Saturday, February 27, 2010

More Dads at Home in the 'Hood

When my husband stayed home with our young son a decade ago, he was a novelty on the playground. The moms of our son's playmates weren't sure what to make of a guy who chose the home front over career. And my husband rolled his eyes at being exposed to daily conversations about stretch marks, breast-feeding difficulties and how to lose post-baby fat.
So I was delighted when I walked by an elementary school yesterday and saw not one but FIVE dads picking up their kids in the space of a few minutes.
One guy was skipping down the street, hand in hand with his young daughter, and singing -- I kid you not.
I overheard another dad asking his son what he did that day.
"Math," the little boy said.
"What kind of math?" his dad asked.
"Math sheets," the boy said.
"Adding and subtracting?"
"Yup," the boy said.
When I was growing up, dads didn't show up at school and walk you home while chatting about your day. Dads went to work early in the morning and came home late.
What's happened in the intervening decades is a cultural shift. Staying home to raise children is now something a  guy can choose without incurring social scorn.
Less than one percent of couples include a dad who stays home with the kids. But there are three times as many as a decade ago, according to the Census Bureau. This year the number increased to an estimated 158,000 fathers from 140,000 in 2008.
The bad news is that for some dads, it isn't a choice but the harsh consequence of this recession's high unemployment rates.
But for others, it's a chance to share more fully in the wonder years that slip by so fast.
(Photo: by Roland)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

When does Hyperlocal News = Hyper-Nosy?

I'm a fan of my neighborhood news blog. It tells me when new restaurants open, tracks coyote sightings and reports what caused the latest traffic jam on the bridge. If you live in the 'hood, that stuff matters.
The down side of hyperlocal news is that having a public platform can turn some folks into proverbial neighborhood busybodies of the worst sort.
Not long ago, a controversy broke out on after someone complained that a new homeowner was chopping down a large monkey puzzle tree. Soon a photo and story were posted on the blog -- minus an interview with the owner of the tree -- generating heated comments from all sides. The brouhaha attracted the local TV stations. A week later the owner was facing a fine for failing to get a permit before removing the tree.
 Welcome to the neighborhood.
Whether the tree's owner was right or wrong is beside the point. It's what this says about how we treat our neighbors that creeps me out. Whatever happened to knocking on the door and talking to someone who's doing something you disagree with? Why publicly out someone just because you can? 
When I worked as a reporter, there were checks and balances built into how we covered the news. Rule number one was get both sides. Fairness demands it. 
Stories also had to meet a certain level of newsworthiness to justify taking up space in the newspaper let alone dragging someone into the public spotlight. My editor would have laughed me out of the newsroom if I filed a story about somebody who cut down a tree -- on their own property.
But that was then, and this is now. Lurking on every corner is a wannabe reporter with a cell phone and the ability to turn a neighborhood spat or a mistake into a full-blown incident.
That's not hyperlocal news -- that's hyper-nosy.
(Photo: by Zimpenfish)