Dagger in hand

A man of prodigious fortune, coming to add his opinion to some light discussion that was going on casually at his table, began precisely thus: "It can only be a liar or an ignoramus who will say otherwise than," and so on. Pursue that philosophical point, dagger in hand.

--Michel de Montaigne, Of the art of discussion.

Stab back: cmnewman99-at-yahoo.com


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Thursday, May 16, 2002
How to begin? At random, I suppose.

I came across the following quote from an interview with Calista Flockhart:

"When I have a baby, I want to be there with it. I want to watch it grow up." Right now, she says, that's the hard choice she's had to make, a choice, she adds with emphasis, that men never have to make.
Of course, Calista's not the first or only one to say this; she's just echoing the party line. A party line that is, I add with emphasis, BULLSHIT.

I'm a man. And a father. And a professional. And I have to make that hard choice every hour of every day of my life. Every hour that I spend at my job is an hour I'm not spending watching my child grow up. I can either have the kind of professional success that comes only from putting work above all else, or I can have the kind of relationship with my child that comes only from being there to share all the random spontaneous events of which lives and personalities are built. Or else, like most people, I can try, never satisfactorily, to somehow balance the two through a never-ending process of give and take and wrenching choices and attempted compensations. My wife, who also works, is in the same boat. We try to help each other, we juggle time slots, we make compromises. We certainly don't assume that she is more suited or more eager or more duty-bound to be at home than I. In fact, between the two of us I am the one with by far the stronger preference for being at home if my work allows it.

So what exactly is this choice that Calista thinks men never have to make? Perhaps what she means is that men, in some broad sense, are advantaged in being able to enjoy both a career and a family, because men of course have wives who will stay home and tend to the family so that the men can emerge from a satisfying day spent wielding power in their smoke-filled boardrooms and then cap it off with a few leisurely moments of paternal joy. You know, the whole George Banks "pat them on the head and send them off to bed" routine. Ah, lordly is the life we lead.

But then, those lordly men aren't really there to watch their children grow up, are they? If they don't value that, then I suppose it's true that they never have to make the choice. Is that what you mean, Calista? That because of the different kinds of socialization to which we've been subjected, men don't really feel bad about the fact that they don't get to see their kids grow up, whereas women are made to feel that they are betraying their roles as mothers? I'll grant you that there's at least a grain of truth in this. My wife and I both went through grad school at the same time, while our son was in kindergarten. We each took turns caring for him while the other was out working or studying. And she was the only one who ever had to deal with comments from people questioning how she could spend all night at studio working on an architectural project while her family was at home. It didn't happen much to me in law school, but now when I have to work all night preparing a court filing no-one worries whether this will detract from my role as a husband or parent. (Of course, I now work with plenty of woman lawyers who are treated exactly the same way.)

But do you really believe that just because society doesn't tell men we have to be there all the time for our children, we really don't want to be? That men wouldn't take the jobs with more flexible schedules and lower pay that would let them spend more time at home if society (including many if not most women) didn't make such men feel inadequate for failing to be mega-providers? So look Calista, I sympathize with your dilemma: it's hard to have a career and a family both. But the fact, my dear, is that you have if anything far more choices than most men in this regard. You make enough money to pay for all the domestic help and child care that men have ever received from their wives, and more than any man who has a working spouse will ever get. I don't doubt that your job is demanding work, but I suspect it leaves you with rather more free time during the course of a year than most men in this country have. And trust me, there are many men out there who yearn to watch their children grow up every bit as much as you do. Your emphatic categorical assertion that they never have to make hard choices in this regard is unwarranted, unjustified, false, sexist.

Think about it.

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