When I started blogging, way back in the horse-and-buggy era of the Internet, I had no idea that there was such a thing as a “mommy blog.” I barely understood the concept of the blog itself: I’d stumbled upon some online accounts of parenting, stories that seemed equal parts memoir and meta-commentary, and they were awesome, and I wanted to be part of whatever it was that they were part of. I wanted to tell my story, in the same way that the authors of those accounts were telling their stories. I didn’t think of these as ‘daddy’ stories or ‘mommy’ stories. I certainly didn’t think of my own as a ‘mommy’ story. It was just a story, told by me, a woman who happened to be a brand new mom.
The blogs that I read back then – and still do, for the most part – weren’t just about motherhood, or parenthood. I read Dooce because she spoke to my experience of depression. I read Sweet Juniper because Dutch and Wood – as I knew them then – were smart and literate and posted beautiful photographs that made me long for the west coast. I read Ask Moxie for her amazing parenting advice, sure, but also for her Lost recaps. I read the Blogfathers – remember them? – because they made me laugh. I read Laid Off Dad for the same reason. I was drawn to them all because they were parents, but I didn’t keep reading them for that reason. I stuck around and kept reading every word that they wrote because they were, and still are, wonderful writers. Their parenthood was just a bonus.
In the years since, a whole culture – a whole industry – has developed around the phenomenon of the parent blogger. Sorry, the mommy blogger. There is no ‘phenomenon’ of parent blogging, qua parent blogging. Sure, those of us who write about parenthood online are, strictly speaking, all parent bloggers, but inasmuch as there’s a parent-related blogger phenomenon, it’s a mommy blogger phenomenon. Mommy bloggers have the page views. Mommy bloggers get the attention. Mommy bloggers have the conferences. Mommy bloggers get their space in the New York Times and on daytime television and have movies made about them. Mommy bloggers have a queen.
Mommy bloggers are a ‘thing’ in a way that dad bloggers – nobody ever calls them ‘daddy bloggers,’ which is another topic for another time – simply are not. But what does that mean for dads who blog? Are they just a minor part of the vast mom blogging community? Or are they their own specialized community? But if they are their own community, couldn’t we also consider them a ‘thing,’ in some sense? But can dad blogging be a ‘thing’ in the way that mom blogging is a ‘thing’ if dad bloggers don’t have the events, the media coverage, the royalty, and the whole industry that moms have? Does it even matter? Why are we even talking about this?
I would argue that it does matter, for two reasons. The first reason is this: Dad blogging matters as a phenomenon in and of itself because it points to a shift in how we understand fatherhood, and, arguably, in how men practice fatherhood. Dad bloggers narrate their experience of fatherhood, and in so doing they legitimize, and even celebrate, the public practice of fatherhood. That this is a public act is important: Dad bloggers are saying to the world, loudly and clearly, that fatherhood is something to be proud of. This is something worth talking about. This is something to praise and evaluate and celebrate and share and discuss, out loud and in public. This is something that changes both the discourse and the practice of fatherhood: When so many men are talking publicly about changing the diapers, does it not make it more likely that men changing diapers becomes more of a cultural norm? Fatherhood as lived and narrated by the dad bloggers is engaged fatherhood, is activist fatherhood, and the more they push this cultural narrative upon us, the more likely it is to take hold in our imagination as the ways things should be.
On the other hand – and here is reason number two why talking about dad blogging as a phenomenon unto itself matters – if we can say that dad blogging points to a shift (radical, revolutionary?) in how fatherhood is understood and practiced, inasmuch as it makes fatherhood public, can we not also say that it points to something more conservative, something that represents less of a movement forward than it does a staying-the-same? Men have always been the spokespeople for the family. Men, indeed, have always been the spokespeople for parenthood. The family has long been a subject of fascination for philosophers, lawmakers, artists, and poets, but with very, very few exceptions, these have always been men. The stories of the family have long been told, for the most part, by male storytellers; if one was to imagine a library filled with all the works of literature or philosophy or law or science on the family, one would see shelves upon shelves of books written by male authors. (A quick glance at a shelf in the relevant sections of Amazon will demonstrate to you that things have not much changed; sure, moms have written a lot of memoirs in the 21st century, but who are the authors of the parenting manuals, the heavy texts that we all buy when we’re 6 months pregnant and starting to panic? Sears, Karp, Ferber, et al. All men.) This isn’t necessarily a problem – moms don’t need to be the only spokespeople for parenting and family; indeed, moms shouldn’t be the only spokespeople for parenting and the family, lest they trap themselves in that role – but it is something to keep in mind when we talk about the revolutionary potential of the 21st century dad. Moms have only just come into their own as authors of the stories of the family; dads have held that space comfortably for a very long time.
It remains, however, that there is something different about the discourse that’s promoted by dad bloggers. Theirs is a narrative that insists upon an understanding of parenthood that reaches beyond the conventions and tropes that have surrounded parenting and the family for so long, the classic storyline that has Dad in the easy chair and Mother baking pies, and that even disrupts that storyline, placing themselves – Dad – in the kitchen, on the playground, in the soccer carpool, at the playdate : or in front of the computer, blogging. They’re taking the work that mom bloggers have been doing in pushing forward the idea that these stories, our stories, about parenting and the family, matter, not just to us, but to everybody, and they push that work further, by saying – by insisting – that they’re part of that work, too, and that they’re proud.
That’s kind of awesome, and I, for one, think that we should celebrate it. Dad bloggers: Consider yourselves a phenomenon.