Fine, I’ll Be Your Huckleberry

The war of the sexes heats up between Carolyn Elefant and Mike Cernovich (at Crime and Federalism). In a way, it’s the legal blog version of Bobby Riggs vs. Billy Jean King. It started with Mike, and Carolyn responded. You can see their blogs for the details. Be sure to also read the comments.

I can see Mike’s frustration. Actually, I’ve felt his frustration. The barrage of “you’d understand if you knew what it was like to ______________” comments is tiresome. At the same time, I try to understand the frustration on both sides of the fence, while managing my own in turn.

However, some comments really torque me. For instance, during a comment tiff directed at Mike:

Let me just ask you – do you have kids? Because it is very, very different – more than I could have ever imagined. Granted, it is a little harder for me now because my husband works out of town most weeks, but even when we were both here full time, someone had to pick up the slack – and it was me.

I can’t speak for Mike, but I have three. One in high school, one in grade school, and one I wish was in grade school. OK, so I can see a bit of the frustration, but I fail to see where such challenges are reserved for women. It seems to me that, anytime a partner picks up some slack, the act is a voluntary and conscious one–not one based on chromosome pairing.

Then, however, at Carolyn’s blog, she really sent me over the edge. She posed several questions, and preceded them with a condescending prologue:

As I said, I don’t blame men — but here are a few questions that I’d like Mike and his male colleagues to answer which may offer some insight:

Hmmm, I believe Mike is a lawyer. I think I’m a lawyer too. Does that make me a male colleague? Why, I guess it does. So, as for your “few questions,” I’ll be your huckleberry. Buckle up.

Question 1

When’s the last time you scheduled a teacher conference, hired a babysitter or a nanny, visited a nursery school or private school or made appointments for your kids at the pediatrician or the dentist?

Hmmm. Lets see. I’ve scheduled parent teacher conferences for the past 3 school years. Babysitter or a nanny? I must arrange for care any time neither of us are available. Nursery school? Nope, Mr. Eric is the nursery school provider here. Appointments? I scheduled (and attended) the last 2 years of school physicals and dental exams.

Oh, and I’m part of half of the population that has an abundance of testosterone flowing through my veins, just to clear that one up.

Question 2

When’s the last time you watched the clock ticking towards three o’clock during a hearing and felt your heart pounding out of your chest because you needed to make it to the bus stop to pick up your kids?

Oh, let’s see. Here is my M-Th schedule: 8AM, drop child #1 at school; 8:30AM, drop child #2 at different school; 11:30AM, pick-up child #2 from school; 3:30PM pick-up child #1; 5:30PM drop child #3 at practice; 6:30PM pick-up child #3 from practice. Fridays are easy b/c child #2 doesn’t have classes. Oh, darn, I failed to mention how rough it gets during football season when I have to worry about football practice pickup and band recitals. I’d speak of weekend events, but that merely belabors the point.

And, in between all those times, I practice law. Phonecalls, writing briefs, scheduling hearings, etc. Not to mention the prep I must make for childcare during trips and future hearings. By the way, I prepare breakfast for the youngest 2, lunch for one, and dinner for 5 each night. Later, I’ll get to how I get the groceries for those meals.

Question 3

When’s the last time you did the grocery shopping and planned all the meals for the week and made all the lunches and made sure that kids had the materials they needed for that science project and those chips for the class party and the white shirt for the special performance and a three ring binder and six family photos?

At least once a week, I schlep my ass through WalMart trying to estimate how many 55 gallon drums of milk are required for the week, filling my cart with various food goodies as I go.  By the way, I also cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner on weekends. Just this morning, I helped my youngest do all of his Valentines, and I helped to make his cutesy, yet masculine, Valentine’s mailbox. Additionally, I must drop chips and dip off at their party next Monday. I also just finished gluing 100 things onto a t-shirt to help my middle kid be a part of the group at school for the 100th day of classes.

And then there’s the school fundraisers–every week. Fucking fundraisers.

But I digress.

Question 4

When you’re done with work, do you cook dinner and make sure homework is done and put in the schoolbag or emailed out, and check the website to really make sure because your kid has lied about it before and give baths if your kids are little or nag about showers if they’re not, and use your cross-examination and investigative skills to try to figure out what your kids did at school, and use your negotiating skills to break up fights and then when your kids are asleep go back to your desk to work for another few hours or maybe overnight to make up the time you lost when you cut out at 4 pm?

Seriously, this is a bit redundant. I give baths and/or showers and make sure that Ms. Long Hair doesn’t have tangles. I am also the homework nazi. And, yes, after I put them to bed I return to the computer and work until I feel I’ve done all I can for the day. Sometimes that is 9PM. Other times, it is much, much later.

Question 5

When you travel out of town on business, do you just throw a suit in the travel bag and go, or do you pack for three – yourself and your two kids who need to go to grandma’s house and your dog who’s headed for the kennel?

When I travel out of town, I set the house up in a way that there are enough groceries to sustain the family while I am gone along with a list of meals to make with said groceries. I try to get ahead on the homework and lay-out the clothes for the week. I double check the schedule to make sure that every dropoff and pickup are covered. It takes a long time. While doing that, I’m also thinking about the next 5 things I must do for each client.

This is no brag. This happens because it must happen. I’m not cool because of it. I have no choice. I haven’t even mentioned the true fear of failing as a parent. I feel all that stuff, and I do all this stuff. I believe there are hundreds (if not thousands) of lawyers out there who walk the same walk.

And I have male parts, just in case I haven’t made that clear.

You see, I must do all the things that a parent (not a mother, not a father, a parent) must do to sustain a family and set our children up for success. It’s not a choice, it is a requirement because I give a damn. If a person can’t handle the heat, they had better get out of this kitchen. Being a father is one helluva manly thing, but being a parent is one helluva human thing. Just like the law, it’s not about female or male. It is about people who give a damn and want to make a difference one case at a time–or one child at a time. It matters not whether someone is heavy on the estrogen or the teststosterone. When we dole-out the house duties, we must do so consciously, deliberately, and purposefully. I do what I do by choice. I hope the same goes for other professional parents.

We should never complain or establish superiority because of the things we must do. It’s unbecoming. Those who rely upon us–be them children or clients–are not chits to be bargained or compared. They are ours to serve quietly and professionally. Sometimes we bear a majority of the burden. Other times, not so much.

As for watching Oprah at night, I wish I had the time. Ok, I really don’t wish I could watch Oprah, but substitute Die Hard for Oprah in my case. I’d love to, but the mindless crap only comes after I’ve done all the things that require my time and attention. That includes reading the things that keep my mind in shape–be it Dante’s Inferno or the latest Simple Justice post. Ultimately, in our profession, excuses do not count. Our clients deserve better. In my case, they are all fighting for their freedom, good name, or families (or a combination of the three). They deserve an attorney who is dialed-in at the highest possible level. If you can’t manage that responsibility, you need to take a cut in cases and pay (which I’ve done).

By the way, this us vs. them shit does nothing but breed animosity, and nothing good ever comes from that. As you can see above, pulling the “Hey, Mr. Man, do you know what it’s like to take care of kids…” crap doesn’t fly anymore. The current year is 2011. Welcome.

I’m not the only father doing this. I know of a gentleman in Virginia trying to make ends meet as a lawyer and a father (x2). All by himself. Why? Because he must. The fact that he gives a damn is the reason he must.

If you can’t manage an aspect of your life, start cutting stuff away. If you can’t serve your clients, don’t take cases. Need more time with the kids? Don’t expect to get paid as much for work. Wife or husband won’t pull their share? You’re the one who chose to marry them. If you choose to shoulder most of the household load, remember that it is a choice above all else.

Oh, and, by the way, I must constantly wonder when my partner–the person who shares these responsibilities with me–may next find herself in Iraq (again) or Afghanistan.

Try doing all the stuff we do as parents and lawyers while also getting emails from Baghdad that 2 mortar attacks occurred within 100 yards of your spouse’s bedroom.

Don’t thank me, or her, or anyone else making sacrifices and doing what we must. We don’t want your thanks or recognition. It’s thanks enough to know that you are able to watch Oprah at night.


9 thoughts on “Fine, I’ll Be Your Huckleberry

  1. A killer post, save one image that I’m trying desperately to shake off. Please, I’m begging you, eliminate the dangle line. If not for me, do it for the children.

  2. Amen. Love your “I’ll be your huckleberry” post.

    As you are aware, I live in BFE and practice from a VLO (Virtual Law Office) branch of a larger firm that is located on the West coast. My son is 1.5. I change diapers, give baths, and dress him and feed him breakfast most every morning so that my wife can go to work and have a career as a veterinarian. As you said, the current year is 2011.

  3. You are absolutely right about that the “kid card” is not the sole province of women, nor is it something that ought to be played. Regarding the first point, I realize that some men do carry a heavy load. Which is why I phrased my points 1-5 as questions and not as factual statements “Women do this, men don’t.” I am well aware of the toll that assuming responsibility for one’s family can have on a practice for men or women. In fact, two of my male colleagues who went through messy divorces and became the primary custodians of their kids saw their successful practices go from the low six figures down to a third of that simply because the stress of the divorce, cost of legal fees and added responsibility of being primary caretaker cut into their work.

    But. Without being overly stereotypical, I would venture to say that your situation and those of my male colleagues are not the norm. In the two family households that I’m familiar with, it’s usually the mom who does much of the logistical school, meal planning and sick day slack and baby-sitter finding. This is true most frequently in situations where both parents work for others (and therefore have less flexibility). And it is slightly less true where the dad is self-employed and the mom works – as in your case and and that of the VLO attorney. Now, I know that you are blogging up a storm – but how many of these other men are blogging or posting on wikipedia either?

    Granted, I did not make my point very eloquently – but I responded specifically to Mike’s assertion that fewer women blog than men because they are too feeble-minded, as evidenced by their propensity to indulge in People Magazine. In response, I suggested that perhaps women did not blog because they were simply too busy or tired to do so – and then launched into my tirade. Indeed, the men who I mentioned who went through the divorces do not have time to blog, and have admitted it. My only point is that before drawing conclusions, we need to look at all of the circumstances and variables.

    But yes, I took the comment personally as well. I have two daughters, 11 and 14, who are smart, curious and strong students. The older one participates in every class, the younger one mostly in math as well as smaller settings. But guess what? They also watch Disney Channel. They go on Facebook. They gossip and go shopping and put on make-up. I would absolutely hate for someone to draw the same assumptions about them as Mike drew about the women at his health club and claimed is the reason that women do not blog.

    Likewise, my family situation is what it is and so is yours. (and by the way, I do not plan on writing about any of this anymore because I do not care for my clients to know about my personal situation because they might not want to hire me and I wouldn’t blame them if that’s all they knew about me) Some women like to read People Magazine or read Oprah (personally, I cannot stand the show – I like the magazine only). There is no need to draw from that evidence that women are too feeble-minded to indulge in blogging or to contribute to Wikipedia.

    By the way, I do not intend to post about this topic any more, not because I am intimidated (because I am not) but because (1) my readers are not interested in this matter and (2) I do not particularly care for my clients (or prospective clients) to know that I have kids or do a juggle because if they did, they might not want to hire me and frankly, I would not blame them.

    • Let me take this paragraph-by-paragraph.

      Paragraph 1: I didn’t take them as factual statements, but you did state “…I don’t blame men — but here are a few questions that I’d like Mike and his male colleagues to answer…” There is a logical fallacy here. You make a statement that sounds absolute, but then you immediately place a caveat upon it. I see your frustration with Mike, and I’m quite sure he expected some push-back for his theory. What about your including “male colleagues?” The word “colleague” appears nowhere in his post. I don’t see any reference to “…my buddies and I were sitting around watching football and discussing why women aren’t posting on Wikipedia…” Seriously, where did that come from? Or, did his post merely act as a catalyst?

      Paragraphs 2 and 3: “Without being overly stereotypical…” Why be stereotypical at all? Isn’t that the problem you have with Mike’s post? He is stereotyping women? How does that help your argument by countering stereotype with stereotype? Further, your using the kid card to counter his argument is comparing apples to oranges. Consider:

      1. Mike says women aren’t good contributors to Wikipedia and other “intelligent” online discussions b/c they read gossipy magazines.
      2. You counter by saying that women do not blog because they are too tired to do so.

      Your argument, and supporting statements, assumes a couple of things:
      1. Child rearing is hard stuff. (I agree)
      2. Men typically do not shoulder the lions-share of the childcare burden. (Yes, that is the stereotype, but one that is rapidly being eroded)
      2. Men are not dead-tired at the end of the day and therefore able to enrich Wikipedia and various blogging endeavors. (I disagree)

      Childcare is not the only hard endeavor in existence. I think it is absolutely possible and likely that a man, even one not engaged in child rearing activities, can be absolutely exhausted at the end of the day. I believe the same holds true for a woman who is not engaged in childcare, too.

      Paragraph 4: You have kids. Daughters, to be precise. Others have daughters, too. None of us like the idea of our children becoming the subjects of a negative stereotype, but there are certainly a lot that are worse than anything Mike said. Our job as parents is to give our children the skills necessary to combat negativity and succeed. Getting red in the face over it does nothing more than make your face red.

      Paragraphs 5 and 6: OK, you’re done with the topic. Like you, my clients are extremely important to me. However, my clients all hire me because of the work I’ll do for them and the effort I’ll give them. If they don’t like who I am or how I apportion my time (which they deserve to know), then they aren’t the clients for me.

  4. I may be reading Mike’s original post incorrectly, but I don’t think he said that women don’t write for stupid wikipedia because we are too feeble minded, but because we would rather read gossip magazines. I don’t read gossip magazines and I don’t write for wikipedia and I probably never will, because it’s stupid. The discussion about who is more tired has been going on for generations and I suggest we call it a draw. Women don’t blog because they don’t want to. Perhaps they don’t want to put it all out there, like Carolyn said, because they are afraid people won’t hire them if they know what they have to juggle to get time to write a blog (maybe that’s my problem?) Perhaps they’d rather read People magazine. If that’s the case, then we do have a problem. I’d like my smart women to have their voices heard instead of sighing over how quickly some tv star lost the baby weight. So, we need to stop making excuses and start encouraging each other to make different choices.

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