Happy Father’s Day! People who identify as fathers — male or female — join us this month at Literary Mama in honor of fathers and fatherhood. Like other mother-centered publications, we include father writers, even though our focus is not on fatherhood. Some mama-centric sites have regular father-authored columns; some accept general submissions from fathers; and some, like us, devote a special issue to fathers. But really, we know that publishing a few fathers in a sea of mother writers doesn’t do much to promote the development of father writing as a literary genre. The literature of fatherhood, like the experience itself, is different from that of motherhood, and it deserves — needs — its own milieu.
From a marketing perspective, we might be tempted to say there really is no substantial genre of father writing. In her recent Washington Post article “Dawn of the Dad” L. Carol Ritche says, “In the world of parenting media, mothers rule. Dads are an afterthought.” She quotes Daddytypes blogger Greg Allen as saying “Pregnancy and baby magazines still pretty much ignore men or treat them as obstacles for women to overcome.” Others look at the style of father writing favored by the publishing industry and are not pleased. Marjorie Osterhout, Columns Editor here at Literary Mama, asked, “Why is so much of the recent father writing done in that awful hip dude sarcastic style? I mean, if I were a dad, I’d be kind of insulted. Do publishers really think dads are that stupid or incompetent?” And if I count the number of anthologies that have come out in the last three years focused on fatherhood versus the number focused on motherhood, then I can easily say motherhood rules. So, I can see how some people could feel that father writing is not getting a fair shake.
However, I would like to offer a different perspective — that of a literary historian, who thinks not in terms of what is hot and selling now, but who looks for developments over longer periods of time. And what I see is encouraging.
In the last ten years, we have seen more fathers taking control of what is published about fatherhood. Peter Howarth and John Lewis-Stemple published anthologies each titled “Fatherhood” in 1997 and 2003, respectively, filled with writing by fathers about fatherhood. Leonard Pitts wove together memoir and interviews with other fathers to publish Becoming Dad: Black Men and the Journey to Fatherhood, which has just been reissued. The memoir Burning Fence: A Western Memoir of Fatherhood was published in 2005. We’ve seen the publication of at least two father-centered zines: 28 Pages Lovingly Bound with Twine and Rad Dad. And the blogosphere is now home to father-authored blogs such as
Reading through this short list, I can see the point about dad’s writing maybe not being so strong in a market sense — but from a literary history perspective, when a group starts publishing their own work, claiming their own ground, creating their own publications, then that is a huge step forward for that group. It ensures that the writers don’t feel they have to write sarcastically or be funny or present themselves as slacker dads (or moms, for that matter) to get their work published. They can begin to write with more complexity and diversity — because they know someone will publish it.
The job of defining the standards of father writing should be held by fathers themselves. Yes, there are standards of good writing that can be applied by anyone to anyone’s text — but beyond that — what is real, good, and true can best be determined by the men and women who live that life. Like motherhood, fatherhood is a theme that evokes brilliant writing, and I, for one, want more of it, but not chosen and edited by me or other mothers. I encourage fathers to shape the growing body of published father literature themselves.
As we celebrate Fathers Day, I would like to honor John Lewis-Stempel, Peter Howarth, Rad Dad’s Tomás Moniz, and other father writers who are becoming father publishers and editors. Father writing has a big audience — ready and willing to listen — and now we have fathers who are willing to shape what that audience hears about fatherhood. So, if you really want to honor fathers, browse some of these sites, buy their books, and read the growing diverse body of father literature.