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Nation & World

Their Way

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe you just need a few moms in your corner. We visit with a diverse group of parents each week for their common sense and savvy parenting advice.

Usually, we talk to a circle of moms, but today, we decided to get parenting tips from the male point of view. Two men have gravely taken on the challenge of offering tips to today's busy parents on everything from potty training to tantrums, but from two very different perspectives.

I'd like to welcome parenting authors Brett Berk, he wrote "The Gay Uncle's Guide to Parenting," and Steve Doocy, he is the author of "Tales from the Dad Side," and in his spare time, he's co-host of the morning news program "Fox & Friends." Welcome, gentlemen.

Mr. STEVE DOOCY (Co-host, "Fox & Friends"): Hi, how are you?

Mr. BRETT BERK (Author, "The Gay Uncle's Guide to Parenting"): Hey, thanks.

MARTIN: We're also joined by our moms regulars, Jolene Ivey, she's the co-founder of the parenting support group the Mocha Moms, and Dia Michels, who's also an author and a publisher of parenting books. Welcome, too, to the moms.

Ms. JOLENE IVEY (Founder, Mocha Moms): Hey, Michel.

Ms. DIA MICHELS (Parenting Author): Thank you. Glad to be here.

MARTIN: Because, you know, we can't let the dads have it to ourselves. You know, we have to get the mom critique in there.

Ms. IVEY: Absolutely because we are the experts.

MARTIN: Yes. Exactly. So, Steve Doocy, let me start with you. What made you want to write this book? Because, as you say yourself, you're not an expert. You're just a guy who's been out there in the trenches.

Mr. DOOCY: That's exactly right. Actually, I did once host a parenting show on NBC Cable, but I only did that for the catering, OK? So, there are tons of books out there written from the moms' point of view, but very few from the dad side. So, that's why I decided to put this together, and, you know, because on sitcoms, we are portrayed as bumblers and knuckle draggers, and sometimes we are. But for the most part, we're just doing our best that we possibly can.

You know, there aren't a lot of books out there for new dads in the very beginning. And it's not like the stuff we read that is targeting us, where we would figure out how to do the job. It's not like Maxim magazine does nine simple cures for diaper rash - yet.

MARTIN: It's true, you know, that it used to be that, say 20 years ago, the sitcoms - 30 years ago - the sitcoms was, dad was the ultimate authority. Dad would come in and fix it.

Mr. DOOCY: Right.

MARTIN: But then, in recent years, dad has been portrayed, as you said, as kind of an idiot.

Mr. DOOCY: A doofus.

MARTIN: A doofus. Why do you think that is?

Mr. DOOCY: It's funnier. When you go back, I think the end of the line might have been Bill Cosby. Because dads in sitcoms were pretty authoritarian figures with the stentorian voice, put down that gun, Billy, now! And Billy would put down the gun because otherwise, there would be hell to pay from dad.

But then, during the late '80s, things just got a little goofier, and the dads became funnier, a little more - and families became more dysfunctional, and now, anything goes. But in the wake, you know, where's the positive, actual dad that resembles the guy who lives at my house?

MARTIN: Brett Berk? Your title says it all, "The Gay Uncle's Guide to Parenting." You freely admit you are not a parent. You don't even have a desire to be a parent. So, why did you decide to write this book, and who's this book for?

Mr. BERK: Well, I think it's for all parents. It's for anyone who is raising a kid or has a kid in their life and wants to understand a little bit more about how kids work. Actually, the catalyst for writing the book came about when I was at a dinner party with some friends of ours who have rented a house, my boyfriend and I, by our house upstate, and their son was toilet training. And they decided that it would be a good idea for him to drag his potty over next to the dinner table and practice his toileting then. And he practiced successfully, and we were asked to stand up and applaud.

And that was the moment that I realized that I needed to help my friends out. So, I've been working with young kids for 20 years. I'm an early childhood educator by training. I have a masters in education and worked as a preschool teacher and director of a preschool in New York City for many years. And so, I've borne witness to and practiced all sorts of different tactics for dealing with kids. And I think I've come up with some ideas that are actually quite functional and easily implementable. So, I thought I would put some of that advice out there for people.

MARTIN: Good, I want to hear some more of that good advice from both of you in just a minute. But I want to bring the moms into the conversation. Jolene, as the co-founder of a parenting support group and also the mother of five boys yourself, did you find these useful?

And one of the points I wanted to pick up on - what Brett says in his book is that it can be really hard to get advice or give advice on parenting. People will tell you about anything else, but they do not want to hear it when it comes to the kids. True?

Ms. IVEY: That is true. And actually, I really enjoyed Brett's book. I think that, primarily, it's because I agree with 99 percent of what he said.

Mr. BERK: I love you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. IVEY: And I've raised my children that way, too, for the most part. There are a couple of things you and I do not agree on, but that's cool. You're not going to agree with everything. But your whole philosophy of, you know, parents are the people in charge, and kids need to know that. And it's not an adversarial relationship, but it's important, and it's better for the kids that they know that their parents have their own lives to live also, and the kids cannot always be the center of everything. I think that's important.

MARTIN: Dia, what about you?

Ms. MICHELS: I think people wear parenting advice like fashion accessories. They come, and they go, and there's no shortage of parenting advice at all. So, that's what's amusing is, over time, we see how it changes. So, for instance, Brett refers to Dr. Ferber in his book. Dr. Ferber was the king of how to put your kids to sleep for years, and then he recanted everything he said.

And so, I think we have to be very careful when we give parenting advice just how much of it is topical and of this age and how much of it really has to do with what we know about child development and what we know about what kids need to flourish and what parents need to flourish.

MARTIN: Do most of the people who buy parenting books, so far as you can tell, are they mostly women?

Ms. MICHELS: Oh, absolutely. Most of the people who buy parent - mothering books and fathering books are mostly women, women who buy them for the men.

MARTIN: Women buy them for their men?

Ms. MICHELS: Yeah. For instance, we're working on the breastfeeding materials now, and the women will buy it for the men. I mean, men's breastfeeding materials. So...

MARTIN: OK. I'm trying to wrap my head around that one.

Mr. BERK: Men can breastfeed now?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I was going to say - the science has really taken us some place I really...

Mr. BERK: That's exciting to me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Steve, your book is very funny. Well, I'm not sure everybody would think this was funny, but there was this one incident where you talked about your trip to a strip club after your child's birth.

Mr. DOOCY: Thanks for bringing that up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BERK: You bring the kid?

Mr. DOOCY: It took me 22 years to live that down.

MARTIN: I'm not sure you've lived it down.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOOCY: You're right.

MARTIN: But why did you decide to tell all, to strip yourself bare, as it were, in some of these stories?

Mr. DOOCY: Well, see, my book is not an advice book per se. It's a book of observations about what happens along the way. And I based it on, you know, the day I became a dad. And I was working at NBC, and all these people are no longer employed there, so I might as well tell you.

My boss said, look, you just had a son. We always celebrate. Come on, let's go. And I figured we were going to go to Chadwick's or one of those northwest watering holes that we go to a lot. And instead, we pulled up to a strip place, and he said, this is where they brought me when my son was born. So come on, let's go.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOOCY: And I went in. And to say the least, I got out of there pretty fast. But, you know, it's just one of those things. And back in the day, when my dad became a father, and he was in Germany, you know, his guys in his unit took him out for what they served up best in Germany, which was a huge hangover. And, you know, that's what they used to do before fathers became more involved in the whole having a baby thing and the Lamaze thing and...

MARTIN: Are you nostalgic for those days? I can't really tell. Or are you just saying that dads deserve more respect for their role than they sometimes receive?

Mr. DOOCY: I think I look at it more as something that happened in history. I'm completely happy where we've evolved. I liked being in the delivery room. It was really cool. I didn't want the, you know, the delivery nurse said, you know, I can move this mirror so you can see everything that's going on down there, and my wife and I said, no, that's OK. We're just - we're fine up here. We're just talking to each other.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News. I'm speaking with Steve Doocy and Brett Berk about their new parenting books. And we're also joined by our regular moms, Jolene Ivey, Dia Michels, who're giving their take on these dads' advice.

Jolene, do you think that your husband, Glen, would have appreciated more - something like this when you were starting out as new parents? Something that just - something written from a guy's point of view just to say you're not crazy, you're not alone in this?

Ms. IVEY: It's possible he would have. I know that he was really involved with my pregnancy and, you know, went with me as far as not drinking and stuff when I was pregnant. The first time, of course. The next four times, he lost me there. I've - didn't drink.

Mr. BERK: You both drink?

Ms. IVEY: No.

Mr. BERK: Oh.

Ms. IVEY: I didn't drink, and he kept drinking. It was kind of annoying. But he's always been a pretty involved father and more as the boys have gotten older, which I really appreciate. I think he can write his own book at this point.

MARTIN: He probably could. He probably should. Brett, your book makes a couple of points that I want to raise. One is, you talked about how, on the one hand, people are as immersed in the idea of parenting as they ever have been. On the other hand, they're very isolated as parents. They don't want to admit that they're isolated, and in some ways, their isolation is making them nuts. What's going on there? What's your take on this?

Mr. BERK: The big thing I think it is, is a social issue. We don't really deal with parents and families down any sort of social level in this country on a national level. So, there's no prenatal training. There's no national health care, and there's no national plan for early childhood education, not for parents or for kids.

So, I think people end up in this situation where they feel like they need to go it alone, and they do. And when you need to go it alone you, sort of dig a trench around yourself, and you isolate yourself in this place I like to call the parenting bubble, where you're only getting information that's - that you agree with, and you're only getting information oftentimes from other parents or from online sources.

The other thing that happens is, we've evolved toward what I like to refer to as All-in Parenting, sort of like Texas-Hold-Em-style poker playing, you know, where people throw every single bit of themselves into raising their kids. And I think that, in order to do the job well, it needs to be your top priority. But you can't do any job 24/7, and it isn't healthy for the kid, either. I think kids need to be able to be with other people and to integrate other kinds of situations and other ways that people deal with them in order to sort of synthesize an understanding about the world.

MARTIN: Brett, your book is divided into sections about specific things that parents are going to have to confront, toilet training, tantrums, things of that sort, getting out, getting some me time. But overall, what's your word of wisdom for parents?

Mr. BERK: I think one is a little role-play game I used to do with some of the parents at my school when they were struggling with a situation. They would say, oh, I don't know what to do. I can't get my son to stop watching television, or he'll only eat breakfast underneath the dining room table. And I would say, OK, let's imagine how the situation would be different. I want you to pretend you're the grown up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BERK: So, imagine what it would be like if you were the adult here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BERK: So, then - what - how would you respond to that? So, I think people have lost their perspective. They think that themselves and their child are equals. And I think it's not only dangerous, it's harmful for kids, you know. Their expectation is that you know how the world works. They have no idea how the world works. They were just born. So, I think that's one thing is...

MARTIN: Pretend...

Mr. BERK: Pretend you're the grown up.

MARTIN: The grown up. We can all...

Mr. BERK: It's good advice, right?

MARTIN: Steve Doocy, what's your best advice?

Mr. DOOCY: Plan on ad-libbing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOOCY: Because whatever you think you're going to do, it never works out that way.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOOCY: And I think there are a lot of guys out there who - they feel like they're all alone; they're in a bubble, but they're not. We all make the same mistakes. But, you know, there's not a lot of sharing of those stories because guys don't like to admit when they blow it. But we do. And there's nothing the matter with it because we're doing our best.

MARTIN: Dia, what's the most useful advice, do you think, that is contained in these two books?

Mr. DOOCY: Uh-oh. That's a long pause.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: A long pause.

Ms. MICHELS: I think the most useful advice is Brett talking about that kids need boundaries, and parents need to be in charge. And that young kids are not little grown-ups, and we've learned that in so many ways. We've learned it by studying infant sleep. We've learned that by studying infant nutrition.

You can't take an adult meal, shrink it down in calories, and make that a kid's meal. Kids need different things. They need whole milk. You know, they need to be held more. They have different developmental needs. So, I think understanding that we're not dealing with miniature adults is really one of the most helpful things that we can get out of Brett's book.

MARTIN: What about Steve's book? I get that dads may not be the ones to call and say, gee, I need a hand here. I need a buddy here, but that dads could use some support, too.

Ms. MICHELS: Well, there's nothing more profound than the simple statement, it takes a village. Moms can't do it alone. Dads can't do it alone. And unless we all start talking to each other, we're all going to struggle. As much as we try to be self-sufficient, we usually hit brick walls.

MARTIN: Jolene, what's your advice there?

Ms. IVEY: Well, I like the advice about being consistent because that's one thing that I have always tried to do. You can't make empty threats. You can't tell your kids some outlandish thing. If you don't eat this, then I'm never going to X.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. IVEY: It's silly. And the kids don't believe you, and you've lost all of your authority at that point. So, if you're consistent, if they know the answer before they ask the question, if there's some crazy request they're about to make of you, and they already know you're going to say no, then when you say no, that's it. They don't - they can go back and tell their friends, my mom's never going to change her mind. There's no point. Instead of having the kids whine and nag and drive you crazy. Who wants to live with people like that? I know I don't.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Now, Brett, what is the secret to successfully intervening - offering advice to people? Is it the fact that you have two degrees in child development?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I'm sure that has something to do with it.

Mr. BERK: Part of it is just being shameless, that certainly helps. I think oftentimes being an expert on early childhood. I've been in this situation where I have a platform, actually, to deliver that information, so parents come to me with questions. I do not go up to people on the street, though, and offer parenting advice.

I did do that one time on the subway, where there was a little girl who was licking the pole on the subway, you know, where you usually hold on to when you're standing up. And I turned to her mom and I said, I'm not sure that's the best idea for her. And the mother was like, tsk, argh. She did not want to hear it. But nothing bad…

MARTIN: I was going to say, they didn't have to pick you up from the hospital later...

Mr. BERK: No, they did not…

MARTIN: OK. Good. I'm just…

Mr. BERK: I didn't get a beat down or anything like that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Didn't get a beat down. And Steve, what about you? Do people now, now that they know that you have this willingness to share, do people come to you? Do other guys seek you out?

Mr. DOOCY: You know what? Just because it is a collection of funny and warm stories that if you're not a father or a mother, they'll remind you of your dad. A lot of people will come up to me and they'll share a story about their dad, you know. Oh, yeah, yeah. You wrote about when you and your son biked down the volcano. Well, my dad did this. Or, when my son went to college and my two daughters said, well, dad, will you spend a little time with us this Saturday? And I said, sure. What would you like to do? And they said, well, we'd like to go out for manicures.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOOCY: And I said, you know, I didn't see that coming.

Mr. BERK: He's rocking a really nice shade of red though (unintelligible) right now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I'm so glad to hear it's so (unintelligible).

Mr. DOOCY: Thank you. That's beach ball red. So, you know, sometimes you do go outside your comfort zone. Besides, the one thing about parenting is that it seems like they're always being cute when they're not being absolutely rotten. So, you make a list and you try to balance it. And my book, and it sounds like Brett's book as well, just kind of a recapitulation of some of the cuteness and some of the pageantry of it all.

MARTIN: Steve Doocy is the author of "Tales from the Dad Side." In his spare time, he's also a co-host of "Fox and Friends." Brett Berk is the author of "The Gay Uncle's Guide to Parenting." They were both kind enough to join us from our bureau in New York. Here with me in Washington, Jolene Ivey, co-founder of the Mocha Moms Parenting Support Group, and Dia Michels, publisher of an imprint that publishes Parenting and other books, and they were here with me in Washington. Ladies, moms, gentlemen, dads, thank you so much for joining us.

Ms. MICHELS: Thanks, Michel.

Ms. IVEY: Thank you.

Mr. DOOCY: Thank you.

Mr. BERK: Thank you.

MARTIN: And at Tell Me More the conversation never ends. We just heard from two men who have written two very different books on parenting. Now, we want to hear from you. Do we hear enough of the male perspective on parenting? And in your household, what kind of parenting tips do you find helpful? To tell us what you think, and to hear what other listeners are saying, you can call our comment line at 202-842-3522. Again, that's 202-842-3522. Or you can visit us at npr.org/tellmemore and blog it out.

And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is Tell me More from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.