09/26/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Parenting Card

The first night of the Democratic National Convention had quite a lineup: among the women speaking were Nancy Pelosi, the first female speaker of the house: Caroline Kennedy, once the first daughter and still the first niece: and keynote speaker, Michele Obama, possibly the first African-American First Lady. This Monday night, the legendary smoke-filled room looked like a girls' club. Except for the elephant in the room and I don't mean the symbol of the GOP. Even in 2008, women can be warm up acts but the headliner for the show this week and next is a man. When it comes to 'isms' in the new millennium, it appears racism (the Democratic nominee) and ageism (the Republican) are easier to crack than sexism. Even in a mile-high city, women are still hitting their heads against the glass ceiling.

If history -- especially recent history -- is to be believed, women, are still unable to be the U.S. commander in chief. They are still not ready for the 3AM call whether it's the red phone or, the vp invitation. Everybody acknowledges women are up to the 2AM feeding and, decades later, they are still up waiting to hear the car in the driveway, the key in the lock when their
teenagers come home. Though many Americans seem still uncertain that a woman
can keep the country safe, they've never doubted women's ability to keep the country's children safe.

Last night we heard how the presumptive Democratic nominee for President is himself a superb father. And, I have no doubt he is. His young daughters sparkle with independence, verve and the confidence that comes from knowing your father adores you. Did you see them walking-- on the beaches of Hawaii Hawaii? As my own baby daughter, now 21, used to say: "We're one fappy hamily."

But if we are going to play the parenting card, let's be fair about it. I know the Democratic nominee is a new man--you know, comfortably in touch with his feminine side, and I took delight in his tender play with his daughters on vacation. Still all I could think of when I watched this picture postcard-perfect moment was : Who packed the suitcases the trip? Who did the laundry before they left? Who made sure they had sunscreen? When my daughters were small, when men were just becoming involved dads, my test to determine a hands-on father was one simple question: Do he know his child's shoe size?

In attempt to humanize her husband, to show he shares the same values as voters, to dim his otherness, Michele Obama spoke glowingly of Barack as a father. Indeed, those incomparable qualities of the good fathering-- selfless love and compassion--are important to the job of president, I am just surprised they are being hauled out. Twenty-four years ago when I was starting my career climb as a journalist at Time Inc., I had to to hide my motherhood. Talking about the kids, staying home when a little one was sick or leaving work early for a soccer game would have me unworthy of the job, not cut out to compete with the guys. (One male managing editor, a father himself, told me to stay in my office with my door closed because I was so pregnant I made people nervous. This was 1983!)

It was great last night to see Nancy Pelosi, Caroline Kennedy and Michelle Obama -- strong, talented women commanding the stage and the audience. All I could think was that, yes, we have come a long way. There has definitely been progress-- women are at the podium and a man of color may be our next president. But not far enough. If the glass ceiling had been broken in this first decade of the 21st century , things might have looked very different even in the Obama family. He might been doing the vacation packing, and Michelle would have been not just running along the beach with the girls but running for the highest office in the land.