Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Conformist Football Dad

Why can fathers tell it like it is when mothers can’t?

I miss my anonymous blog. It used to be this fun space where I could vent about the challenges (and occasional joys) of raising four kids as a single mother, juggling(and sometimes dropping) work, school, and mommy balls. When I complained to a friend that I could no longer write whatever I wanted, he suggested I start another anonymous blog and call it (tongue in cheek) “The Conformist Football Dad.”

But I realized something yesterday, when I read Steve Wein’s funny and honest take on parenting small children. If I started a daddy blog, I would not need to keep it anonymous. Because Dads get carte blanche to say pretty much whatever is on their minds. Things like, “You are not a terrible parent if the sound of their voices sometimes makes you want to drink and never stop.” Or “You are not a terrible parent if you'd rather be at work” (There are lots of times I would rather be at work. And look where admitting that got Sheryl Sandberg!).

Instead of the blogosphere ripping Dads up for writing books like Go the Fuck to Sleep, everyone smiles and nods and says, “Isn’t that cute?” (well, a few people were offended, but they probably weren’t parents).

Confession: I wish I had written that book (and I thought of it, while inserting my own occasionally colorful commentary into Goodnight Moon during the roughly 4,745 times I read it in desperation to my own sleep-challenged progeny).

I also wish that I had written Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I’m not a big Jane Austen fan—I recommend her work to anyone who has difficulty falling asleep at night. The only one of her books that I ever managed to finish was Mansfield Park, and that’s just because it was the only English language paperback in the bookcase of the Sorrento pensione where I finished out my junior year spring term study abroad. As one of my philosophy professors once said (in jesting reference to the Mormon prophet David O. McKay), “No excess can compensate for failure to go to Rome.”

What McKay actually said was this: “No success can compensate for failure in the home.” No pressure there! And for Mormon mothers, the church’s position on gender roles is clear: “Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.” 

Yup. And 40 percent of mothers (myself included) are also solely or primarily responsible for putting food on the table.  Which is why it's weird that we keep attacking each other.

I finally got around to reading some of the criticism that followed my December 14, 2012 blog post telling my family’s story about having a child with mental illness. Sarah Kendzior, for example, had a field day mining four years of pretty standard (and anonymous) mommy blog material to create a picture of me as a narcissistic monster who wanted to strangle her kids all the time (Not true. Only when I venture upstairs into the oozing mold pit that is my teenage sons’ bathroom).

But it was one of my favorite writers, End of Men author Hanna Rosin, who really put the mommy boxing gloves on. In her essay, “Don’t Compare your Son to Adam Lanza,”  she suggested, among other things, that I was the one who really had mental problems (I think Ms. Rosin is just envious of my mad writing skillz).  

For the record, I did not compare my son to Adam Lanza. I compared myself to his mother. My point was, and still is, that we as parents of children with mental illness and mental disorders need to speak up.

And it seems like it’s okay to talk about your child with mental illness, or even your own struggles—as long as you are the father and not the mother. David Sheff’s brave and eloquent book about his son’s addiction, for example, or Pete Earley’s Crazy.  But if you write Drunk Mom  watch out!

I’ve gotten more than a few queries from reporters who want to “expose the truth” about what I wrote. They couch their requests for interviews in vaguely threatening terms about “fact-checking” and “privacy.” All of them, interestingly enough, are women.

Hey, girlfriends! Privacy is just another word for stigma.

To be honest, I’m grateful for the backlash. It helped me to clarify my own position and realize the importance of advocacy. That my first attempt to tell my painful truth happened to go viral was something beyond my control. But it has provided me opportunities to meet people, to share stories, and to campaign for change.

So don’t look for the Conformist Football Dad. I’m the Anarchist Soccer Mom, and I’ll keep talking—and acting—to help my son. You can speak up too. And if the other mommies start to beat you up, come out swinging. None of us—dads or moms—are perfect parents. But we all want the same thing: happy, healthy, productive children. Let’s help each other get there.


The Elephant's Child said...

I'm glad you're here. You frequently say things that no one else will, that need to be said. All the best

Unknown said...

I applaud your blog and your writing is terrific - funny and heartbreakingly honest. Your post made me think of an outburst on my part that was prompted when one of my colleagues said he would be "babysitting" his kids while his wife was out one night. In another example, I have heard of Dads being offered extra help when their wives were out of town, but when was the last time that you heard of someone offering such help to a Mom whose husband is out of town. Enough of a rant on my part.

Annette said...

I appreciate your writing. Walking in the light about our issues, and teaching our children to do the same, is a uniting action and should be a safe step to take amongst our own species. Unfortunately as you have learned first hand, that's not always the case. I am sorry about that, but so grateful that you have kept on writing honestly and forthrightly.

Unknown said...

I read your post, emailed a link to a few of my son's teachers with the comment "I could have written this...." in hopes that they would finally sit down to address my son's mental health issues which were rapidly deteriorating. Your excellent writing said everything I was thinking. Thank you.

JEA said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JEA said...

Thank you for this honest and enlightened post!

I am a producer working on a project about mental health and have 2 specific focus areas of the impact of mental illness on the family unit, and child psychology/psychiatry. I would love to have a conversation with you if you are willing. It will be off the record - just to help my team and me educate ourselves and approach this topic in a relevant and meaningful way. Please respond if you are up for a chat.

Thank you!

theleenbean said...

Hello! I was one of those who stumbled across your December blog post when it went viral, and I thought it was lovely and insightful and honest. It saddens me to think of the backlash you received, and while I see that you're made of sterner stuff than that, I wish I could give you a send you a mental hug and a smile all the same. Thanks for sharing glimpses of your life with us. The blogosphere is a richer one with your voice in it!