed when I think of all of the great things he accomplished in his life. He was an amazing dad, coach, mentor, soldier, husband and friend. I wouldn't be where I am today without him, and I'm honored to continue his legacy of sharing and caring."

A nice article in the Washington Post notes that Earl Woods often said "I make it very, very clear that my purpose in raising Tiger was not to raise a golfer. I wanted to raise a good person." Earl Woods raised a good person and an amazing golfer. He can serve as an inspiration to fathers everywhere about the impact we can have on our children.

National Turn Off the Computer Week. Did you know that last week was "National Turn Off the TV Week?" I just found out (via an email). We only have one TV in our house and it is rarely on any more, except when my wife and I check sports and weather before going to bed around 11 pm. We have four computers in the house, two desktops and two laptops and sometimes they are all on at once. The boys are playing computer games or downloading music and my wife and I are working or emailing (is there a difference?) Perhaps watching the TV as family wasn't so bad. The shows were dumb, but everyone was in the same room together. Here are the suggested activities of the turn-off-the-TV organizers:

Here's an idea to get preschoolers excited about the idea: Instead of watching their favorite show, help them act out what the characters do. With a backpack and a map, they can pretend to be Dora! Send them on an "adventure" to follow your map and find a treasure. Or, give your "Little Einsteins" a "mission" to find a lost treasure or do something for a family member. Many times, the shows' websites offer fun games and activities too.

So, instead of watching a cartoon, you go to the Nickelodeon website and download an activity? Hmm. Thank God for Little League. It gets everybody in uniform, outside and playing sports.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Don't know much about geography. According to an AP story on Yahoo News, despite extensive media coverage of Hurricane Katrina, nearly one-third of young Americans couldn't locate Louisiana on a map and nearly half were unable to identify Mississippi. These findings come from a survey conducted by the National Geographic Society of Americans aged 18-24. Among the findings:

• Six in 10 could not find Iraq on a map of the Middle East.

• While the outsourcing of jobs to India has been a major U.S. business story, 47 percent could not find the Indian subcontinent on a map of Asia.

• While Israeli-Palestinian strife has been in the news for the entire lives of the respondents, 75 percent were unable to locate Israel on a map.

This is pretty depressing. I wonder how many of the kids that don't know where Iraq is on a map will join the armed forces and wind up going there? Dads, take notice. The male brain has superior spatial skills. Remember, 50,000 years ago, it was the father's job to teach the young males how to hunt and navigate. Here's two ideas. Get your kids involved in planning your next vacation and put up maps in their rooms.

Fatherhood and lesbian moms. There is a very interesting article in the March/April issue of LA Youth magazine. Titled "A Teen With Two Moms," the 18-year reporter interviews another teenager who is being raised by her two lesbian moms. However one feels in general about the concept of gay marriage and gay parenting, this article shows how loving these moms are and how self-confident and self-aware their daughter is. The article notes that Katie was born in April 1988, the result of a sperm donation by a University of California professor. As the editor of a blog about fathering, my question is "where does the father come in?" Here are some excerpts from the article:
L.A.Youth: What do you call your parents? Katie: Helen is Momma. Susan is Mommy. L.A. Youth: Do you have any contact with your dad? Katie: We send each other birthday cards; he's a math teacher at Berkeley. L.A.Youth: Do you think that being a daughter of a lesbian couple has in any way shaped your own sexuality or how you perceive sexuality? Katie: I have no idea. It's made me feel that I could do either one and that won't really matter, but I'm reserving judgment on that for a long time from now. L.A. Youth: Some people argue that homosexuals should not be parents because they cannot provide both a male and female influence in their kid's life. How would you respond to that? Katie: I think in my life overall it is important to have both influences—male and female—so you know how to live in the world, since there are people of both genders in the world. But the influence doesn't have to come from a mother and a father. I think the male influence comes from some of our friends and lots of uncles. My friends invite me to the Father-Daughter picnic at Marlborough and I get to adopt their father for the day!
I wonder how the dad feels about all this? Does he want more contact than "birthday cards" with his charming daughter? What if she decided at some point she wanted she wanted to live with him? I also winced when I read that Katie "adopted" another girl's father for a day. This is an unrealistic fantasy. Real fatherhood, the deep emotional core of of the adult male experience, cannot be communicated at a father-daughter picnic. Katie is bright and hopeful, but at some point in her life she is going to have questions such as "What is my dad really like? What does he want for me? What is it like to emotionally bond with a male?" These complex emotional experiences can't be communicated over potato salad.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Rules for 4th grade. My younger son was discussing philosophy with me earlier today and he shared with me his "three rules for life." They are: 1. Life is like a pitcher's mound, you walk up, then you fall down. 2. Do not slide into first base 3. Don't use the bathroom if the lights are out. You might step in something. After he shared these bon mots with me, I started to write them down, not wanting to lose the magic of the moment. He asked what I was doing and I admitted I wanted to use them in my blog. At first he said no, he didn't want me to share them. "Please, I need the material," I begged. Then he agreed. A good son is always willing to help out his dad.

Social drinking. A friend who read my post about the "Daddy Needs a Drink" book questioned my allegation that teens would do better to be raised in an alcohol-free home. He said France and Germany have lower rates of alcoholism than the U.S. and families in those countries let their teenagers drink. Although I've visited a number of European countries, I'm not very well versed on their adolescent and family behavior (although I did experience first hand some very rude teenagers in Paris - they egged the Seine tour boat I was riding in). Here is a helpful site on talking to your kids about alcohol. A couple of rules they suggest:

Provide age-appropriate information Make sure the information that you offer fits the child's age and stage. When your 6 or 7-year-old is brushing his teeth, you can say, "There are lots of things we do to keep our bodies healthy, like brushing our teeth. But there are also things we shouldn't do because they hurt our bodies, like smoking or taking medicines when we are not sick."

If you are watching TV with your 8 year-old and marijuana is mentioned on a program, you can say, "Do you know what marijuana is? It's a bad drug that can hurt your body." If your child has more questions, answer them. If not, let it go. Short, simple comments said and repeated often enough will get the message across.

You can offer your older child the same message, but add more drug-specific information. For example, you might explain to your 12-year-old what marijuana and crack look like, their street names and how they can affect his body.

Establish a clear family position on drugs

It's okay to say, "We don't allow any drug use and children in this family are not allowed to drink alcohol. The only time that you can take any drugs is when the doctor or Mom or Dad gives you medicine when you're sick. We made this rule because we love you very much and we know that drugs can hurt your body and make you very sick; some may even kill you. Do you have any questions?"