Fatherhood and Other Things That Ain’t Government’s Business

In conjunction with Father's Day, the Obama administration unveiled Fatherhood.gov, a website offering advice to men on raising kids. Why is this a job for the federal government?

In conjunction with Father’s Day, the Obama administration yesterday unveiled Fatherhood.gov, a website offering various advice to men on raising kids that’s drawn quite a bit of more-or-less good natured hectoring from the blogosphere.  (See Glenn Reynolds, Stephen Green, and Radley Balko for examples.)

Ira Stoll‘s posting is getting particular attention, with Reynolds highlighting a section questioning why the government thinks itself competent to tell Americans how to raise our kids when it can’t even do its core functions particularly well and Kevin Drum highlighting this passage:

Here was tip number two: “Watch a game on television with your children. Cheer for your favorite team and chat about the plays. Mute the commercials and use those minutes to talk about what’s going on in your lives.” Here is the government telling Americans to “mute the commercials.” Suppose I work at an advertising agency and earn my living making commercials, or own a company that has just invested millions of dollars in those commercials in the hope of winning customers and making a profit? Suppose I own a television network that makes its money by selling those commercials? Suppose I am a taxpayer who has just shelled out major bucks for the Army or the Census or some other branch of the government to buy these commercials, only to have another branch of the government instruct Americans not to listen to the same commercials my tax money was just spent to purchase. If I had any advice for fathers, it would be to mute the ballgame and turn up the volume for the commercials, or turn off the tube altogether and go play a game with your child. But now the government wants us to mute commercials? Really.

Drum snarks, “Muting commercials is your beef against Barack Obama and his socialist minions? And conservatives wonder why the rest of us think their entire movement has gone stone crazy?”

Now, as one who occasionally mutes commercials and more frequently fast forwards past them, I have no great sense of civic commitment to watching them.   But here’s where Stoll has has a point:  The federal government should not be taking a position on this issue!

Is this the biggest complaint I have against the federal government or the Obama administration?  By no means.  Indeed, my preference is decidedly that, given the choice between watching commercials or talking to their children, American parents should choose the latter.   (Ceteris parabus, of course.   There are parents whose influence is so toxic that their kids would be better off doing anything else by being further infected.)

But this is not government’s business.  As Stoll notes, there are taxpaying citizens who make a living selling commercials and selling products via commercials.  And there are other taxpaying citizens who make a living selling remote controls that allow the muting of commercials and recording devices that allow skipping of commercials.   Why is the president spending taxpayer money putting his thumb on the scales?

Much of fatherhood.com’s other advice can be critiqued along those lines:

Experience the joy of reading without the cost of buying books. Visit your community library and get a card for each member of your family. Help your children select a variety of age-appropriate books you can borrow and read together.

I’m betting the folks at Barnes and Noble and Amazon love this idea!

Watch a game on television with your children. Cheer for your favorite team and chat about the plays. Mute the commercials and use those minutes to talk about what’s going on in your lives.

Aside from the aforementioned muting issue, Obama is telling Americans to choose one form of entertainment over another. What about the people with shows up against the game? Or people selling tickets to the game itself? And what of Mrs. Obama’s campaign against obesity? Why are these people sitting on their ass watching a game on TV instead of going out and playing themselves?!

Spring cleaning will be off to a great start if you first tackle that list of home improvement chores with your children. Little ones can find the hammer, wrench, or pliers in a toolbox while older kids can learn how to repair household items.

Will Obama take responsibility when the wee ones get hurt? Or do damage to the walls?

Look, this is all pretty silly stuff.   It’s not pernicious or even particularly wrongheaded.   But, again, why the hell is the federal government telling us how to raise our kids?

All that said, Jonathan Chait‘s post making fun of Stoll’s technical competence is rather amusing.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Like I said, please list anything that is not beyond the purview of our federal governemnt.

  2. steve says:

    Which Shakespeare play best reminds one of 3″?

    Much Ado About Nothing.


  3. James Joyner says:

    Much Ado About Nothing.

    But, if it’s Nothing, why the hell is the federal government putting out a whole website devoted to it?

  4. Trumwill says:

    My only real complaint about it is that it is almost entirely ineffectual. Who is going to go to a government website to learn how to be a dad? However, anything more effective would by necessity be more coercive and therefore more questionable. So I’ll take it. There are a lot worse places that the government could expend its energies.

  5. john personna says:

    Oh oh, the internet Wayback Machine shows this site up in 2007!

    Quick pundits, reposition yourselves.


  6. James Joyner says:

    Oh oh, the internet Wayback Machine shows this site up in 2007!

    Funny, since Obama is pushing it as a launch. But it appears that the old site was related to something called the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse and rather rudimentary.

  7. JKB says:

    why the hell is the federal government telling us how to raise our kids?

    Are you kidding? This is why they got elected, to nag, nag, nag.

    That other presidentin’ stuff is hard. Keeping the bureaucrats from stalling the oil spill efforts with hand wringing over which pre-approved dispersant to use, hard. Make a decision about berms, hard. Getting your buddies you routed Stimulus money to to hire enough people so you don’t look like a failure, hard.

    Obama and his minions are “idea” people. Ask them and they have an opinion on the most innocuous part of a citizens life. That is the community organizer way. Rabblerouse for someone to do something they think should be done. Expect them to actually accomplish something themselves, why that’s just racist or mean or so Republican. Look at the panel of experts convened to advise on the oil spill, headed by a Nobel prize winning secretary of energy. Their advice, do more/do better. So BP was ordered to bring in more equipment and continue as they were.

    Look at the poor example Obama is for his kids, he goes off golfing before his chores are done but they got to get their chores done before play.

  8. john personna says:

    The “clearinghouse” is still in the subtitle of your snapshot up above.

    So Obama re-launched an existing .gov domain? I think you could get some mileage out of this yourself James. Here’s your chance to reposition debate.

  9. john personna says:

    BTW, it only looks “rudimentary” because the Wayback doesn’t keep images and styles too well.

  10. just me says:

    The federal government puts out all sorts of stuff like this all the time.

    I think for me it isn’t so much that the government is providing tips on fatherhood but the waste of time and money it takes to create, promote and advertise them.

  11. Steve Plunk says:

    Surprise! Bureaucrats create bureaucracies. I’m sure there are others in the government looking to make another website for some goodly purpose. This is an obvious argument for smaller government.

    Let’s also look at the example government sets for fathers. It spends more than it has. It lies. It bullies those it doesn’t like (BP?). It makes promises it knows very well it won’t keep. It has no loyalty to it’s partners (Israel and Great Britain come to mind). And instead of serving it’s children (the citizens) it makes it’s children serve. No thanks, that’s bad parenting.

  12. john personna says:

    Seriously Steve? BP is your example of a wounded innocent?

  13. dude says:

    WAH! Oh noes the President is actually doing something good and the conservative ideologues blow a fuse. Grow up!

    “The federal government should not be taking a position on this issue!”

    Unbelievable… this is exactly the type of position is should be taking! Just like it should discourage gambling too much, burying yourself in credit card debt, living an unhealthly lifestyle, etc.

  14. john personna says:

    Interesting, it’s looking like the “National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse” might be one of George W. Bush’s public-private partnerships. I’ve always disliked those myself. I’ve thought that things should be one thing or the other: public or private.

    Look at how it confused James!

  15. Andy says:


    In your outrage and spirited defense of downtrodden booksellers and advertisers, you seem to forget that this website isn’t going to make any difference at all. What you should be outraged at is spending tax dollars on something this completely useless – The fathers who most need parenting advice are people who aren’t likely to be trolling the internet looking for such advice in the first place, much less advice from a government website.

  16. wr says:

    Hey, in a few weeks you guys can run with this one:

    What’s really outrageous is that here in the LA area, when the air is really bad the government tells people not to exercise outside and to stay in as much as possible. How dare they do this! Don’t they realize that golf course operators and tennis clubs depend on people exercising outdoors for their income? And what about the guys with the ice cream trucks? If everyone’s inside, they’re not going to sell a single cone.

    Now maybe it’s true that for some people exercising outside in a smog alert can lead to asthma attacks or even heart attacks and death. But why should that be the government’s business? They should remain completely neutral on this, as on all issues.

    Do conservatives know how ridiculous they sound when they go on like this? The fanatical worship of ideology over the practicality of actually living in the real world is going to define them for decades — and ruin them as a party. And it can’t happen fast enough for me.

  17. Steve Plunk says:

    John P.,

    BP is no wounded innocent and I certainly never said such a thing. However, BP is extremely unlikable right now and subject to bullying rather than the rule of law. That’s the point, government should be following the rule of law and sets a bad example by stepping outside the rules established by Congress and the constitution. So seriously yes, BP is a good example for my point.

  18. john personna says:

    If the general public starts to see criminal neglegence at BP, it’s going to get a lot worse. I think some shoes are left to drop there.

  19. steve says:

    “However, BP is extremely unlikable right now and subject to bullying rather than the rule of law. ”

    I thought the latest word was that BP actually asked to set up the escrow account. Actually makes a lot of sense as what is the chance of getting a neutral jury anywhere in the country, especially Louisiana. Imagine trying to change venue out of LA.


  20. Rick Almeida says:

    “That’s the point, government should be following the rule of law and sets a bad example by stepping outside the rules established by Congress and the constitution.”

    What rules and/or Constitutional provisions have been violated?

  21. wr says:

    What rules and/or Constitutional provisions have been violated? The most important one, of course — that no Democrat elected president is eligible to hold the office that is by divine fiat the sacred property of the Republican party. That pretty much explains every complaint about Obama here and on other “conservative” sites…