Boston College Researchers Slam Slate Article Claiming Fathers Lie About Parenting

It seems I’m not the only one to criticize the Slate piece entitled “Why Do Dads Lie on Surveys About Fatherhood?” Here it is again (Slate, 6/17/10). In fact, the article has received such a storm of complaints that the author, Katherine Lewis, has posted her own comment to it, desperately trying to make a silk purse and failing.

First, she used a recent study done by Boston College researchers for the proposition that fathers lie when asked about their parental behavior. Here’s the response to her assertion by the people who conducted the research.

“While we appreciate your time and attention to this topic, the study authors at the Boston College Center for Work & Family want to make it clear that our research never addressed nor did it imply that the fathers we interviewed were “lying’ about the time spent with their children. On the contrary, in the interviews we conducted we were impressed with the earnest and heartfelt commitment expressed by these men toward their families and their new role as fathers. As a qualitative research study, we sought to chronicle these men”s personal experiences as fathers and professionals. While we did not validate their self-reported estimates of time spent in parenting activities through other sources (e.g. their spouses or direct observation) as one might do in a time-use study, that was never our intent. We therefore [have] no basis to state that these numbers are accurate or inaccurate.

Our hope was that our research would provide a view into the quiet revolution that is taking place as men become more highly engaged in parenting. We believe all of us should be supportive of the efforts of these men and hope research like ours will lead to more equitable treatment of all workers as they deal with the challenges of balancing their professional and personal lives. To infer that our study is about how men misrepresent their parenting role is out of touch with our intent and in no way reflects our findings.
We encourage readers to access the full study report at www/”

Stated more bluntly, it’s a lie to say that their study was about men lying about their parental behavior.

Now, to be scrupulously honest myself, Lewis never said in so many words that the study was about dads lying. But what it did do (and, I would argue, intentionally so), is leave that impression. That’s what happens when a writer entitles her piece “Why Do Dads Lie on Surveys About Fatherhood,” leads off with the study and then moves into the phenomenon of aspirational lying. If you don’t believe that that’s the impression the piece leaves, just ask yourself “Why did the BC researchers feel the need to post a comment describing what their research actually does as opposed to what Lewis suggests?”

In addition to the BC researchers’ take-down of it, the comments have been sufficiently hostile to move Lewis to backpedal and try to “explain.” Trust me, you know your piece is bad if it doesn’t explain itself. But while Lewis pretends that’s what she’s doing, in fact she’s just trying to put a gloss on what she did. Sadly for her, that doesn’t work either. In her own comment to her piece, she actually claims,

I’m surprised at the perception that this piece was an attack on men.

Well, Ms. Lewis, that’s what happens when you call people liars in the headline of your article. It makes them angry. Toss in a little intellectual dishonesty of the sort I pointed out in my first piece, and they get angrier still. The misandry begins to look gratuitous. See how that works?

Of course she sees how that works. Lewis knew perfectly well that calling fathers liars was an attack on them. To pretend surprise that they would see it for what it is constitutes dissembling at its most craven. If Lewis did that little exercise in which she imagines writing such an article about mothers just before Mothers Day, maybe she’d get the point.

No, here’s my educated guess at what surprised her. For about four decades now, various publications have offered up the most misandric stuff imaginable and gotten away with it. For reasons that always escaped me, misandry far worse than Lewis’s nonsense was given a pass. So was misandry that was far less intellectually honest than her piece.

But now the worm is turning and it comes as a great shock to those who are used to, for example, denigrating dads just before Fathers Day. Their misandric parade is finally getting rained on and they don’t like it one bit. The day is passing when writers and speakers could just toss off unchallenged the most amazing anti-male vitriol.

In short, facts and basic human decency are starting to take their toll on those who would continue the anti-dad propaganda of the past forty years. Contrary to the beliefs of some, many people prefer the truth to falsehoods; they prefer compassion to hatred; and they prefer the active involvement of fathers in the lives of children to fatherlessness. The Boston College researchers are clearly some of those people.

As Lewis said in her comment, “change is good.”

Thanks to Kelly and John for the heads-up.

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