This post was first published in the Washington Post in 2005 here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/05/07/AR2005050700017.html
I've been a single dad for most of the 11 years of my son's life, so you might think I'd have gotten over feeling slighted when men are left out of the child-raising talk. I believed I'd gotten over it -- until I came across a poster touting Crown Theatres' new "Movies for Moms" (yes, that's a trademarked phrase), exhorting mothers to "Bring your baby to the movies!" Then I discovered that Loews Cineplex offers a "Reel Moms" program ("Stroller check is available; admission for grown-ups is regular ticket price, babies are free").
The Loews fine print acknowledges that some of those grown-ups may be fathers, but I couldn't help feeling excluded even as I realized that many other caregivers probably wouldn't care. Like other major retail organizations, Crown and Loews clearly aren't worried about offending 50 percent of the parenting pool. After all:
· When it comes to peanut butter, "Choosy Moms Choose Jif."
· Kix cereal is "Kid-Tested, Mother-Approved!"
· Robitussin is "Recommended by Dr. Mom."
· Kari Lee's cookie mix is "a mix that moms and kids love."
· The BIC Evolution coloring pencil is "for kids . . . but moms will love it too!"
· And the American Dairy Association warns: "Hey Moms! Don't forget the power of cheese."
I probably don't need to remind you that single dads, custodial dads, and just plain-old dads also purchase peanut butter, breakfast cereal, cough syrup, cookies, and sometimes pencils. Heck, I've even been known to buy cheese.
But I've given up expecting media recognition for dads' efforts. Just look at the contents of Parenting magazine: "The Mom Guide," "Moms Dish on How They Handle Misbehaving Kids," "How Moms Decide," "Embarrassing Mom Moments," and "Mom-Tested Secrets."
Now, you might be thinking that I'm suffering from a mild case of hypersensitivity. But generalizations like these affect the way we view both men's and women's roles -- in an office, on a battlefield and in a courtroom. Terms excluding women have largely -- and thankfully -- gone away. Politicians and broadcasters now praise our "servicemen and -women overseas" or "the men and women of the police department." Women are acknowledged for roles traditionally undertaken by men.
But the reverse is not true.
Admittedly, there are plenty of fathers who perpetuate this. I once worked with a publisher who complained of having to spend the weekend "baby-sitting" his kids. How, I asked him, is it possible to baby-sit your own children?
Hollywood and advertisers often show moms struggling with the dual challenges of home and career, and in the movies that do portray men in nurturing roles, prepare for high jinks! Nothing generates laughs like a guy changing a diaper. (Witness "The Pacifier," in which Vin Diesel holds a bare-bottomed baby over a toilet bowl.)
Is it any wonder that it's so hard to find changing tables in men's rooms? Is it any wonder that so many judges consistently fail to recognize the rights of fathers in family courts?
Anyone who has spent time in family court can testify that there are plenty of terrible parents of both genders. But in a lot of courtrooms, fathers are seen as little more than the keepers of the checkbooks. (I recently Googled "deadbeat dad" and got 61,900 results; "deadbeat mom" returned just 5,030.)
Memo to Hollywood and the advertising world: I'm one of many caring dads out there. And I'm quite choosy, too. I just won't be choosing Jif.
William McGee is a Connecticut-based journalist.
© 2005 The Washington Post Company