Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Baby Daddy

So I’m watching the movie Baby Mama which I have to say was hella funny and horrifying at the same time. I was expecting though the requisite number of jokes about how pathetic fathers are but for the most part they weren’t there. In fact, at the end of the film there is this scene at which all three dads were there: one wearing a baby in a sling, all laughing with their child, nurturing their child. I was momentarily stunned. But, hey, times can change and even Hollywood comedies about parenthood can challenge (however weakly) some stereotypes. But it finally came: one dad does give his 1 yr old daughter a motorized pocket motorcycle. Yes, I laughed out loud.

However, this has been what I’ve been struggling with lately. How to challenge gender prescribed roles of fathering. How popular culture reinforces traditional gender roles about bad dads and their inept parenting abilities. And right about the time, Jennifer Margulis contacted me about reviewing the book The Baby Bonding Book for Dads.

Sure, I said. Anything that connects fathering to nurturing and babies, that equates men with the ability to offer support, to handle a crying baby, to discover themselves through the act of parenting, is something I want to support.

I eagerly agreed and waited for the book to arrive in the mail. When it did, I sat with my two youngest daughters and flipped through it. Of course the baby peeing in the air was wonderful, and we wondered how many times they tried to take that picture. My daughter asked if the man got paid to get peed on. Good question? Yes, unfortunately some of my preteen bonding techniques involve really bad comedies like Baby Mama. And I wonder where my daughter gets her crude sense of humor? Hmmm.

But peeing aside, I like the book. I think any new father would appreciate a book so clearly based in loving your child, in the beauty and power of becoming a father..

I did have three concerns that are really issues I have with many of the parenting resources out there, issues, I’ll be honest, I have with my own project rad dad. My main concern is how the tone of the book seems to assume that the standard or normal fatherhood mentality is one grounded in patriarchally defined gendered roles. Somehow I want to think that today’s dads are beyond thinking that they have no real place in their kids’ lives until they are able to play ball. Do many men still equate cooking dinner for their kids as something too close to domesticity? Would most men really rather plop down in front of the TV, drink in hand, than go out for a hike? Don’t get me wrong; I’ll be the first one to act the fool during a big time Raiders game, but I’m not sure that I’d rather do that than spend quality time with my family and/or community. And I don’t think most men would either.

A smaller issue, but one that is important to me as a reader, is the voice of the narrative. I kinda wished they wrote as a mom and dad? I wanted to see the variations in the voices, to see them work things out on the page, back and forth between each other, as mom, as dad. Instead I felt the book had a slightly detached, impersonal tone to it, as if they were trying to speak to all parents rather than as parents.

I loved the all pictures (not just the peeing one), but as usual I wanted to see more diversity than the three or four pictures out of the thirty or so ones in the book. Too often it seems to me parenting is seen as a white experience when clearly and obviously it is not.

But having said those issues, I loved some of the things they say especially the idea of taking your baby with you everywhere you go. How often do women take their kids to errands, to work, to the store or bank. I love that they encourage fathers to do the same, to be seen publicly as fathers. We need to see that more often.

I love the notion of getting naked with the baby. It is so true that nothing is as wonderful has skin on skin with your newborn.

And the recommendation to carry your baby in a sling. So true.

I can’t say enough about how important it is that the notion of discipline was absent from the book! Thank you.

Finally, the chapter on comforting was wonderful, was so important I wish it was even more prominent. Men can comfort, men can sooth, men can parent, even though yes sometimes they buy dumb presents that are more about them than their kids.

As a twenty one year old dad with a newborn, I would have loved this book. As a thirty seven year old, I’d love a book on how to bond with your seventeen year old child. When’s that one coming out?