If you haven’t read the article, Paul’s general thesis is that fathers have nothing of distinction to offer their kids, and might therefore be unnecessary. Paul claims that all the studies which show the positive benefits of father involvement are bunk as they are only compared to studies about kids raised just by single moms. She does make an astute observation when she writes “Most of the data fail to distinguish between a father and the income a father provides, or between the presence of a father and the presence of a second parent, regardless of gender.”
To illustrate her point, Paul then touts the results of a study of families headed by lesbian moms. She quotes two academics who conclude, “…based strictly on the published science, one could argue that two women parent better on average than a woman and a man, or at least than a woman and man with a traditional division of family labor.”
She then wraps the whole thing up saying heterosexual parents secretly embrace the traditional gender parenting roles and that “there is nothing objectively essential about (a father’s) contribution.” She then puts down her pen, goes into the den, and throws butcher knives at an effigy of her dad (ok, so maybe I added that last part.)
The biggest flaw made here, from a simply “scientific” viewpoint (keeping in mind I was an arts major) is that we don’t have any data in her article around kids raised by gay fathers. Perhaps those results are implied: the more men we add to the equation, the worse things get. Kids from lesbian parents do better than kids from straight couples; children raised by single moms have healthier relationships than kids from single dad families. I guess the logical conclusion to that pattern is that kids raised by two men devolve into depraved, crime ridden and flesh easting terrorists who will stop at nothing to kill you and everyone you love.
Paul is missing two profoundly importing things (and perhaps a few marbles). The first: children need to know they are loved and valued by the two people who are supposed to love them most—their parents. I don’t care if those are gay parents, straight parents, divorced parents or rhesus monkey parents. When a child grows up with, say, an alcoholic mother, who is incapable due to her own illness to give her child the unconditional love and support a child needs, that child will suffer. Period.
The second gross oversight is that it is because of traditional gender roles that we are taking dads away from their children. Workplace culture, societal forces and yes, even the gate keeping mothers to whom Paul alludes are all guilty of reinforcing the idea that a man is best serving his family at the office. And how has that worked to date? I know a heap of adults who are haunted by unresolved issues with their dad because he was rarely around. I’ve never met anyone who has ever lamented, “You know, the problem with my dad is that he wanted to spend too much time with me.” As long as we adhere to traditional gender roles, and deny fathers the same cultural and workplace leeway that is given to working moms, kids will continue to ask themselves, “Why is my dad never at my piano recitals?” with the eventual inferred answer being, “…because his work is more important.” It is not until you are an adult that you realize why dad was making such a huge sacrifice but by that time the damage has already been done.
Perhaps Paul is one of those gate keeping mothers. A recent University of Texas study showed that the more competent a man is as a father, the lower his wife’s self esteem is around mothering. (Here is another fine example of how reinforcing traditional gender roles can mess us all up—look at the pressure we still put on women to tie their self worth to their apron strings). Perhaps Paul thinks the solution here is for men to imitate Hollywood and Madison Avenue and put the diaper on the baby’s head from time to time in an effort to make her feel better.
What is ultimately insulting to me in this piece is Paul’s implication that men (and women) are happy secretly clinging to traditional gender roles. She suggests I am really content to just teach my son to throw a spiral, give his hair a tussle, and then leave everything else to mom. While I agree traditional gender lines are more rigid than people think, I would vehemently argue that people are unaware slaves rather than clandestine subscribers to them. Those who feel they are personally above such antiquated notions are largely still bound by them. Even the most progressive couple who wants dad to be the at-home parent is still restricted by the fact that we still pay women less than men. Even here in progressive Canada, moms will often get parental leave top ups from employers where dads do not.
Anyway, Pamela, enough of this silly girl talk. Now go get me my pipe and slippers, honey. And before you get to scrubbing the toilet and wiping the kid’s butts, be a good girl and pour me a scotch, will you?