Bad Dads

There are a lot of smart observations in this Darcy Lockman piece on, essentially, why parental work is disproportionately performed by Moms to what is often (and not unreasonably) considered an absurd degree. So you should read it.

That being said, I don’t think it’s a very helpful assessment of the situation. It ultimately offers Moms no advice at all, and only one piece of advice for Dads — do what Mom would do, when she would do it, the way she would do it. That’s not reasonable advice for any human being (“be this other person”), and it’s not reasonable here — yet the article makes no attempt to get to the bottom of:

  • why there is such a different set of expectations and values around housework between Moms and Dads (in the article, the idea that a task could be done less often than Mom feels is necessary, or not at all, is dismissed out of hand as “unreasonable”)
  • the role of workaholic culture in driving increased expectations for constant parental “hustle”, and how that particularly affects women with demanding jobs who come home to what feels like effectively a second office
  • the role of society and social pressure that “blames” Moms for kids being sloppily dressed, poorly behaved, groomed, or anything else that is obviously the shared responsibility of both parents
    • the corollary here — how Moms and Dads can talk and align their expectations; if Dad doesn’t care what the PTA parents think about the way their kid dresses, why is that, is it a good/bad reason, etc.
  • whether there is any correlation between the way we perform parenting tasks (high effort, low effort, frequency, emotional state, stress, personal interest, etc.) and their effectiveness as a part of raising children
  • whether Moms and Dads in different scenarios really do have different levels of autonomy

That last one is a particularly egregious miss by Lockman in this piece, as she directly quotes Dads asking for autonomy and simply Mom-splains it away.

But this isn’t “maternal gatekeeping,” the theory that men want to help but women disparage their capabilities and push them out. Instead these seem to be situations that necessitate the intervention of a reasonable adult.

A mother in California said: “It’s important to me that my sons are not falling asleep in class and that they’re not late for school. My husband does not share those priorities, so I do bedtime and school drop-off.”

The dad in Vermont explained: “I do laundry when I need it. When it comes to the kids’ laundry, I could be more proactive, but instead I operate on my time scale. So my wife does most of their laundry. Let me do it my way and I’m happy to do it, but if you’re going to tell me how to do it, go ahead and do it yourself.”

– the New York Times

Leaving aside the confusing switch between different sets of parents (why are we hearing from a mother in California, and then an unconnected dad in Vermont about a completely different issue?), this whole section reeks of cherry-picking. In an article about “good” Dads, are you telling me the California mother is dealing with a father who doesn’t care if his kids “fall asleep in class” or miss school? If that’s true, he actually sounds like a totally shitty Dad! What’s much more likely is that he also shares these priorities, but doesn’t agree with Mom about which tactics and tasks are necessary to protect these priorities. And maybe he’s totally wrong! But we don’t explore that at all — it’s just that Mom cares, and Dad doesn’t — according to Mom. Yeah… this seems productive.

Laundry Dad doesn’t really get a response, either. Is he right? Is he wrong? Is Mom interested in some kind of scenario where Dad simply takes care of the laundry issue and Mom removes it from her brain? Is Dad bluffing and actually wants things done to Mom’s standards, just not by him?

These are all possibilities that go completely unexplored, because for all it’s thought-provoking, this really is a deeply, deeply cynical article. Moms are miserable and shouldn’t change a thing. Good Dads are actually Manipulative, Game-Playing Bad Dads, but for some reason we think they will unilaterally disarm and accept the domestic values and priorities of Moms (who, by the way, are apparently miserable) when presented with what is essentially a “shame on you” in the New York Times.

In reality, this article — and this way of thinking — will change absolutely nothing. It simply extends the “I could be happy if would you would just… ” myth that plagues relationships of all kinds, from marriages to the office to the basketball court. A bunch of Dads will read it and feel like doing better is impossible, because it involves submitting completely to domestic values they don’t believe in, and a bunch of Moms will forward it to other Moms and say “OH MY GOD THIS IS SO RIGHT”, or maybe send it to a Dad in the hopes that they’ll snap out of The Dad Matrix and realize it matters whether the kids take a bath today or tomorrow, and that the correct answer is obviously ___________.

My advice is that if your plan to improve a relationship relies entirely on the other person suddenly seeing things your way from now on, come up with a different plan, or get out of said relationship.

Two Incomes

Ross Douthat, as is his way, brings up an interesting discussion and then hand-waves away the perspectives of what I’m pretty sure are the vast majority of people. Today, it’s about “the two income trap”, the argument/concept that an increase in two-income households has unexpectedly resulted in both less time (due to working) and similar costs, as families have bid up the cost of housing and child care.

I had never heard of this argument before, so that’s cool. And Douthat (who seems like a nice, reasonable man on the podcasts I’ve heard him on) does a good job breaking down different approaches and conclusions from various “pro-family” perspectives who disagree on what all this means. But then…

This is the real “trap” created by two-earner culture. There are many families that want to raise kids on one income, or one income and some part-time work, and instead find themselves pressured, financially and culturally, to keep up with the dual-earning Smith-Joneses next door.

Ross Douthat, NY Times

Eh… is that the real trap? I don’t feel pressured financially or culturally to keep up with my neighbors or my friends. After a pretty wild fifteen years out of college, we’re in the best shape we’ve ever been in (financially) thanks to some controlled risks, career gambles, and more than a few relocations (including one where I needed a new job to give me an advance so I could move… and incredibly, they did it).

And yes, we still feel like it’s not enough. We still make pro-career decisions that, to us, are pro-family. Because the thing that isn’t enough — it’s not our collection of consumer goods, or our “vacations” (LOL), or anything you’d picture a couple of well-off mid-atlantic white people worrying about. For me, it’s mostly the fact that in post-safety-net America, you can never really build enough of a net for a bunch of things that can actually happen to you. High paying jobs can disappear. Physical challenges happen. Family members can suddenly need help — and not the “I’m in a pinch” kind, but the “I’m going to die” kind. The fact that I haven’t been hit with these problems doesn’t mean they don’t exist (close friends and relatives have been kicked right in the teeth by many of them), and now that I have two little kids, the pressure to build a real net is very real. My parents didn’t need me to take care of them, financially, which was a huge boost to me coming into and out of college, and remains a huge advantage today. But they need me to take care of myself and my kids — and as with most people, there is no line in our family budget for “inheritance”. That cavalry ain’t coming if 55-year old Nate checks his 401k and suddenly realizes he spent too much time coaching Little League and not enough at the office.

Now, one way Douthat could be right (and I could be wrong) that would be wonderful would be if all of things I’m worried about simply aren’t issues. No one loses their job, there is never a car accident or hospital visit, some sort of decent, public higher education is available to my two kids that I can afford. But assuming all of these things are going to work out doesn’t seem “conservative” at all, and it’s objectively false that these things don’t happen to people in the aggregate. They do.

Now, the conversation Douthat actually wants to have (and spends most of the article discussing quite eloquently) is about the right way for society to support families, and enable families to form in ways that are most compatible with their hopes, dreams, values, etc.

I think that’s wonderful, and would love to do it. I also have absolutely zero belief that it’s anything other than a very academic, very NYT Opinion Page discussion without major, radical changes to the relationship between employers and employees, as well as the state and its citizens. Because I can tell you, in private sector capitalist thunderdome (where I have spent my entire career), your family’s financial viability is on you. And if you fail there — in 2019 — absolutely no one is coming to help.

Choose wisely.

How many kids should you have?

At the same time, having only one kid means parents miss out on the opportunity to have at least one boy and one girl—an arrangement they have tended to prefer for half a century, if not longer. (Couples are generally more likely to stop having children once they have one of each.) Maybe this is another reason two is such a popular number—though in the long run, one researcher found that having all girls or all boys doesn’t meaningfully affect the happiness of mothers who wanted at least one of each. (This researcher didn’t look at dads’ preferences.)

The Atlantic

First of all, hat tip/LOL at “didn’t look at dads’ preferences”. I mean, I can’t blame them.

Secondly, the answer is two. God bless my friends diving into three kid territory (those friends exist now), but it’s definitely two. Having more than one is a game changer, but I think for the most part it’s a change the average parent will ultimately enjoy. Having a third just feels like — to me — the worst of both worlds. You have more hilarity to enjoy, but it’s paired with an increase in logistics that soaks up the time you’d actually use to experience the hilarity.

Maybe you just need a super-parent in your home to make this work. My wife and I see ourselves as pretty good parents, but we’re also ordinary, flawed people with intense jobs and deeply personal hobbies & interests we barely get to pursue anymore, so the costs of parenting (along with the joys) are pretty tangible to us. So not only am I a fan of the two kid approach, I’m a fan of our accidentally compressed timeline that front-loaded our kids’ heaviest logistics (diapers, naps, trying to figure out what someone needs when they can’t talk, etc.). Pretty soon we’re going to be done with the baby stuff, and I think as character-building as its been, we’re going to really enjoy raising little citizens.

Welcome to Serbia

Somewhat inexplicably, I have been in Novi Sad, Serbia for the last several days for work. It’s pretty amazing. For a guy who doesn’t really travel much (and certainly doesn’t try to), this is my third incredible international trip after fairly extended visits to Vietnam in 2011 and China in 2013.

It’s kind of a traveling person’s cliche, but Serbia really is a beautiful country. The locals have kind of put down Novi Sad as a “boring” city in their conversations with me, but I kind of love the place. Maybe it’s because I’m boring, or maybe it’s because this is the right kind of boring for me, but I really enjoy the vibe of the place.

In other news, a few days of looking around has indicated that Serbians are enormous, friendly, and drink a lot. Also, I saw “GO HOME YANKEE NO NATO” spray painted on the street, which was a little jarring. Still, as interesting as all this is, I can’t wait to get home and see my kids again. My wife and I have both done our fair share of business travel (okay, mostly her), so being away from each other is something we’ve grown to handle. But the munchkins are different, and this is my first extended period of time without them. I really miss ’em.


Authority is an important concept. We’re social animals, and we need to work together, but we’re not telepathically linked to a hive mind. That means we all need to be able to assess many situations individually, and make more decisions than we’re capable of making.

That’s why authority matters. It’s necessary — but it isn’t absolute, or God. It’s inherently fallible, which is why we’ve come up with a lot of checks on authority as we’ve built better, more productive, more advanced societies.

Those checks are annoying and often bureaucratic. In some cases, they make us feel like we’re undermining “the good guys” (if we’ve had good experiences with authority). But that’s exactly the challenge — authority doesn’t make you good or bad. It just gives you power and related responsibility; it doesn’t guarantee you’ll meet those responsibilities or use that power properly.

Authority is broken

I don’t know how we have a functional society (at this stage of humanity) without authority. But I also know the society we’re used to, and certainly the one we aspire to, requires competent, just, regulated authority — and that’s more true than ever as the ability to see when authority has failed us has expanded faster than our ability to make sure authority is used properly. In other words, we increasingly aware of authority’s sometimes egregious failings, but we are not getting that much better at making sure those failings don’t occur.

I think authority figures and institutions (especially ones that aren’t very good) can feel this external dissatisfaction, but it seems like most of them aren’t looking in the mirror. Instead, a lot of them are simply treating that feeling like anything else that challenges authority; as something outside of the rules that they are obligated to eliminate.

That’s why we have so many disingenuous conversations about problems with authorities, whether it’s dismissing anyone outside of a traditional media institution as a blogger in their parents’ basement, or responding to increasing anger over racially disproportionate police violence with the argument that police officers lives are important as well — as if anyone was actually claiming otherwise.

Authority is lashing out

Two unrelated examples leapt out at me the other day, from very different places (with very different stakes). One was a Louisville police stop captured on video that is probably all too familiar to minorities, and particularly young black men in particular. What was interesting about this piece though was the overwhelming condemnation mentioned in the article by criminal justice experts and other police officers. This is an objectively poor way to interact with a community, and to accomplish the goal that is the reason we have police at all, which is to protect and serve our communities. But the response from the people on the ground, especially in the moment, is “I can do this“.

“This is not illegal” is a reasonable & important (although often smarmy when applied) argument against authority — as I mentioned, the law is as much, or even more of a check against authority as it is a tool for it. But it’s a truly bizarre argument for authority itself to make. You’re only empowered as an authority by the rest of us so that you serve the interests of the people who put you there. You weren’t chosen by God, at least not directly.

That brings me to the second example; MLB umpire Ron Kulpa, who — after blowing a call — responded by looking for, and finding, any excuse to legally punish the people upset by his mistake. This is obvious awful umpiring, and a terrible approach to handling authority, but what’s arguably the most frustrating (and familiar to people who have dealt with incompetent authority figures) is how Kulpa veers back and forth between angrily exercising his administrative powers (calling strikes, demanding certain forms of communication stop, berating people, ejecting people), and calmly making points about what he can and cannot do.

Anybody who’s had an experience with someone in power can relate to this — being held to a standard of perfect behavior yourself (“calm down”, “why do you have an attitude”, etc.), while the person enforcing that standard doesn’t abide by it at all. It’s a movie trope for the friendly police officer to order you to calm down and then suddenly and angrily ask “what’s so funny”, but it’s also terrifying in many situations — just not to the police officer.

Good authority figures and institutions wanted

The real kicker is that I’ve experienced the exact opposite of this kind of behavior from people with the exact same jobs, and while it’s not easy, it’s undeniably important and impressive. I’ve seen otherwise unassuming cops defuse escalating situations (sometimes not even on-duty) with the perfect blend of strength, empathy, and patience. I’ve played tough, physical basketball games with refs who did the same thing and come out on the losing end thinking “those are some damn good refs, that job is hard”. It’s not like it’s impossible — we see great performance every day. We just need to build in institutional and social support for things like great journalism, community-first policing, teachers who care, bosses who listen, and other areas that simply can’t function without the existence — and proper use — of authority.

But the trend, by all appearances, is alarming. The most visible forms of authority don’t seem to be handling increased (but appropriate) scrutiny particularly well. They don’t need to be perfect, but they can’t just hand-wave away criticism or objections to their decisions if they expect to be effective authority figures in the long-term.

Planned Spontaneousness

This is kind of an interesting story — Sean Parker partially paid for environmental law violations with the state of California (he had a fancy wedding where you aren’t supposed to) by building a mobile app for them.

Parker agreed to pay $2.5 million to settle all the violations from the event, though the bulk of the issues stemmed from the hotel’s misuse of the camping area. For another component, Parker, Lenas and the commission set to brainstorm ideas. The agency said it increasingly seeks out creative solutions to problems in addition to financial settlements. Some ideas, like one Parker had to buy a campground to be used by schools and other organizations to bring disadvantaged children to the coast, never got off the ground. So the group started focusing in on one that would blend Parker’s technological acumen with the agency’s coastal access work: an app.

The Washington Post

Here’s the funniest quote from the piece, though —

He also provided funding for two years of maintenance, after which the state will have to take it on itself. And he will be making a video about the commission that is required by contract to go viral, as the final piece of his settlement.

Oh man, that’s great. I hope he is contractually obligated for it to be a “sensation” and “part of the cultural zeitgeist”. Good luck, civil court judge left to interpret this in 2024.

OMG George Will

I obviously have no idea, but I’d like to assume a non-George-Will person came up with the actual headline here and just tried to come up with the smarmiest possible language, because… George Will.

The Limits of Positive Returns

The last real album — at least by the standards I’ve given myself over the years, which are lower than Beyonce, but a lot higher than the average garage idiot — I’ve worked on came out five years ago, in 2014. That’s a really long time for me, but it’s not a coincidence that my daughter was born in early 2016, and my son in the middle of 2017. It’s not to say that I had kids and gave up on music, because I didn’t. My daughter even got to see me play on stage once! But, unsurprisingly, most of the time I’ve needed to be even a replacement-level parent has come from my favorite hobbies, which are writing/playing music and basketball.

Again, that’s pretty normal. But what’s interesting (and what I want to write about) is that there hasn’t been a linear relationship between the amount of free time I’ve had and the amount of production I get from my hobbies. Instead, there’s obviously some amount of critical mass involved, because with 30% as much time, I’m basically getting 5% of the output.

How I Used to Work

To have appropriate perspective, it’s important to realize that my music has historically come as a response to boredom. While I originally learned to play the saxophone as a kid because I actively enjoyed it, I didn’t really write or produce anything until I was a typical suburban teenager with long, directionless summer days and nights (and chemistry class). And even then, I didn’t start getting truly creative until college, when I had literally nothing to do on my weekends and would just drag a guitar and a cassette four-track to our music building and play and sing until my voice was gone.

I can’t understate the nature of how little I needed to be anywhere else during that process. Exactly zero people were ever looking for me, interested in at all in what I was doing with my time, or curious if I was being productive with it. Many times I would strike out, recording hundreds of awful, unusable, embarrassing demo ideas I never played for anybody or ever listened to again, and that never mattered. It certainly had no impact on my willingness or ability to continue plugging away the following weekend, or the weekend after that. In the aggregate, I don’t remember all the terrible things I made that didn’t work — I remember the overall process that gave me the demos that turned into songs I loved that we later recorded in the studio. The ratio of good to bad output was and is irrelevant.

Once I was out of school (and not even writing for a band), this was still the way I worked. I had two small bouts of unemployment that totaled less than a year (maybe six months right out of school, and then another six when I first moved to Cleveland in ’06), and I used the time in the exact same way. Set up shop, start grinding, and stop when you can’t go anymore. I got similar results; mostly crap demos I’m embarrassed by, and a few things I love that my kids still listen to today and dance to in the living room. The process worked.

Time and Capital

In theory, I think venture capital is supposed to work the same way. You try to buy time to give the right people and ideas sufficient room to just keep going to work every day, knowing that a lot of things won’t pan out, but the great ideas that do will be worth the overall process. But I’ve been dealing with venture capital for basically a decade now, and I don’t really think this is what happens at all. Sure, a couple big names keep getting absurd amounts of money pumped into them that allow a seemingly endless timeline of exploration — but that’s not actually what’s happening at those companies. They’re actually on a really tight, short-term timeline; it’s just about raising more money or keeping investors happy with what’s going on.

So that brings me to my critical mass problem with music. Like a VC backed startup, certain scenarios open up where I have time and freedom — for instance, I have an hour and a half or so this morning, because my wife and kids went to church. Therefore, why would I not go create an hour and a half of music?

Two reasons:

  1. Sometimes (most times?), an hour and a half of musical production effort results in… no measurable results at all (this is also true of writing, which is why everything on this site is disjointed and poorly edited now). As has always been the case, many times I just walk away with something I don’t really like and found frustrating to make. Compare that to an hour and a half of cleaning up the house, or getting ahead of stuff for work, where I always get demonstrable results and someone important is always happy. It’s tough to make that tradeoff when time is limited anyways.
  2. More importantly, the output of knowing you have an hour and a half to make something is usually something with scope and ambition of something you know you have to finish in 90 minutes. Those songs are very straightforward, unambitious, and often a little sterile. Verse, chorus, verse, bridge, chorus — crap, is that the van door? I gotta go, export, done. You can try to save it until next week, but I’ve always found songwriting to be very momentum driven. After seven days, the moment you were capturing is often long gone.

The Hour & a Half Business Plan

You’re seeing the startup equivalent of the hour and a half time investment throughout technology these days, and it’s more obvious than ever. Money is available to enterprise software startups that can run the exact same playbook that’s worked a million times, with the same bunch of founders with the same set of experiences and connections. Those startups are expected to hit certain growth patterns based on the success of other enterprise software startups, move up/down market, blah blah blah, rinse, repeat, and either IPO or be sold.

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. I’ve worked for multiple companies like this who took this path because it made the most sense for the problem they were addressing. But you’ve got to admit that what I’m talking about is a pretty limited problem set.

Every time I have this discussion with either investors or people who spend a lot of time trying to win investors over, I get the same response, which is an immediate pivot to the financial justification for everything — as if I’m not aware of that after ten years of decks and quarterly reviews. But my point isn’t that VCs should start making unrealistic, borderline philanthropic investment strategies — it’s that the effective branding of VCs, the Valley, and “tech” as an industry (versus a concept that slowly moves along, well, everything) as this massive agent of useful social change has actually caused some of us to believe it, and just assume that cloud software for banks, or a variety of narrow systems designed to convert layer after layer of labor into disposable contractors are somehow the appropriate next stages of social evolution. All because they fit a desired exit timeline for today’s VC approach to investment strategy!

Let me say it more plainly.

  1. Capital is time to operate.
  2. Capital only comes from so many places.
  3. Bank loans are too small and too hard to get for most potential solutions/businesses/ideas.
  4. Internal investment at large companies is minimal and often constrained by various innovator’s dilemmas and the general inability of successful companies to grow and spread change and new ideas.
  5. VC money — and this is directly contrary to its carefully cultivated brand — is much too constrained in ambition, timeline, and willingness not for risk, but for actual loss to solve problems that actually matter at this point.
  6. Inherited wealth (as with business capital) mostly goes to people who don’t want things to change (because they are wealthy with things the way they are), or who are idiots and/or unmotivated.

So… what’s left? How did America come up with so many amazing innovations and honest-to-God progress through so much of the 20th century? It’s almost like we had a vehicle for broad, loosely managed but highly directional investment in things that, unlike VCs or banks, didn’t need to worry about capital returns.

Okay fine, have a hint.


There’s nothing I can write on my little website that will put a terrorist mass-murder into perspective, but I do think it’s worth mentioning that even as basically non-religious person raised outside of any kind of faith community, the idea of targeting a church with an act of violence seems particularly… perverted?

I don’t know what the right word is, and I hope it’s obvious I don’t mean to downplay secular violence, violence against the non-religious, etc. But these are places often built and operated outside of the idea of money, power, control — they are literally safe havens from all of the cruelty and pain of the world, and in that way they are really one of the most amazing things ideas have ever put into practice. I’m not necessarily talking about organized religion or the institutions themselves, even if that’s what enables many of these places to exist. I just mean the places themselves, especially those that are truly open to everyone (which is the vast majority).

We all need places like this. We can and should build non-denominational ones — town halls, squares, even the stupid Panera I go to when I want to get out of the house. But churches are places that, without the force of anything — commerce, the state, etc. — simply provide shelter to the world because it’s there and it’s the right thing to do, and so many of them share that weirdly similar mission across different faiths.

Now, I know basic history. Nothing is truly sacrosanct among every last one of us, and nothing ever really has been. But the fact that this kind of thing — not just mass violence, but mass violence specifically targeting the very idea of sanctuary — could find a community of like-minded support online is hard for me to internalize.

on Dads

Sally Jenkins writes about her father, sportswriter Dan Jenkins, who died at the age of 90 this week:

He acknowledged his absences with the kind of drollery that characterized his parenting style. “Don’t rob old people,” he would say as he headed off.

the Washington Post

I have a feeling that, had I known him, I would have gotten along with Dan Jenkins just fine. Here’s more of his parenting:

He was an unindicted co-conspirator, constantly in trouble with my mother for his scandalously unorthodox child-rearing. One afternoon in our hometown of Fort Worth, when I was about 7, he drove my two brothers and me the wrong way down a quiet one-way street. Delighted, I stared at the baffled drivers and street signs pointed in the opposite direction. “People are easily led,” he instructed.

Just read the whole thing.