Do not worry, Times-reading, Huggies-buying working mothers of the world: Your partner can be trusted not to damage your offspring while you go to that conference.
Do not worry, Times-reading, Huggies-buying working mothers of the world: Your partner can be trusted not to damage your offspring while you go to that conference. Paul Kline/iStockphoto.com
Another day, another New York Times feature — and another plunge into unexamined biases. If we're to take Julie Weed's article "When Mom Travels for Work" at face value, today's dads are so helpless that their wives, prior to going on business trips, must arrange grocery-delivery services, leave behind printed itineraries and medical records and then, once they're on the road, send hour-by-hour instructions via text, Skype and e-mail – with occasional sweet-talk mixed in so their menfolk don't feel like employees.
As a dad myself, I'm only marginally offended. As a human being living in, oh, 2012, I'm baffled. What is this strange Times-y world where households crumble the moment Mom walks out the door and Dad is so flummoxed by the demands of caregiving that he has to lie on the couch until the next set of wired commands comes through?
It's not the world I live in — the one where every day, competent hands-on fathers (married, partnered, single) navigate their children from point to point without mishap. But then it's not the world anyone lives in. With more and more women serving as primary wage-earners and more and more men serving as primary caregivers, it's only logical that the organizing intelligence behind any given household might actually have a Y chromosome.
So how has this news failed to reach the major cultural organs? It's one thing when Huggies puts out a series of ads showing dads unmanned by the mere prospect of a diaper. It's pretty much the identical thing — subtler but no less pernicious — when a champion of bourgeois values like the Times beats the same dead horse.
And if anything, the Times article shows how harmful the anti-dad bias can be to women. I was amused at first to see the logistical extremes Weed's supermoms go to whenever they leave town: ordering drugstore supplies online, canceling play dates in advance, laying out skating outfits and freezing a week's worth of meals and leaving a list of "all the carpools, sports practices and games, babysitter hours" and anything else their husbands might need.
But then my amusement faded into sadness. How exhausting! And, of course, how double-edged — to reassure women that they're still in charge of their homes, and then to haunt them with what might happen should they ever relinquish charge. That dreaded slippery slope that begins with missed soccer practices and terminates in squalor, disease and delinquency. All in less than a week.
The truth is that millions of dads are coping daily with the absence of wives and partners — and they don't need barrages of texts or Skyped commands to do it. A business trip doesn't throw them for even the teensiest of loops. Neither does a soiled diaper.
So ... Mom? Before you go off to that conference? I'd like to introduce you to Dad. He'll be fine. So will you.
Louis Bayard is a novelist and critic.