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The undervaluing of American dads

A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. --Oscar Wilde
We're in the middle of community battle in my town about the schools. We have a rather large surplus of money--$100 million or so--which has brought about a revolt about how high the taxes are. Which leads to a discussion about teacher salaries. We have a few teachers in our district who, apparently, make over six figures. And people are upset about this. Enough to write to the local paper. Go figure. Teachers aren't worth being paid well, I guess.

But this isn't a post about teacher salaries. Nor is it one necessarily about fathers, per se, though I'm going to concentrate on them. It's really about all the things we undervalue in our society. We're happy to pay 99 cents for a dozen eggs...until consumers are told that those hens are kept into conditions where they can't turn around, thousands to a barn, with conveyor belts of manure running underneath the cages. Then it seems an awfully high price to pay for your conventional eggs. Or hamburger. Or cheaply made electronics from China.

We're locked in a national debate about the size and scope of government. We complain about how much plumbers charge. Or we balk at the price of milk or bread or gasoline going up--not stopping to consider how much effort, resources, and manpower it took to get it to you.

Fathers, it seems, are lovely background music in our culture. The assumption is that you're not there. And if you are there then you probably don't do much or care much. That's partly of our own making as men. Marketing is just realizing that we have money, do the household shopping, and aren't big goofs who make great subjects for mocking. Never mind those constant ads that level men to a middle school growth plateau where we're incapable of being fully evolved, civilized human beings with intellectual, emotional, spiritual maturity.

Oh, we sometimes laugh at ourselves. Actually, we find great humor in fatherhood...I'd say that's a defining characteristic of most of my dad-friends--online or otherwise. But we like to be taken seriously. We see our work as serious. And, as was pointed out to me recently, it's interesting that we use masculine language to describe it. We're not delicate, passive homebodies who nurture. We see it as an active, positive, interactive experience for the most part. Which is what moves us to blog about it.

That and the fact that we're still so hidden within the dominant culture. It's really not a question of crying in our beer about how sexist society is. We don't see ourselves as victims. Ignored maybe. But only because we previously haven't done more to speak up and highlight our worth.

Of course, if moms do this it's seen as both a sign of feminism and a somewhat controversial spark about the role of women, career, and disrespect towards females generally. For some reason, men speaking up for ourselves has taken on a different social cache. It's both pity and praise at the same time. That double-meaning "good for you" where the bar was so low that "hey look, a guy jumped over it. Amazing!" Women face barriers for sure. But if the bar were set so low for them they would be insulted. Most women I know want to elevate the conversation, not be talked down to or patronized.

It bothers me only in that way that the American father isn't respected more. Mothers still get the benefit of the doubt in courts frequently. Moms are seen as the frazzled one keeping multiple plates spinning in the air. It's soccer mom, not soccer dad. Or soccer parent.

But this isn't a Rodney Dangerfield moment, don't get me wrong. This isn't about dads feeling insulted. Because part of stepping up and demanding to be counted for our worth in society is about shrugging off what we actually face. Some use the word "crisis." I prefer to think of my role in elevating the conversation about men as doing a public service. More of an illiteracy about males than a massive need for radical change.

We're here. We're quietly bringing up your next generation of sons and daughters into a state of full enlightened citizenship. You're welcome. All we ask is that the next time you see a dad out with his kids, don't assume he has no clue what he's doing.