The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Changes Everything found that the battle of the sexes is over and has been replaced by negotiations between the sexes about family, work, childcare and household responsibilities.
We talk to Michael Lewis, author of Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood, about the new fatherhood and what it means for men.
There’s a great quote in your book, Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood. It is, "Obviously, we're in the midst of some long unhappy transition between the model of fatherhood as practiced by my father and some ideal model."
Tell us about this “unhappy” transition.
Back then, the roles [of fathers and mothers] were very nicely divided, but I’d be divorced right now if I adopted that model. I’ve been pulled into something very different -- to the great benefit to my soul.
There are plenty of specific exceptions, but today fathers are without a standard that they’re comfortable with. There is a very small pool of fathers who occupy the stay-at-home model, and they’re always at peace with themselves, if not with their wives. Then in Memphis, Tennessee there are fathers that haven’t had to budge an inch from their fathers’ model.
In between, there are the rest of us. It is very anxiety-making not knowing what it is that you’re supposed to do. In so much of life you have a pretty good sense of what is acceptable and what isn’t. With this social role there’s no blueprint for the acceptable role. I think it’s fair to feel a bit of angst about it all.
Can your wife help you as you’re navigating this new approach to fatherhood?
My wife has her own interests at heart at some point, too. In addition, she doesn’t know anymore than I do. Her parents had the same model that my parents did. She has her own transitions. It’s a little too much to expect her to figure out mine too.
I do think that in the end, in my thinking about fatherhood, who I’m really trying to please is not her but me. I’m trying to find some approach to fathering that seems satisfactory.
The reason I started writing about [fatherhood] in the first place is – women have a real gift and history of dramatizing their plight in the gender revolution. The women’s movement was a huge event. But there was this collateral damage. It was also necessarily a huge event in the lives of men who are married to and breed with women.
Is there a trend among fathers these days, an overarching emotion, a zeitgeist?
There’s a trend towards mendacity at the same time as men – and women, too, for that matter – are getting more parental time. The dads I know not only do more, but they lie more to emphasize how involved they are with their kids. If you want to cause horror, tell them you don’t give a hoot about your kids – or you’re too busy working.
You grew up in New Orleans and speak of that experience fondly. You’re now living in Berkeley, CA. How are the two towns different, and can we learn from your experience as a child in New Orleans?
There is a surface similarity between New Orleans and Berkeley. The range of behavior that gets tolerated in both cities is kind of extraordinary. In New Orleans I can’t think of much behavior that’s not tolerated. But in Berkeley there’s a real intolerance towards right wing behavior.
In the New Orleans I grew up in, children were assimilated into grown-up life very early. They were invited to have a drink at 12. They saw grown-ups with their hair down from an early age. New Orleans is French. It’s Latin.
In Berkeley, there’s the American sanctity of the childhood experience. The experience of parenthood is much more highly politicized. If I go to a party full of people I kind of know and say, “Geez, I’m doing 30 percent of the parenting, and that’s not okay because I’m making all the money,” in Berkeley, they’ll walk away in disgust, where they’ll laugh in New Orleans and say, “Who is this guy?”
There is one thing that I think is broadly useful in this transition in parental roles, and that’s awareness of the anxiety in both parties. Rather than ratchet up expectations, lower them. Shift in this social sphere is, in a very subtle way, traumatic. Your partner is going through some tough stuff. Give him some space.
Michael Lewis is the author of the bestselling books Liar's Poker, The New New Thing, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, and Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood.