' Marianne M. Jennings
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Jewish World Review Dec. 23, 1999/ 14 Teves, 5760

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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Confused fathers

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- DANNY AINGE RESIGNED his position as head coach of the Phoenix Suns to spend more time with his family. Mr. Ainge assures that he dumped the Suns when one of his sons said he was growing distant. Hats off to paternal noblesse oblige, but the man better find work soon because an unemployed tall guy playing Mr. Rogers around the house grows annoying.

There's something troublesome about this modern dad model who chucks it all for the kids. Business magazines periodically run stories about Mr. Moms who left options and golf to be at- home dads. Teens are destined for calf tattoos and petty larceny when their fathers don aprons and fuss over souffles. Whatever happened to fathers as wage earners and fearsome disciplinarians? Bill Cosby said that his father established their relationship as follows, "I brought you in this world, I'll take you out.

And it don't make no difference to me because I'll make another look just like you." And when Bill Cosby complained to his father about monsters in his closet, the response: "Let them eat you up." Fathers are the no-nonsense parent and mothers pack the ammo for treating boo-boos. Mothers play along and chase away monsters, fathers make you face them.

Fathers today have to be confused. There is the sensitive father model, highly hands-on with the voice of Lamb Chop the puppet. But then there is the marginalized and demonized father of the feminist movement and mistaken academicians. Nearly one-third of children born in 1997 were born to single women (compared to 5% in 1960). In 1998, 35% of children under 18 were living apart from their biological fathers. The June issue of American Psychologist features an article called, "Deconstructing the Essential Father" which argues that "heterosexual marriage" is not the "social context" in which "responsible fathering is most likely to occur."

Yet fathers are tracked down and imprisoned for failure to pay child support. If, however, fathers make a commitment to their wives and children a la Promise Keepers, feminists fly twice around their cages backwards.

The result is a neurotic mess of males. An article called "Daddy Stress" in Forbes this past September reports that 40 men signed up for a noon seminar at J.P. Morgan on balancing work and family. The seminar leader (I picture a cross between Stephen Covey and that Tae-Bo guy) explained, "It's a 1990s dad in a 1950s workplace."

No, it's the 1990's mind set when children need a 1950's home. At the heart of the stress, confusion and even child support issues is the break down of families with the blurring of gender roles in raising children.

Susan Faludi, the feminist who gave us the confusing Backlash recently offered up the more confusing Stiffed, a book about miserable men. Ms. Faludi, who resides with a paramour and has no children, interviewed men who have been hallucinating since Kent State and concludes that men in America are miserable because of patriarchy. She's right about their misery but wrong about causation.

Men have lost their critical role in society. The male marriage rate is half what it was in 1970. That they are living the bachelor dream is the problem. Men live longer, are healthier and have less stress when women give them the traditional role of married fatherhood. They're not cut out for other roles. A Silicone Valley company offered men paid leave of up to 12 weeks for the birth or adoption of a child and not one man has signed up since its 1997 inception. Sociological numskulls attribute the nonparticipation to the stigma of being absent from work. Fathers don't want even paid leave with a newborn because work looks a lot better to them. Women goo to infants. Men see spit-up. Having them at home full time doesn't maximize either parent's potential.

The movie Mrs. Doubtfire was labeled a tribute to fathers and fatherhood but the real message was on roles. Had Daniel Hillard (Robin Williams) been a traditional wage-earning father and imposed rules and discipline, as he did out of desperation when he became his own children's nanny, and as fathers should, his wife's frustrations might not have culminated in divorce.

Trying to make dads into Barney is a mistake. Keep them in the world where their competitive souls can soar. No father should sacrifice his family at the career altar. But, and perhaps not in the Ainge household, someone does have to make a living. And someone needs to be hands-on and day-to-day with children. A man need not quit his job to be a good father if moms are there to chase away the monsters. Dads can swoop in and explain monsters don't exist with all the authority of someone who has conquered the work jungle. Danny Ainge should go back to work and stop the Susan Faludi angst. There is a compromise between too many road trips and hanging around the house all day. His children are going to need something more than the latter to help them with their monsters.

JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.


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©1999, Marianne M. Jennings