Rain in Austin

by Wolf Pascoe on March 19, 2012

The core of community is not good intentions or agreement. It’s sitting at the same mystery. — Michael Meade

Drew Breese and sonAll last year the drought in Texas had persisted past reason and despair.

Last weekend when I went to Austin for the Dad Conference (Dad 2.0 Summit), it rained and rained, translating the landscape into a soggy, gray-green pond.

I couldn’t help thinking of a long ago men’s conference in the north California woods, where sixty men sat in a lodge and listened to the rain in silence with the poet Robert Bly.

Men’s conferences then. Dad conferences now.

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OTHER DADS

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When I started this blog, bless me, I didn’t even know that other dads also had the idea of writing about their kids. In that old world of myths and stories, I ran with the wolves. In the new world of sponsorships and page views, I am a naked, new-born babe.

I’m not complaining. Men, on the whole, are no different. Quick to embrace ideas, slow to feel, they carry their wounds deep inside the same crusted shell.

At one panel I attended, a participant wondered if dads and moms couldn’t just lose the gender labels altogether, and all of us simply be parents.

“Dads have two problems different from moms,” I said. “Trouble talking about feelings. Trouble with their fathers.”

Those are spiritual problems, however, and below modern radar. The conference work was political, and essential, and had to do with transforming the image of dads from the lovable bumblers that they are not, into the savvy caregivers that they are. To that end, a dozen or so corporate sponsors also came, looking to partner with leading dad bloggers.

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SOVEREIGNTY NIBBLED

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I confess that something in those sponsorships makes me uneasy.

In 1975, Esquire announced that an upcoming article by a Pulitzer-winning journalist, Harrison Salisbury, would be sponsored by Xerox Corporation. Xerox claimed that payment would not depend on their reaction to the piece, and that the magazine would retain full editorial control. But in letters to his local paper and then to Xerox, the immortal E.B. White, author of Charlotte’s Web, voiced concerns anyway:

When a large corporation or a rich individual underwrites an article in a magazine . . . the ownership of that magazine has been diminished, the outline of the magazine has been blurred. . . . Whenever money changes hands, something goes along with it—an intangible something that varies with the circumstances. It would be hard to resist the suspicion that Esquire feels indebted to Xerox, that Mr. Salisbury feels indebted to both, and that the ownership, or sovereignty, of Esquire has been nibbled all around the edges.

White here puts his finger on the troubling crux of the gift culture so prevalent in our land now, involving not only journalism, but also political institutions such as Congress.

Dad bloggers, though, are not journalists. Moreover, they are entitled to make a buck. And corporations are multifaceted creatures. One brand, Huggies, even sent representatives to Austin specifically to talk to participants about eliminating the damaging dad stereotypes of a recent ad campaign.

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HERE IS THE GREATEST THING

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A moment occurred when the conference’s ambiguities became palpable. It was during a presentation of Dove men care products, when the speaker, Robert Candelino, in charge of brand building for Unilever’s skin care business, and a father himself, referenced the picture reproduced above.

The photo shows Drew Breese, quarterback of the New Orleans Saints, just after winning the 2010 Superbowl in Miami. Amid the streaming confetti, instead of doing the usual things that winning quarterbacks do, Breese reached for his young son and held him aloft, as if to say before God and anyone watching, here is the greatest thing in the world.

As Robert Candelino told the story, and told us it was why Dove wanted to be partners with Drew Breese, he grew silent. He coughed. He tried to talk, and couldn’t. And suddenly, the rain outside became the rain inside, and it rained in all of us.

I realized that the world is all of a piece, the map isn’t the territory, and nothing is simple anymore, if it ever was.

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WAITING LOUNGE

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After the conference was over, in the Austin airport lounge waiting for a flight home, I sat alone musing on these things when Whit (Honea Express) tapped me on the shoulder. He asked me to join himself, Charlie (How to Be a Dad) and Andy (Beta Dad) for a quick bite.

It was a welcome invitation. I had come to the conference knowing only one or two participants, and though I met many men  and women over the weekend, I couldn’t shake the conjecture that at heart, I was in, but not of, Dad 2.o. I suspect that sort of experience is more common among men than we like to admit.

The four of us sat at a table oblivious to the foot traffic around us and talked for an hour about many things, among which the tears of men. I told them about an early Just Add Father post involving a room full of crying men, one of the only posts I’ve ever done where no one left a comment.

It was an hour of grace. Something in our tiredness had gotten to the four of us and it was easy to speak the truth to one another. We were home, because home is wherever the truth can be spoken.

We talked about the tears of men.

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RELATED POST:

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A story about fathers and sons

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YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY:

I found the E.B. White quote in E.B. White on the Free Press on Letters of Note, a web site everyone should know about.

Dad Summit 2.0 — website of the Austin conference.

After the Conference — I meet a blogger friend, Barbara Shallue, and her family, in Austin. Photo evidence provided.

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

father muskrat March 19, 2012 at 10:01 am

Glad to see you again and read your recap here!
father muskrat recently posted..my review of the 2012 dad 2.0 conference

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Wolf Pascoe March 19, 2012 at 6:39 pm

Thanks for dropping by, Mr. M.

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Always Home and Uncool March 19, 2012 at 10:08 am

I admit to getting a little misty when the Dove guy started. It was like watching the end of “Field of Dreams.”
Always Home and Uncool recently posted..Indecision Keeps Me Here

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Wolf Pascoe March 19, 2012 at 6:39 pm

It was pretty awesome.

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Matt March 19, 2012 at 10:15 am

Excellent post Wolf. It was great to meet you in person, and I look forward to more conversations like the ones you talk about here. I too walked in to the conference and away from the conference with mixed feelings about “brands.” At the moment, I’m thinking that brands/advertising are a part of our popular culture and they have an impact, as you suggest, on the “image of dad.” I’m thinking that there is a way to sell more soap/diapers/TVs etc. while also changing this image. Dove is a great example of a company that seeks to sell more soap with a campaign to portray “Real Beauty,” and I support the idea of selling soap to men with a campaign “to get comfortable in our own skin.”

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Wolf Pascoe March 19, 2012 at 6:42 pm

So great to finally see you in person.
Ah, soap. What’s not to like?

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Whit March 19, 2012 at 10:51 am

That hour in the airport was a good one.

I’ve always had an on again/off again relationship with the idea of brands. I’ve basically worked with those that I thought would be fun for me or my family, but avoided jumping in with both feet. I’m at a crossroads with the direction of my site and I think the time may be right to test stronger brand relationships assuming I can avoid the pitfalls E.B. White mentioned.
Whit recently posted..The Great Green Hunter

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Wolf Pascoe March 19, 2012 at 7:55 pm

As Jay says below, we’re more unto ourselves now. I think you can hold your own.

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Chad Nikazy March 19, 2012 at 11:57 am

Excellent post, Wolf. It was nice to meet you.

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Wolf Pascoe March 19, 2012 at 6:46 pm

Thanks, Chad. Rightbackatcha.

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BigLittleWolf March 19, 2012 at 12:17 pm

Nothing was ever simple, Wolf. But we speak of everything now, or at least, we speak around it or over it, loudly and through channels we never imagined in our myths of dads behind their pipes and papers, and mothers at the sink rinsing the dishes.

Moreover, we’re older. We suffer the fissures in our faith, and our longing.
BigLittleWolf recently posted..Notes on the Times

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Wolf Pascoe March 19, 2012 at 7:52 pm

Maybe I was just simple.

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Jay- The Dude of the House March 19, 2012 at 3:16 pm

Interesting thoughts by the great Mr. White. Of course it is now a different world than 1975 and with writers independent in unto themselves, I can understand how sponsorships could be beneficial to both the writers and the brands.

It was great meeting you in Austin. Hope to connect again sometime.
Jay- The Dude of the House recently posted..Rockin’ Friday: Werewolves

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Wolf Pascoe March 19, 2012 at 7:39 pm

Excellent point about us being unto ourselves now.
Great meeting you too, Jay.

Readers note: If you kid likes music, Every Friday, Jay is posting a song his son likes at Dude of the House. This week it’s Werewolves of London.

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Barbara March 19, 2012 at 8:44 pm

I’m actually kind of jealous of the connections all you dads made! But at the same time, it’s good to know there are so many trying to break the mold of the bumbling, too-tough-for-tears dad. Thanks for the link to Letters of Note. I listen to anything E.B. White has to say, especially about writing. And thanks for the shout-out! It was so good to finally meet you in person!
Barbara recently posted..A Celestial Evening (Celeste Krenz and Harley’s Angels)

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Wolf Pascoe March 19, 2012 at 10:35 pm

I’m glad we had the chance to get together.

(I forgot most of us know E.B. through Strunk and White.
Omit needless words!)

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Privilege of Parenting March 19, 2012 at 11:29 pm

Hi Wolf and welcome back.

When it comes to brands and all that I’m with E.B. and with another of his assertions that all he really wanted to do with his writing was to love the world.

I don’t think that is an outdated concept circa 2012, in fact I think it’s an idea with more traction than ever for dads.

What I do not think is that dads, or dad bloggers, need to curry favor with sponsors. Just as I’m happy to see adds running along the edges of the pitch when I watch soccer games (and I much prefer this sort of advertising to the stop the game to sell me a car style), I think the stars of a dad blogger conference have to be the dads, and the rising tide of consciousness that loving and hands-on-involved dads bring to parenting and to our world of men now, with decreasing shame or threats to masculinity.

Looking back, cigarette and car companies shaped our fathers all too often into secretly insecure and unhappy men; I think awareness means we need to be highly wary of corporate agendas. Fatherhood is sponsored by love, integrity, sacrifice, honor and respect for those who came before us. I pretty much thing that international corporations have virtually proven they lack that sort of grit, and I think they aught to sit on the bench a while before they prove to us that they have any right playing in the parenting game.

I am more than ready to talk about the tears of men, and I’m ready to cry them (and I have); but I’m also ready to hang out, have fun and bond with my brothers in fathering and in blogging. You raise good points about the grey zones about branding, the common ground to be found amongst fathers (after all, there may be fathers who work for companies that only wish they could have enough personal money and power to speak their real truth).

I hope that dads-bloggers realize that as a newly minted influencer demographic we have power and responsibility to think about the world we want to make, live in and leave to our kids. Companies may have perceived power (i.e. to write checks), but when it comes to our parenting it is driven by the power of love—perhaps the one power that can set us back straight in our relationship to money (and our need as a culture for increased honesty, authenticity, fairness and compassion for those who may be at a disadvantage, particularly kids, perhaps most particularly kids growing up without fathers).

Guys are smart and growing more sensitive, and thus we don’t need a bunch of spin from corporations, we need companies that are serious about making this a better world (and not just saying that), entities that, just like us, want to prosper without hurting others—who commit that that.

I can’t say that many “brands” come to my mind that fill that tall order, but I’m open to hearing about them from guys I trust, guys like you, Wolf. Meanwhile, I’ll just hear about whatever you want to tell me.

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Wolf Pascoe March 20, 2012 at 6:43 pm

Amen to all that. “companies that are serious about making this a better world” — let’s ally with those brands. Somehow, the ones I can think of have .org and not .com as their last name.

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Jon Armstrong March 20, 2012 at 2:54 pm

This is a great read. It’s always good to question commerce and commercial intentions.

I’ve got a post coming about this very thing; the difficulties of making money sharing content or, in traditional terms, being a publisher, in the online world. Ads alone won’t do it.

I think that we are in a kind of 1950s TV world where the juxtaposition of content and product are much more closely paired. I’m thinking of Mike Wallace smoking cigarettes through his interview show, The Mike Wallace Interview, and the show was sponsored by a cigarette brand.

It was a different time then and this new-ish medium is still figuring out how to present marketing with content.

That aside, this was the part of your post that most resonated with me:
“Men, on the whole, are no different. Quick to embrace ideas, slow to feel, they carry their wounds deep inside the same crusted shell.”

Nice.

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Wolf Pascoe March 20, 2012 at 7:18 pm

Jon — Thanks for stopping by. It does feel, especially on the I-net where most of us live, that content and product are getting closer and closer– and a book, for example, is now a media experience.

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Kate March 23, 2012 at 1:31 am

The ease my husband has with tears is one of the qualities that intrigued me early on. His emotions flow more freely then my own, he’s taught me to let mine out. And I am ever grateful. It seems wounds need airing to heal.

But maybe it was my own father, far from bungling as he healed from his own father-wounds, who taught me to trust first?

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Wolf Pascoe March 23, 2012 at 3:05 pm

A woman comfortable with a man’s tears is more precious than rubies.

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Chopperpapa March 24, 2012 at 8:25 am

“Dads have two problems different from moms,” I said. “Trouble talking about feelings. Trouble with their fathers.”

Every child had trouble with fathers, it partly what has gotten into our current cultural mess of looking for love and affirmation in unhealthy ways.
Chopperpapa recently posted..In the community of men

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Wolf Pascoe March 24, 2012 at 12:37 pm

I knew when I wrote that sentence it wasn’t quite true. You are absolutely right. But the trouble with fathers is different for boys and girls.

(You can have this first line for a novel: “Happy children are all alike; each unhappy child is unhappy in his own way.” :-))

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Alameda March 25, 2012 at 4:24 pm

It’s all about how to express love!

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Wolf Pascoe March 25, 2012 at 10:23 pm

Love letters! Send them to everyone!

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