Editor's Note: This piece is part of "Mother Load," a TAP special report on work/family issues.
I had one of those fathers who was always standing on the sidelines of my lacrosse games, cheering his heart out in a slightly wrinkled suit. When my teammates' mothers would comment on how extraordinary it was that my dad made the time, it confounded me. My father's hearty presence in my life seemed like a given. Of course he made the time. He was my dad.
But as I've explored this rocky, unforgiving terrain called adulthood, I've thought more realistically about the kinds of sacrifices my dad made. It turns out that it wasn't a given that he showed up when it counted, and even when it kind of didn't; it was a Herculean effort. He described it for me recently: "I artificially expanded my time in ways that actually had a fairly big cost on my health and my quality of thinking. Like I would get up at 4:30 a.m., after maybe five hours of sleep, and get to work so that I could put in a full day before showing up at your game at 4 p.m." Last year, my father retired from the law, in part because of chronic migraines and an overwhelming sense of exhaustion. (He now happily calls the hammock his office.)
It is fascinating to me, now that I've taken a sober look at my father's constant struggle with work/family balance, that men have been almost entirely absent from the public conversation about these issues. Sure, my mom sacrificed a hell of a lot more -- a highly successful therapy practice, an immune system, and, at times, her sanity -- over the course of my childhood, but I was very aware of the toll this took on her. Shoulder-padded supermoms and their struggles to do it all were a constant theme of the women's magazines that dropped through our mail slot and the Oprah shows that flickered across our TV. My dad and his kind weren't on the work/family radar, and I didn't give much thought to his efforts.
Now that a self-described "mother's movement" is gaining steam, coalitions have been formed among groups like Women's Media Center, MomsRising, The MOTHERS Initiative, the National Association of Mothers' Centers, and the Mothers Movement Online. They've launched a "ceasefire on the mommy wars," hoping to convince mainstream media to stop rehashing the same sensationalistic stories about workplace catfights and start talking about the pathetic dearth of work/family policy in this country. But when I asked this group why the movement was comfortable with a name that cut out half the population of parents, they essentially responded that this kind of advocacy work has always and continues to be done by women, and that men are welcome to join.
But are men really going to join a revolution that doesn't have their name on it? And furthermore, isn't framing the movement in terms of mothers a tyranny of low expectations?
Valerie A. Young, the Advocacy Coordinator of the National Association of Mothers' Centers explains: "From the very beginning the focus has been on mothers and other caregivers, but we've always run up against problems with the limitations of language. And we're also up against the popular psyche, which still thinks of these as
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