Ask Your Dad Blog

Friday, December 9, 2016

In Defense of Santa



The other day, a buddy of mine posted an article about how lying to your kids about Santa is bad for them. He agreed with the article. I disagreed. We're still friends. No big deal. BUT at one point in the conversation he said, "I still have yet to find an argument FOR perpetuating the Santa myth that is the least bit compelling."

AND I thought, "Challenge accepted. I am going to convince this guy that the Santa myth is awesome." I started to write a point by point rebuttal, and halfway through realized that it didn't matter one bit. Trying to convince people why they shouldn't feel how they feel about something tends to become more of an exercise in self-justification than a sincere effort to make a connection with someone who sees things differently than you. I wasn't really trying to convince my friend. I was just having fun writing about Santa. So I’m giving up any pretense of trying to change my buddy’s mind, or anybody's mind for that matter, and admitting that this post is all about me. And my kids. And Santa… who. Is. AWESOME.

We play the Santa game. We tell the stories and perpetuate the myth. We visit the guy in the mall, and at various company parties. We make cookies and leave out milk. We stay up late after the kids go to bed wrapping presents in paper we've kept hidden all month. We eat the cookies they left out as messily as possible so our overzealous crumbs will provide the obvious clues needed to figure out that, indeed, Santa was here... and he's kind of a slob. Why do we do it? What's our compelling argument? It’s fun. The kids enjoy it. Stevie and I enjoy it. 

And...

We like magic

Stevie and I feel that it is important for our kids to believe in magic for a bit. We think that a belief in magical things is great fertilizer for cultivating imagination in tiny humans. The magic of the world will be removed by the curse/blessing of perspective soon enough. For these few years we want to let them believe reindeer fly, and see where it takes them. Yes, some people will say that it is our job to drop as much reality on our kids as possible so that when they’re eventually confronted by a world full of it they have the faculties needed to cope – but I like to believe that having that tiny memory somewhere in the back of my head of what it felt like to believe impossible things were indeed possible is what helps me cope with the harsher realities of being an adult.

We don't mind lying

“But what about the lie? You’re lying to your kids?” Says the imaginary person in my head I am arguing with.

If the worst thing I ever do to my kid’s is lie to them, then I will be forever happy with my parenting score card. We lie to our kids all the time. We tell them they are safe. We tell them we’ll never go away. We make promises we know we may not be able to keep. And we do this to help them feel secure, because the fallout from discovering the lie is less than the fallout of dealing with the truth. 

Chances are that I’m not going to die any time soon, so I tell my kids I’m not going to die. I tell my kids there is a Santa because I believe that the joy they get from believing in Santa is more than the disappointment they will feel when they discover the truth. Do I know this for sure? No, but I don't really know anything for sure... not since becoming a parent.

Learning the truth is a great exercise in... learning the truth

I do know that, for me, discovering the reality of Santa was one of the first times in my young life that I can recall gathering facts, exploring their validity, questioning what I had been told, and finding out things weren't the way I had been taught. I wasn't resentful of my parents for lying to me. I felt empowered by the process of figuring it out, and excited to move to the other side of the myth. It felt like a right of passage. Yes, all of that is anecdotal. I don’t really care. I don’t need to.

You know why? 

We don’t have to dissect everything 

That may be my least favorite part of being a parent. Sure, this may not be a compelling argument, but it honestly doesn't need to. Sometimes, when I've buried myself in facts and theories and arguments about what is and isn't best for my kids, when I've kept myself up at night asking over and over if the choices I am making for them will break them or form them into happy humans, I come to the conclusion that no amount of advice will help. I just have to trust my gut. I just have to believe.

I believe in Santa. Not, that he exists, but that letting my kids believe that he does is better for them than making sure they know he doesn't. I believe. And trust me, as a non-religious, science loving, fact finding kind of guy, that is hard for me to say. Well... it's hard for me to say until Christmas morning when my kids run out to the tree yelling "Santa came! Santa came!" Then it suddenly becomes pretty a compelling argument.



Merry Christmas,

The Kinnears

P.S. Yes, my favorite Christmas movie is Miracle on 34th Street. Both the original and the remake. I love them both.

P.S.S If you want to give me a Christmas present, please come visit me on Facebook. It would make me tremendously happy.  

Monday, October 31, 2016

3 Simple Reasons Why Voting is Important



I Voted Sticker


I wrote this in 2008. I still believe every word of it. Voting is important. It is our obligation. It is our privilege. It is what makes us American.

Why I Vote ( Written November 2008)


I voted early yesterday. I stood in line for forty-five minutes with a few hundred other people and cast my ballot for the 2008 election. It wasn't very hard. I didn't have to take too much time out of my day. A little planning, one skipped class and it was done. For others in line it seemed considerably harder. The lady in front of me was about my age and had two children with her. One child, a blond haired, wide-eyed 5-year-old ball of energy insisted on saying hello to everyone in line. The other was a teething baby in a carrier. The gentlemen behind me in line had to be at least 85. On his arm was a young lady who I eventually found out was his granddaughter. After cordial greetings we returned to our waiting. I silently admired their tenacity to come and stand in line to do what many people these days regard as an act in futility, especially in Utah.

For those of you who read my blog that don't live in Utah, we are that state that is highlighted red on pundits maps the second the polls close. Utah always goes Republican. We are a Republican stronghold. And that is OK. The problem is, being in such a Republican state discourages people from voting. It discourages everyone. Democrats and Independents say "what's the use?" And Republicans have become complacent living in a state that last voted for a Democratic Presidential Candidate in 1964. So I just wanted to take a few minutes and explain why, even living in Utah, I feel it is incredibly important to vote.

Let me just start with a reality check, because as we approach Tuesday everything coming from both sides of the ticket ends up getting drenched in hyperbole. I know that I am not saving the country by voting for my candidate. Neither major party candidate is evil. Neither one's election will mean the end of the U.S. 


There is no nefarious plot by either party to undermine the constitution or send our country spiraling into oblivion. Some things may get better under one or worse under another, but I believe it is safe to say that both candidates want what is best for the country. They just disagree on what is best. It is so easy to get wrapped up in the fear of "the other" that our motivation for voting doesn't come from our belief in one candidate, but from our fear of their opponent. All of the blog posts I have read for the last two weeks have been about how evil or wrong "the other" candidate is. Let me tell you what I know. I know that if my candidate loses, America will go on. I'll get to that later though. Let's get to the reasons I vote.

1. Local Elections, Constitutional Amendments, and State Referendums.

My vote for President may be a grain of sand on the beach, but my local votes can be rocks in a bucket. Whether I am voting for or against Zoo funding, the Governor, School Board appointments, Vouchers, the Definition of Marriage, or any other variety of ballot initiatives - my local elections are the ones that have the most significant impact on my daily life. The state level is where the decisions are made on how to fund public education. The state level is where laws are made and created regarding who and when you can marry. We even get to elect whether or not to keep our judges! Many of these elections are won or lost by a few hundred votes, and I have the opportunity to voice my opinion. In these elections my vote could possibly be the deciding vote. That's exciting to me. That is the opportunity to make real and immediate change. How often do we get that chance?

2. Education

Voting makes me curious. I go online. I research different candidates and issues. I learn about both sides of arguments. I make educated decisions about my positions. I listen to other people's reasoning. I don't turn the radio station because I hear something I disagree with. In preparing for an election I become a more rounded person in the world by studying the world.

Elections bring important issues out into the light of day. Even if we're not voting on something in particular everything becomes fair debate around election time.

Before this year I didn't know anything about labor issues in Ohio. In 2004 I had no idea why Palestine and Israel didn't get along. Until about a month ago I didn't really have a clue what a Socialist was. I researched these things, and although I am no were near an expert on any one of these topics, I have thought about them. Just thinking about things is important sometimes, and elections make us think. On a side note, after reading about Socialism I can definitively tell you that Barack Obama is not a Socialist, but that is a completely separate blog.

3. Obligation and a Peaceful Transition of Power

I feel like voting is my responsibility. I've often times heard the saying "If you don't vote, you don't have the right to complain." While that sounds witty, and at times I'm sure people wish it were true, the fact is that we all the right to complain whether we vote or not. Voting is not a requirement, but it is a responsibility. It's an obligation. It's part of a bigger picture. 

Sure, everyone has the right to not vote. That is a great thing, and it's important. Still, Voting in any election is not just about supporting the candidates or amendments or referendums in that specific election, it is about supporting the idea as a whole. It is about believing that the will of the people is a driving and important factor in the success of our country. And it is about supporting a peaceful and consistent transition of power. 

Both major party candidates have spoken at times during this election about setting an example for the rest of the world. We don't always achieve this, and often some of the things we do as a country are out of any one citizen's control. Yet one major thing we have done right every four to eight years since the civil war is facilitate a peaceful transition of power. I don't think most people realize what an amazing accomplishment that is. We check ourselves. We give people power. We take it away. We limit authority. We cycle public servants because we know that absolute power corrupts absolutely. 

That is why I know that we'll be fine after this election, because we are the deciders, and 232 years ago we decided that a consistent influx of new ideas was necessary to sustain a growing experiment in democracy. I absolutely believe in this. I absolutely believe in the idea that voting for any candidate, any side of any issue is supremely important. Because when I vote I know that I am not just voting for a candidate or a zoo or a judge, but I am also voting for the future. So maybe I'm not saving the country by voting for my selected candidate, but I am saving the country just by voting, and so are you. Take that for hyperbole.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

I Still Believe


Last night I went to a political debate at the middle school near my house. There, my friend Zach Robinson sat with his Republican opponent Robert Spendlove at table in front of about 40 people. The two of them talked about what mattered to them, and how they thought they could help the constituents of Sandy, Utah. They differed in ideology, but they were steadfast for their love of us. It was exactly what I needed this week.

Presidential elections are my Super Bowl. I look forward to them in the same way my kids look forward to Christmas. I believe they are a sacred time in our country where our obligations as citizens of our country cross paths with our obligations to each other. The peaceful transition of power in this our country is, in my opinion, among our finest achievements.

My daughter thinks that President Obama is the boss of America. That’s probably my fault. In a random, from the back seat conversation when I was distracted by trying not to drift into lanes of oncoming traffic I probably answered her first political question with an oversimplified answer. A few months ago when I told her that President Obama would no longer be our president, she asked if he was getting fired. I explained that no, he wasn’t getting fired. Presidents don’t stay presidents forever and every so often we get to choose a new one.

That blew her mind.

“We get to choose?”

“Yep! We do. That is called democracy.”

“I choose Pinkey Pie”

Pinkey Pie is a cartoon pony, and ineligible to be president. Not wanting to get into this, I explained that she could pick Pinky Pie when she was 18. She was fine with that.

Since then she has been wonderfully curious about democracy and civics. We’ve talked about the different branches of our government. We’ve talked about the different ways people can serve. We’ve talked about how a lot of the time people disagree on what the best choice is for our country, and the reason why we vote is to give everyone a voice in choosing.

“Just like we got to choose what to do in gym yesterday, huh dad?”

“That’s right.”

Things were going great. Then they weren’t. I told her she could watch the debate last week, not knowing that the first question would end up being whether or not one of our candidates meant it when he said he sexually assaulted women.

Superbowl canceled.

How do I explain that to her? Politics aren’t perfect, and the subject matter can be tricky, but I was planning on having trouble explaining tax policy, not consent and rape.

Don’t get me wrong. Those are really important topics and not ones we will shy away from in due time at our house. I just hate that it may have to be explained in the context of someone who may be “The Boss of America.”

So instead I played her the live-stream of Zach Robinson and Richard Spendlove talking about air-quality on the Wasatch Front. I let her listen to Zach talk about the years he spent as a fireman and how they taught him that everyone’s life matters, even those he doesn’t agree with. She heard these two men be kind to each-other and gracious. She heard what is right with America. She also got bored quickly, and wanted to play on the iPad… but that is more of a six-year-old thing than a problem with politics.

Like I said. The debate was exactly what I needed. I needed to believe.
This presidential election has felt like a punch in the chest. It has gotten worse and worse, and I have started to end every day burying my head in my pillow and just wishing it was over. Until last night…

Until last night, what I’d forgotten is that there are only two presidential candidates compared to the thousands of other candidates and volunteers out there working hard every single day to gather signatures, knock on doors, and talk about issues that matter to real people.

There are propositions and amendments to be voted on. There are Federal and State Senators and Representatives. There are bond measures, and taxes. There are issues that will affect each and every single one of us on a personal level. Last night I saw two people who had different ideas about those things, but a shared love for the people of our country.

The greatest kindness you can do for a person is know them, and last night I saw two candidates who genuinely wanted to know their constituents. They both stayed after the event and had long, sometimes difficult discussions with everyone who wanted to talk to them. It was exactly what a civil servant should be. Civil.

As long as we still have people like that, good people of any party willing to commit their time and talents to the public good, I have to believe our country will be ok.

I still believe, and I hope you do too. Our kids are watching.

P.S. I endorse Zach Robinson for Utah State Representative, District 49. Robert Spendlove seems like a nice guy too though.


How to Be a Dad























The first part is easy, unless it's not. Which honestly, sets the tone for the rest of it. Fear comes next. Then excitement. Then fear.

Rinse. Repeat.

Next you start asking yourself questions you never thought you'd ask. Am I enough for them? Can I be enough? What can I do to be enough? Was that enough? Will this be enough? Those questions never stop either, but don't worry. They pair nicely with the fear from the first paragraph. Next thing you know, they're older. There're two of them. One toddler, one in grade school. 

You're older too.

You look at yourself in the mirror and it is still just you. You're still just a kid. You're still worried about what people think of you. You're still worried about kid things. But also money and food and making sure your kid's don't have eyes that are full of worry like the ones you're looking at in the mirror. 

You close your eyes and hope when you open them again you will see a dad looking back, not a kid with graying hair. When you open them you're still there. 

"Dad! I need to go potty!" There is a tiny hand pounding on the door. 

Splash some water on your face. Go make lunch. Peanut butter and jelly. One kid likes triangles, the other one wants rectangles. One wants milk. One wants water, no ice please. Next, gold fish crackers and a string cheese. Pick two plates that are the same color. This will result in less fighting over who has the blue plate. Sit with them and ask them about their week. 

"Annie wasn't being nice. She was tattling on everyone and she told me she wasn't my best friend."

"I am a dinosaur. RAAAAAWRR. DINOSAURS EAT PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY!!"

After lunch, wrestle. You are a dinosaur now too. Attack, softly. When you flip him upside down place your hand below the back of his head so it doesn't smack against the hardwood. He doesn't know you're doing this. He thinks you're wrestling hard. He fights against you, pushes you over. Yells RAAAAAWRRRR! 

Your daughter joins too. She is a pirate with a paper tube sword. She jumps into the tangle of laughs and screams, lands a blow across the side of your face and pauses in fear to see if she hurt you. 

She didn't. You smile and tackle her. Remember the hand behind the head. Remember to be fierce AND soft. Remember to be a dad. 

You are a T-Rex. He is a Steggysaurus. She is a pirate. 

You are a dad. 

After wrestling, he is coloring at the table. She is quiet and sitting by the window. 

"Hey honey. Are you OK?"

She's not. You can see the tears in there. 

"Annie said she wasn't my best friend."

Find words. Dads need words. You need to explain to her that Annie may have not have meant that. Explain that Annie is a kid, like her, and sometimes says things that she doesn't mean. Some kids are just mean. Some kids, like some adults just suck. Quick, find words to fix the tears that are starting to come out. Find words to make her better. Find words that will be enough. Will these be enough?

"Come here."

And you hug her. And you don't have words. You don't have anything but a grown up chest to pull her into, and hand to hold the back of her head while she makes little first-grade sobs that will leave a tiny teared face mark on your shirt. 

That is what have, that and your questions. Is it enough? Are you enough?

Later, after a dinner with chicken nuggets and same-colored plates and milk and water without ice, it is time for bed. Your wife takes the boy and you take the girl. She needs to brush her teeth. You need to show her. Front, back, top and bottom. 

"Dad! I have a loose tooth?"

"Oh yeah?" Wiggle it. It's not loose.

"Maybe. Let's give it some time. Hop in bed," you say.

"Can we play the story game?"

The "story game" is something you made up. She starts a story and then tags you in. You keep the story going for a bit and then tag her in, and so on and so forth until the story comes to its conclusion -  usually with a party or a wedding or everyone getting eaten by a dinosaur.

"You start this time, daddy."

"Once upon a time there was a boy... OK, you're turn."

"No, keep going," she says.

"OK. Once upon a time there was a boy who was sad."

"Why was he sad?"

"Oh, just because sometimes people are sad."

"OK, keep going."

"So the boy decided to go on adventure to find his happy. He went to the desert and climbed mountains. He put ropes on and went into caves. He drove his car all over and lived in exciting places. He slept under a different sky every night."

"Was it enough? Was he happy?" She already knows the answer.

"Not yet, but soon. One day he met someone. A kind and friendly girl who looked at the world like it was exciting and new. OK you're turn."

"And then they got married. I know this story. You're turn." 

"You're right. And then they got married."

"And then they made a baby, and that baby was me."

"We made you out of love."

"I know dad. You told me."

"I know. It's my favorite story. It's how a became a dad." you say. 

"I'm glad you're my daddy."

"Me too, kiddo."

"And then they all got eaten by a dragon. The end."

She giggles. You tickle her. She giggles more.

"Goodnight."

"Goodnight."

You go upstairs where kid two is asleep. You kiss him on the forehead, and go to look for the kind and friendly girl who tied you to the world and kept you from flying away. She's downstairs reading. 

"He go down OK?" You ask. 

"Yep. Did she?"

"Yep. Let's go to bed. I'm tired."

"Me too."

Go to the bathroom. Brush your teeth. Splash some water in your face. It's still you in the mirror. 

This is how to be a dad: 

Wake up. Do your best. Find the words when you can. Hug when you can't. Be a soft dinosaur. Tell stories. Be a team. Be enough. 

Rinse. Repeat. 










Friday, September 30, 2016

10 Super Important Tips from My Future Self - Sponsored by Rogaine

Disclosure: I have partnered with Life of Dad  and Rogaine for this promotion.

Dear John from the past,

This is John from the future. Bald John. Fat(ter) John. Running from sentient robots intent on eliminating the human race John. Just kidding. There are no evil robots, but you are fat and you do have a great big bald spot on the top of your head that burns horribly when you go out under the o-zoneless sky.

Anyway, human time travel is not possible yet, but email time travel is. So I figured I would send you this letter to help you find your way through the next 35 years. Unfortunately, after Emperor Trump passed the Forced Mashable Media Law of 2030, all correspondence and publications are required to be click bait lists. So without further angering the cameras that are watching me at all times, I will now proceed to give you an easily digestible tips for you to cope with the hairless hell-scape the world has become.

  1. Stop shaving your head. I know it is hot in the summer, but in 2025 the radiation from the sun causes you to grow a small twin brother in the middle of your scalp. He’s ok, and pretty good at cards… but that’s about it. He’s kind of a jerk.
  2. Don’t vote for Gary Johnson in the 2016 election. It doesn’t make a difference that you do, but you feel really silly about it when he comes out as a Lizard Person in a couple years.
  3. Seven miles away from you there is a guy named Kyle who lives at 538 Manchester. I need you to go to his house and punch him in the face. Don’t ask questions and don’t stay around after you do it. Punch and run. Trust me.
  4. Start using Rogaine now. The sooner you start, the better the results will be. That light area on the top of your head that you hate when you see it in pictures? It gets bigger. Then you start shaving your head and then you end up with Harold (see #1).
  5. Seriously, stock up on Rogain now. Once the emperor finally loses his hair he outlaws hair treatment for everyone. The only place you can buy Rogain in the future is Australia, and they stopped letting in American refugees years ago.
  6. Quit telling the kids they can be astronauts. They can’t. They are eventually assigned work duty in the gold mines to help construct the great wall. After that they become mole people. Sorry.
  7. Now that I think about it, you may just want to move to Australia now. The mutant koalas haven’t shown up yet, and you have plenty of time to fortify.
  8. You should give up on twitter. This doesn’t really have any implications on the future, but you’re not really enjoying it and it feels more like a chore than a social channel. That doesn’t change in the future.
  9. As amazing as combining the UFC and the Congress sounds at the time, it is a horrible idea. Vote “No” Prop 335.
  10. Oh no! We're already to number ten. Hug your family every day. Keep making silly jokes. Don't worry too much about going bald. Eat better. Tell your wife you love her. Do the laundry more often. Avoid skydiving. 
Thanks to Rogaine for sponsoring this post. You can find them being funny AND growing hair on Facebook and Twitter, Also, here's their new commercial. 






Thursday, July 28, 2016

'The Pocket Guide to Girl Stuff' Is Just as Horribly Sexist as You Think It Will Be - Updated with Author Response

Today is my daughter's sixth birthday. Let me tell you a little bit about her. She looks out for herself and others. She is a leader. She gets in a group of people and makes them feel important. She never says "look what I did," she says "look what we did." She looks at the world in ways I didn't even know existed. She is everything that is good and right about the world, and I am confident that there is no ceiling, glass, concrete or plate-metal, that can keep her from leaving her mark on the world.

This morning we took her to breakfast for her birthday. Her grandpa gave her a crisp twenty-dollar bill to spend on whatever she would like. At the front of the restaurant is a small gift shop with a selection of books. That is where she found "The Pocket Guide to Girl Stuff" written by, of course, a male named Bart King.




Here is the vomit inducing Amazon Description :

Girls can be a mystery-even to themselves. Sometimes girls just need a little guidance and know-how. They get that and more with Pocket Guide to Girl Stuff. Acclaimed author Bart King delves into the secret world of girls-with the help of his five sisters and fifty other girls, of course. 

Girls can: 

Take the Friend Test to see how their friends rate. 
Discover their celebrity name! 
Learn the greatest, super-duper amazing diet of all time! 
Figure out why boys do annoying things. 

Fashion, friends, and fun stuff-everything is covered in this volume petite enough to fit in any girl's purse.

The oh-so-helpful chapters to this conveniently purse sized tome of self-understanding for my daughter included, "Chapter 1 - Boys" and "Chapter 2 - Friends, Cliques, Secrets and Gossip." I took a couple gulps of air, choked back some profanities and came up with...

"Yeah, we're not getting that book."

"But says it is for girls."

Stevie stepped in. "Any time anything says it is just for girls or just for boys you should leave that thing where it is and go find another thing. This book is stupid."

"It's not nice to say stupid, mom."

"It may not be nice, but this time it is right."

She was right. The book was stupid.  The Boy version was just as stupid. Where girls got a chapter on boys, boys got a chapter on "experiments." Let me type that again so it can sink in. Boys got science. Girls got boys. What the EVER-LOVING F*CK?? Also.. let's not even start to unpack the "boy" chapter titled "weapons."

This book was not written in the 50's. It was written in 2009. Bart King is an actual person who thinks this shit is OK.

It is not OK.  I don't care how many of his sisters Bart asked.

I try not to get too riled up about the general stupidity of the world, but this really got to me. This waste of paper found its way into my daughter's birthday, just like crap like this is going to work its way into many of her days from here on out. I almost bought the book just to throw it away. I wish I could buy all sexist shit out there and throw it away. 

I shouldn't have to tell my daughter that girls are more than boys and gossip. That is not a lesson we should need to teach. 

My daughter is and will be more than boys and gossip. She may have to claw her way through a world of shitty pink books by shitty male authors to do it, but I have faith in her. Why? Because I see the strength of my wife in her, who is willing to call stupid things stupid. I see the resolve of her grandmas in her, who have shown her what a lifetime of work and dedication can build. And most of all, I see her in her. She is a singular and self-contained ecosystem of awesome. She is the beginning of all things her. 

On the car ride home from breakfast I mentioned that for the first time ever, a girl is very close to becoming President of the United States. She shrugged it off as if it were as normal as the orange juice she had with breakfast. 

I like that. I like a world where pink purse books are stupid and women presidents are normal. 

Happy birthday, daughter. The world is yours. It's not perfect yet, but you're helping.


UPDATE:

Bart King, the author of The Pocket Guide to Girl Stuff read this blog post and reached out to me with a nice e-mail. I think it is only fair to give him a chance to reply to this post. I asked him if I could publish our email exchange, and he was kind enough to say yes. So here you go!

EMAIL FROM BART KING - AUGUST 3

Dear John,

You caught my attention with the title of this blog post, but I was a little surprised at your analysis of the two books in question.

The primary reason for my surprise was that while you considered the books’ Tables of Contents and Amazon descriptions, you didn’t read them. If you had, it’s possible that you might have had a slightly different opinion.

As a history lover, I believe most people like having background. So: I taught middle school for 15 years, and still visit schools regularly. I love working with kids, and as a teacher, I was in charge of my school’s reading program. Getting kids excited about reading was then (and still is) my primary professional goal.

And what I want for ALL of my students and readers is for them to be empowered, educated, and entertained.

In 2002, I was contacted by an editor about writing a book for middle-schoolers. She’d worked with me on a previous project and wondered if I had any ideas about appealing to reluctant readers.

I did.

In fact, I’d been waiting for someone to ask this, without even realizing it. The bulk of my reluctant readers were boys, and over the years, my colleagues have had the same experience. While that is anecdotal, studies show that this gender distinction in reading is the case nationwide. This is what led author Jon Scieszka (aka, the First National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature) to start his literacy program, Guys Read: http://www.guysread.com.

The question I asked myself: “Can I write a book so irresistible, boys who are reluctant readers will find it engaging?”

The Big Book of Boy Stuff (2004) was my answer to that question. And I was surprised when my editor then asked to write The Big Book of Girl Stuff. After all, I’m the wrong guy to write that book — as is every EVERY guy.

So I declined the offer.

But my editor asked if I let my students off the hook so easily when they were presented with a writing assignment they didn’t think they could do.

“Humph,” I thought. And despite my gender disenfranchisement, two things made writing the book possible:

1. I got a lot of help (as described below).
2. I took a leave-of-absence from teaching to devote myself to doing the best job I could on Girl Stuff full time.

Perhaps it’s worth mentioning that the CEO of the book’s publisher is a woman. And I'm almost certain that every one of The Big Book of Girl Stuff’s editors, designers and publicists (and the book’s artist) were women as well.

Anyway, I asked 55 of my former female students (most of whom were in high school and college at the time) to help contribute to, edit and proofread every chapter in the book. The vast majority of my ideas came from interviews and correspondence with those young women—as well as from my five sisters (whose input you were happy to wave off).

Girl Stuff came out in 2006. The two pocket guides you saw are adapted versions of The Big Book of Girl Stuff and The Big Book of Boy Stuff. Keep in mind, those source books are sizable, and contain a wide range of material. Both books have heaping amounts of material on topics that have nothing to do with gender, for example, gross stuff, humor, activities, sports, practical jokes, etc.

Now, as to the book covers and tables of contents: I didn’t have final say over what material would go into these two pocket guides in question. I didn’t have “first” say, either. I wasn’t asked.

This is unfortunate, because a quick glance at their table of contents do not perfectly capture the tone, contents, and messages of their respective books. And some of the most seemingly gender-normative material did go into The PocketGuide to Girl Stuff. (I write “seemingly” because it’d appear that way after a glance at the ToC.)

As to the actual covers, when I learned Girl Stuff would be pink, I howled in disbelief. After all, I wrote a section in the book about how foolish and arbitrary these gender-based color distinctions are! (I also write about the history on this topic—for example, at the start of the 20th century, pink was considered a “boy” color, because it was the watered-down version of the oh-so manly red.)

Anyway, as with the pocket guide contents, the cover decisions were made inside my publisher’s marketing department.

So hopefully you’re getting an idea of how a “sh***y pink book” written by a “sh***y male author” came to be. Which reminds me of a conversation that took place in one of my middle school classes.

STUDENT ONE: Is it sexist to tell someone they can’t write something because of their gender?
STUDENT TWO: Duh!

(So maybe your statement should be amended to a “sh***y pink book” written by a “sh***y author”? ☺ )

John, since you mentioned the President of the United States, I’ll point out that the second chapter in Girl Stuff (“Girl Power!”) is about women in leadership. In it, I point out the then current numbers of female senators, representatives, governors, and so forth. And obviously, I dwell on the lack of a female president to date. However, I was happy to this week update that passage to:

“In the United States, there are 100 senators. Yet as of 2016, we’ve never had more than 20 female senators at any one time. There are 50 governors. But there have never been more than six female governors at any one time. There are 435 U.S. representatives. But there have never been more than 84 female representatives. So what’s going on?

“It gets worse. The odds that a boy will grow up to be the president of the United States are about 10 million-to-1. But until Hillary Clinton was elected in 2016, the odds for a girl to become president were infinity-to-1. What a rip-off!”

This change will be reflected in the book’s next printing, early next year. (And yes, I’m confident about —and happily anticipating— the election results.) And since books can be altered and edited as the years pass, I’ve been lobbying for other changes as well, including ones discussed here.

Finally, I’d like to address something else, John. On the occasions that an author writes something that I think I disagree with, I write to them. I do this for a variety of reasons, but mostly it’s in the interest of discourse. (This also explains why I read a book before I write about it.)

The way that you chose to express yourself  — with an incensed blog entry — is another way to go. It’s a great way to express your free speech, though in terms of consciousness raising or starting a productive dialogue, it something to be desired.

After reading your reader comments, I have to wonder if what you were really trying to do was publicly “shame” me over the Internet. I don’t know for certain if that was your intent, so I’ll hold off on the “torches and pitchforks” jokes. Still, it’s enlightening to read Mari’s message that I’m “the perfect example of what’s wrong with society.” Really? I’ve been really off-base by being a lifelong proponent of gun control? A Sierra Club member since high school? A volunteer for Start Making A Reader Today? A guy who rides his bike as much as possible to reduce carbon emissions? Okay, enough already.)

Also of interest is the message from a visitor who senses “a new Amazon review” coming on. Sheesh, I wonder where she got the idea or reviewing a book she hasn’t read? :P

In closing, I’ll just say there are countless cases where the “shaming” approach has gone wrong, sometimes in really unfortunate ways. (Jon Ronson’s book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, provides an interesting analysis of this phenomenon.)

I hope I’ve expressed myself in a thoughtful and even-handed manner.

Sincerely,

Bart King

Regards,
Bart King 

MY REPLY AUGUST 3

Hi Bart, 

Thanks for the kind and thought out e-mail. You're right.  I didn't read the whole book, but I did thumb through the chapters and read more than the chapter titles. I was not impressed with what I read, and when I saw the description on Amazon I was even more sure that a deeper reading was not required. But hey, I have been wrong before and am open to that. If you would like me to do a thorough reading and a longer review, I'd be happy to give the books a second look and write another post. I'm not going to purchase it, but if you have review copies available feel free to send one my way. Perhaps there is more inside that I missed.

That said, I think criticism of the way the book is presented and organized was fair, even if it was angry. A guide for girls organized by gossip, boys, beauty, hair, and shopping? Come on man. You've got to know that is shoehorned, stereotypical, and yes... sexist. Dieting?? Ugh... sorry. Getting riled up again. 

Anyway... your points about public shaming, how I choose to express myself, and my incensed blog entry are fair and well received. My intent was to vent my displeasure with the books, not to shame you personally. I can see how it came across poorly and apologize for any pitchfork pokes that came your way. You seem like a nice guy, and your taking the time to reach out only drives that point home. Also, I agree -  Ronson's book is excellent.

If you would like, I would be happy to add our correspondence to the end of the post and mark it as updated. I think you have a right to defend yourself, and to call me out for rushing to judgement. Let me know. 

Thanks again, 

John

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We emailed back and forth a few times after that, but this was the meat of our exchange. He is sending me a full copy of the book, and I will be sure to follow up with any new and exciting revelations. Thanks for reading!

John