Post #86: Kindling Quarterly

Parenting, Things You Should Be Reading

kindling-quarterly-issue1-preview-1As a father of two young boys (4 1/2 year old Felix and 2 1/2 year old Leo) I pay a lot more attention than I used to to how fathers are portrayed in our culture. And, for the most part, at least from where I’m sitting, the portrayals suck and are a pantheon of one note men who don’t know how to behave and who are basically grown up children masquerading as men who think that farting is high humor and scoff at vacuums and toilet brushes. These are your Tim from Home Improvement kind of guys. These are the guys in Old School and The 50 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up and on the sitcom Guys with Kids. Guys whose naiveté and reliance on masculine puffery/buffoonery and female intuition is supposed to be cute. On occasion, you see far more nuanced and life like fathers, but most that I bump into fit the mold described above. Men who need women to remind them about really complex and hard to figure out stuff like, you know, cleaning windows and making a roast chicken, morality and table manners. Not that all stereotypes are unfounded and unfunny. Some ring true some of the time. There’s pervasive truths about gender that do truly seem to trump interpretation. But I work hard to deliberately smear and ignore gender lines in my own home. And I like cleaning and cooking. I pay actual attention to my children and care a great deal about how they see me. I want to define manhood and fatherhood on my own terms. I don’t want my sons to feel burdened by gender-centric expectations and images the culture feeds them about what boys and men are supposed to be like, especially when the bulk of those portrayals are so embarrassing and limited. And straight. And white.

Enter Kindling Quarterly, a new magazine published by a pair of fathers, David Michael Perez and August Heffner, who seem fed up with the same thing that I am. The newly launched magazine is an exploration of fatherhood and features articles, photos, fashion, recipes, and a host of other content. Full disclosure here that I haven’t read the magazine yet and am not purporting here to review its content. But I heard about it and was intrigued enough to do a little digging. Have a look at the website and read a little about it. It sure sounds cool and looks nice, even if the photo spreads and design are a little hipster looking for my taste. In fact, the whole thing looks like it might be taking itself a little too seriously. But maybe that’s what’s needed. In the “About” section of Kindling Quarterly’s website, they state, “men who are active caregivers are not a novelty and we do not depict them as such” and that’s a sentiment that rings awfully true in these ears. I’m going to pick up the first issue soon and let you know if it justifies it’s hefty $12 price tag.

Until then, The New York Times City Room Blog wrote a pretty decent feature on the magazine. Read it here.

Post #63: Is This What Progress Looks Like?

Shaking My Head

If you watched the Olympics, and I’m betting you watched at least a little, you saw commercials for a new NBC (Jimmy Fallon produced) comedy called Guys With Kids in which a supposedly modern trio of men take care of babies and, not knowing any better because they’re really just children themselves, do the kind of stupid male things with them that could make just about anybody laugh.  Except me.  What is it with the way fathers are represented by our culture?  Is it really this far behind the rest of us?  I have two young sons and have always considered myself an equal caregiver.  My wife and I both work full time.  We share cleaning and other domestic chores, except for cooking, of which I do the majority.  We both do laundry, clean the toilets, scrub the showers, mop the floors, iron shirts, clean up puke, piss and shit, and pretty much whatever else needs doing, and sure, there’s comedy to be found in life, but I’m so tired of the comedy, at least as far as shows like Guys With Kids are concerned, happening in the space between what a man is expected to do and what he might actually do.  There’s a reason Mad Men is set in the 60’s.  Check out the promo for Guys With Kids, then come back.

It’s not…horrible, right?  I mean, it’s a step closer to reality than, say, Home Improvement, or Vince Vaughan in Old School.  And it’s sort of funny.  But I’m still not laughing.  And I still won’t tune in.  Maybe I’d find it funny if any of it rang true to me.  It’s not that the life moments don’t ring true–they do.  The lack of privacy, the challenges to find intimacy, the unintentional disappointment of your partner, the desire to be a good man.  These things happen.  My existence if rife with life’s natural humor and ridiculousness and sometimes all you can do is laugh.  But it’s the laughs coming at the expense of an assumed ineptness in men that I find offensive and am so tired of.  I just flat out don’t know those guys. And one of them is a stay at home dad, which is actually a pretty progressive thing to put on television, all things considered.  But though their lives look familiar, their inner essence bears only a passing resemblance to my own.  And, I would bet, to a lot of people.  So why does network television and Hollywood keep force feeding us this horse shit?  Are we really not ready to deal with a man who is happy to cook dinner and make the bed and wipe his kid’s shitty ass without a laugh track to get him through it unscathed?  Or, even worse, castrated?  Now I know how gay people must have felt when they watched Will and Grace.

Yeah, I’m a guy sometimes.  I drink beer and tell my guy friends lewd jokes.  I mow the lawn and try to fix stuff and have trouble admitting when I can’t do things.  I like to watch sports and scratch my balls and brag about a good burp now and again.  But c’mon!  That’s not everything.  Shocking as NBC might find it, I know plenty of men who cook and clean their homes and not just because their wives tell them to.  I know men whose own domestic instincts surpass those of their (female) spouses.  I know men who read cooking magazines right out in public.  Men who just like to have things neat and tidy.  Men who groom and primp before watching football.  And men who wouldn’t mind staying inside to cook dinner while their wife kicks the soccer ball with the kids.  Even men who don’t need advice on humility, humanity, or manhood from a faceless neighbor over the proverbial fence.

So where is he?  Because he sure as hell isn’t on TV.