I’m not going to tell you again: we’ve hit Peak Dad

24 04 2017
From Balenciaga’s show at men’s fashion week, Paris
 From Balenciaga’s show at men’s fashion week, Paris. Photograph: Swan Gallet/WWD/REX/Shutterstock

Like many fathers of 17-year-olds, I’ve become accustomed to my son nicking clothes out of my wardrobe. I’ve put this behaviour down to laziness, combined with the poverty of youth. If I’m honest, I had taken it as a backhanded compliment too – a sign that maybe I’m not so past it after all.

But now I’ve discovered that he’s just doing what teenagers do – following the latest sartorial trend – Peak Dad, as interpreted by Balenciaga at men’s fashion week.

No doubt the Peak Dad look has more than a twist of irony about it, if these highlights from the Fashion Dads Instagram account are anything to go by. But it’s definitely a thing. It must be, as it has featured in all manner of style magazines, from GQ and Esquire to Dazed & Confused.

I’m not going to make any claims as a fashion expert, but as somebody who earns his living advocating involved fatherhood, and is reasonably up on how the media presents dads, I do reckon that lurking somewhere in this phenomenon is a cultural shift. I think it comes from a growing recognition, through personal lived experience, that a) dads exist, b) they might matter, and c) we might even want to celebrate them.

In 2011 I started a blog, Homer Simpson Must Die, in my spare time: an attempt to chronicle and analyse media representations of fatherhood. It felt at the time like a gap in the market. The blog didn’t last very long (did I mention I’m a dad?) But revisiting it now is quite interesting, because it shows how far we’ve come in the intervening years.

Barack Obama, pictured with wife Michelle and daughters Sasha and Malia, is the poster-boy of “Peak Dad”
 Barack Obama, pictured with wife Michelle and daughters Sasha and Malia, is the poster-boy of “Peak Dad” Photograph: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

Not long after I started my blog, a dad from Pennsylvania went viral when he complained about a Huggies advert that played with the “hapless dad” stereotype. In the offending clip, nappies were given the ultimate test – being handled by cack-handed (literally, as well as metaphorically, one presumes) fathers. The joke misfired, and the outcry led the company to pull the commercial.

Later the same year, I railed against Procter & Gamble’s “proud sponsor of mums” Olympics campaign, and two Christmas ads by leading supermarkets (Asda and Morrisons) that effectively positioned mothers and fathers as two different species: one selfless and domestically downtrodden, the other lazy and incompetent. No prizes for guessing which was which.

Yes, you’ll still encounter the hapless dad – or his new best mate, the fundamentally lazy but creative “dad hack” dad. There’s a touch of dad-bashing in the Peak Dad phenomenon, but it’s different, more sympathetic.

It’s worth clarifying that there is still a long way to go before dads and mums inhabit a level playing field as workers and caregivers. Men still do just 24 minutes’ childcare for every hour done by women, the gender pay gap is 18%, and we have the most gender-unequal parenting leave system in the developed world.

But it feels like brands are finally noticing that younger fathers especially are taking a fairer and more active role in parenting, or at least want to (nearly half of dads under 35 would take a pay cut to spend more time with their children). Positive, hands-on fatherhood is becoming normalised.

My theory is that this is finally happening because today’s advertising and marketing executives have “lived experience” of dads who did their best to put food on the table and be a positive presence in the home, or who did all the hands-on parenting (albeit part-time, mostly) post-divorce. Some of them are now “living the dream” of hands-on fathering themselves, and then reflecting it back at us.

Could it be that this newfound recognition of dads’ fearless, stereotype-busting “doing” of fatherhood in a world that still positions mums as the parenting experts is the inspiration behind Peak Dad? A glance at its poster-boy, Barack Obama – by anyone’s estimation, a man who seems to have achieved career success and a high level of involvement in his children’s lives – suggests to me that it might be.

Fashion is, I suppose, about finding your tribe – communicating something about your beliefs, values and background to the people around you. Sometimes we look far afield for our inspiration; sometimes we look close to home, for comfort. I asked my son what he thought of Obama’s style. A quick sweep of Google Images and the answer came: “Yeah… he’s jokes.” And then, as if by magic, he stroked my arm and gave me his best pleading look: “By the way, have you got that sweatshirt I was going to borrow?”



9 Fun Ways to Get Kids Reading This Summer

5 04 2017
Mother helping daughter read book in library

Let your child take the lead in selecting books to read. (SAM BLOOMBERG-RISSMAN/GETTY STOCK IMAGES))

Did you know that kids can lose crucial reading progress during summer break? Fortunately, reading just a few books before school starts can save kids from losing those school-year achievement gains.

Parents play a crucial role in their children’s reading attitudes and behaviors, as well as helping them find the right book to capture their interest. Here are ways to get kids reading and help them develop a lifelong love of books:

Let your child pick. Most kids say their favorite books are ones that they choose. Kids also admit not reading if they don’t like what we select. So, get your child involved. Take him to the library or bookstore or show him online resources, such as ALSC Summer Reading Lists or Common Sense Media, so he gets a choice. While you’re at the library, join the summer reading program, if you haven’t already, so your child will have even more incentives to read.

Make sure the books match your child’s reading level. Check your child’s last report card or reading achievement scores for clues. You can also teach your child the five finger book rule: Have your child turn to any page and start reading. The child should put a finger up for each word he or she doesn’t know. If your child holds up five fingers, try another book.

Think outside the book. Don’t be too picky about what your kid reads. Cereal boxes, cartoons, the sports page, baseball cards and graphic comic book novels are fine. Find what piques your kid’s interest. What are her hobbies? What are other kids reading? Remember, what’s most important isn’t literary merit but getting your kid to feel comfortable with reading.

Carve out reading time. Kids say a big reason they don’t read for fun is that there just isn’t enough time. Set aside time so reading becomes a daily family routine. Eliminating just one TV show or activity could free up 30 minutes a day to read. Or give your kid the option of doing the dishes or reading a book. I’m betting your child will choose the book.

Make reading material accessible. Stash books in backpacks, bathrooms and cars, set them on the dining room table or put them in baskets, so it’s easy to pick them up quickly during a lull.

Build your home library. Research finds the number of books in a home strongly influences academic performance. You don’t have to break the bank, but you do need to have reading materials available. Dig out that library card. Go to library sales or book fairs. Stop at garage sales. Subscribe your kid to a magazine tailored to her interests, such as “Sports Illustrated Kids,” “Discovery Girls,” “Highlights” or “National Geographic Kids.” Or set up a book exchange with your neighbors.

Start a summer book club. Find other kids that your child can read with as part of their playdate activity. Start a kid-parent book club with other parents. Initiate reading parties at different kids’ homes: Everyone brings their favorite book, serve snacks and then let the reading begin!

Be a movie critics. Encourage your child to read a book, and then watch the movie version – and consider inviting your kids’ friends or neighbors to join them. “Harry Potter,” “Wonder,” “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” “The Outsiders” or “Hatchet” are a few favorites. Have the kids debate if the book or movie was better.

Read aloud. Studies find that most kids stop reading for enjoyment around the age of 8, which is also the same age we usually stop reading to our kids. So, keep reading aloud. Set the amount of time you read to match your child’s attention span, and gradually extend it. Have each family member who is old enough to be able to read take a turn, or have different family members act out parts of the book as they read.

Reading improves vocabulary, comprehension, test scores and attention span, and books can transport children to other worlds and transform their hearts. Reading can also help our children be more open to differences, cultivate new perspectives and nurture their empathy. Helping our kids learn to love books can instill lifelong memories and be one of our greatest parenting legacies. So go grab a book, and encourage your kids to do the same!



Empowering Women to Break the Jihadi Cycle

5 04 2017

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Husnul Khotimah Tuban had no previous business experience when she started her roadside shop selling sandals and dolls in Jatirogo, East Java. She had to work to support her two children and picked the trade almost at random. Business was fine. She could put food on the table. After she attended free entrepreneurship training last year, though, she picked up one useful idea: print some of the sandals with the phrase “This belongs to the mosque.” That simple tweak, she said, has turned local mosques into major clients, because it deters visitors from making off with the specially designated “sterile” shoes available there.

“We must constantly innovate products so that consumers do not get bored,” she told me, like a seasoned entrepreneur — which she is not.

Instead, Tuban had to go to work because her husband is a jailed terrorist, charged in 2014 with illegal arms possession and militant activity. Her business training came from an innovative University of Indonesia program that targets jihadists’ wives in an attempt to stop extremism at the family level.

Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, is well-known for its diverse, tolerant religious climate. But when jihadism arises — and it does — it tends to spread like wildfire among tight family networks. Generations of Indonesian jihadi cells have sprung up and evolved by now, from Darul Islam to Jemaah Islamiyah to today’s sympathizers with the Islamic State. For children born into such families, whose fathers are often incarcerated, the chances of forging a different path can seem nil. So imprisoned jihadists’ wives face the enormous stress of being their families’ sole breadwinners and, effectively, single parents.

Indonesia has long been a pioneer of counterextremism and rehabilitation aimed at male jihadists. Recent instances of recidivism show that these efforts are imperfect. Nevertheless, two fascinating, small-scale programs are taking a different tack: empowering jihadists’ wives through work and education to set them up for life outside the extremist fray.

Since 2015, the University of Indonesia’s Police Research Center has run the Entrepreneurship and Proselytization Empowerment Program to help the wives of jailed extremists through counseling and business training. It was created by Prof. Sarlito Sarwono, a psychologist with an abiding interest in extremism and terrorism who died last November. The program, continuing without him, has just wrapped up its first cycle of workshops for jihadists’ wives and has reported highly positive results from its 18 participants.

Another nongovernmental agency, the Institute for International Peace Building, also gives loans and business training to extremists’ wives, focusing on those whose husbands have been released from jail. It has now helped three such families get back on their feet despite the stigma that follows former extremists.

A key member of the 16-person Police Research Center’s team, who has taken a greater role since Sarwono’s death, is Nasir Abas, a former terrorist. Abas fought against Russian forces with the Afghan Mujahedeen in the 1980s, and then was prominent in Al Qaeda’s Southeast Asia affiliate, Jemaah Islamiyah, until he served a prison term from 2003 to 2006 and effectively switched sides. Now he advises the Indonesian government on counterterrorism. He has been instrumental in locating and speaking with imprisoned male extremists and persuading them to allow their wives to work with the Police Research Center’s program.

Three people visit every jihadist’s wife who enrolls in the program: a psychologist, a Muslim religious teacher known as an ustadh and a policewoman. After two or three visits to break the ice, the women can enroll in the program’s workshop.

“We need these women to be part of counterterrorism because they’re the missing link in the rehabilitation equation,” Abas told me. “When militant jihadists return from jail, we need another person in their lives to be a positive force.” Otherwise, he says, they face insurmountable odds in resuming a productive life.

The agency held workshops last year across Java, Indonesia’s most populous island. In addition to group discussion on the challenges of having your husband in jail and raising children alone, the women also receive business training from Sutie Rahyono, an entrepreneurship professor.

After attending the training, Tuban said, “I was able to start my business even though I had no prior experience.” Her business success has given her confidence as a homesteader — and to talk frankly with her husband, who is still in jail.

“I’m very optimistic because my husband has promised that he will not repeat his behavior or rejoin Islamic radical groups when he’s out of prison,” she said.

Judith Jacob, a researcher at the London School of Economics, explained that “the family unit, broadly conceptualized, is important to Islamist militant networks in Indonesia.” It is, she added, “not unlike what royal families in Europe did to secure alliances.” She cites Abas as an example: His sister is married to one of the masterminds of the infamous 2002 Bali bombings.

While these kinship ties are an important pathway to radicalization, she said, they could also function as the opposite, because “families are also obviously a support structure when militants are released from prisons.”

The program represents a potential sea change emerging in counterextremism circles toward more practical, less ambitious goals.

“Our target has shifted over the years from deradicalization to disengagement,” the late Professor Sarwono told me last November. “This means we don’t try to change someone’s ideology — there is, after all, no way to truly know what’s in someone’s mind. We want to reduce the possibility of re-engagement with extremism. And families are instrumental for that.”

The Institute for International Peace Building, the other prominent Indonesian program for wives of jihadists, takes a similar stance. It has given small business loans of about $375 to $750 to three women whose husbands have completed their prison terms. One woman who did not want to be identified publicly, along with her husband, who was released from jail in 2011 and struggled to find employment, were the recipients last year of a small business loan and training to open a stall selling “bubur ayam” — chicken porridge — in the suburb where they live with their children. In the end, he sold the porridge for only about six months, after which the stability and income he had gained gave him the confidence to transition into a job as a security guard.

Another released terrorist’s wife in East Java received two cows so they could get started in the cattle trade, and the third, in West Java, received training and equipment to start a fried-duck stall.

They are all now repaying their loans in installments.

“Women are more reliable,” says Dete Aliah, International Peace Building’s managing director. “When male jihadists go to jail, the entire burden of running a family is handled by the wife alone. And on top of all that, there’s the community and family stigma. They bear the consequences of their husbands’ ideology.” But that is exactly why they are in a good position to get their families back on track, she says.

Aliah has interviewed 60 wives of imprisoned terrorists, and said 85 percent of them want their husbands never to re-engage with violent extremism.

“These men long to achieve high social standing,” said Noor Huda Ismail, the organization’s founder. “What we can remind them is that there are paths to do so as a husband and father.” He should know. He became an extremism expert in part because he attended a radical Central Java boarding school known as the “Ivy League for jihadists.”

According to a midterm evaluation from its 18 participants, all viewed the Police Research Center’s job training program positively, and together they gave it an 85 percent approval rating. Among both projects, all of the women who started or helped to start their husbands’ businesses are still afloat, and none of their children have reported an engagement with extremism.

But both of these projects are still tiny. One reason is that Indonesia has a relatively low number of terrorists, especially considering the size of its population — 250 million. Abas estimates that between 400 and 500 terrorists, most of them men, are in jail. The projects themselves, though, are hobbled by two factors. Extremists are highly suspicious of the government, so nonstate agencies have to cultivate their networks and funding with discretion. But donors are hard to find.

“Present or former terrorists don’t trust — they have an allergy to — B.N.P.T.,” as Indonesia’s national counterterrorism agency is known, said Abas.

Aliah echoed the sentiment, saying that B.N.P.T. “are considered infidels, trying to weaken the jihadi spirit.” That is one reason that the two organizations aiding wives are both privately funded. They feel that they can’t, in good conscience, utilize government funding.

Nevertheless, private funding is hard to come by, because many potential donors are leery of engaging with terrorists in any way, and harbor doubts that reintegration can succeed.

“Donors are very hesitant to give money,” said Aliah. “They don’t want to inadvertently finance terrorists.” She said some prisoners’ wives in East Java are clamoring for training for a batik fabric business, but don’t yet have any money to start one.

Indonesia is not alone in trying family-focused counterextremism experiments. In Germany, Daniel Kohler founded the German Institute on Radicalization and De-Radicalization Studies, which focuses on families, and particularly mothers, as the unit through which to deradicalize young people who turn toward Islamist extremism. The Austria-based organization Women Without Borders also runs a series of “mother schools” (including one in East Java) to train mothers to detect and curb signs of extremism among young people in their community. Still, even these efforts choose ideology as their battle front. The two Indonesian initiatives stand out for their resolutely practical, vocation-based approach.

Antarctica is the only continent that remains untouched by extremism in the 21st century, and no country has yet found a good solution for returned jihadists. If these two Indonesian programs are replicable, they may be a valuable blueprint. So it will be worthwhile to track their progress in preventing recidivism.

“Our challenges are countless: limited funding, social stigma and even the simple geography of Indonesia,” said Abas. “But terrorists returning to society is a fact of life in many places now. I strongly believe this is the best long-run approach.”