Afternoon Dads

There is nothing more pathetic than a dad alone with his kid in the early afternoon. I don’t say this as a matter of a personal opinion, mind you. Having been out with my kid during that time, I’m here to tell you that the time is generally pleasantly spent, although it’s generally spent in the playroom of a franchise restaurant. No, it’s a matter of how others seem to look at you while you’re doing it.

The reason for this attitude is fairly obvious. Most fathers (indeed, most men) of employable age are scarce on the ground during the working day. If you ever want to see what the world would look like without men, visit a shopping mall at two in the afternoon. Compounded with this is the fact that women, for better or worse, are still the primary caregivers in almost all families, at least in the rural, agrarian, small-town part of the world in which I live. Add these two points together, and here’s the general opinion of the single dad schlepping his kid about after preschool:

1. He’s unemployed.

2. He’s performing court-ordered visitation.

3. He’s unemployed and performing court-ordered visitation.

Really, these are only three options. Why else would you be with your kid? Alone? During work hours? So you get that glance, the cool appraisal expression that says, well, he at least spends time with his kid. He’s not entirely a deadbeat, and then the quick glance away. It doesn’t help matters that I’m currently sporting roughly four days worth of stubble, which gives me that not-so-fresh, he’s-got-a-lot-of-time-on-his-hands sort of look (hey, my wife is away. Who am I going to kiss?).

I’m not really offended by the summary judgment; short of walking around with a t-shirt that reads “Employed and Married!” there’s no way to conveniently explain my job or marital status, and pre-emptively trying to explain my position to everyone I meet is likely to have a negative effect (“Really, I work from home and my wife is on a trip.” “Uh-huh. You know, Taco Bell is hiring.”). But I do think it’s interesting.

I’ll note that it wasn’t always this way. When Athena was a toddler and I carted her from place to place by myself, I was typically greeted with smiles. A dad with an infant is assumed to be married, for one thing. You may be unemployed, but at least you’re still sticking with the family.

Walking around with a three-year-old is more ambiguous. Lots of dads ditch non-infants, and statistically speaking, I’m judged likely to be one of them. It’s less of an appraisal of me than the male animal in a general sense. I accept it, but it’s not very good news for the rest of you guys that the first thing people think of when they see a dad spending time with his kid in the afternoon is: Bum.

***

To put in one final note in the general area of the “Blog numbers” issue, I want to note this portion of Andrew Sullivan’s response to the piece, which, I should say, had interesting points but was also a marvel of deflection (he rhetorically brushed aside questions of overall blog numbers by hauling in Drudge, who, although handily predating to Blog movement, was grandfathered in to make his point). Here’s the portion of Sullivan’s response I want to note:

“John Scalzi’s piece all but accuses this site and others of fibbing about our numbers. (Scalzi, it should be remembered is Ted Rall’s good friend.)”

This is an interesting rhetorical maneuver. Ted Rall, as you’ll no doubt recall, is the cartoonist whose “Terror Widows” cartoon caused a national uproar, and indeed, I am one of the few people who did not immediately call for Ted to be shot for treason for drawing it (if you missed the fracas, the details are here). For those of conservative bent, Ted is the sort of deranged, fire-breathing liberal who is easy to hate because he’s wrong about everything and almost certainly eats babies with a knife and fork and tasty dipping sauce. So by allying me with Ted, what Sullivan is saying is:

“This jerk is accusing me of lying, but he’s probably off eating babies with Ted Rall, so you don’t really need to believe anything he would ever have to say about anything, ever.”

From a technique point of view I think this is a nice attempt by Sullivan to deflect credibility, but I think it signals that Sullivan recognized he’s arguing from a position of weakness. If he had more confidence in what his numbers actually meant, he wouldn’t have had to try to slam the messenger by bringing up his friends; either that or he can’t help bringing up Ted’s name to frighten the children at every opportunity.

(Also, to be clear, I don’t suspect Sullivan was lying about his numbers, although it seems evident that prior to the columns he wasn’t entirely sure what his numbers represented, or didn’t represent, as the case may be. This is not especially his fault — ultimately, it’s an abstruse concept, and hopefully the end result of the last couple of days is a clearer understanding for everyone what the stats are, and what they actually report.)

What I wrote to Sullivan on the Ted Rall comment was simply this: “You are right, Ted Rall is my good friend.” Because it’s true. I know Ted Rall. I’ve worked with Ted Rall. Ted Rall is a friend of mine. Sullivan certainly is no Ted Rall. I guarantee you Sullivan is pleased that I recognize such a thing is true, although I suspect the reasons for that are not the same reasons I mention the fact.

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