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What Does "Having it All" Mean for Men?

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While I have grumbled in private, I've largely avoided the "having it all" discussion because I find it so annoying. If I had it all, I'd be incapable of getting dressed, faced with so many clothing choices. But school principal of the elite Upper Canada College (UCC) Jim Power's piece in the Globe and Mail compelled me to respond.

He's not the first man to enter the discussion. And he's absolutely right -- men belong here. But I couldn't help feeling irked by his thanks to mommy bloggers (oh yeah, and five decades of feminists that preceded them) for getting the public conversation going. "But it's just not fair to count men out," he said. Whom precisely does he think has been counting them out?

Power says the role of educators is largely one of character development including teaching boys to step up at home and be involved as true partners. He considers framing the question in terms of gender a disservice to all. Again, he's right. But it's still framed in terms of gender because despite men taking on more, the lion's share of familial labour still falls to women. Yes, as Power says, it's "society's issue," not a woman's issue, but the burden of change has never been shared equally. Forbes recently released its 2012 Top 10 Best Parenting And Homemaking Websites for Women. Pretty much says it all.

It can be argued, as Power does, that society, the economy and a culture of work obsession that pays only lip-service to the balance between work and family life, is at fault. But the imbalance didn't evolve naturally like apes into humans or the vestigial appendix. It was driven by a zillion active choices -- most thoughtless, unenlightened and entrenched in an existing power structure.

UCC is one of the most prestigious private schools in Canada -- attended in good part by children of leaders of industry and lots of other stuff. I'm curious about the curricular details of "preparing young men for the rigours of fatherhood," and what percentage of the $30,575 per year tuition is going toward it.

I support teaching good parenting -- goodness knows we do next to nothing to prepare people for this critical role with the mammoth job description, but no interview necessary. Even for those who don't grow up to have children, these transferable skills would not be wasted.

The fathers Power meets talk about the pressure they're under -- how they badly want to find time to watch their child "master a new acrobatic trick," that they often experience a "tug at their hearts that they keep to themselves."

What about the other 99.99 per cent of parenting responsibilities? Many in the UCC community might have staff to do that work, but most of us don't.

"That child's joy at finally having your undivided attention," that Power mentions describes a reality for the majority of parents. But while most children compete for mom's attention with laundry, cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping and a full-time paid job -- when it comes to their dads, they compete with the job. That remains the division of labour in most heterosexual North American families.

While little girls may fantasize about marriage and children at far higher rates than boys (and it's worth considering the ideologies that feed those fantasies), rarely do they long to clean pee-stained toilet seats and poo-besmirched walls, launder barf-covered sheets at 3:00 a.m., cook six things on the off chance the kid will eat one of them. Only a masochist with no sense of smell would include those in his or her fantasy list. But traditionally, these tasks have fallen to 50 per cent of the population. Divesting parenting of its currently gendered roles is the goal. Change is coming, but it's slow.

I think it's great that Jim Power has written this piece, that he has given thought to the important role that nurturing will play in men's lives, and the need to start when they are boys. Power educates the children of the one per cent. While Anne Marie Slaughter, who counts herself among them, truly struggled with her choices, for most people having to juggle that kind of "all" will remain a fantasy.

The gains of feminism redefined "all" for women, and with it the game plan. But "all" has never needed to change for men. I'd argue that for women "all" means what women have plus what men have. For men "all" is what other men have.

We all need to redefine "all" and it will always include the good, the bad and the smelly.