Tuesday, December 29, 2009
I am excited to do a reading with long time friend and zine godmother Artnoose of Kerbloom, which I just happened to quote in the intro to rad dad 16 and Magpie, formerly of Steampunk Magazine and now the author of a recently released book Mythmakers and Lawbreakers: Anarchist Writers on Fiction.
It will be January 15th at the Long Haul in South Berkeley (whatwhat) starting at 7pm - 9pm.
Hope to see you all there...
Saturday, December 05, 2009
still just three bucks plus postage – a perfect gift for the lovers, the parents, the allies, all those people in your life who dream of a better world...
surprise them with stories of bike trips with pops, cell phone drama with kids, an interview with a commie papa, plus book reviews!!!
Correction: I regrettably misspelled Adrienne Skye Roberts' last name in the title column of this issue. Please note.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
I enjoy learning things from a book, those moments when you are stunned at what you just read, or shocked at some statistic, some point, some example. Those are the books I cherish. My Baby Rides the Short Bus was just such an experience.
From reading the introduction and on through the essays, I learned that some parents of special needs kids are radical prior to becoming parents and some become radicalized through parenting. I learned that they struggle, make mistakes, come to realizations about things they did, realizations that cause them pain, that inform choices they will make in the future, that serve as a catalyst for standing up and fighting for change.
I learned that, like parents everywhere, "they learn how their kids function and they make it happen as well as they can." Just like me; just like you.
But I also learned about the complexity of parenting, how it is something we learn to do, how we discover the depth of our militancy, awareness and patience, strengths sometimes we didn’t know we even had. Until we needed them.
I learned that the medical profession and schools and court systems, which can be difficult to navigate in general, can be downright ruthless when dealing with a special needs child and family.
I learned how encounters with these institutions can belittle, can terrify, can cut deeply.
I also learned that encounters with other parents sometimes hurt the most.
I learned a little humility.
I learned new words: neurotypical, authentic activism, and scores of acronyms I never knew existed.
I was reminded how sometimes the simplest things are the most effective, like playing with your child. Down on the ground rolling around.
I was reminded of the intensity of love. How sometimes the best thing to do is pick up your child off the floor and walk away, leave the office, ignore the advice. And yet, sometimes the most difficult act of love is to let go, to trust.
Reading My Baby Rides the Short Bus, I was reminded of the ferocity with which we love, the depths of our feelings, the need for community.
I was reminded of the power of sharing stories.
These are the stories I want to hear. The stories of pain and fear, stories of surprising strength, of learning, and then of doing. As Sharis Ingram writes, “at some point you will give up trying so hard, and come to trust yourself, trust your child, trust what *is.*”
Trust me, and go get the book.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
It's no wonder Rad Dad won the 2009 Utne Independent Press Award for Best Zine. In just a few pages, Moniz and his contributors manage to turn traditional notions of parenthood and family on their heads. Addressing societal and cultural issues in the context of raising kids, each piece opens the door for dialog, acknowledging the common fears and struggles of parents and seeking solutions through community to raise a more caring and open-minded future generation. Recommended for parents, child-care workers, and activists.
Wednesday, November 04, 2009
What are we to do as parents, as individuals? What do you do?
For the next issue of rad dad tell us; consider winter in all its glory, in all its potential, the beauty of quietness, of hibernation, in the profound way it sets the stage for the coming rebirth.
Send in stories, polemics, celebrations, recipes, songs sung with you and your people to keep at bay the monsters, lurking, lurking...
With much love and respect,
Friday, October 23, 2009
Come join us on November 6th at 7 pm at Book Zoo in North Oakland, for the first ever rad dad zine release party to help with publishing costs, to help spread the word, and to just have fun hearing parents read their writing aloud…
Consider it a Parents Salon.
There will be music, zines to buy, and awesome parents sharing their writing for you to enjoy. Kid friendly!
6395 Telegraph Avenue
Oakland, CA 94609
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Thanks to Kate Haas and China Martens for their help and inspiration!
As he sauntered past my table I knew what he was gonna say; I could see it in his eyes.
‘It must be strange to be like the only zine on parenting. I mean how many parents still make zines, right?’
I get a version of this statement every time I tell someone I do a zine. I generally shake my head and say, ‘well, there’s actually a huge history of parenting zines….’
And almost immediately their eyes glaze over, as if I’m explaining the mechanics of pumping and preserving breast milk, and when they see I’m done, they say something like, ‘well, that’s cool, but I guess it’s not for me; what does a zine on fathering have to do with me?’
Ok, here’s my official response for the record on both these rhetorical questions.
Allow me to respond to the last question first: why you should read a zine on parenting even if you are not a parent. Let me ask you this: what does a zine on punk life in the East Bay have to do with you, what does a comic zine with foxes and bunnies as characters have to do with you, or a zine on being a fisherwoman in the Pacific Northwest have to do with you. Most likely nothing. But what they do have to offer you is this: good storytelling, filled with poignant moments displaying our humanness, our tenderness, our commitment, our love. That is why zines are so amazing.
At the risk of sounding self-aggrandizing, I have to say the best parenting zines are as much about parenting as they are about trying to live an authentic life, about trying to love honestly and consciously, about working to create a better world. And that has everything to do with you.
So hell yes, pick one up.
And for the initial question, I figured I’d research the genealogy of parenting zines, which I tried to do, but soon realized that it seemed impossible to find a starting point: the reality of parents asking questions, sharing strategies, and soothing fears has been around in one shape or another for a long time. Plus parenting issues tend to morph into various other areas of people’s lives, so is a zine on alternative living a zine on parenting? Well, yes. Is a zine on dropping out of school a zine on parenting? Actually, yes. On navigating non-monogamous relationships, on living in another country, on pirates and the history of arrr matey? Yes, yes, and (surprisingly) yes. I have, in fact, seen many of these very zines.
So how’s this for a history: we’ve been around for a long time.
Looking back historically, however, we can clearly see that an important moment for all zines was the early to mid nineties, a period that that saw the birth of Hip Mama and The Future Generation. These two and other zines inspired and continue to inspire parents and non-parents to take up the pen and stapler to this day.
Then, in the early 2000s, there was another explosion of new zines. Even today, despite the continued growth of blog and website accessibility, I believe zines have yet to reach their peak. In fact, the audience for zines is now greater than ever. As a friend of mine said, ‘back in the nineties they were an oddity, today they’re a genre.’
Personally, I love all zines, love the hands on quality, the notes I write in them when I give mine away, the quirky and individual touches that each zinester does to her zine. And no amount of changing the font or margin colors on a blog can replicate that personal quality.
There is no denying though that the internet has provided a cheap, easy way for many parents (and writers in general) to connect and share stories. And so, many people wonder what the future holds for zines. I, too, have been thinking about this issue and the future of my own zine, rad dad. And in doing so, I discovered an interesting point that reminds me how vital zines still are.
Zines are consciously exclusionary. Hold on; let me explain because when I hear this I immediately become nervous and suspicious because (let me gernalize for a second) zines historically have been “white,” mirroring the communities in which they initially caught on: punk and soon after, radical leftist circles. Of course, there were people of color active in those communities, and there were zines by people of color during that time period. And zine culture has slowly become more and more diverse.
But my point in all this is that exclusivity can also be an asset, an attempt to stay connected to ideals and to others in similar circumstances. Zines speak to an intended community. Perhaps even strive to create that community. People have to work to find them, have to pay money or trade their own zine for them, perhaps even write an actual letter.
However, it is important to remember that this exclusivity places more responsibility on us as writers to be self-reflective about our goals, to ask tough questions about whom we are writing to and who has access.
And if what we discover is acceptable to us.
I can’t stress this fact enough. For example, I want my zine to be everywhere, to be in people’s hands, on the buses, in bathrooms, at places of work, and not relegated to when someone has the time (and privilege) to peruse the internet at their leisure. I also don’t really want my zine displayed in some upscale baby boutique.
Sometimes the exclusivity of zines can be a defense mechanism. There are so many parents out there that if even five percent were interested in rad dad, I am afraid to imagine what that kind of attention would do to the stated mission of rad dad: to be a space for diverse voices, men and women of color, trans parents, anarchist parents, all those trying to parent in conscientious ways. How might that attention change my choices as editor to please more readers or affect my decisions about whom I publish?
I guess for me, I’ll stick to folding and stapling, to answering letters and writing them; I’ll relish the pleasure of asking a fellow writer to trade my zine for his. It’s like a secret.
So I’m ready for the next shocked reaction when a person sees my forty year old butt sitting behind a table trying to sell zines. ‘Here,’ I’ll say, ‘read this and let me know what you think. I wrote it just for you.’
Here is a brief list of zines both past and present to check out.
Current mama and papa zines:
• Welfare Warriors/Welfare Mothers Voice Newspaper (1986) by, for, and about mothers in poverty.
• The Future Generation (1989) the longest-running subculture parenting zine written by single mama China Martens.
• Hip Mama (1993) the mother of mothering zines.
• Miranda (1998) Portland mama zine.
• La Dama (1998), still going on after eleven years
• East Village Inky (1999) immensely popular hand written and drawn zine. Everyone loves monkey.
• Hermana Resist (2002) by Noemi Martinez, but now it’s online only, with the promise of one last issue!
• Joybringer (2003) zine on staying politically engaged, creating communities that are multigenerational, and having fun all while parenting.
• Mamaphiles,(2003, 05, 07) a huge compilation zine (three issues so far) by over two dozen mama (and a few papa) zinesters with a fourth issue coming out soon.
Random and totally subjective list of cool mama and papa zines that have flown the coop:
• Amazing True Story of a Teenage Single, 1998 early graphic novel (thought it was a zine but not sure now). Please read this.
• Zuzu and the Baby Catcher, local Portland zine ended in 00s.
• Placenta (early 2000s) the punk rock and vegan parenting zine, only saw the first issue but loved it.
• Baby Bloc, the Activist Family Handbook 2003 -2006. I loved the politics and the illustrations.
• Mama Sez No War 2003 about mamas’ actions to protest the U.S.’s invasion of Iraq. Part of Vikki law’s prodigious body of work; check out her new book Resistance behind Bars, which grew out of a zine.
• Pirate Papa (2004) one kick ass issue.
One time zines or special issues:
• Earth First printed a “Birth First” insert in their newspaper; it was interesting yet a little freaky that it was trying to justify the choice to have kids.
• Maximum Rock-n-Roll (2000) puts out “Punks with Kids” special issue. Jessica Mills contributed to that issue and starts her own column in MRR that September: My Mother Wears Combat Boots. After 3 years of writing monthly columns, Jessica (editor of Yard Wide Yarns zine) puts out kick ass book called My Mother Wears Combat Boots.
• My Baby Rides the Short Bus, a collection of essays by parents of kids with special needs.
• As Soon As You’re Born They Make You Feel Small (1985) (from a review) A very important (and fun!) pamphlet that seeks to cover the largely ignored territory of kids’ liberation. This would be a good read for parents, kids, or anyone who works with kids and recognizes their potential for integrity, intelligence, and individuality.
• Phases of the Moon, it’s the account by two young, poor, on-the-road punk rock kids, of the year they accidentally conceived a child and made the decision to place her for adoption. A really interesting, thoughtful read (thanks Kate of Miranda zine).
Monday, August 31, 2009
Of all the pictures of the devastation that hurricane Katrina wrought, there was one that stopped me cold, that had me mesmerized, overwhelmed, that just seemed to contain all that I wanted to believe about people in general but in particular, about men, about fathers. The picture transcended all the racist media spin, it eased the pain of the decimated street scenes, the moments of panic. One man. One child. Not his even. He was wading through water; he was holding that child like it was the most important thing he could do, like not just that child‘s life but his life depended on their safe arrival. He asked no questions about whose child it was, no need to ascertain ownership, or ask permission. No pathetic excuses about needing to wait and see, to try hard like we kept hearing from the “men” in charge of the federal response. He just knew: I help this child, I help myself; I help all of us get by. There was such humanity embodied in his arms, in the determination in his eyes. It spoke to me as the epitome of “fathering,” of caring for not just our immediate family but for all our relations. It reminded me of how much of an impact we can have on the children in our lives, how easy it is to overlook, to forget, to deprioritize others as we take care of our own.
I had an argument about this a few weeks ago with a man who said it’s not his responsibility to know how to be around other people’s kids. I think he feels this way because of the silence around parenting (especially male parenting), around the public perception of children being seen not heard, of good behavior equaling good kids…
I am always puzzled by the responses I get when I say I edit a zine on fathering, on how parents impact the world and the children about them. Most people smile and say I ain’t a dad, or I don’t know anyone who’s a parent. And when I ask if there are children in their lives or if they’re uncles or if they still talk with their parents, most people just smile and say something like, ‘well I’ll deal with that later, those things don’t relate to me now. ‘
Tell that to the man who picked up the child, held her close to his chest and waded out in the waters which were destroying the very place he lived. How we relate to our own children, how connect with the kids and teenagers on our blocks and in our communities is analogous with how we envision a better world, a more compassionate, loving, sustainable world. If we continue to curtail that relationship, we will continue to live our lives surrounded by levees that cannot hold…
Wednesday, July 08, 2009
sacto zine fest -- july 11 from 1:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m. at the Brickhouse Gallery, 2837 36th St., Sacramento, CA
portland zine fest -- july 24-26 -- kerlin richter from hip mama and i will be on a panel at this year's zine fest talking about zines, parenting, and politics
san francisco zine fest -- august 22 - 23 -- look for my daughter's cute greeting cards to adorn my table again this year....
Sunday, June 21, 2009
On the night Barak Obama was elected, he threw out this rhetorical question: If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible…
I’d like a chance to answer.
Yes, Mr. president, there are.
Let me start with a story and then some facts:
Just two days before my daughters and I were leaving on a 5 week trip to southeast Asia, I heard a call come into my home phone. It was a collect call. My heart froze; it was from my son, who was being held in county jail, no longer a juvenile but now an eighteen year old “adult.” I was frustrated and confused. I could barely find out what happened because the cops were so unhelpful and condescending in my attempt to check on his situation and well-being. I was told that after he tried to evade police, they “subdued” him. Subdued?! What the fuck does that mean? I asked if he is hurt in any way. The officer said, ‘I looked at his mug shot and his face seems fine. Just a bloody nose.’ I couldn’t even talk to my son about what happened because the phones were monitored.
Then there were the other questions: should we still go on our trip? should we change our plans? After much discussion, we departed leaving his mother and the rest of our community to handle the situation, which didn’t appear to be over any time soon.
We had been in Thailand for just a week. It was a few days after New Years. We were at the point of feeling a bit homesick, missing our homes in Berkeley and Oakland, when a person whom we met on the road said, wow, you people in Oakland are crazy.
Oscar Grant had been murdered by BART police, unarmed and face down on the ground. He was shot in the back. In the aftermath, the people in Oakland took to the streets. Not knowing anything abut the situation, we made our way to an internet café and watched the video of his murder and of the protests on the streets of our home. My kids and I were stunned. We looked at each other, angry, horrified. There was nothing to say really. Until Ella, my youngest asked, how old was he?
Twenty two, I said.
Why’d they shoot him?
I shook my head.
Why does this happen? she continued.
I didn’t know what to say. What answers should I give her?
I don’t know why this happens, I responded.
She looked straight at me and declared, that coulda been Dylan, that coulda been our brother.
I know, I said, I know.
Some facts from the Ella Baker Center:
Since that day when my daughters and I discussed Oscar Grant, I have been haunted by my desire to answer Ella’s question with more than a head shake, a hug, and some lame phrase of disbelief.
I want to be able to look straight back at her with something to say.
I want to risk being honest with her.
Ella, this is why it happens.
We have failed you and other young people from the beginning. It is not about one cop killing one unarmed young man; it’s about the years of failure that many young people, like perhaps Oscar Grant, face in our society, from schools to jobs, from media representations to the courts.
This isn’t one isolated incident; this is a pattern.
And with pattern, there is usually design.
Ella, it happens because there is a war going on.
I know this sounds hyperbolic, but it’s true. Despite the “hope” and “change” we’ve been told will come from the top down like some liberal version of Reaganomics, if we just wait, the reality is that right now, right here on the streets of our cities, it is dangerous to be young. To be a teenager and a person of color can simply be deadly.
With the amount of consumer advertising budgets aimed at them, the pressure of social and gender conformity, and the economic stress of capitalist created desires, growing up is a constant battle.
As a young person, there is no room to test boundaries and make mistakes and challenge things that are given you. It’s a set-up. Community centers and after school programs close, so there’s no place to gather safely and legally; it’s prohibited to congregate on street corners and in parks past dark. We had to actually fight to get the local school playground open during the summer so that kids could play there during the day without get the cops called on them. It seems the only place safe to hang out is some shopping center, but you gotta have money to go there so you better hope you have job. Almost everything connected to youth culture, from skateboarding to the music you play, is seen as suspect, something to distrust, an excuse for adults to call the cops. Basically, for many young folks, they are guilty before they step out their door. And especially if that door is in East Oakland or Richmond.
Ella, it happens because young people are expected to be perfect.
If you are a teenager and/or a person of color, whatever you do, don’t fuck up. Don’t make a mistake. And don’t get caught. People wonder why there’s a “don’t snitch policy” in many working class neighborhoods and communities of color. Because getting caught up in the legal system is a nightmare. People know this. We live in a society in which mistakes are costly and if you the wrong class or color, those mistakes aren’t things you can simply learn from, but shackles that are extremely difficult, time consuming, and expensive to free yourself from.
Here’s another story, an analogy.
I teach basic writing at the local community college. On the first day of classes, I sit for a minute in silence as they stare and wait for me to begin. But I wait. I wait for them to get uncomfortable, to shift in their chairs, to mumble something under their breaths about this crazy fool sitting in front of them. Then I say I’m just observing and thinking. I ask everyone to look around. What can we gather about our class? What do we see? After some playful remarks (usually about some cute girl across the room) someone will say, there ain’t that many white people in the class. Which is always the case.
And then I show them statistics from the school’s website.
For example: black students make up a quarter of the school population but more than half of the basic skills population. That success rates from basic skills instruction are dismally low. That the statistics of basic skills classes eerily mirror the statistics of the prison system.
That this the ghetto of the school.
This the reservation.
The interment camp.
How do they feel about this? Now, there is a different kinda silence in the classroom.
I try to be honest with my students. Because I believe with this knowledge comes the possibility of choice, comes determination, comes anger, perhaps action. It now is up to them individually and collectively to face these issues.
So I am trying to be honest with you, Ella.
Unfortunately, it is also your responsibility to face these issues. Someday soon it will be you out on the streets at night with your friends. It will be you riding public transportation home after some holiday celebration perhaps running a bit wild, perhaps getting into a little trouble. It will be you and your friends that will be seen only in relation to your age, your clothes and style, your color. It will be you or your friend’s facing the gun.
Ella, but it is also my responsibility to do something about it as well. To do my best to trust you. To be honest with you about the potential consequences you face. To love you unconditionally despite what the world around me says about teenagers and young people. To listen and believe and let go and support. To stand up for other young people who are dealing with these issues now. To not let things like Oscar Grant’s murder go unmourned. To remember the number of other people, both young and old, who might also raise their hands in response to Mr. President’s declaration. The doubters, the hell raisers, those trying to be honest in spite of the pressure to conform, to believe that everything for the most part is fine.
Ella, I wish I was there on that, albeit wonderful night, when President Barak Obama asked that question: Is there anyone out there who doubts…
And for you Ella, I hope I would have had the courage to raise my hand.
All statistics from The Ella Baker Center website http://www.ellabakercenter.org as well as the Berkeley City College http://vistawww.peralta.edu website. This article was also inspired by an article Cherrie Moraga wrote with the same quote.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
One of the things I shared at the last event was a list of ways fathers (and others) can fight patriarchy.
And since I love lists here’s another. A list of things parent allies can do to support the parents in their communities. Feel free to add more things and I’ll include the entire list in the next issue of rad dad…Here it is:
- Give children attention; talk to them, not about them, in a regular voice.
- Don’t get upset if they don’t want to talk to you when you do.
- Develop a consistent relationship with the children in your life. Set up a weekly or monthly date with a child.
- Speak up for childcare issues in all areas of what you do. Don’t let it fall to the parent to have to ask about childcare, or if it is a child friendly event.
- In general, feel free to ask a parent or childcare giver if you can help out when you see them “multi-tasking” (code word for overwhelmed, freaking out, having a melt down), and of course be gracious if they say no thank you.
- Smile at parents.
- Remember parenting doesn’t equal mothering; ask fathers how they are feeling as well.
- If you are throwing a party, hosting a meeting, planning a running street protest, announce that it is or is not a child friendly event. And if for some reason the event is not, make sure you are prepared to help parents stay involved: child care, classes for older kids.
- Create a space for children in your home: have some books to read and a toy or two to share when some little one (or not so little) comes over.
- Look at the world from child’s height
- Know how to change a diaper
- If you’re dating a parent offer to chip in on childcare costs while on a date
- Call your own parents regularly: remember you were a child
- Take the initiative to invite parents to events or to just hang out, even if they decline…parents often feel isolated.
- Remember parenting doesn’t end with infancy; parents of older children need allies too.
- And of course buy yourself and parents alternative books and zines about parenting…yes shameless plug
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Dear Mr. Moniz,
Congratulations! You’re the winner of the 2009 Utne Independent Press Award for Best Zine. We are honored to acknowledge your zine’s outstanding work last year, and hope to have the pleasure of reading it for years to come.
We’re sorry that you couldn’t make it to last night’s awards ceremony. We’ll be posting video from the event at our website, and sending out an official press release later today. We’ll also be sending out official letters and awards this week.
In the meantime, read all of the nice things we had to say about your zine—and watch a short video about the awards process (complete with Utne library tour!)—at www.utne.com/uipa2009.
the Utne Reader staff
Thursday, May 14, 2009
2nd annual summertime reading (or a celebrating parents day reading smack dab in-between mothers and father’s day)
calling all mamas and papas
come to radical storytelling hour
readings by local parents on the pleasures, pains and politics of parenting
hosted by tomas moniz editor/writer of rad dad zine (nominated by utne magazine for best zine of 2009)
jeremy smith, author of the daddy shift
rahula janowski, joybringer zine
robin dutton-cookston, author of the foggiest idea
Pegasus Bookstore 2349 Shattuck Avenue
Trust me. I was planning on writing this kick ass introduction for the fourth year anniversary issue of Rad Dad. The debut issue premiered at the 2005 SF Anarchist Bookfair (I make it sound all glamorous but really, I didn’t even have a table then, but occupied the free space outside the building). A lot of stuff has happened since then. I have met some amazingly inspiring and radical parents; the bookfair itself had evolved to include a kids’ space; last year we even had an anarchist parents panel! And, yes, now I have a table in the building. So I was all ready to write this articulate, perceptive, engaging manifesto on anarchism and parenting called A Primer on Potties, Procreation, and Politics. Or something clever like that. Trust me, I was.
But instead I find myself focusing on the little things. The small moments of fathering that bring my head and heart back to what is right in front of me. And upon reflection, I realize that it is in fact those very moments that all the theory and planning is put in to practice. It is in those moments we learn and test and reevaluate our values and morals; we discover our politics; we reveal on our honesty, our vulnerability, our humanity. What can be more radical than that? There is nothing wrong with theory and philosophy; in fact, I still want to write that manifesto, (someone out there wanna collaborate with me???) but for this introduction to Rad Dad 13, drummmrolll please, the anti-authoritarian anarchist zine on parenting, I simply want to share with you a few stories that for me get to the heart of this amazing, challenging, never static position we parents find ourselves in:
That coulda been…
Just two days before my daughters and I are leaving on a 5 week trip to southeast Asia, I hear a call come into my home phone. It’s a collect call. My heart freezes; it’s from my son, who is being held in county jail, no longer a juvenile but now an eighteen year old “adult.” I’m frustrated and confused. I can barely find out what happened because the cops are arrogant and condescending in my attempt to check on his situation and well-being. No help, no sympathy. I am told that after he tried to evade police, they “subdued” him. Subdued?! What the fuck does that mean? I ask if he is hurt in any way. The officer says, ‘I looked at his mug shot and his face seems fine. Just a bloody nose.’ I can’t even talk to my son about what happened because the phones are monitored.
Then there are the other questions: should we still go? should we change our plans? After much discussion, we depart leaving his mother and the rest of our community to handle the situation, which doesn’t appear to be over any time soon.
We had been in Thailand for just a week. It was a few days after New Years. We were at the point of feeling a bit homesick, missing our home in Berkeley and Oakland, when a person whom we met on the road says, damn you folks in Oakland are crazy.
Oscar Grant had been murdered, and in the aftermath, the people in Oakland took to the streets. Not knowing anything abut the situation, we make our way to an internet café and watch the video of his murder and of the protests on the streets of our home. My kids and I are stunned. We look at each other; we are all angry and horrified. There is nothing to say really. Until Ella, my youngest asks, how old was he?
Twenty two, I say.
Why’d they shoot him?
I shake my head.
Why does this happen? she asks.
At this point in her life, she knows me and knows my by now predictable stance on police brutality, on the need to rethink our criminal justice system and its affects on young people and people of color.
But what can I say now?
I don’t know why this happens, I respond.
She says that coulda been Dylan, that coulda been our brother.
I know, I say.
After a few weeks of traveling, my daughters and I had the chance to meet up with Julia, a woman we meet earlier in our trip through a friend and who helped us out while we were in Bangkok. When we first met, I had been feeling a bit overwhelmed, and she was a blessing, showing us around the city for a couple days, making us feel at home. Her generosity really helped calm and relax me, something I needed after dealing with the stress of my son in jail and the reality of jet lag and the 15 hour time difference that hit me like a punch in the face (though my kids seemed amazingly unaffected!)
So we’re all there joking and feeling good; but it’s her laugh that is so amazing. It’s the best laugh: loud, guff, like a punchline. When she laughs, all three of us look at each and laugh even harder. To make matters worse, she speaks exactly like Tina Fey doing Sarah Palin; I can’t listen to her without smiling. The shitty thing I realize is that she’s the exact kinda person -- white, from the Midwest, dreads, yes dreads, hippie girl -- I would probably roll my eyes at, make some hasty generalization about with in earshot of my kids.
And my kids would hear and listen.
Yet when I, a complete stranger, needed some help, she was there, genuinely, asking no favor, nor thanks.
We we’re sitting around, telling stories over iced coffee - yes my daughters convinced me that they should be able to drink iced coffee while in Thailand -- don’t ask me how – discussing the differences we noticed between Thais and people in California. It just so happens, she’s is also tutoring this 13 yr old Thai girl who had asked the same exact question that morning. Julia says she’s not sure what the difference is and perhaps there really is no difference between us all. (I said she’s a hippy right)...
And then Ella shares with us all the Thai phrases she’s taught herself from her little Thai phrase book. After a few, she shares this one: ‘I don’t understand’ in Thai is ‘mai kow jai.’
Julia asks, so you wanna know what that literally means. It means ‘it has not entered my heart.’ Jai means heart and Kow means to enter or come into.
She smiles and I turn to her and ask, so when you wanna say ‘I understand’ you are saying: ‘it has entered my heart’?
That’s so amazing.
Oh yeaaah, she says, Thaïs always talk about their heart.
I say, that’s so opposite of us; we always talk about the mind. When do we ever talk about heart?
We both smile and she takes out her journal and writes a note about this to share with her student.
I look at my kids sipping their coffee and say: Ella and Zora kow jai. Kow jai.
Why we do what we do
Here’s my favorite story from our travels. We were on a boat traveling between islands in the southwest of Thailand. The night before we had been struggling over the reality that my children were assigned homework to do while they were traveling. And not just some – shit loads. The school district doesn’t seem to think that they will learn anything outside of a classroom, regardless of the fact that the kids learned more about life in those five weeks than what could possibly be covered by the California state grade standards.
For example: the exchange rate for the Cambodian Riel is 4,226.87 for 1 dollar. Try figuring out how much a meal is when the bill’s 47,500 Riels? They learned phrases of Thai and Cambodian. They witnessed the social realties of global poverty. And talk about gender. Try explaining why we kept seeing signs about the dangers of “sex tourism” as well as the preponderance of so many older white men with super young Thai women.
Kids see a lot.
So as we were on the boat, we saw these fish jumping out of the water and flapping their little fishy wings like they were flying. We were amazed at them, whole schools jumping out and flying. I asked my youngest daughter why she thought that they evolved that way? What makes them do it? She shook her head and guessed that maybe they were escaping predators. I said, or perhaps it’s to see other fishies they wanna eat. Or maybe to breathe, she guessed.
Feeling like a good teacher helping my children rationally examine the world through the good ol’ scientific method, I turned to my middle child happily sitting there, head in a book, and I asked her why she thought they did that.
She looked at me and then looked out over the water and then without the slightest bit of hesitation said simply: because it’s fun. She returned to her reading.
I smiled. Yes. Because it’s fun.
It’s true: sometimes we do things because it’s fun.
Because it feels right.
Sometimes, there is no better reason.
So one of these next issues, I will address the historical implications of anarchist tendencies in regards to the notion of discipline. Or, How to Say ‘No’ the Anarchist Way. But for now, I am doing this because it feels right.
Because it’s fun.
Because it has entered my heart.
Monday, April 13, 2009
check out also the video review in Utne of our latest issue at http://bit.ly/3140hc.
Thursday, April 02, 2009
Rad Dad #13
Oh Rad Dad, why are you so freaking good every single issue? Why do I have to read you cover to cover the moment you land in my hands? Because you're full of heart-felt parenting stories from all types of radical dads. This is the 4th anniversary of Rad Dad, so Tomas' introduction is a story full of tiny moments that make up the experience of parenting. There are two articles written by both members of a queer couple, one of whom is transgendered. The write about their gender roles, and how they influence the way they perceive their parenting, and the way others' perceive them. There's also a birthing story, and a short piece reflecting on how to best approach your kids' Obama fever, when you might be a bit dubious yourself.
Thursday, March 05, 2009
so the san francisco anarchist book fair is once again here, march 14th and 15th; i have a table to peddle the last few issues of rad dad including the brand new issue: rad dad 13!!!!
however, this year it will be only me at the table (unlike last year's parent fest with 4 other radical parents all hanging out at different times, visiting from different places) so i have room. if you have radical parenting material you'd like to share with people, i'd be happy to sell or distribute it for you. i know it's short notice so let me know soon if you're interested
and/or if you're in the bay area for the festival, stop on by and have a sit...
or at least say hello...
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Saying goodbye has always been scary to me, linked to issues of abandonment and events happening outside of my control. I was too young to say goodbye to my father when he left us for jail. He was just gone.
I can remember having to saying goodbye to my life in Hawaii at the age of ten moving to California knowing no one, speaking a different slang; it felt like I said goodbye to my entire universe, and I had no choice in the matter.
And then four years later, I had to say goodbye to California when I was forced to return to Hawaii, a changed person, with a new accent and new interests. But saying goodbye when you move pales in comparison to saying goodbye when someone dies.
My father passed away on August 25th. I had the chance to sit with him for the last five days of his life, taking care of him, preparing him for hospice care, dealing with his insurance, his hygiene, his eating. It was like parenting your parent as a newborn. Something familiar yet disconcerting, something I was thankful I had the chance to do yet disturbed by.
When I first got the call to come home, I was terrified because this, of course, was another goodbye that I had no control over. There was no coming back from where he was going. The doctors knew it. He knew it. I knew it. There is a certain relief when faux optimism is replaced with the stark reality of what is coming. But relief and clarity don't make it any easier. On my way to the airport, a friend said to me: when you see him, touch him. Don't be afraid to touch him.
It feels like the best advice I have ever been given.
When I saw him in his barely recognizable state, yellow, bloated, often delirious, I was shocked, standing rigid for a second wondering what to say. But then I walked directly over to him and laid my hands on his arm, his cheek, touched his face, stroked his hair. It was a grounding act, a gesture that could say more to him than any of my words could.
We sat like that for days, often in silence, sometimes talking about my kids or my sisters and brothers; we never really directly said anything about the lives we led, the decisions that have pulled us apart and brought us together, but we touched, we hugged, my hands always on his.
On his last day alive, he was feeling good enough to go to the library to get some books for his stay in the hospice. He wheeled about the library while we stayed with the grandkids in the children's section. An hour later when he found us, he had a librarian with him holding a box of twenty seven books, most of them romantic novels. I now have someone to blame for my obsession with romantic comedies. Twenty seven books for a man who had less than a month to live. My brother laughed and said: Papa, how 'bout like one or two?
My father responded: Chale, mijo, you never know and plus I can't decide. They all look good.
Needless to say, we checked out every fucking book in the box and stacked them by his bed that afternoon.
However, he never got a chance to read any of them because he died that night while I was flying home to gather my children. When I told the story to my daughters, they asked me, in their infinite wisdom, if I knew the titles of the books. I realized I didn't and immediately picked up the phone and called my brother and asked him to write out all the titles. Perhaps one day, I'll read them.
The funeral was going to be in a week. We had a few days before my kids and I were to return to Albuquerque. In the meantime, I thought I'd do some research for a story I was writing. You know, to get my mind off of goodbyes, off of how we pay our respects to our past and to our history. So I went to the library to get this classic book called Subway Art, one of the first books ever published on graffiti; it contained hundreds of pictures taken by this old white dude who had the wherewithal to recognize the incredible art going on in New York city by these fifteen- and sixteen-year-old kids.
They had one copy in all of the Berkeley public library system, and it was in a special reserve section. I asked to see it and the librarian said: You can no longer take it out of the building. You have to stay right here.
I was thinking What's her problem. It's just a fucking book. Yes, I was in a foul mood that week. I said fine and walked to this table and sat down. I opened the book up and I was stunned. I understood why she was so careful.
At first I didn't know what to feel; at first I thought I was offended. Every possible piece of whiteness was covered with notes, with people writing in the book. Every margin and blank area, even some strategic spots in the pictures themselves, like backdrops behind people's faces or the sky above the trains, every possible space was covered with tags and throwies.
It was overwhelming.
People had written simple things like: J loves T, or westsiiiide, or just their names: Hector or Jaime. It was like they had come to pay their respects, to show their love. They were very careful not to cover any classic subway art. They wrote notes to their graffiti idols: Les you live forever, or lady Pink stole my heart. Page after page, I marveled at the intensity. I became filled with such a powerful feeling, like this book held so much, carried so many wishes and prayers, from so many kids who probably never felt this way about a book in their lives. Who had never even been to New York City. But here, in the pages of this book, they took their time to leave a little something behind. Here it was.
I thought to myself that this must be one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen.
I couldn't help it; I just broke down right there in the library. And the best thing was no one did or said anything. Except this one old dude. He got up and brought me some tissue, dropped a box that must have been in the library on a table and walked away. It was the first time I had cried since my father died. I felt myself wanting to cover my face, trying to keep from crying, but I couldn't. I just let myself cry and turned page after page.
When we finally arrived for the funeral, the typical family drama ensued: we had to have both a Catholic and a Christian service, people argued over cremation or burial; I seemed to have offended everyone when I suggested we just divide up his ashes and bury some in the family plot we've had for over a hundred years and spread some in the mountains of northwestern New Mexico.
But none of these rituals was the kind of ritual I wanted to honor my father with or was the way I wanted to say goodbye.
I wanted to write something.
I wanted to put on paper the pain, the pleasure, the complexity of being his son. On the plane ride to see my father before he passed a way, I had taken out a sheet of lined paper. I wrote on the top of it: To My Father. I was ready to write out all the things I wanted to say to him.
For the entire week, I was taking care of him as well as the days before the funeral, I would take it out now and then and start something; then scratch it out. I'd write a word here or there, but ended up crossing them out. More often I'd take it out and look down at the blank sheet, the growing false starts and illegible words and find myself speechless.
At the funeral, they placed the casket in the front of the church so people could come up to see the body. Everyone waited and milled about for a while and then the Padrino asked the children to come up first. I watched as one child then another came up. My father was surrounded by a dozen children all looking in at his body and finally one reached out and touched him. Then another. And another. My kids were lost somewhere in the group. They petted his face, stroked his hair, picked up his stiff hands, some laughing, some crying, some looking blankly at a man most of them barely knew but had heard stories about. Some placed on his body little cards or pictures.
Finally, the adults got up, and I sat there and watched his friends approach him one at a time. Some didn't do anything but walk up and look down, share a moment of silence with him. Many walked up and bent down and whispered their final goodbyes, their final words to him. And many others walked up, and with the hand drawn pictures from the kids, left something: someone tucked a 60's peace patch in his hands, someone a crucifix, someone stuffed a twenty dollar bill in his pocket, someone left a Corona bottle cap, a bullet, a picture of him and a woman on a boat.
In the end, when it was the family's turn, I took out my scratches on the piece of paper, its solemn silence holding all the things I wanted to say but didn't have words for, all the anger and the sadness and the joy; in the end, I folded it up tightly and I tucked it into his suit. It joined the other tokens of remembrance, other parts of his story: the tears from family and friends, the softly spoken memories, the odds and ends people left with him.
In the end, I simply reached out and placed my hands on his.
And whispered goodbye.