Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about the recent trend of dads becoming more involved in child care. The 2010 Census found that in 32% of households where mothers worked, dads were a primary source of child care, and a recent American Time Use Survey reported that the percentage of dads involved in their family’s child care has more than tripled since 1965.
You don’t even need those numbers to see what’s going on—just look around. There are more dads on the playgrounds, at library story times, in the preschool queues. Corporate America has even noticed. Designers are making dad-friendly diaper bags, and companies like Volkswagen, Dodge, and Google have all developed ad campaigns aimed at stay-at-home dads. But what about the book business?
Strolling the fiction aisles of my local indie, I find that there aren’t many novels about dads. Okay, sure, there are books about dads, and books for dads... dads doing manly things like stopping evil dictators, hunting serial killers, or fighting invading hordes. Bu where are the novels about dads, you know, just being dads?
In an interview with Dave Eggers, Junot Díaz lamented that M.F.A. programs were usually full of “26-year-old hipsters” and not parents. “I would love to see that kind of age range represented, because I feel like it would deepen our literary tradition.” When I read that interview, I immediately thought of dads knee-deep in dirty diapers, writing novels that sharply observe parenting, reverse-sexism, and the love lives of The Fresh Beat Band. Why not more stories that explored the rigors of fatherhood?
Clearly, dads have a deep well of experience to create fiction that would entertain, inspire, and educate. For Brad Meltzer, for example, author of Heroes for My Daughter, “To Kill a Mockingbird is absolutely about fatherhood, with the best lessons of all.” That book, Meltzer says, “is worth 20 how-to books about being a dad.”
But the stereotypical dad persists in our culture. Earlier this year, diaper-maker Huggies ran an ad campaign that was supposed to “celebrate fatherhood” by showing a group of dads holding their babies while watching football. Wonderful, except for the tag line: “Nominate a dad. Hand him some diapers & wipes, and watch the fun.” Al Watts, president of the National At-Home Dad Network (www.daddyshome.org) wrote that it was “loaded with stereotypical assumptions that dads don’t know how or when to change diapers.”
Chris Routly of the Daddy Doctrines (www.daddydoctrines.com) asked if Huggies believed dads “leave our children in overflowing diapers because sports is more important to us?” He started a petition to show them just how wrong they were and overnight got 1,300 signatures. Huggies took the ad campaign down.
Just imagine what cultural impact it would have if we could better define what it means to be a dad through fiction? And I believe there’s an eager audience out there. Andy Hinds of Beta Dad (www.butterbeanandcobra.blogspot.com), recently reviewed Greg Olear’s Fathermucker, a novel about a stay-at-home dad, and “found it gratifying to be able to relate to the main character and narrator as a guy whose overarching concern is his children. Not just in an abstract sense, like providing for them or thinking about their futures, but actually taking care of their day-to-day needs.”
Olear recalls that one “daddy reader” wrote to him and said that it felt like he’d read his diary. Even nondads are down with daddy fiction. Theresa Braun of Likeable Media said she’d love to read “a novel from the perspective of an at-home or involved father.”
What more do we need? The stage is set for a daddy-fiction movement. It’s time for dads to say what they need to say about child care, stereotypes, and other dads who won’t change dirty diapers. Agents, it’s time not only to encourage your daddy clients to write about the experiences but to find those undiscovered literary geniuses outside of the “26-year-old hipsters” Díaz laments.
And it’s time for publishers to realize that maybe there’s more to “men’s books” than thrillers and zombie novels. Not that there’s anything wrong with them. Zombie killers can change diapers, too.
Raymond M. Rose is the author of two novels, The Fire Inside and Better Together. He is currently polishing up a sequel to The Fire Inside and a young adult steampunk novel, Their Third Case, and helping to raise three beautiful kids with his wife, Elisa. Find him at www.raymondmrose.com and on Twitter at @theraymondmrose.