Politicians on ‘Daddy Track’ Have Feminists To Thank

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2018/01/22/__trashed-2/

It used to be that when someone publicly announced that he or she wanted to spend more time with family, most people figured that was a way of putting a polite public face on some other, less flattering story.

But in at least two recent high-profile cases, it appears to be a real part of what was actually happening. Both of the cases involve men — Republican men, even. So count it as something of a triumph for feminism, at least that part of it that demands dads do their share with the children.

On January 19, J.D. Vance, the Marine veteran and Yale Law School graduate who wrote the bestselling Hillbilly Elegyexplained that he’d decided not to run for a U.S. Senate seat from Ohio. 

“I thought seriously about running in August 2017, but decided that the timing was awful for my young family,” Vance wrote. “I’ve still got a family that needs more of my time than a political campaign would permit.”

And on January 1, another Republican, Harry Wilson, said that he’d decided not to run for governor of New York, in part because he wanted to spend time with his four daughters. 

“I have been able to make virtually every school event, basketball, soccer, lacrosse or volleyball game, track or swim meet since my kids were little. With 4 active and athletic daughters, that’s a lot! I have dinner with my wife and kids 5 or 6 nights a week. And I spend real time with each of them, virtually every day,” Wilson, who’s a friendly acquaintance of mine dating back to our college days, wrote on Facebook. “This is a level of family time and commitment that would not be possible at any point during the campaign, in my first year in office and perhaps not at all throughout my time as governor.”

Wilson is 46 and Vance is 33. Had they decided to run they would have been formidable candidates.

For the freedom to make the choices they did, they can thank the founders of the modern feminist movement. Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique was published in 1963. Ms. magazine was founded in 1971.

The headlines of feminism over the past few years have been the near-miss of the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, followed by the abuses that have come to light as part of the Me Too movement. But the cultural change represented by Vance’s and Wilson’s decisions is part of the feminist story, too — and a significant one.

Is this change in expectation good for men, because it enables them to experience more of the joy of child rearing? Or is it good for women, because it enables them to share more of the burden of child rearing? Maybe it is good for both.

One thing it definitely is, though, is a change. 

It may not be as easily observable as the passage of a law in Congress or some stock market index hitting a new record high. But it’s a big-deal cultural shift.

Some may see this “daddy track” as bad news. Instead of “leaning in” and saving the country or the state, talented young men like Wilson and Vance are spending their time on sidelines of soccer games or reading bedtime stories to their children.

But their children may see it differently. The online magazine Slate is running a series in which children are interviewed about how their parents handle work-life balance. The latest installment, published January 14, features Hugo Smith, age 14, talking about his dad Ben Smith, my former Forward and New York Sun colleague who is now the editor of Buzzfeed.

“He makes my sister breakfast. Then I wake up around 6:30, then he makes me breakfast. Then he makes my little brother breakfast,” Hugo Smith says in the interview. Then the interviewer asks, “Is he on his phone a lot during the breakfast making?” Hugo Smith answers,  “No, he focuses on us, we talk to him. It’s nice.” 

The breakfast-making and listening and soccer-game and school-play attending and bedtime story reading doesn’t get counted as part of gross domestic product. If dads, or moms, choose to do it instead of spending more time working, sometimes it may even get measured as hurting economic growth.

But as those who make the choice to do it realize and sometimes manage to articulate, it’s important work, rewarding and challenging in its own way. When men make these choices it works to liberate women to make them too.

On January 4, the editor of Bloomberg Businessweek stepped down, explaining that “juggling being the parent I want to be with the demands of this fantastic, amazing magazine” had taken its toll. I had to double check to make sure that the editor, Megan Murphy, was a woman. Count that as a kind of progress.


Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and author of JFK, Conservative.