A few weeks ago my wife and I had a couple of friends over for dinner. The weeknight dinner format is one that my wife and two of her friends with kids have developed into a routine. Tuesday nights, regardless of the season, they take turns gathering at one home or another or pick a kid-friendly restaurant for a girls' evening out. Our oldest daughter, who happens to the elder kid, enjoys the opportunity of sometimes settling in among the mothers as they dish about work, wine and whatever pressing personal news commands the day.
This family girls' night out isn't necessarily just for the girls, though. I join the fun whenever possible but my screening schedule prevents me from holding a regular spot in the festivities. Work sidelines most of the other dads or significant others, too.
This night, though, I was present and invited one of my single guy buddies over. We were down one mother and daughter, but nothing was going to stop me from charring some poultry and veggies on the grill for our crew. The evening's conversation, once we had gotten past the main task of handling our bountiful feast, meandered to parenting, which I've taken to like the not-so hapless first-time stepfather that I am.
You see, I'm all about learning from experience, but I also believe wholeheartedly in sharing the love and knowledge. I'm an avid reader of parenting magazines and, as a freelance writer, I used to scan the family-friendly racks for ideas long before marrying and becoming a step with two adorable girls. I'm the kind of guy who back in the day got a subscription to Marie Claire when it first hit the market because I wanted to learn more about women in the hopes of enriching the lives of the female characters in my fiction. So, snagging the relatively new glossy Cookie off the newsstand had less to do with the stories themselves (and the perspectives offered) than about inspiration for pitches.
But during the past six months a different perspective has taken over. Real Simple, Cookie, Parenting, et al. are amazing monthly resources for scheduling exotic play dates in familiar locales, devising captivating meals for young eaters with relatively undeveloped palates and tapping into memories of low-fi childhood games and activities that can be introduced to our far-too-young video-game hounds, but seemingly over 90 percent of the articles speak to mothers — and in most cases, affluent white women.
I snagged the reins of the conversation to ask a somewhat silly question: Can't dads read? I naively assumed I was going to end up preaching to a roomful of converts but boy, was I wrong. Turns out fathers don't read. It's not that we can't, although no one confirmed this for me. I'm going on faith here. Dads, and more fundamentally men, don't want to read about parenting.
Men are seemingly more interested only in a male-dominated world of gadgets, models and sports. The occasional nod to parenthood arrives when we're taking our boys out for a day at the ballpark or fret and flex our paternal muscle regarding young men interested in our daughters. Do we have no other roles in the lives of our children that are worth sharing?
In my short time in the role, I feel I could write a book every month that mothers and fathers alike could relate to in one way or another. Yet I've sent out countless pitches to magazines that have resulted in no response. This, of course, hasn't exactly discouraged me. I assume that my angle skews ever so slightly away from their target audience. This has been a real issue for me because, as an African-American male married to a woman of a different race (and religious affiliation), with two girls under the age of 10, the diverse nature of our experience unduly complicates matters for the average reader intent on seeing more straightforward representations of themselves.
One of the lessons I learned over dinner, though, was that it was simply too easy to take swipes at dads. Of the couples we know, it was decided that the dads would only read a parenting article — just an article — if it were presented to them by their wives. That, of course, meant they probably wouldn't truly be engaged because the topic would seem more like a chore on their "honey do" list.
I'm not buying this logic. Dads can read, too; and we want to. The problem is that the current crop of magazines fails to make parenting attractive to men. Maybe men don't read like women. We speak the same language, but the accents screw things up. We're not just into the gadgets, and we have other lessons to impart to our young ones than those from the fields of play and the dating scene.
Now I don't have an answer to this situation, but I'm not giving up, and maybe I'm asking for everyone else not to give up so easily either. Mother mags, don't just assume you know what we think or that we don't think about raising our kids. Dads, let's show that we care enough to bone up on parenting. We could all learn from the effort.
CONTACT TT STERN-ENZI: letter(at)citybeat.com. His column appears here in the third issue of each month.