Michael Lewis has just released Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood, in which he admits to not loving his children immediately, but this bad father to Ayelet Waldman's Bad Mother isn't getting nearly the flak she did.
Lewis says in an interview with NPR that "you do get to a place, or I have certainly, where I feel completely naturally in love with my children." But he also says that with his first child, "Before I felt the beginnings of real attachment it was probably six months and before I felt and manifested feelings that my wife recognized with approval, it was two years, maybe longer." He compares the sleep deprivation of his daughter's infancy to techniques used to torture terrorists, and says "the conditions she created in our house were like Guantanamo." He also sees the work-sharing arrangement of modern fatherhood as somewhat unfair, because men are expected to help out at home while women can opt out of work. As a 21st century father, he says, "you are left with all the responsibility your father had — the business end of the household — plus you have all this other stuff."
Of course, plenty of women aren't financially able to quit working when they have kids, and those who keep their jobs frequently find themselves doing the lion's (or lioness's) share of housework and child-rearing anyway. Working women still do almost twice as much childcare as men, and the idea that women have more attractive options for balancing work and family than men do is pretty ridiculous. But more upsetting than Lewis's nostalgia for a notional time when men just patted their kids on the head every night before Mommy put them to bed (his father boasts, "I didn't talk to you until you were 21") is Lewis's assumption that this nostalgia — and its attendant dissatisfaction with the work of fatherhood — is natural for men.
When Ayelet Waldman said she loved her husband more than her kids, she was pilloried as an unnatural and horrible mother. But although Lewis tells NPR that he worried about being perceived as a horrible person for admitting he didn't love his kids right away, criticism of his book has been more along the lines of, "he overestimates how funny kid stories are." Even in the age of Bad Mothers Anonymous, it's transgressive for moms to admit their parenting lapses, and normal for dads to.
Dads are still expected to be incompetent, confused schmoes, and Lewis just perpetuates this stereotype. He tells NPR that he is "hardwired to avoid unpleasant chores." He also says that in fatherhood, for "most men [...] the problem is a lack of natural emotional attachment." This language — the "hardwired," the generalization — underscores the essentialist attitude that still pervades modern discussions of parenting. Women are naturally nurturing, the argument goes, whereas men are natural slackers, at least at home, who need to be carefully domesticated in order to function as halfway-decent dads. This is the same argument, taken a little further, that keeps women from achieving parity in the workplace or reasonable childcare accommodations — really, they're meant to be at home, and anything else is some kind of advanced social cheat. Even Reuters's Mark Egan perpetuates this thinking, calling Lewis "an author best known for writing about more manly topics, such as business (The New New Thing) and baseball (Moneyball)" — as though parenting, even in a book about fatherhood, is a "womanly topic."
Lewis does seem to love his children, and he's not some Promise Keeper who wants his wife to stay home barefoot and pregnant all the time. But Double X's Stephen Metcalf has it right when he identifies a stark contrast between Lewis's book and Waldman's: "Apparently, moms complain and cry a lot. Dads go to the Princess Park and have fun." With dads like Lewis perpetuating the view that men naturally suck at parenting, it's no wonder moms are crying.