Sunday, November 06, 2022

The Unexamined Privilege of Fatherhood

This happened when I made Jack’s top bunk, and I am of course going to take it as an invitation to revisit my exercise and nutrition habits. Ben fixed it for now, but it makes me think that maybe we need to rethink the boys sleeping in these beds. I am pretty sure they weigh more than I do.
Fancy dress day midweek because why the heck not.
Jack and I attended the Go Big Read keynote address at my school, and I was so proud of him for reading the book, and we both adored How the Word Is Passed. If you haven’t read it yet, you really should. Jack was especially interested because his honors history class is studying the civil war right now, and they are reading the actual articles of secession as part of their study. Smith talks in the book about meeting people who learned in school that the war was not about slavery, and Jack was able to say, “But we read the actual articles. They mention slavery in the first line for most states.” He is also learning about assimilation in his honors English class (and reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, another book you should read if you have not already), so he turned to me and whispered “assimilation” seconds before Clint Smith said it in his talk. So cool to watch these big concepts resonate with him.
Speaking of Clint Smith! He is an excellent speaker, and I have used his YouTube channel to teach some tough critical theory concepts in my large lecture class about campaigns and revolutions.. His talk was terrific, and I adored the way the chancellor sat onstage with him during the keynote talk and directed the conversation. He was so kind to the people in the audience who asked questions, and he was just so brilliant off the top of his head. He has a new book of poetry about fatherhood coming out in March, which brings me to the title of this blog post.

An audience member asked Smith what kind of self-care he practiced during the writing of How the Word Is Passed since the book covers some difficult subject matter and since Smith engaged in some tough conversations with people he met. He said that he takes refuge in his family because he has 2 little kids. Then he said something that rubbed me the absolute wrong way, He said (kind of sanctimoniously, if I am being honest) that he makes the choice as a parent to be completely present with his children. 

Ok, what. 

No caregiving parent who spends whole days with their young children would EVER EVER EVER say that.  Only a working parent with a ton of childcare or a drop-in dad parent with a stay-at-home spouse can say such a thing. It is an enormous privilege to compartmentalize your time in such a way. It’s not a choice that someone makes that proves they’re a superior parent, you know? It reminded me of a sociology professor I had in grad school who got her degree at Harvard and talked about how she could never really buy into John Rawls’ theory of justice as fairness when she saw his wife caring for all the little Rawls children so he could write in his office day in and day out. How can you take care of a kid ALL DAY and be completely present? Not possible, I say. And what about work stress, etc. Oh, the largely unexamined privilege of fatherhood!

To be fair, this was a fairly minor complaint in an impressive talk, and the book is wonderful.

We also enjoyed the chancellor’s reception and had some very fancy nachos and brownies.

In other news, Minnie scored some new accessories at Target
And!! We all celebrated Cooper’s travel baseball team with a super fun dinner. And by all, I mean me, Ben, and Cooper while Harry held down the fort at home.



  1. Anonymous8:16 AM

    I homeschool my kids and work part time. So I am with at least one of my kids almost all the time. And yet I do think there are times i do make the decision to be totally present with them. Other times, although I am physically with them (and may even be engaging with them), I am not 100% present. I am thinking about what I need to get done, what I "could be doing" instead, etc. I know many moms struggle to actually play with their kids, which normally means being 100% present. It isn't a privilege necessarily. I definitely can be a choice.

  2. Anonymous11:34 AM

    Not sure if he meant “He’s sure to spend SOME time being present with his kids each day”, which would be great, or “100% present with his kids all day” which is not only impossible, but also would have negative effects on the kids. Kids NEED time to play independently and direct their own play. Of course, it’s great to be intentional about having some dedicated parent-child time, but hopefully there’s a good balance!

  3. YES. I've heard a version of this from men in the productivity space and it makes me LIVID. Like - you're completely present WHEN YOU FEEL LIKE PARENTING. which, let's face it, in many cases probably quantitatively isn't all that much time. OR you have someone else doing all the cleanup / prep / etc so that your only job is this "presence.". love that you called this out!

  4. Lisa of Lisa’s Yarns12:05 PM

    Totally agree on this. It is not realistic to be completely present with your children, nor do I think it’s a standard we should strive towards. I work FT and still have a hard time always being ‘present’ with my almost 2yo and 4.5yo. But like someone said above, they need time for independent play and I have needs, too.

  5. Totally agree with this, too. It can really make someone feel like a lesser parent when they hear statements like this (I've struggled with this when consuming Cal Newport material).
    Taken in a vacuum it sounds wonderful, but in the real world (speaking as a work-from-home mother who was basically home full-time with both her kids from Day 1) is not realistic.

    And it's OKAY to be distracted while parenting. Things have to get done outside of directly engaging with our kids. I feel a lot less guilt as they get older, but this was a major issue for me when I was a new Mom. I was perpetually exhausted and overwhelmed and then would hear people wax eloquent about how much they loved every minute with their kids. What now? So much of parenting is hard and it's full of distractions and it can be downright tedious.

    So, yes...I can relate! Love that you highlighted this...

  6. Ugh. So unrealistic. I love my child and love that I can be with her, and yet it is impossible to be "100% present" with her all the time! There are things that have to be done! Grocery shopping and work and laundry and and and! Also... I feel like it would teach the wrong message if we could be 100% present with our kids. Sadly, they are NOT the center of the universe! It would be a disservice to them if we taught them they were! Not to mention a disservice to ourselves: we deserve time to pursue our own passions; we are not automatons created to cater to our children's every whim.

  7. I am not a parent and rubs ME the wrong way. I love (other people's kids)and I can go and spend an afternoon and be completely present with them, but it's not something that can be sustained by any parent 24/7... and yes, it does sound like privilege, when he can say that this is his form of self-care, as it's something that he probably chooses to do for a fraction of his full-time parenting status.