Thursday, June 28, 2012

American Teacher (2011) (Overview of Film)

I came across the documentary American Teacher as I learning about education policy to teach a new course on Homeschooling and the Law.  Although the course focuses primarily on the legal aspects of homeschooling, issues with the public school system in many ways prompted the modern homeschooling movement. As a result, we will discuss various educational reform efforts at the beginning of the course. 

American Teacher is a film about the challenges that public educators face.  A lack of resources (e.g., materials, time, support) to do one’s job is one huge challenge addressed.  But another major challenge addressed in the film is how teachers are underpaid.  To my surprise, the issue of teacher salary was actually a major component of the film.

American Teacher notes that when public schools originated the teachers were mostly men.  But the film describes that early in the 20th century there was a conscious effort to recruit women to the profession.  The reason for this was that at that point in time, women could be paid less than men for the same job.  It would cost less to educate kids if women did the work.   

The film also noted that men have become an increasingly small minority in the teaching profession over the last several decades.  The film theorized that decline is because of the poor pay.  The film describes how men used to be able to support a family on a teacher’s salary but no longer are.  

Parenthetically, I’ll flag that even before the women’s movement, moms, grandmas, aunts and sisters have sometimes had to support a family from their earnings when the father (or other men) of the household died or abandoned them.  It is interesting to me that that reality is never addressed.  The debate is always on the man-supporting-a-family model.

Interviewees in the film noted that our current educational system is built on the premise that women who teach do not have to support a family.  They are presumed to have husbands who are the primary breadwinner.  The wives’ teaching salaries is thus thought to just be an added financial perk, but not really necessary to a family’s well-being.  With that framework, it doesn’t matter that the salary is not competitive with other professions.

The film focused on a handful of good teachers across the country. 

The two male teachers featured both had families.  Though it was not clear, it appeared their wives did not work outside the home.  They describe the birth of their children as putting great financial stress on their families.  Both of the featured male teachers illustrated the issue that a man could not support his family on a teacher’s salary.

One gentleman had saved a lot from real estate investments, which he thought would help bridge the gap from his teaching salary.  Ultimately, it did not.  He left teaching primarily for financial reasons after he became a dad.  He joined the family business to support his family.  He noted that even in an off year, in the family business he was earning twice what he earned as a teacher.  Moreover, he had a lot more control over his schedule and workload.  He had less stress and more time with his family.  Unfortunately, he seemed sad about his professional choice.  Clearly, he had loved making a difference in students’ lives.

The other male teacher featured in the film had not left teaching, but had worked a second-job for many years.  After teaching a full-day, he then spent another five plus hours loading heavy merchandise onto forklifts and into customers’ vehicles.  Working round the clock to make ends meet took a huge toll on his family.  He rarely got to spend time with his children.  Due to exhaustion, he fell asleep at family functions.  The family’s home was foreclosed.  Eventually, he and his wife divorced.  She said that he was never home; she felt like she hadn’t had a husband when they were married.

Three female teachers were featured in the film.  Two were apparently single women without dependents.  They both described the long hours they put in, and how much they relied upon their own money to provide basic supplies for their classrooms. 

These two single women also described the grueling hours the devoted to their jobs.  Insightfully, one of these women stated quite strongly that every teacher, whom she respected professionally, worked 6-7 days per week and during evenings.  The suggestion was that if you weren’t working such hours, you were not dedicated and not a good teacher.

The third female teacher featured was pregnant at the start of the film.  She was scheduled to give birth to her first child mid-way through the academic year, but was only allotted 6 weeks of paid maternity leave no matter what.  It was not entirely clear, but it appeared that she was the sole breadwinner of her family.  Her husband stayed home to care for their baby full-time.  Among other things, the film followed the struggle this female teacher went through to find time and a place during the school day to express milk for her baby.  She was also exhausted after being up with her baby in the night and then teaching all day. 

In one interview, this new mom described how exhausted she was and how she wasn’t even taking care of herself.  She mentioned everyone kept asking how she could come back so quickly after giving birth, but rather exasperated she asked rhetorically what choice she had.  Her husband and she did not have rich parents and had to support themselves.  They needed her paycheck.  It seemed like those around her did not anticipate that her teaching salary would be financially necessary to sustain a whole family.

Towards the end of the film, this same teacher seemed to express ambivalence about continuing on as a dedicated teacher now that she was a mom.  She indicated her priorities were shifting.  She said that for the first time in her adult life, something other than her students needed to come first.  She could no longer sacrifice everything for them.

At the end of the film, it was noted that one of the two single female teachers had gotten married and had given birth to her first child.  It was added that she took a year off from teaching and was not yet sure if she would be returning.

Ruth 2:2

One day Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go out into the harvest fields to pick up the stalks of grain left behind by anyone who is kind enough to let me do it.” Naomi replied, “All right, my daughter, go ahead.”

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Election of Rev. Fred Luter, Jr.

I recently came across an article about the election of Reverend Fred Luter, Jr. to lead the Southern Baptist Convention:

The headline read: “Southern Baptists elect 1st black president.”  I had heard several months ago that this was a possibility, so this news did not really surprise me.  But it was interesting nonetheless. 

More so than some other mainline Christian denominations, I actually have a relatively close connection to the Southern Baptists.  I’m from the South, so I’ve certainly had plenty of friends and acquaintances who were Southern Baptists, but my connection is closer than just that.  A lot of my family and many of my closest childhood friends are Southern Baptist.  I’ve attended Southern Baptist churches all my life.  As a teenager, I even worked at the day care center of a Southern Baptist congregation in the neighborhood where I lived. 

Based on these experiences, I can say honestly that the Southern Baptist denomination is not my cup of tea. I never felt led to be baptized in that denomination or even attend one of its churches regularly.  That is ok.  Everyone is different.  I mean no disrespect in saying the Southern Baptist Church is not for me.  I respect that lots of fine folks are Southern Baptists and the Church does a lot of great work. 

One of the reasons I was never real comfortable in the Southern Baptist churches I attended was my sense of its homogeneity.  Pretty much everyone was white and middle class.  They were also very conservative politically; “Reagan” was a name folks liked, “Jane Fonda” was not.  When they went to church, the Southern Baptists I knew wore their Sunday best.  Many of the ladies had the same floral patterned cloth Bible covers.  Everyone was good at rote memorization and could rattle off Bible verses.  I never felt like I fit in with any of that.

I think I was always familiar to some degree with the history of the Southern Baptist Convention.  But more than the reason it was formed in the 19th century, as a kid I always had a sense of the modern, on-going implicit racism. 

My own Southern Baptist grandparents were white Southerners of a generation pretty warped by bigotry and poverty.  The “n word” was certainly a part of their vocabulary, which horrified and confused me even as a little child.  I knew that was a vile word you were not supposed to ever say.  So, it always stunned me when my Southern Baptist grandparents muttered it. 

And it really confused me because that set of grandparents were the most religious ones in my family.  How could my most religious relatives also be the most racist?  That never jived in my little brain.  I didn’t understand how people who seemed to take Jesus so seriously would be so racist.  Even as a kid, the little I knew about Jesus led me to think he would not have been uttering racial epithets or supporting second-class treatment of people of a different race or ethnicity.  I did not understand. 

What’s more, I was particularly confused when we went to my grandparents’ huge church and the only non-white faces were the row of gentleman in the back row in traditional African garb.  Their presence was evidence of the church’s enthusiastic support of foreign missions.  It didn’t make sense to me that my grandparents’ church would seem inhospitable towards people of African descent when they were born on American soil, but would go out of their way to bring people from Africa across an ocean to Texas.  That really seemed like a contradiction my little brain couldn’t comprehend.

But I know the Southern Baptists have made great strides over the years. 

My Dad’s church (which is the same one where my grandparents were members) is much more diverse now.  They have a very vibrant ministry to Laotian immigrants, and the church does extensive work to help the immigrants get settled into homes and find jobs in the community. 

One of my close friends is on the board of the congregation where I worked as a teen in the day care center.  That Southern Baptist church hired a pastor a few years ago who is a woman and African American.  Their congregation also has a strong ministry in the Latino community and has learned to do quinciñeras. 

When I was in law school, my husband used his extra free time by teaching in an ESL ministry of a local Southern Baptist church.  They taught hundreds of Latino immigrants practical language skills regardless of their religious affiliation.

Because I know Southern Baptists have made great strides, I wasn’t surprised by the headline of this article.  It simply seemed like a good thing.  What actually got my attention in reading this article was a point very relevant to the recent posts of this blog.  Per the article, Reverend Luter grew up with “a divorced mother and no father in the house.”  As a result, he prayed that he would be the role model for his own son that he himself never had. 

Apparently, Reverend Luter’s ministry has involved an “intensive outreach to men” in his hometown of New Orleans.  He has also expressed “concern that men in his inner-city neighborhood were not taking responsibility for their children.”  I’m not even sure what his ministry does exactly, but it sounds good to me. 

I think more churches need to minister to men.  It is confusing in this day and age as to what is expected and appropriate of men.  For the past century or more, the role of father in the family has consisted almost exclusively of breadwinner.  Dads left the home to earn money to support the family.  Period.  That model doesn’t really work in the 21st century when many women outperform men in terms of educational attainment and earn a paycheck. 

Moreover, in many economically depressed and isolated communities, there are few if any legal means to earn a paycheck.  Not being able to provide for one’s family can be such a crippling blow to a man’s self-respect due to society’s expectations.  “Demoralizing” doesn’t begin to describe the impact.  I certainly don’t condone but can perhaps understand to some degree why men in such situations might withdraw from their families when they cannot provide for them financially.  I’ve seen in happen in families I know.  It is heartbreaking on many levels.  The church may not be able to provide jobs to men in such situations, but we can certainly help men cope with that sort of challenge.

Job 29:16
I was a father to the poor and assisted strangers who needed help.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Fathers’ Grief and Service

I ran across another pertinent article from ABC’s Nightline.  It was about two fathers, who are honoring their deceased children’s memories by serving the people of Haiti.  The article is available at the following link:

I love this article!  It got me misty-eyed.  I cannot imagine a worse grief than a parent who has lost achild.  But what a productive, loving expression of grief to help others in God’s family.

Genesis 41:52
Joseph named his second son Ephraim, for he said, “God has made me fruitful in this land of my grief.”

Job 16:5
But if it were me, I would encourage you. I would try to take away your grief.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Attitudes Towards “Stay-At-Home Fathers”

The link below is from American Public Media’s “Marketplace” program.  It is entitled “Rock, paper, income: The life of a stay-at-home dad.”

I didn’t have any deep thoughts to share from listening to the interview.  I simply enjoy hearing about dedicated fathers.  I hope you enjoy it too.

The link below is from ABC’s Nightline and is entitled “Is Dad the New Mom? The Rise of Stay-At-Home Fathers.” 

 I’ve seen statistics elsewhere that fathers comprise only about 1-3% of all stay-at-home parents.  And that certainly jives with our family’s personal experience.  As a result, I think this article is overstating the “rise” of this family structure.  Indeed, the fact that Nightline is even focusing on it demonstrates the continuing novelty of having a dad who is so involved in his kids lives, let alone being their primary caregiver.  Nonetheless, I enjoy reading about fathers who are so devoted to and involved in their children’s upbringing. 

I thought one part of the Nightline story was particularly telling.  Towards the end of the article, a retired Navy vet (who now stays home with his four kids while his wife works as the CEO of a “big corporation”) was quoted as saying:

“My in-laws think I’m a bum and I’m fine because I worked, already had a career…And I say, ‘I am working.  If it were reversed, would you say your daughter is a bum?’ I’m a great father.  Try to respect that.” 

How tragic is that reaction this vet is experiencing?  I felt horrible that this gentleman is so disrespected--within his own extended family no less.  But his attitude also filled me with even greater respect for him.  It is tough enough to do the self-sacrificing work of full-time caregiving, but the job is even harder when people don’t appreciate your sacrifice and think you are a “bum.”

From personal experience, I think such misguided attitudes are common in our culture.  They seem to be based on three sad beliefs, which are suggested by this vet’s words. 

First, people think that “staying at home” with kids is a vacation.  One watches some Rachael Ray and eats snack foods all day while the kids entertain themselves.  Maybe that is how some depressed people spend their days, but not people who are dedicated to the raising of their kids and take the task seriously.  I don’t personally know any stay-at-home parents for whom that stereotype is true. 

The second sad belief underlying such misguided attitudes is that raising kids doesn’t require much parental involvement; consequently, devoting oneself full-time to the task is just a waste.  I don’t know where to even begin to comment on this particular belief.  Kids don’t just turn in to happy, productive people on their own or by accident.  Investing time and care in raising them is the highest calling, in my opinion.  As a Christian, I know that God values his children above anything else.  Devoting one’s time to child-rearing is a beautiful alignment of God’s values and the stewardship of one’s gifts.

The third sad belief is that the only worthwhile vocation is one for which one is paid.  Again, as a Christian, I flatly reject this worldly belief.  The market place determines which vocations receive financial compensation.  However, the market place is motivated primarily by self-interest and even greed.  Its values are not God’s values.  As a result, the market place’s determination of which vocations should receive financial compensation are not a proper reflection of their actual worth per godly values.

Job 15:18
What wise men have told, Not hiding anything received from their fathers.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Good Man: Rediscovering My Father, Sargent Shriver by Mark K. Shriver

Mark K. Shriver has apparently written a memoir of his dad: A Good Man: Rediscovering My Father, Sargent Shriver.  NPR interviewed Mark Shriver recently and the book sounds fascinating:

For those who are not familiar with him, Sargent Shriver was married for 56 years to Eunice Kennedy.  He was a deeply religious Catholic Christian who attended daily mass.  He is well-known for running Special Olympics and the Peace Corps.  He also founded Head Start, Job Corps, Foster Grandparents and Neighborhood Health Services.  But his son’s book focuses apparently on the elder Mr. Shriver’s parenting and what he was like outside of the spotlight.  The younger Mr. Shriver describes his father as giving his five children “unconditional love.”

The title of the younger Mr. Shriver’s book apparently comes from his observation that “great” people have power, prestige and money, but “when the lights are turned off and no one’s paying attention, they’re not good.”  His son describes his father as being kind to everyone from waitresses to presidents or cardinals. 

There were two anecdotes from the interview that really moved me.

The first involved Sargent Shriver in his later years when he had Alzheimer’s.  The Messieurs Shriver were at a lacrosse game of Mark Shriver’s daughter.  Mark Shriver was yelling at her and encouraging her to be more competitive.  Sargent Shriver asked his son, “Did I yell at you like that, too?”  Mark Shriver was stunned at his father’s question and realized that at that moment, despite his disease, Sargent Shriver was still fathering him.

The other anecdote involved Mark Shriver’s brother falling down and crying when he was a kid.  Their uncle, Bobby Kennedy, was around at the time, and reportedly said “Don’t cry.  Kennedys don’t cry.”  In response, Sargent Shriver scooped up the little boy and said, “That’s OK, you’re a Shriver, you can cry.” 

1 Samuel 24:17

And he said to David, “You are a better man than I am, for you have repaid me good for evil.

Mark 6:20

[F]or Herod respected John; and knowing that he was a good and holy man, he protected him. Herod was greatly disturbed whenever he talked with John, but even so, he liked to listen to him.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Father’s Day Post-Script

Our family had a busy weekend and the radio was on a lot.  As a result, I heard several radio programs about the role of fathers that I thought were interesting. 

Additionally, because of Father’s Day, I recently also ran across several articles that commented on the role of fathers in our modern culture.  I think it is insightful to compare society’s image of fathers with Biblical values.

In the next few posts, I’ll blog about these programs and articles.

Exodus 20:12

Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Teaching…and Just Generally Taking Care of Business

No one is a perfect parent.  Neither my husband nor I are.  But when reflecting on visions of good fathering, I’d be remiss to not mention my own husband.

As I’ve mentioned before, when our second child was a baby, my husband gave up his own successful corporate accounting career so that he could stay home with our kids full-time.  He gave up a gratifying, respected and lucrative career to be there for them. 

It has not been easy.  Being a full-time caregiver is draining and challenging for a host of reasons.  And as a male, he hasn’t always had a lot of support outside our family.  He has demonstrated self-sacrifice, humility and strength of character in taking this path.  I’m very proud of him.

Because he has been home with our kids the most, he has taught them a lot.  He successfully potty-trained both of our kids.  He has taught both of them to read.  He has taught our older child to wash dishes and fill the dishwasher.  He has taught our younger child to sweep the kitchen.  He has taught both of them to cut up fruits and vegetables. 

My husband has gone to their various lessons to take notes and help our kids practice at home.  For months, he attended weekly Mandarin lessons that were incomprehensible to me.  He cobbled together enough of what was happening to quiz the kids and help them with their homework.  He goes to our child’s Ballet Folklórico class to study the intricate moves, and then practices with her at home.  He has attended the other child’s skateboarding lessons to figure the theory behind the cool moves to help her to do them properly.

At various times in our domestic life together, my husband and I have traded housekeeping duties.  When he first began doing a fair amount of cooking, I was demoralized how fast he exceeded my own skill-level.  I’m once again the main cook at our house, but he remains the master of the waffle iron and the bread machine.  My man can make the best waffles and wheat bread! 

My husband has also instilled a love for reading in our kids.  Years ago he began getting audio books from the local library.  He and our kids listened to L. Frank Baum’s “Wizard of Oz” books while they ran errands.  More recently, he has entertained our whole family by reading aloud from the Bunnicula series.

He has also taught our kids to be brave.  Under his tutelage, our younger child bravely kills (or takes outside) spiders and insects that dare come inside our home.  When our older child gets scared by movies, she notes (as her Papa has explained) that the villain is really just a kindly grandma or papa with lots of make-up and a crazy costume in front of a green screen.

Under the general category of “taking care of business,” I am always amazed at how my husband (who is a fairly big guy with pretty large hands) can do our daughters’ hair.  Not only is it a mystery for the ages how his big fingers can maneuver the little elastic fasteners and braid their hair so delicately, it is amazing how my guy can make girl hair socially presentable when he himself hasn’t had prior experience with such styles.  My husband never went through a hippy phase.  His hair has never been more than a couple inches longer.  Yet when he became a dad to daughters, he stepped up to the plate and took on the task of hairstyling pretty adeptly.

Finally, my husband does countless little things around the house to take care of our family.  Despite frequently reminding me that he was trained as an accountant and his protestations that he is no Bob Villa, my husband has installed numerous ceiling fans in all the homes we’ve lived in during the decade and a half that we’ve been a family.  He has even mustered enough carpentry skills to custom build extensive shelving units in the two homes we’ve owned during that time.  He has hauled tons of soil, plants and gravel to our backyards.  He has assembled IKEA furniture and children’s play sets.  He even built me a patio where some day I hope to have time to read and relax.  On top of all this, my husband is an absolute wiz at Excel spreadsheets, troubleshoots issues with cell phones, computers and DVD players, and monitors due dates to make sure we don’t incur overdue fines at the local library. 

Life is hard.  Our families are a vital support system to make it through the challenges.  One of the key values that my husband and I try to instill in our kids is that everyone has a responsibility to support and help each other out in a family.  One of our favorite phrases is “All hands on deck!”  I’m really proud of my husband for being a good role model of that attitude.  I don’t know what our family would do without him!

Proverbs 4:1

Listen, my sons, to a father’s instruction; pay attention and gain understanding.

Friday, June 15, 2012


In our culture, men are expected to be tough.  They aren’t supposed to show emotion or tenderness.  They are supposed to be stoic and unaffected. They are supposed to engage only in macho activities. 

But if one adheres to that stereotype, it is impossible to be in intimate relationships in a family unit.  To be close to other human beings, you have to let your guard down and be vulnerable.  I wanted to share a few quick examples of fathers demonstrating that kind of vulnerability.

The first involves my own dad, who recently came to visit our family in Arizona.  Our kids had a ball playing and reading with Grandpa during his stay.  One night we watched a video, Toy Story 3.  I don’t mean to ruin the film for anyone, but it is about a boy who has loved a group of toys during his childhood.  However, he is now growing up and getting ready to go off to college.  At the end of the film, the protagonist is leaving.  His mother cries and his toys are very sad to see him drive off though they have a terrific new home with an imaginative, sweet little girl.  In the dark of our family’s living room, we could hear Grandpa sniffling and wiping away tears.  My kids always wonder at Mama’s knack for crying at sad movies or tragic news reports.  Now they know where she gets it!

My youngest child has tried different extracurricular activities, but never was enthusiastic about any until she tried Ballet Folklórico, which is a type of Mexican folk dancing.  The costumes provide important props for the dances.  Girls wear big skirts that they swish around in beautiful ways.  They also wear a special kind of shoe with little metal tips.  It is somewhat akin to tap dance or clogging.  In each 90 minute lesson, the girls have to take their special skirts on and off at various times.  For some dances, they have to practice skirt swishing.  At other times, the teacher wants the students to dance with just their leggings, so she can better see their “zapateado” footwork to gauge whether they are doing it correctly.  The skirts are complicated and the kids cannot put them on by themselves.  Mostly just moms attend the lessons, but there are a handful of dads and one grandpa who bring their kids (or granddaughter).  Without any hint of embarrassment, these guys help their daughters/granddaughter on and off with their big ruffled skirts.  Those dads/grandpa rock! 

My sister has been married to her husband for over a decade.  Her grandfather-in-law is ordained in his church, so he actually officiated at their wedding.  Because he also was a member of the family, and had known my sister for years while she was dating his grandson, this was a very special touch to the wedding ceremony.  Weddings are beautiful in the base case.  They symbolize the love and deep commitment two people are making to one another.  I have trouble keeping my own eyes from misting up at weddings.  But one of the memories that stands out from my sister’s wedding was her grandfather-in-law choking up as he presided over the wedding.  This gentleman’s deep emotion at his grandson marrying his soul mate was very moving to everyone who was there.  It triggered an emotional reaction by others in the church that day.  This grandpa has been married to his own soul mate for a long time.  They are about to celebrate their sixtieth anniversary.

Luke 15:18-20

I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight.

I am no longer worthy to be called your son; [just] make me like one of your hired servants.

So he got up and came to his [own] father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity and tenderness [for him]; and he ran and embraced him and kissed him [fervently].

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


I’m not sure how, but I recently came across the following article on David Beckham:

Honestly, I’m not much of a soccer fan unless my children are on the field.  And I am aware that Mr. Beckham is married to and has kids with one of the former Spice Girls, but I don’t follow celebrity “news” closely, so I don’t know much about their family.  Nonetheless, I somehow came across and read this article, in which Mr. Beckham’s post-soccer plans were discussed. 

Admittedly, it was a strange article.  It is based upon Snoop Dogg’s discussion of Mr. Beckham’s plans based on private conversations the two friends have had.  I must confess that for a variety of reasons, I’m not a fan of Mr. Dogg.  I admit I’m not terribly familiar with his work, so perhaps I’m being unfair.  I guess I have trouble getting past the associations with drugs, violence and sexualization in his media persona.  But perhaps that is all just hype and he is a great guys.

Anyhow, the article above was about how (per Mr. Dogg) Mr. Beckham wants to devote himself to his kids full-time and even have more kids when his soccer career is eventually over.  Apparently, Mr. Beckham had told Mr. Dogg he would “love to be a stay-at-home dad” in the future.  The thought is that Mr. Beckham’s wife, Victoria, could devote more of her time to her clothing labels while Mr. Beckham is “staying at home and making the breakfast and changing the diapers.” 

Mr. Dogg commended Mr. Beckham for being such a “passionate father” and for “keeping it real for all fathers out there.”  The article concludes with the author, Ben Maller, indicating: “All things considered, with a reported net worth of more than $200 million, Beckham can afford to retire as Mr. Mom with many more children.”

I don’t know the Dogg or Beckham families, so I cannot comment on the accuracy of the information in the article.  But I thought several aspects of this article were interesting.

First, it is apparently “news” that a father wants to spend more time with his children.  That seems unusual to most of us, maybe even odd.  Lots of moms want to spend more time with their kids.  That seems to be expected though.  In our culture, we don’t necessarily expect a dad to want to spend time caring for his kids.  The unspoken assumption seems to be that fathers should be accomplishing things with their time, not investing it in their families.  What does that assumption say about our culture?  What does it say about our values?

Second, per Mr. Dogg, being a stay at home parent seems chiefly to involve “making the breakfast and changing the diapers.”  I am not picking on Mr. Dogg.  I suspect that he is actually representing the view of many people in our society when citing tasks like those first in a quick brainstorm of the responsibilities of a stay-at-home parent.  That is interesting.  Those are fairly ministerial tasks.  Rich folk like the Doggs and Beckhams can hire someone to cook breakfast and change junior’s diaper.  Heck, less affluent folks effectively do the same when they send their kids to day care.  To me, that is not the greatest value of a caregiver.  You can feed someone and wipe feces off their butt without caring about them as human beings.  To me, the real value of parents or any caregiver is investing time in a child.  Making them feel loved by listening to them, engaging them, playing with them, and teaching them. 

Third, I thought Mr. Maller’s closing statement about Mr. Beckham being able to “retire as Mr. Mom” was very telling.  For those who don’t know, Mr. Mom was a 1983 film by John Hughes starring Michael Keaton as a dad who lost his job and became a full-time caregiver while his wife resumed her career to support the family.  It was a silly comedy about role-switching adventures when husband and wife exchange traditional roles.  It was such a crazy concept at the time: a husband staying home to clean the house and take care of the children.  Wild stuff!  But that concept is still so novel that almost 30 years later, when a father contemplates staying home to care for his kids, this silly film is still referenced. 

Further, Mr. Maller’s phrasing suggests that being a caregiver is not a sufficient enough vocation for a primary career.  Being a full-time caregiver is something you retire to—like playing golf or taking up crafts.  It is essentially a leisure activity.  It is not important.  You do it only after you are finished with your “real” career.  (Kicking a ball around a field is clearly so much more important than raising children to be happy, well-adjusted adults.)

I find these attitudes interesting and telling.  They are really insightful into tragic societal attitudes about caregiving in general and fathering in particular.

Psalm 94:6
They slay the widow and the foreigner; they murder the fatherless.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


My kids have been taking swim lessons this summer at our city pool.  There are a bunch of classes for varying levels and age groups that take place simultaneously around the pool with different teen instructors.  It has been a great experience so far--despite having to broil in the Arizona heat while the kids splash around.

The lessons take place during the daytime on week days.  Most of the parents in the bleachers are moms.  Just an occasional dad brings his kids solo.  And a couple of families have both a mom and a dad sitting in the bleachers together. 

I have been really tickled to watch this one family during the swim lessons.  The first week, they never made it to the bleachers because their daughter was terrified by the water and screamed hysterically at any attempt to make her put a toe in the pool.

This family is apparently part of the local South Asian community.  Some of the moms in that same community have children in my kids’ classes, and we tend to sit near one another in the bleachers.  These moms chat in a good-natured way about this little girl, so I’ve learned a bit about the family simply through osmosis in the bleachers. 

Apparently the little girl has just turned 3.  She is the light of her parents’ lives.  From what the other moms have said, this little girl apparently attracts some attention at mosque as well.  She can be a bit precocious.  They seem to be a somewhat older couple.  It appears that they had this little girl later in life when most couples are no longer adding to their nest.  I could be wrong, but I am guessing that as a result of the timing of their parenthood they really dote on her.  Often when parents wait a long time to have kids, they cherish the experience all the more.

The first day of swim classes, I couldn’t help but notice this family.  The mom was holding the little girl’s hand as they walked to the pool area.  The toddler was in a fuchsia suit with lots of big ruffles.  Her dad was near-by dutifully holding a Dora-the-Explorer umbrella and a pink beach bag with a towel and other pool accoutrements.  There were not many dads at the pool that day.  And as a generality I don’t think many dads would be down with holding cutesy umbrellas and pink beach bags.  I admired this dad from the start! 

What really got my attention was how he handled the next few classes.  His daughter screamed bloody murder at any attempt to get her near the pool.  I don’t think she even got wet the first day.  The manager of the pool normally supervises all the teens teaching, but this one little girl was such a handful and a distraction.  During the second class, the manager devoted himself to acclimating this little girl to the pool.  It took a lot of strategizing and patience, but the manager eventually got the girl in the pool.  Both of her fully-dressed parents had to sit on the edge of the pool to make this possible.  And the manager had to hold the little girl in his arms at all times.  She clung to him hysterically with all the strength a 3 year-old could muster. 

That day there were occasionally screams and tears from this frightened little girl, but it was overshadowed by other sounds from that side of the pool.  The mom and dad kept cheering the little girl’s progress.  Her dad was particularly audible. 

In the sweetest, most encouraging tone, he kept cheering his daughter’s every little accomplishment.  Getting a bit wet.  Yeah!  Yippee!!  Letting the manager walk with her slowly away from the side of the pool.  Oh, boy!  Terrific!!  When the little girl eventually unwrapped one arm from the manager’s neck to tentatively touch the water, the dad was clapping and cheering with wild abandon.   This was clearly the most amazing act of bravery this guy had ever witnessed.

His wife was initially cheering and applauding too.  But the cheerleading went on for quite a bit of time as the little girl made tiny bits of progress over the course of the 45 minute lessons.  Eventually the mom seemed to think the dad was being too expressive of his enthusiasm and she elbowed him with a “shhh!” 

I don’t know about anyone else at the pool that day, but I thought this dad’s enthusiastic support was so sweet.  This man just kept clapping and encouraging his daughter with his words.  As she began to overcome her tremendous fear of the water, he reacted like his daughter had just won a gold medal or invented a cure for cancer.  It just melted my heart.  This dad was clearly so proud of his little girl’s accomplishments that he couldn’t contain himself.  

Having such a cheerleader in her corner has helped tremendously.  By the second week, the little girl was more or less participating like everyone else in her class.  Her mom has been able to sit in the bleachers with her friends from the mosque.  Her dad has sat on a bench a bit closer to the pool and can be heard periodically clapping encouragement when the little girl blows bubbles or practices her kicking.

Psalm 103:13
As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Father’s Day and Dan Quayle

Sometimes I wonder if Dan Quayle got it right.  Younger readers may be wondering who the heck Mr. Quayle is.  Many older readers will be horrified at the prospect that I might agree with Mr. Quayle on any topic.  He was after all one of the most ridiculed and disrespected vice presidents of all time.  If Dick Cheney was equated with villains like Darth Vader, Mr. Quayle was considered analogous to Barney Fife. 

There probably aren’t a lot of areas where Mr. Quayle and I agree.  But I remember the brouhaha when Mr. Quayle in 1992 condemned the sitcom Murphy Brown for portraying a single woman having a child on her own.  Forget the fact that the pregnancy was a “jump the shark” sort of storyline.  It created a big media firestorm over Mr. Quayle’s outdated thinking.  He raised concerns about glamorizing single mom status and the marginalizing of the role of fathers. 

Mr. Quayle was attacked brutally in the media because he seemed to be condemning single moms.  That point did resonate with me.  To many, such attacks seemed hypocritical at the time because Mr. Quayle was such a virulent opponent of abortion rights.  If one is opposed to abortion, then it seems like one would have championed the Murphy Brown character’s decision to not have an abortion after discovering an unplanned pregnancy with a man who was not in her life permanently.  It seemed a low blow to condemn even a fictional character who chose life in such a situation. 

In the subsequent decade, I don’t recall anyone condemning Bristol Palin for not marrying Levi Johnston.  At least in the circles where I travel, the younger Ms. Palin was respected for taking responsibility to raise her son despite the circumstances.

I have tremendous respect for all single parents.  Parenting is very hard and I frankly don’t know how single parents do it.  Most single parents are mothers.  So, I want to be clear that I’m second to none in my admiration, support and absolute awe of single moms.

Nonetheless, Mr. Quayle’s 1992 comment about the Murphy Brown character “mocking the importance of fathers” has always stuck with me.  I am also second to none in my respect for fathers.  I’ve known plenty of families where fathers have a minimal role in their children’s lives.  Over the years, I’ve thought a lot about why this should be.  Typically, in my observation, such marginalization seems to be self-imposed to a great extent.  Two things seem to drive the choices: job demands and lack of role modeling. 

Many dads are the sole or primary breadwinner of their families.  They are particularly vulnerable to overly burdensome workplace demands.  But even if both partners work outside the home, we all feel compelled to make plenty of sacrifices to keep our employers happy.  We live in a nation without many employment protections, the job market has been horrible for years, people who lose their jobs might not get another for years, and unlike most other industrialized nations, there is not much of a safety net if a family’s breadwinner loses his/her job.  As a result, there is a fair amount of desperation and fear surrounding the possible loss of employment.  Many people sacrifice time with their family to keep bread on the table.

In my observation, another factor involving the self-marginalization of fathers is lack of role modeling.  I know a lot of dads who want to be good dads and who love their kids, but they were not particularly close to their own dads.  Their dads were often not at home because they were trying to put food on the family’s table.  When those earlier dads were around, they were often tired and frankly just wanted to relax.  When they did have time at home, they didn’t necessarily take time to be involved in their kids’ lives.  All grown up, their now adult sons often never really witnessed men as active parents.  Their moms were the main parenting role model as they grew up, but most men don’t want to emulate their mothers in parenting.  In my observation, many modern fathers frankly don’t know what an active, involved dad looks like. 

Not only do many modern adults not have personal experience with active fathering, we also don’t see a lot of examples in movies or TV either.  I’ve noticed there are reoccurring storylines of dads who bumble through relationships with their kids—they are rarely there and when they are, they screw everything up.  Robin Williams in particular has made a career out of playing such characters.  I don’t think such characters are a fluke.  They are representative of what many families experience in the modern United States.

As we get closer to Father’s Day, I want to spend some time focusing on the role of modern fathers and reflecting a bit on visions of devoted fathering.  We just don’t seem to get a lot of that in our culture.

In the meantime, I commend to you an article I found recently reflecting back on Mr. Quayle’s take on Murphy Brown:

Job 29:16
I was a father to the needy; I took up the case of the stranger.