Virtual Book Club -- On Her Trail by John Dickerson

Welcome to the On Balance Virtual Book Club. The discussion is ongoing and will continue until Feb. 2, 2007.


The current book is On Her Trail by John Dickerson. For background, we tackled the book's topic -- a boy's view of his high-powered working mom -- in November 2006 in A Success At Work, A Failure at Home. The author, Nancy Dickerson's youngest son, John Dickerson, as well as others, disagreed vociferously with my feeling that John was too hard on his mother, and way too soft on his father, who was also quite ambitious and similarly neglectful at home.

What do you think? Are working moms judged more harshly than working fathers? Do children, even adult children, ever become objective about their parents' attempts to balance work and family commitments? Did reading this book shed new light on your own mother's decisions about work and raising children?

We will have a rolling discussion of this book for the rest of this month. All opinions -- respectfully delivered -- are welcome. The author and others who worked on the book (researchers, editors, contributors etc) are invited to join their book's discussion.

Let's go!

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  January 14, 2007; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  Virtual Book Club
Previous: How Do You Manage Stress? | Next: Finding Balance Through Exercise


Add On Balance to Your Site
Keep up with the latest installments of On Balance with an easy-to-use widget. It's simple to add to your Web site, and it will update every time there's a new entry to On Balance.
Get This Widget >>


Comments

Please email us to report offensive comments.



I spent 13 years teaching and got to know a lot of kids and their parents. With a few types of exceptions, my experience is that kids are much kinder about their parents than their parents deserve. The exceptions are kids who have been given every thing they want all their lives and never been required to lift a finger to help anyone else. The second group is boys who are the sons of abusive men. They feel entitled to verbally and sometimes even physically abuse their mothers.
But I have seen many children who suffer in various ways, fight for their parents' love and continue to do so all their lives. As they get older they may or may not get better at defending themselves from mean,alcoholic,insane parents,or just plain criminal parents but on the whole, they never quit trying to get their parents' love.
Children learning to forgive their parents? Yes, there are whole classes for that -- Children of Alcoholics conducts them. But they also learn how their parents' problems shaped their lives.

Posted by: Southern Girl | January 2, 2007 4:53 PM

Society as a whole is harder on ambitious women than men and less ambitous women (for lack of a better phrase). While this one woman might have been a "failure" in her son's eyes, you cannot indict all ambitious successful working mothers. I think writing this book was completely unnecessary and only serves as an ego piece for the writer and does not inform the discussion about balance. There are plenty of successful career women who are great mothers and those who are "bad" just as there are great SAHM/the less career focused and bad SAHM.

Until we all realize that "it takes a village" to raise children, we will always blame the mother for the faults of the children and family problems. We as a society do not do enough to support families and that is the bottom line in this discussion. Pitting career women against the SAHM is a circuitous and unhelpful process. And I agree with others that fathers are let off too easily and we need to lighten up on mothers.

Posted by: working mother | January 2, 2007 5:16 PM

"I think writing this book was completely unnecessary and only serves as an ego piece for the writer and does not inform the discussion about balance."

Don't think the book was written to address the "discussion about balance." This guy had a lot of other reasons for writing.

Could we step away from ourselves just for a bit?

Posted by: Anonymous | January 2, 2007 5:33 PM

"Could we step away from ourselves just for a bit?"

Hmm...a cliche, very nice. I think your comment would be more appropriate written to the author. He is criticizing his mother publicly by writing this book and basically saying that because she was successful and ambitious, he was neglected and therefore she was a "failure" as a mother. How is this not about women in the workplace? Geez nitpick the word. How about changing balance to discussion about women in the workplace.

Some of you are way too quick to criticize other's opinions.

Posted by: working mother | January 2, 2007 5:45 PM

The question was whether working moms are judged more harshly than working dads. Yes, of course they are. There is a double standard for men and women when it comes to working and parenting. I can't count the number of times I have had women and men ask me if I feel guilty or neglectful for working full time and sending my children to daycare. My husband has never been asked that question. As for the parenting double standard, whenever my husband takes both kids out by himself he has at least one person tell him what a great dad he is for spending time with his kids and "giving mom a break." Um, that's NEVER happened to me.

http://lawyermama.blogspot.com

Posted by: Lawyer Mama | January 2, 2007 8:20 PM

Hi.

I'm John Dickerson. I think what caused the first discussion to go off the rails a little here is that anyone who hasn't read the book gets a limited view of it from Leslie's description. She was nice enough to encourage everyone to read the book to clear up some of the confusion from the first debate.

For those who haven't read the book it starts with about 42 pages of the 320 describing how I saw things as a child until I moved out at age 14. I moved out when my parent's split. I had a very harsh view of my mother during that period.

The rest of the book is about how that view moderated both as she and I reconciled later in life and then after she died when I plowed through 20 boxes of her life she'd left me which included everything from her journals as a little girl to her journals before she had her stroke. I try in my fumbling way to explore all of the pressures that made her the person she was which was quite an extraordinary person indeed.

(I should note that I was worried when I wrote the book that I wouldn't be able to adequately convey the way I felt as a boy since as an adult I felt so differently.)

The book is not just about the balance between work and family. It is mostly about Washington society and journalism and glamour and the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations and how very difficult it was to be a trailblazing woman in a very difficult profession with five kids.

I would agree with "working mother" who says we're all too quick to criticize other people's opinions which is why I have had some measure of disappointment at those like "working mother" who have savaged the book and its author without having actually read the book. There are flaws in the book I'm certain of it. But I don't think I'm being overly sensitive to suggest reading it is a prerequisite for debating them.

For anyone looking for reviews from others who have read the book I hope they'll check out the forum on the book web site: http://onhertrail.com/phpbb/ or the Amazon site which has reader reviews:

http://www.amazon.com/Her-Trail-Mother-Dickerson-Woman/dp/0743287835/ref=pd_sxp_f_pt/002-6852511-1229657?ie=UTF8

Thanks.

Posted by: John Dickerson | January 2, 2007 10:36 PM

"A Succcess At Work, A Failure at Home"

does the title of the book really put 3 "c"x in the word Success? If not, please fix the spelling and delete this comment!

Posted by: The Grammar Police | January 3, 2007 2:34 AM

John Dickerson - Thank you for providing background to those who have not read the book. I, myself, have not yet read it, but I plan to.

I hope that any commenters will remember that Leslie's blog may be about balance, but that doesn't mean that John wrote his book with that in mind. It was his book about his mother as he saw her. It was not about his father, so any comments on how he views his father vs his mother seem truly unfair. Without having read the book, my guess is that his father is in it very little.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 3, 2007 7:06 AM

Oops. Forgot to sign my 7:06 am post.

Posted by: jab | January 3, 2007 7:10 AM

I have read the book - and couldn't put it down. John begins - and ends - the book buy saying it is not a commentary on working mothers, but rather his effort to learn more about a mother he didn't really know as a child, and lost too early as an adult.

I'm a little bit older than John, but grew up in McLean in the 70s, went to UVa ahead of him, and remember much of what he wrote about as it went on around me.

We all make mistakes as parents - and often as children and adults - that we can only hope to repair during our time with our families.

Read the book - I hope you will come away as I did - impressed by both John, and his mother.

Posted by: Austin Mom | January 3, 2007 9:04 AM

I think then the problem is using this book as a source for this blog. This is about work-family balance. Books that are used for discussion are then assumed to be commentary about the work-life balance. I would expect the books recommended would inform the discussion.

I'm sure you're an insightful, nice person, so this is not personal but every book or public story about women who work and are "bad" parents sets us back further and further. People can say "see, she should have been home with her kids". It justifies prejudice. While I would have loved to have read a book by a trailblazing woman and her struggles to balance family life and her career, reading about what a failure she is (according to her son) because she had a career written by her son is not interesting to me, sorry. I did read the excerpt in one of the sunday paper magazines (I think it was a sunday magazine) and thought that it came off as critical.

Good luck

Posted by: working mother | January 3, 2007 10:33 AM

I'm about halfway through John's book. I started reading it before I realized there was going to be an On Balance book club so I wasn't reading it with the idea that I would discuss it, but I did want to chime in with this:

The first thing that struck me after I had read the first section was that this was not a book about a man who was resentful of his mother's career and thought that women should stay home and raise their children - which is basically what I felt Leslie said in her original blog about the book. I can't imagine reading past the first section and thinking that (working mother - I would guess that the excerpt you read was from the first section.)

The book is a fascinating account of some of the inside of American politics in the 60's and it is a book by a man who respects and is proud of his mother's accomplishments as a women breaking into a "man's" field. It is not a criticsm of working mothers.

Thanks for a great book!

Posted by: momof4 | January 3, 2007 11:15 AM

To working mother - I (respectfully) hope you will change your mind and read the book (if you don't want to buy it - go to the library). I suspect the critical excerpt you read was chosen by someone with a bias against the book (maybe they didn't read the whole thing either).

I think the book does speak to the issue of family-life balance - because John writes about it. John writes with great poignancy about conducting research about his mom - especially as he watches old TV footage of her - and reflecting on her difficult choices and his misunderstandings about her.

He also spins great yarns from his "under the table" view of Washington society in the days from Kennedy and LBJ to Ronald Reagan.

Step back 40 or so years (if you are that old - as I am) and think about our mothers' generation and what was expected of them (and the limits placed on them). Without Nancy Dickerson, and her pioneer peers, none of us would have the choices as women and mothers that we do today.

Posted by: Austin Mom | January 3, 2007 11:36 AM

Working Mom

You obviously have a bias. You are working, so anybody who crizicies working implicitly is critizing you, and that is why you seem so defensive. Your not be objective but a working hack in your comments.

Posted by: Niceday | January 3, 2007 2:40 PM

So then we can surmise that you are a stay at home waste product? As offensive as that sounds, I think working mother would be offended by your comments. Her comments seem to be based on what she has read and from the intro from above.

Posted by: To Niceday | January 3, 2007 4:46 PM

I read the entire book before writing my original review. For whatever reason -- having nothing to do with John's intentions or the number of pages devoted to his early childhood -- I found the criticisms of his mom to be the most vivid, striking parts of the book. His inability to see how hard his mom was struggling never left me. It sounds like John didn't MEAN for that to happen, but as a reader, that was my experience.

Posted by: Leslie | January 3, 2007 7:14 PM

I read the entire book before writing my original review. For whatever reason -- having nothing to do with John's intentions or the number of pages devoted to his early childhood -- I found the criticisms of his mom to be the most vivid, striking parts of the book. His inability to see how hard his mom was struggling never left me. It sounds like John didn't MEAN for that to happen, but as a reader, that was my experience.

Posted by: Leslie | January 3, 2007 7:14 PM

I completely agree with lawyer mama. Men who take the time to recognize that their kids exist, let alone really care for them in every sense of the word, are applauded while women are expected to be perfect and are condemned if they err. Lord forbid your kid has a fit in the store, you get those looks even if you keep your cool. In my next life I want to be a single father who only has to deal with the kids once in a while and gets heaps of praise for it.

Posted by: wipedoutma | January 4, 2007 12:08 AM

Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I appreciate your point of view and agree with you both. Certainly anyone is entitled to write a book about their family--especially when a well known person is involved. And hey, the book may be great. I choose not to read it because I'm not interested in the critical musings of the (possibly bitter) son of a successful mother. Good luck to him, I hope he sells many books.

I'm just concerned that it was chosen for an "On Balance" book club because it is so critical of a successful woman (The title is inflammatory: "Success at Work, Failure at Home). People use this type of stuff to justify their criticisms of working mothers and I think doesn't add to the discussion of balance. Just my opinion. I look forward to the next, hopefully better choice.

Posted by: To Leslie and wipedoutma | January 4, 2007 11:17 AM

working mother - "Success at Work, Failure at Home" is the title of Leslie's blog on the book. Nowhere in the title of the book does it say anything about Nancy Dickerson being a failure at *anything*.

The book is called "On Her Trail: My Mother, Nancy Dickerson, TV News' First Woman Star."

Posted by: momof4 | January 4, 2007 3:34 PM

I think the discussion question being posed "Are working moms judged more harshly than fathers?" or "Do children, even adult children, ever become objective about their parents' attempts to balance work and family commitments?" limit the scope of debate and do a disservice to Mr. Dickerson's book. His book is about mostly his mother and partially their relationships as he was growing up. Putting up generic questions about a specific case seems to have put a number of commentators here into an automatic defensive mode, many of whom it seem have not even bothered to read the book.

As for myself, I have not yet finished the book (I'm beginning Chapter 11 on p85), but have found the book to be full of warmth and humor. The most overt criticisms (which seems to be a big part of this discussion) that John has of his mother in the first 47 pages. In these inaugural pages, John details his early life and the break-up of his parents' marriage. It seems to have been a troubling time for young John and the adult John writes with openness and
honesty. It takes a lot of courage to dig back into an emotional, painful time and I think it is all too easy to dismiss the real feelings of a youngster and teenager, who spend his younger years feeling "broke" as the bitter rantings of a vindictive adult.

As far as I have read, I can at least partially agree with Leslie's comment that John failed to recognize the struggle his mother had been through, but at the same time I've only gotten to John, aged forteen. His appreciation for her, it seems, came about same time as her boxes and boxes of personal effects began to arrive in his office.

His mother was a whole person and this is a personal biography. The positives and negatives are applified because of the close relationship, or at times the lack of a relationship, between a mother and a son.

Posted by: Chris Chicilli Brown | January 4, 2007 5:45 PM

As John Dickerson's researcher, I weighed in on Leslie's earlier hosted discussion of this book. On Her Trail probes many themes, only some of which have to do with parent-child issues. Still, as these issues are again foregrounded here, I thought I'd join the discussion once more-- this time as a reader and mother rather than as someone with first-hand knowledge of the decisions that went into On Her Trail's creation.

From the beginning, I was fascinated by John's ability to write with a double perspective, as unsparing of himself as he was of his mother's gaffes as a parent. The tension here is not between adult gender roles but between mother and child. The child is not viewed as a wronged innocent but as a boy who essentially brought himself up emotionally and often resented his mother's crisis-driven efforts to impose her authority, her guidance, and her occasionally intrusive companionship. John was a child who talked back and even bullied his mother at times - a child who took risks, savored independence, and found refuge in a world he and his older brother created for themselves. Only a very good reporter could creep into the skin of this feisty person-in-the-making and allow us to discover his vulnerabilities or to empathize with his need for understanding.

John's same unflinching perspective allowed me also to ache for his mother despite her emotional cluelessness. I identify with the mother as much as the child. Nancy Dickerson's energy and resilience--- the same awesome power that enabled her to rise professionally--- also reveals itself in domestic life, however skewed her priorities. She never gave up on her son even when, as an adolescent, he temporarily gave up on her.

John rarely laments that his mother did not spend more time with him. Rather, in the evoked voice of his earlier self, the boy John asks to be listened to on his own terms. Perhaps this is unrealistic, but it is emotionally honest and a common plaint of many children. Those moments when the Dickerson family took time to enjoy each other's company are rare in this book, but when they happen. they are unforgettable. John leaves us with a message in his boy's voice: childhood is not only about becoming but also about just plain being.


Posted by: Elisabeth Higgins Null | January 5, 2007 12:15 PM

It's hard to tell from the comments whether the subject is the book or the question about working moms. I choose the latter.

I work, my husband raises our child. For us this was a no-brainer solution. Yet we're constantly called upon to explain ourselves - the tone is "Oh, that's unusual, why did you pick that?" rather than "Justify yourself to me!" But courteous or not the question always arises. The full answer - he's more suited to raising kids than I - makes me a bad parent. A working dad is hardly ever asked and if he responded that way, he wouldn't be seen as a bad parent, just a normad dad.

Before our child was born I was often asked what I'd do after. My husband never was. The comparison is valid - we worked at the same place and with the same people.

I could go on and on, of course. A father with a squally baby is forgiven far more often than a mother with the same baby. Occasionally people wonder if my husband is giving me a break, never do they wonder if I'm giving him a break. We make bets on which stereotypical reaction will be the most common when our child is school age.

My answer is yes, working mothers are judged far more harshly than working fathers.

Posted by: mom at work | January 5, 2007 12:44 PM

I will begin by saying that I've known John for many years and approached his book with great excitment and enthusiasm. Am I completely bias? Well, I've had many friends who have written books and I haven't reflexively loved them all (some I've thoroughly disliked, and some I've never read.) John's book is wonderful for many reasons but largely because he maintains a commendable detachment about his mother's actions. You will not find an ounce of the vitriol so prevelant in family memoirs in John's book- John delivers the facts of his life in a tone free of animosity. Anyone who reads the book through to the end will see that John deeply sympathesizes with his mother's ambitions. He admits, quite touchingly, that he too is repeatedly torn between his passion for his work and his responsibilites as a parent and often will chose sitting in front of his computer over play dates in the park. Nancy Dickerson had failings; she was human, but I think it is impossible to read the book and not come away with an admiration for her drive and hard work and that it is impossible is completely the author's intent. Additionally, at the risk of compromising the integrity of my argument with mushy feelings I can say honestly that John's respect, awe even for working women is tremendous. He is as feminist-minded a man as one could hope to know.

Posted by: Ginia | January 5, 2007 7:05 PM

I will begin by saying that I've known John for many years and approached his book with great excitment and enthusiasm. Am I completely bias? Well, I've had many friends who have written books and I haven't reflexively loved them all (some I've thoroughly disliked, and some I've never read.) John's book is wonderful for many reasons but largely because he maintains a commendable detachment about his mother's actions. You will not find an ounce of the vitriol so prevelant in family memoirs in John's book- John delivers the facts of his life in a tone free of animosity. Anyone who reads the book through to the end will see that John deeply sympathesizes with his mother's ambitions. He admits, quite touchingly, that he too is repeatedly torn between his passion for his work and his responsibilites as a parent and often will chose sitting in front of his computer over play dates in the park. Nancy Dickerson had failings; she was human, but I think it is impossible to read the book and not come away with an admiration for her drive and hard work and that it is impossible is completely the author's intent. Additionally, at the risk of compromising the integrity of my argument with mushy feelings I can say honestly that John's respect, awe even for working women is tremendous. He is as feminist-minded a man as one could hope to know.

Posted by: Ginia | January 5, 2007 7:17 PM

I read this book a few months ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. At first the Nancy depicted as a mother was not likeable, but as the book progressed and John backtracked you understood her and why she was the way she was. With all due respect the book is about Nancy Dickerson, not her husband. John depicted his mother like a son would. He was angry that his mother was not there for him. I did not find him choosing one parent over the other. His opinion of his mother was voiced more because that was his focus, not his dad. You can see the change in their relationship by the end of the book with the eulogy for her. It is a great book with insights on Nancy and Politics & Washington.

Posted by: Erin, NYC | January 6, 2007 3:21 PM

One pertinent theme that does not seem to be discussed here, though it does appear in John Dickerson's book, is the relationship between parents, child-care workers, and children themselves. Whether or not we take on outside jobs, someone has to provide the care we would give if we stayed home. I do feel the dismissive and degrading attitudes society has about "women's work" are reflected in the salariies paid those who tend the children we love.

On her Trail sheds some interesting light on the boy John's attitude towards the sequence of workers who cared for him. There is the woman who cooked his pet bunnies into a stew, a friendly but ferocious cook, and a sequence of homeless people. These were folk he turned to with alternating impulses of need and distrust.

Nancy Dickerson seems to have been unable to hire or keep the sort of care-giver who could provide emotional continuity and moral guidance during her absence. It would have been tough as well as expensive: a loving and intelligent substitute frequently becomes number one in influence and affection, relegating the parent to a romanticized and ceremonial role. As Nancy Dickerson's own mother was a sequestered invalid during much of her girlhood, she may have underestimated the optimal skills needed to rear children effectively.

My handicapped son warned me of how marginalized working parents can become by writing a story about the perfect robot who "mothered" so well, the real mother became a mere voyeur, watching preselected domestic moments by video camera from the office. I've learned, over time, however, to respect parents who go out of their way to obtain great care-givers even if this can lead to some alienation of affection and an occasional crisis of values.

I was reminded of the complex and asummetrical relationship between parent and child-giver when reading Lisa Belkin's article, "Knowing Noreen" in this Sunday's NY Times:
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/07/magazine/07Nanny.t.html?pagewanted=1&th&emc=th

Posted by: Elisabeth Higgins Null | January 7, 2007 12:43 PM

Lisa brings up an interesting point. I had some wonderful people who took care of me growing up. The first was Veronica this fabulous Austrian woman who took care of me for about the first four years of my life. Later Carolina took care of me until I was ten or so. They were both wonderful, caring people who are certainly responsible for chunks of whatever redeemable parts there are of my disposition. The psychologists talk about those people in your life who teach you how to love and I'm sure they are among my teachers.

For those of you who have read the book, you'll remember the brief riff about the strange lack of childhood snapshots or stories from my early childhood. I ran into Veronica at the Sarasota book festival. I hadn't seen her in 35 years. When I wrote the book I didn't know where she was or if she was even living. When I saw her though, I knew exactly who she was. We talked for a good long while and she told me all those stories about my odd eccentricities as a child that I'd never heard growing up. She also had a cache of pictures--about 25 of them that I'd never seen of me as a young boy. It was a warm and very meaningful reunion.

She also confirmed and elaborated on the bunny story which you can find here: (I don't want to spoil it for those who haven't read the book)

http://onhertrail.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?t=53

Posted by: John Dickerson | January 9, 2007 11:20 PM

Mr. Dickerson: I'm about halfway through your book and thoroughly enjoying it. The most unexpected aspect is learning a bit more about how Washington used to be and how much it has changed (or not) in the last 50 years. I'm finding it very interesting to "see" it through your mother's eyes.

Regarding "balance", I'm finding that in reading your book I'm more convicted than ever in 2 of my parenting beliefs.
1) The only people who are truly qualified to judge my parenting efforts are my children (and only after they are grown; teenage judgments don't count) --> There seems to be a never ending stream of people (relatives, co-workers, bloggers, other parents at my kids' school, etc.) who feel comfortable and justified in telling me how I should be raising my children. But parenting my children is my responsibility not theirs and I need to do it in the way that I feel is best.
2) People are complex and therefore so is parenting --> I admire how you took the time to really understand who your mother really was - both before she was a parent and then later in life. It seems that often people want to categorize the parts of our life into career, wife, mother and examine each part individually. But in reality it's a complex system of moving parts that interact with each other so making statements like she's a success at work but failure at home just doesn't make any sense to me.

I look forward to finishing the book.

Posted by: a reader | January 10, 2007 10:08 AM

>>I admire how you took the time to really understand who your mother really was

Thanks. I really appreciate that. In the almost ten years since her death and in the intense year or so I was actually writing it I couldn't order a cup of coffee it seems without trying to think about it from Mom's perspective. I'm glad you found that I was able to relate it on the page. I hope you like the rest of the book.

I'm no expert on parenting or balance (if my kids could type they'd rush to second that) but your rules are ones with which I agree.

Posted by: John Dickerson | January 10, 2007 10:26 AM

This discussion is off the mark. The period Leslie seems fixated on is Dickerson describing his mother as he saw her as a young man. Anyone who describes this as a Mommy Dearest book either haven't read it or have only read the first few chapters. The whole point of the book is that Dickerson is saying he was wrong to be so harsh as a child or if not wrong then misunderstanding his mother. He says that explicitly at the end of the book. And from his lengthy treatment of her career--the vast and highly entertaining majority of the book-- it's obvious that he has empathy and understanding for what she went through both as a woman in a man's world and also as a driven person trying to balance everything at once. It's no different to judge a book by some misguided fixation on one portion than it is to judge a woman based on the dress she wears. There's a reason the author went to the trouble of writing all those other pages. I don't see how you can get to the end of this book and have anything but empathy for Nancy Dickerson not because she has a son who was too hard on her but because her son took the time and care to explore her life and tell it in all of its complexity and richness. I cried several times because Dickerson had made me feel so acutely connected to his mother. That's not the act of an uncaring or harsh son.

Posted by: another reader | January 14, 2007 10:01 AM

Mr. Dickerson: I finished your book this weekend and as a working mother myself I have to say that I feel the criticism directed to you is unfair to say the least. It seems to me that you love, respect and accept your mother. And above all else if my own children can say that about me then I think I will have been a success.

One question...how does your wife feel about your mother? I imagine that both as a working mother and as your spouse she has some pretty good insights of her own.

Posted by: a reader...finishes the book | January 15, 2007 10:12 AM

I don't want to seem to pick (again) at Leslie, but she seems most fixated on the first pages probably because she feels such anxiety over them. Others reading the same material don't seem to be so hung on it. Perhaps writing a balance blog forces one to spend too much time seeing through a single prism, and therefore skewing what is observed. Just a thought.

Clearly, few can argue that women receive more credit for good results, and more blame for bad results with parenting than is equitable, with all the connotations therein. It's easy to complain about the bad parts, but don't conveniently forget the privileges that are the flip side of the coin.

Women get essentially default custodial status of children in divorce. Women get almost default hearing if they accuse men of abuse of spouse/child. And of course no woman in divorce court has ever made false claims in this regard, huh? These are but a few examples where women wish to have their cake and eat it too.

And then the larger picture. Society doesn't simply completely dissolve gender roles or social compacts regardless how fervently we desire change in very short social time scales. But this gender activity doesn't stop with parenting, men aren't the only culprits, and women the only victims. A few short examples. If you are asked to bring a dish to a party/function and it is truly inedible, the woman is more likely the one to have things said about her (and perhaps mostly by other women). But if the kids are completely inept in sports, is the Mom the mostly likely the one who gets whispered about, or the Dad? If the yard looks shoddy, the cars don't run, or the family is harmed by an intruder, who wonders first about what the Dad was doing?

The point here is that each gender gets some share of default roles, both men and women are culprits and victims, and each side complains about their strictures them from time. Cie la Vie...just keep it all in perspective, and don't selectively notice only the bad parts.

I think John is pretty tough to come back here again, since he got some stinging barbs on his last trip here. Perhaps it is only to sell the book, but you seem a genuine poster here and have answered all comers, and filled in details that helped us make some useful insights into our ongoing discussion here. So kudos to you...

Guess we will have a lot of Wash area people out on Government holiday today. The rest of us in the real world will have to fill in. :~)

Posted by: Texas Dad of 2 | January 15, 2007 10:26 AM

I'm about 3/4 of the way through the book right now. It seems that the first 45 pages or so are, as Mr. Dickerson has pointed out, written from his childhood point of view. If I had stopped there I would have been left with the impression that Mr. Dickerson and his siblings had no respect for their mother or any understanding her or her life. Reading beyond the first portion of the book, however, I have thus far enjoyed Mr. Dickerson's attempt to unravel the mystery of his mother. I'm not to the end of the book yet, but it is already apparent to me how much he admires his mother and her work.

Reading the book has also made me examine how I feel about my own (stay at home) mother more carefully. I remember disdaining her choice when I was younger and seeing only her flaws. But that is how many children see one or both of their parents. Only when we're older (and sometimes become parents) can we see our own childhoods and our skewed perspective a little more clearly. After becoming a parent, I understand more about why my mother made the choices she did but I sort of accidentally fell into that understanding. Maybe because of that, I am thoroughly enjoying Mr. Dickerson's much more deliberate quest to understand his mother.

http://lawyermama.blogspot.com

Posted by: Lawyer Mama | January 15, 2007 2:50 PM

Dear "a reader" I'm glad you continued to find the book worth it and I'm glad you came to the conclusion you did at the end.

Please, if you have them, feel free to ask any other questions. My wife has a very interesting answer to your question but I would be both a brute and not my mother's son if I answered for my wife. I've asked her to chime in when she can-she's swamped today (balance, don't ya know).

Posted by: John Dickerson | January 15, 2007 5:40 PM

To "Texas Dad" thanks for your kind words. It was a little bracing getting so many attacks but people who have read the book and my postings seem inclined to take them seriously which means they deserve a response. Yes, it helps books sell in some way, but the more desperate motivation for me was that after having worked so long and so hard to try to get this book right to see it savaged out of hand was rather motivating. The book has flaws no doubt --of different kinds too-but I felt like the photographer who has his dark room door opened in the middle of development. The picture may be uninteresting, poorly photographed, out of focus or taken with the wrong camera. Heck, it might be of a palm tree instead of the sunset you've promised to capture. But let's at least get a chance to look at the picture. Perhaps that's an overly dramatic analogy but it's the way it felt reading those initial posts.

Posted by: John Dickerson | January 15, 2007 5:44 PM

>>One question...how does your wife feel about your mother?

Hi, I'm the author's wife and he asked if I would respond directly to "a reader's" question.

Much like John, my view of Nancy has morphed. I started off being very judgmental of her. After all, how could she leave my adorable and loveable husband to mostly fend for himself? My newlywed instincts were protective of him and I was always scanning him for signs of damage from an upbringing that was so very different from mine.

Plus, my mother-in-law was intimidating and I think my lack of confidence in her presence prevented me from getting to know her better. I had assumed that I was her opposite. But then John and I had children.

Contrary to my plans (loudly announced) that I would forsake paid work, I found myself pulled by a few interesting projects. Then a few more. Then I started really juggling and somewhere along the line realized that I could judge her no more. Now I know that every parent has to find their own way, their own line to walk. I have the luxury (thanks for her, and women like her paving the way) to carve out an undulating path.

And as John began to write the book and I screened some of the tapes and saw the things that she was getting to do, I understood even more. Having kids made it both easier and more uncomfortable to imagine myself in her shoes. What choice would I make if I could be asking the president questions, traveling the world and debating important issues over the public airwaves? Though my husband IS precious, I see now why she wanted to be a part of that. And that choice at that time meant not packing lunch boxes or lacing up shoes.

I am sad that she didn't get to see our children. I have thought that they would have been a chance for her to lace up some shoes if she wanted to. I would have been interested to see if she enjoyed it!

Posted by: Anne Dickerson | January 15, 2007 11:09 PM

Thank you Anne for answering my question. Unfortunately I think this blog proves that there are far too many people who don't believe that "every parent has to find their own way, their own line to walk". Rather they're quick to judge. I remember a column written shortly after JFK Jr. got married which responded to some criticisms of Carolyn by basically saying come on ladies, would you really have kept your own name if you were the one who had married John? My point is that it's easy to find yourself looking into someone else's life and passing judgment. And what you and your husband seem to have achieved is a sense of perspective and acceptance towards Nancy rather than judgment. Again, thanks for your comments.

Posted by: a reader | January 19, 2007 5:21 PM

As a daughter of a journalist, whose parents lived in Washington during the 60s,I read On Her Trail more as a commentary on the political times and the evolving role of media journalism. On Her Trail depicts a Washington far more convivial and congenial not to say open than the current one. The parties that John describes show politicians, journalists, people in the arts and, above all, people with different point of view, meeting in an atmosphere of civility that must have carried over into their work the next day.
I regret today's divisive and contentious atmosphere, where people often define themselves very narrowly by their political, religious or social affiliations, exacerbating their differences rather than seeking information or a common ground. Being a working mom is hard, so is being a stay at home mom. Being a mom is hard period and yes, society does judge us more harshly than dads. But what I found intriguing about ON Her Trail was the ambiguity and ambivalence that John feels. Who among us doesn't have negative feelings about her parents along with pride in their accomplishments? The very young John may ahve felt neglected ( what small child doesn't, with even the most doting of mothers) but the adult, with good reason, feels great pride in his mother's trail-blazing accomplishments. It is satisfyting that the two are reconciled in the end,
and that the professional bond enables and promotes the personal one. Let's hope the same for all moms and their adult kids. And lets be more tolerant of people who choose different patterns in their lives. Frances Buttenheim

Posted by: Frances B | January 23, 2007 11:39 AM

Frances,

Thanks. I'm grateful you read the book and thanks for taking it so seriously. I had a great time writing and researching the period of her career.

Posted by: John Dickerson | January 23, 2007 10:05 PM

[URL=http://nyrcojze.com]gdbjztkx[/URL] xvpsjgyf geudeydb http://tfrprehr.com cuvsjtfo qeisittd

Posted by: uekibvar | January 29, 2007 2:58 PM

[URL=http://nyrcojze.com]gdbjztkx[/URL] xvpsjgyf geudeydb http://tfrprehr.com cuvsjtfo qeisittd

Posted by: uekibvar | January 29, 2007 2:59 PM

yxrimgun kqmvwcps http://vrinrjnd.com nkkdspxv brmqnufa [URL=http://ouqhmltf.com]euxyqyjs[/URL]

Posted by: cfebpnkc | January 29, 2007 3:00 PM

yxrimgun kqmvwcps http://vrinrjnd.com nkkdspxv brmqnufa [URL=http://ouqhmltf.com]euxyqyjs[/URL]

Posted by: cfebpnkc | January 29, 2007 3:01 PM

sqfabath http://fbyssksj.com ipduyjna rgdqbkkd etbvkfud [URL=http://wgpszlap.com]ytavvajy[/URL]

Posted by: gntbgqts | January 29, 2007 3:01 PM

Just curious, but when did it become okay for an adult to pursue self-fulfillment at the expense of those who have less power and fewer options and (in the case of one's own kids)are here only because we decided we wanted them?
Sorry, folks, I don't buy the "balance" stuff. It's one thing if kids arrived like some sort of "natural disaster." But that's mostly not the case today.
If parents aren't able to devote the same quality of time and attention to child rearing as they devote to a paying job, they are most likely derelict in one job or the other. Men are as guilty of this as women (OF COURSE women have been unfairly held to a higher standard.) But it's like anything else, life isn't fair, and the person who is the grown-up has to do the right thing even when it's to his/her "disadvantage."
Ideally people would think through the ramifications of having children before having them but, if they don't, the negotiation over how the children are to be cared for and by whom --which is the equal responsibility of both parents-- needs to put what's best for the child first. John Dickerson's story unfolds right on the borderline between when babies were just something that happened when you had sex and today, when almost all babies in the US result from a choice. This makes a huge difference. Some of you folks seem to think it's the child's responsibility to work through whatever deprivation/hardship s/he experienced as a result of the parent's going for fulfillment, as though it's comparable to growing up in a time of famine or drought. But in this case, the deprivation is the direct result of a more powerful individual seeking gratification at the expense of a less powerful one. I fear parents make the kids pay because, let's face it, it's easier than hammering it out with a spouse. And that's not ethical.

Posted by: R U Listening | January 29, 2007 8:22 PM

The New York Times will review the book this weekend. The anonymous author shares Leslie's view of the book. An excerpt:

"[Nancy Dickerson's] was a glamorous life, mercilessly skewered in this sharp-as-a serpent's tooth memoir/biography....it's an inverted story of child abuse. She [Nancy Dickerson] remains legendary despite her son's disjointed, sketchy book."

Posted by: John Dickerson | January 31, 2007 11:00 AM

Kudos to Leslie for reopening the discussion on the book here, when her first posting on it incited so much reaction.

Posted by: Anne Dickerson | January 31, 2007 11:03 AM

I agree with Anne. And not just because I always do.

Posted by: John Dickerson | January 31, 2007 12:08 PM

I was wrong about the Times book review. It is not anonymous. The reviewer is Tara McKelvey who writes for the American Prospect. Sorry for the misinformation.

Posted by: John Dickerson | January 31, 2007 7:15 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 

© 2007 The Washington Post Company