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Jun. 19 2010 — 1:41 pm | 220 views | 0 recommendations | 11 comments

If lesbian families can raise healthy kids, who needs dad?

Richard and Pat Nixon in 1990

Image via Wikipedia

On the 100th anniversary of the first Father’s Day, we’re confronted with a question that probably never occurred to Sonora Dodd of Spokane, Washington, when she pressed the mayor to create a special day for fathers. If lesbians can raise healthy kids, what is dad good for anyway?

Earlier this month, Nanette Gartrell and Henny Bos reported in the journal Pediatrics that the 17-year-old sons and daughters of lesbian mothers were not only doing fine, they were surpassing peers from those musty, too-familiar, traditional heterosexual families. According to mothers’ reports (we might, uh, question their objectivity, but for purposes of the discussion, let’s give ‘em a pass), the teenage kids outdid kids from straight families in social competence and school work, and had demonstrated less aggressive behavior and fewer social problems.

Sounds so good, my wife, Elizabeth, and I have decided to become a lesbian family! Truth is, we can’t afford the surgery, and even if we could, it would be only cosmetic. I’d still be a male inside, if a feckless one.

There’s clearly a serious point here: This study is no joke for lesbian couples who want to adopt a child and need evidence to show that they can do a good job. But the study does raise a question for people like me–that is, fathers. Does anyone still need us?

When Dodd pressed for the creation of the first Father’s Day in Spokane, she had in mind honoring her heroic father, a widower who raised six children in the early 1900s on the windswept fields around Spokane. The mayor, who had evidently heard enough from Sonora about her father,  got her off his back by proclaiming June 19, 1910 Father’s Day. Fortunately for most of us, you don’t have to be a heroic, widowed father of six to qualify for the celebration. Even so, the celebration in Spokane failed to excite the nation the way, say, the St. Louis World’s Fair had a few years earlier when one of its vendors invented the ice cream cone. Father’s Day didn’t become official until 1972, more than 60 years later, when President Richard Nixon, who was not famous for his fathering, signed Father’s Day into law.

Comparing fathers to mothers has always been a downer for fathers, who spend less time taking care of the kids, do less housework, and generally fail on any sort of parenting measure. Fathers generally score well on wrestling around with the kids on the floor (the technical term is “rough-and-tumble play”) and maybe baseball and fishing, although I don’t know of a study to support that. Fathers also are known to regularly punch the umpire, kick dirt, or spit on a player during what you might call over-enthusiastic appreciation of their kids’ Little League games, so maybe we can’t give fathers credit for baseball either.

So maybe, you know, two mothers is a better deal for kids.

I’m all for lesbian families, single mothers, and any kind of family people want to construct–especially when contrasted with the kinds of families that often arise by accident–teenage girls with multiple kids by different fathers, teenage boys with kids they never see, and divorced families, whose kids might turn out all right but are going to take a huge emotional hit.

But I can’t help thinking that fathers are worth something, too. And there is plenty of evidence on that score. In March, Daniel Paquette of the University of Montreal reported that fathers, more so than mothers, encourage infants to explore their environment. That’s not a slap at mothers; it’s part of a case for complementarity. “By stimulating exploration, controlled risk-taking and competition, fathers provide something different to the child who will benefit greatly from this singular contribution.” Even if both parents change diapers and give babies bottles, “they don’t do it the same way,” he said.

In another study reported last year, the children of low- and middle-income fathers who attended a 16-week relationship class were less aggressive and depressed, and more socially adept than the children of fathers who didn’t attend–and that was true whether or not the mothers attended the class. If fathers didn’t matter, then their attention to fathering should have made no difference.

There are other studies, and other discussions, and a thousand points of view in the blogs. But not all the evidence comes from science. When I come home from work and my 7-month-old son, Luke, sees me and starts bouncing around like a ping-pong ball until I pick him up, that’s evidence. When my three-and-a-half year-old son, Henry, takes me by the hand to pull me over to a Lego set-up he’s just constructed, in splendid ignorance of what the instructions say he was supposed to build, that’s evidence.

Fathers have existed since the dawn of humanity, several million years ago, and they wouldn’t still be around if Nature didn’t have a reason for them. Evolution is ruthless; it would have swept fathers away eons ago if they weren’t important.

All of this is a little indirect, I know. I don’t have an ironclad case for why fathers are important. But while we respect other kinds of families and parents, let’s give fathers a break. Not just for Father’s Day, but all the time.

They have their faults. Uh, let me rephrase that: I have my faults. I’m not nearly the father I’d like to be. I make mistakes all the time. I spend many evenings wishing I had–or hadn’t–said something to my kids. Despite all that, I like the job. It suits me. And even if I can’t prove that fathers matter, I have to believe it.

May. 17 2010 — 4:49 pm | 18 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Meet the sloths on Vimeo

I never watch these things, and I watched this one twice.


via Meet the sloths on Vimeo.

Apr. 6 2010 — 1:08 pm | 24 views | 0 recommendations | 4 comments

A newsman: the repository of the wisdom of the ages

Types in a 1920s typewriter

Image via Wikipedia

A post unrelated to anything at all…

I remember seeing this reprinted in The New Yorker years ago, and I’m posting because I came across it on the web, and because I find it highly amusing and wanted to be sure I could always find it in my archives. And because I hope some of you–newswomen included–find it amusing, too.

A newsman:

A newsman knows everything. He is aware not only of what goes on in the world today, but his brain is a repository of the accumulated wisdom of the ages.

He is not only handsome, but has the physical strength which enables him to perform great feats of energy. He can go for nights without sleep. He dresses well and he talks with charm. Men admire him, women adore him, tycoons and statesmen are willing to share their secrets with him.

He hates lies and meanness and sham, but he keeps his temper. He is loyal to his paper . . .

. . . and when he dies a lot of people are sorry, and some of them remember him for several days.”

- Stanley Walker, 1898-to-1962, city editor, New York Herald Tribune

Mar. 7 2010 — 3:14 am | 345 views | 1 recommendations | 7 comments

NYC tops Florida with arrest of five-year-old kindergarten student

NEW YORK - JULY 23:  Copies of the New York Ti...

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

In a previous post, I railed against a sheriff’s deputy in Port St. Lucie, Florida, for cuffing a 6-year-old girl who was having a “temper tantrum,” and carting her off to “a mental facility.”

Now I’ll confess that I took a certain smug satisfaction in pointing a finger at Florida, while pecking away at my computer in New York City, where we’re far more civilized.

So much for smug satisfaction. New York City school safety officers have apparently topped Port St. Lucie by cuffing a 5-year-old boy. Congratulations, New York!

“In January 2008,” Op-Ed colunist Bob Herbert writes in The New York Times, “a 5-year-old kindergarten pupil became unruly at a public school in Queens. A public safety officer, seeing her duty, pounced. She handcuffed the boy who was then shipped off to a hospital psychiatric ward. A 5-year-old!” (Emphasis is Herbert’s.)

That’s just one of the inexplicable arrests Herbert notes in his column. Two sixth-graders in the Bronx were arrested and taken to the local precinct by an armed police officer after each drawing a line on the other’s desk with magic markers. Erasable magic markers, no less. The students were sent to get tissues to erase the lines when school safety officers seized them. Herbert does not relate what must have been the riveting scene in which the sixth-graders were disarmed of their magic markers.

In another episode, a 12-year-old was arrested for doodling on her desk with an erasable marker. Students are already prohibited from bringing cell phones to school; let’s ban these damn erasable markers. Am I to expect that my tax dollars will be wasted on tissue to clean up magic marker doodles? Lock those kids up!

These incidents have come to light in lawsuits brought by students’ families. How many other incidents have gone unreported because the families chose not to sue or didn’t have the means to sue? Considering the expense and effort required to file a lawsuit, would it be too big a leap to surmise that this situation is far worse for poor kids in New York than for kids whose parents can afford to bring such a suit?

Port St. Lucie’s policy of apparently waiting until its students are six before cuffing them looks enlightened compared to New York’s five-year-old arrest.

What is the phrase I’m looking for here…

Common sense?

Mar. 3 2010 — 3:25 pm | 98 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

NBCs ‘Parenthood’: I couldn’t take it

maxI know I should have watched NBCs Parenthood so I could post my reaction.

But I couldn’t. I lasted 10 minutes.

As soon as I saw the baseball scenario with Max, it was clear where the writers were headed. We’ve already learned Max doesn’t want to go to his little league game. His father, Adam (also his coach–could it get any uglier?) bribes him with escalating ice cream rewards, finally securing a deal with a triple-dip. You know what’s coming: A few moments later, it’s a crucial moment in the game, and Max is up to bat.

He gets the usual encouragement. C’mon Max! Knock it outa here! Max squirms. Finally, Adam says hey, Max, it’s just a game. It’s about having fun. It’s not much fun, says Max, who looks as though he would cry, except that would make his situation even worse.

I left the room. Elizabeth, my wife, stayed with it for the next scene, in which Max was once again in jeopardy, this time with the school principal. It reminds me of Gene Roddenberry’s frequent exhortation to the script writers on Star Trek: “Put the Enterprise in danger!” (“Put Max in danger!”)

The blurb for next week’s episode says, among other things, “Max is diagnosed.” As if things weren’t bad enough already…

One interesting thing, however. Hanna Rosin of DoubleX, who apparently stayed with the show, noted that Parenthood, like the scene I watched, is mostly about fathers. There’s a refreshing switch.

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    About Me

    Paul Raeburn is a journalist, author and blogger whose stories have appeared recently in The Huffington Post, The New York Times Magazine, Scientific American, and Psychology Today, among others.

    He is the author, most recently, of Acquainted with the Night, a memoir of raising children with depression and bipolar disorder. His next book is Why Fathers Matter, to be published in 2010 by Simon & Schuster. Raeburn is a former science editor at Business Week and The Associated Press.

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