Sunday, August 28, 2011

Buck to School: Education Costs

Sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun: “Buck to school.”

With the start of a new school year so close at hand, this infographic from Credit Donkey provides the basis for some interesting commentary on going to school in America.

For example, what does it say about American culture when we spend nearly three times more on clothes for school than we do on books for school? Or what does it say about poverty in America when there are the 31.3 million children in free lunch programs?

What’s also interesting is the inclusion of portable computing devices like tablets and smartphones as a part of a “Back to School” shopping list. These items were considered frivolous just a decade ago. AND would’ve been science fiction when I was a school kid! – Over a decade ago!

Where are you in this data? If you have school age kids, what will they start the new school year with?

Infographics: Back to School 2011
Courtesy of: CreditDonkey

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Trophy husband, one year later

[originally posted on August 10, 2011 at daddy in a strange land]

Exactly one year ago today, The Today Show told the entire morning-news-watching nation that I, as a stay-at-home-dad married to a doctor, was an example of a new status symbol for "alpha women." I was a trophy husband.

If you watch the entire segment linked here [having trouble embedding it, sorry]—which was pegged to a Marie Claire article for which la dra. and I had been interviewed for an hour each and in which we were reduced to a family photo and one quote about (not by) me presented very much out of context—you'll see that the NBC videographer who shot and cut the piece ignored the magazine editor's "trophy husband" framing and that good ol' Matt Lauer actually went after her for it, closing with a reference to "the guy in the piece" who said "'it's not babysitting, it's parenting." [My new catchphrase. Heh. I need to make t-shirts.]

In the intervening year, the conversation in the mainstream media and in the parentblogosphere about changing roles, especially in an uncertain economic environment, and the redefinition of fatherhood has continued. Fatherhood gets talked about in the context of a larger re-envisioning of modern manhood online, dadbloggers plan their own testosterone-centric take on the momblogger conferences only a few of us dare to crash—and yet, things like SAHDs, involved fatherhood, and equally shared parenting continue to be treated as "trend stories," as anomalous and intriguing oddities that are newsworthy because they're not "normal."

Just a week ago, AngrySAHD Josh K. wrote some guidelines on "How Not to Screw Up the Conversation About the Modern Dad" on the site of The NYC Dads Group after watching another group member and dadblogger get set up in an adversarial moms-vs.-dads conversation about parenting skills on iVillage. His "list of a few things to think about when being an involved dad, and especially when discussing it, whether it's on TV or the playground":

  1. Don't be the boob.

  2. Be involved in everything—not just major discipline.

  3. Be on top of your stuff.

"For better or worse," he writes, "part of the 'job' of being an involved dad is helping to change the incorrect impressions people have of all dads. Set an example, live that example, and correct people when they are wrong."

I was lucky with how my Today Show experience turned out. I had no control over how the finished article portrayed me and my family, and no control over how the video piece would use us as an example of a stay-at-home-dad/breadwinning-mom family with which to introduce the topic on the show. I totally lucked out in having Matt Lauer virtually have my back and fight against the usual mom-vs.-dad, stay-at-home-vs.-work-outside-the-home adversarial framing of much of the media coverage modern parenting gets.

In a comment on the NYC Dads Group post, I wrote, "[I]n terms of how not to screw up the public conversation, a lot depends on the luck of having sympathetic allies involved in the set-up and presentation of the discussion. We can't assume folks'll have our back or be on the same page, and if they aren't and we're all by ourselves, especially if we're on their media turf, it's very easy to get steamrolled no matter our intentions."

As I said earlier, this stuff still gets portrayed in the media as the funny little human interest story, "hey look, they're doing things different [read: not normal], maybe it's a trend [read: not mainstream]." But as hinted at above, we're not waiting around for the mainstream media to tell our stories or just sitting around waiting for the day that what we're doing is so non-remarkable that there is no story. We're telling our own diverse, not-always-agreeing-with-each-other stories, moms and dads, SAH and WAH and WOTH and full-time and part-time and everything in between, in every possible permutation of "parent" and "family. We're connecting with each other virtually and IRL and creating fluid, fluent communities of interest and support, on new blogs, on Twitter, in books [like the new Rad Dad: Dispatches from the Frontiers of Fatherhood, to which I am a proud contributor], everywhere.

And so that's how we continue to shape and "not screw up" the conversation—by having it with as many different people in as many different venues as we can. I recently had a conversation with another dadblogger about his mixed feelings on being lumped into a "trend" of redefined fatherhood when all he felt he was trying to do was raise his kid and be himself. But he was a part of it, I countered, whether he liked it or not, simply by the fact that he had chosen to talk and write publicly about who he was and how he was raising that kid, as a dadblogger. Mere presence, while not enough to make real changes, is enough to start—and I think that there are enough of us out there writing and talking about what we're doing and living to be sure that this is, indeed, the start of something.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Race Is Always a Parenting Issue

[originally posted at The Good Men Project]

Last week, The Good Men Project started a conversation about race by publishing 8 articles from diverse points of view over the course of the week. However, the site launched the series last Monday with four pieces, all approaching the topic from a black/white perspective and written by black and white writers. I wrote the following response in partial reaction to the disappointing but unsurprising couching of America's continuing race problem in monochromatic terms, and it was published the next day, after, as it turns out, an awesome piece by Daddy Dialectic blogger and Rad Dad zine founder Tomás Moniz, "Beautiful on All Sides," reprinted from Rad Dad: Dispatches from the Frontiers of Fatherhood. [This amazing anthology of pieces by progressive dads culled from the archives of both Rad Dad and Daddy Dialectic is available now, and includes a piece by me! I'll be participating in readings in the Bay Area, Bakersfield and LA in November, so check back for details and more nagging.]

It seems that whenever a new conversation about race in America is started, no matter the good intentions, the starting point is always the same. The American historical experience and conception of race is grounded in the opposition of blackness and whiteness, two categories socially constructed over time in ways that have served to define “the other” as “not us” and “us” as “not them” at the same time as preserving power and privilege for one “us” over the “not us.” Thus, it’s no surprise that The Good Men Project’s call for a new conversation about race, and its intersection with what it means to be “good men,” begins with four personal, deeply felt, and honest essays that nevertheless fail to acknowledge that when we talk about race in 2011, it’s no longer enough, if it ever was, to color the dialogue in only black and white.

When I am called to put a racial or ethnic label on myself, I call myself, among other things at other times, a multiracial Asian American. I am also the stay-at-home father of two multiethnic Asian American daughters. Short version of the long story, three of my four paternal great-grandparents were Austrian Jews and all my maternal great-grandparents were from Japan (yes, my family was in camp), and I’m from LA, married to a woman who came from the Philippines when she was one. What does it all mean, and what does it matter? It means that I am a father of color of children of color in a United States in which multiracial by no means equals post-racial, and it matters a hell of a lot.

When I was a newbie SAHD in a new town, I started blogging. But before I was a dad, I was a college activist on race and diversity issues, an ethnic studies major, and a social studies teacher at a diverse, urban LA-area public high school not unlike the one I had attended myself. Issues of race and social justice were intimately intertwined with my journey as a new father—how could they not be? And so, besides writing about the archetypal SAHD-out-of-water experiences and the daily routine of diapers and naps, I co-founded a group blog for Asian American dads and joined a nascent blog whose blunt name needed no explanation, Anti-Racist Parent, which has since been renamed Love Isn’t Enough.

Countless times, I’d encounter commenters asking, “I thought this was a parenting blog! Why are you always talking about this race stuff?” For a parent of color, navigating race and racism is a parenting issue. Already, as one of the few Asian Americans at her school, my six-year-old has come home asking me why classmates insist she’s Chinese or ask her where she’s really from. And I know that it will be far too easy for my smart, personable girl who also happens to be really shy in large groups and with authority figures to get lost in the stereotype of the quiet Asian girl, and that it’s my job to monitor, teach, and intervene.

Race may be a social construction, but it continues to have real consequences upon people’s lived experiences. I know that my experiences as a biracial Asian American boy growing up in the Los Angeles of the ‘70s, ‘80s and early ‘90s (I graduated from high school just a few scant months after the National Guard used our blacktop as a staging area) will be very different from my daughters’ experiences as multiethnic Asian American girls growing up in a more conservative, more homogeneous Central Valley in the early 21st century. But I know that having a biracial black man in the White House and mixed folks a Hollywood trend doesn’t equal the end of racism, and that colorblindness leaves us unable to see, and that sometimes it isn’t enough to just love our children and hope for the best but that we must equip them with the lessons of our past, the tools with which they can shape their world, and our guidance with which they can learn to do so.

This conversation isn’t a new one, and it’s not one with an end in sight. And that’s okay. Because we don’t have this conversation for our own sakes. But as we move forward, we need to make sure that more and different voices telling more and different stories are heard, because in those different stories we will find the common experiences that bind us and learn what we don’t know we don’t know. Only then can the conversation include everyone, and move forward.