When you sit down to watch the NFL Conference Championships this weekend, I have a challenge for you. Don't look at the players on the field as stars. Look at them as fathers.
Are you sure you still want to watch? Because playing out on the TV in front of you will be one of America's greatest double standards in action. On the Packers, the Bears, the Jets and the Steelers are dozens of men who at the end of the day are fathers. Brian Urlacher. Antonio Cromartie. Ladanian Tomlinson. Troy Polamalu. All talented players who spend great amounts of time on the road away from their kids. All men. All really bad parents.
Too harsh? Just imagine these were moms on the road. How many people do you see standing up to cheer them on? In the hierarchy of the mommy wars, the working vs. stay-at-home debate is somewhere above spanking and below breastfeeding. But it's the one war that could easily be put to pasture. If we'd just step back and recognize we're only half of the equation.
When's the last time a dad was taken to task in the media for taking a job hundreds of miles from home, a job that caused him to miss some of the pivotal moments of his children's lives? The football players are just one example. Throw in basketball. Baseball. Hockey.
It can't be coincidence that just as I prepped for hunkering down for some football in my house that I received an advance screener copy of the the new Disney movie Secretariat (out on DVD this week). I was watching because my daughter is -- like so many little girls -- a horse fan. But as she cheered on the galloping star (5-year-old screaming "Go Secretariat, go" = cutest thing ever), I couldn't help focusing on the woman behind the reins so to speak.
Penny Chenery TweedyPenny Chenery Tweedy was, for all intents and purposes, a sports star. She was the owner of the greatest horse to ever race, and I was intent on sharing her good fortune with my daughter as an example of female success. But for all she's celebrated in the movie -- when it first hit theaters some criticized it was too much Penny and too little Secretariat -- there's an undercurrent to the film that sums up quite well the problem with being a successful working mother.
Tweedy's family, including her four children, were in Colorado, while her family's horse farm was in Virginia. She spends much of the three year span from the birth of Secretariat through the Triple Crown, traveling back and forth. And her children lose out. Entire scenes are devoted to how this working mother fails her children by not making it home for certain events. The fact that a woman can lead the greatest horse in history to the Triple Crown and earn herself a feature film but still find her story bogged down by a debate over her worth as a parent depresses me.
To be fair the Secretariat story occured in the 70s, and working mothers did not have the advantages we have today. But it would be easier to write it off as old-fashioned if we weren't looking to this weekend's games and cheering on these dads who spend days if not weeks away from their kids and simultaneously knocking working mothers for spending even one eight-hour span outside the home.
Take the attitude toward Hillary Clinton in the nineties, when she was a first lady not content to sit around the White House redecorating the place. She was vilified for daring to step out from behind her husband, the president, for daring to do more than stay home tending to Chelsea. Now imagine telling Troy Polamalu that his family would be better off if he didn't go earn extra money shilling hair products; his kids don't need to see a dad working all his angles.
Or what of Kate Gosselin today? I don't like her. She's easy to demonize for much of what she's done. But if she's wrong for spending time away from her children on her speaking engagement tours, then so too is Brian Urlacher for climbing on a plane to play in a football game.
Frankly, I think most athletes are just doing what they can for their kids. They aren't "bad dads" if they're using their skills to make money to support their families. But as long as moms are "bad parents" for daring to go to work, then these men are "bad" too.
Too bad working moms don't have the NFL's publicist. Do you see a double standard?
Images via daveynin/Flickr; Walt Disney Home Entertainment