Wednesday, November 01, 2006

i don't know -- intro from rad dad #5 out in mid november

Note: as the essay says I am hoping to travel around the bay area -- sf, san jose, santa cruz, sacto, santa rosa, and the east bay -- in December to do some readings with another zine writer, artnoose who does kerbloom!, and hopefully with other parents/writers (hint, hint) so if you are interested in helping make it happen or can suggest a place to contact for a reading or even something cool to do with my kids in your part of town, please let me know. And of course rad dad #5 is 3 bucks and will be out in mid November…

I was tabling at the sf zine fair and I forgot how much I enjoy talking to people, especially strangers, talking about parenting, about politics and teaching, talking about just about anything. I shoulda been a sales person even though it is true I hate the limelight and how everyone comes up and says, “so you're a rad dad huh?” But here at the zine fair, it was just kinda fun and silly. My daughter was sitting with me and I always threw the question to her.

“Well, he tries to be.” She laughs and says, “No, he is.”

But more than selling, more than getting cool stuff, more than meeting cool people, I realized how much we need to talk to each other about our lives, our choices and their implications. I realized how many people wanted to ask me things when I put myself out there. Like these two bgirls (to use my youngest daughters term for gender blenders) looking at my zines, picking each one up, seeing my story on vasectomies. One simply looks at me and smiles and states: “So what, you can’t cum anymore?”

I stared not sure what to do.

“You know,” she continues, “because you got it cut.”

“No,” I smile, ”I can.”

“Oh, it’s just clear or something?”

“No, it's just the same.”

And as we were debating this I realized there are three other people listening and snickering, and I think I’ve turned a bright red, and my daughter has suddenly moved four tables away. The bgirl laughs and says “Really, I just wondered if that makes you not a father anymore?"

I appreciated the honesty, the frankness and go on to say something about not being able to impregnate someone makes me no less a father than when my kids aren’t with me.

“So what makes a father?”

“I don’t quite know but take one and then write me back and you tell me.”

And it went on like this; people wanted to talk: the mom holding an infant laughing at my rad dad business cards chuckles, “How does changing diapers challenge patriarchy?”

“I’m not sure, but there’s gotta be a connection right? I mean if more men did it and more men stayed home and more men respected breasting feeding and more…”
Or the dyke couple who asked about how parenting reinforces gender roles because they were thinking of adopting.

I just shrugged and said that it’s certainly changed my notions of gender but I don’t know and I asked what they thought and gave them a rad dad and asked them to let us all know what they came up with.

Or the woman who empathized with my struggle to deal openly with my son about smoking pot. She proudly boasts that she and her husband smoke pot everyday and they have a 10 year old. She paused and then asked what I thought she should talk to him about. Don’t ask me I joke because my son can’t seem to get enough and I struggle with how to handle it, how to keep the lines of communication open without totally condoning it, while my partner worries he’s becoming an addict. I just don’t know, but I thank her for talking with me, for sharing with me because it feels good to know other people are out there, struggling to make the right choices. And someone out there might know something we all need to hear, might have an experience that sheds light on some of these questions.

Because there are so many questions that I don’t know answers to.

But one thing I do know is that we need community; I know how invigorated I was, inspired by so many people wanting to talk about fathering, about parenting, about being parent allies! I want more community, so I am setting out right now to say publicly: I wanna create a radical parents conference. I imagine something like ladyfest where parents get together in the locations and create a meeting of people who realize that parenting is a key component to so many of the struggles we all face to change this world, to create and nurture the world we want to be a part of and the world we wish to leave behind. As for the conference, I don’t know what that means, I don’t know what it looks like or what it should be about, but I do know there are hella cool moms and dads out in the world that I wanna sit around with and talk to, be inspired by, get angry with. So help me. Write back; start something up. If you’ve already done some work, keep it up and tell me how I can help.

As for me, in December I wanna go around northern California to read a bit from rad dad and to meet other parents out there. Then in April my daughter and I will hit the road for a tour of the northwest with artnoose, an amazing friend and artist. If you know a place to read at, to meet with other parents, a place to crash, a museum or park to go to, let me know!

Friday, September 08, 2006

a mythology of contradictions

Lately, I have been obsessed with myths. Stories. The mythology of living. The tales we tell to define ourselves, explain our existence, create communities, clarify enemies. I read an essay by Frank Chin who chastised Maxine Hong Kingston and other Asian American writers for bastardizing the myths of China, creating hapa myths devoid of their “true” cultural relevance. And at first I aligned myself with him thinking of Disney’s Mulan, of Aladdin, thinking of history classes my children come home from and try to explain why they build model California Missions. My daughter acknowledge though that she is also building a cemetery for the dead Indians used to build those Missions. What bastardized and commercialized mythology is being told there? And why does it get retold over and over? What purposes does it serve?

So I see his point, but then I remembered how often I have written about the ways storytelling and talkstory can change you, change minds, change directions; how it can also replenish, can restore, bring peace, solidify, fortify. I believe storytelling is less about the events and more about the narration, the connections; you tell what needs to be told; you create what your people might need to hear. I remembered how when I think back on the most memorable moments of my life, I smile and recall the way they are told, narrated, shared with others over dinner or at bed time or accompanied by beers on Thursday night. It’s the retelling that is so powerful, is what makes us laugh and smile, or cry and feel empathy. It’s how we live on.

So my kids and I talk about the Missions and how there are so many stories; we talk about how I won’t go in them, how I waited outside the numerous catholic churches in Mexico as their mother went in to connect with the stories of her religious upbringing. We then talked about how her and I both learned from our individual choices and the exchanges or explanations we had around them. My children and I talk about how beautiful those Missions are and what it means to have something so beautiful, so spiritual, have such a dark origin. We talk about both sides; we create a mythology of contradiction.

And as my family marched with hundreds of thousand of other protesters during the May first general strike, we heard talk of what an American is (can you wave both an American and Mexican flag, someone scoffs at us). Well, what’s the mythology of immigration? What are the ways to explain boarder crossing, exile, diaspora? We, of course, know thanksgiving, but do we know the Florida Seminoles’ story, do we retell the stories of the southwest as it went from Indian, to Mexican, to American nations. And as Gloria Anzaldua fortells, “will become Indian once again.” Some day. My New Mexican family claims they have been here before anyone, and they survived by growing and welcoming others into their lives, into their stories and histories like the Mexicans, the gringos, your mother, they tell me. My father says I’m a new breed a chiconky. That’s how he tells it.

In Kingston’s book The Tripmaster Monkey Wittman says that language contains the key to the past and to our future; that in the Chinese character for I was imbedded in it the word warrior or fight or even weapon. To say I was to say I-fight. How powerful is that? But it has been lost to us now. But do I believe? This mythology isn’t mine. Do you believe me about my family? I’m sure I’m not they only half-bred boy from some idealistic white mother and some reckless father from the rez, or ghetto, or barrio. There’s probably a whole underground army of chiconkistas roaming the United States waiting for our story, our time. I think it’s time we start spreading the word, finding that language that says I and means Fight.

I don’t know how to read Cantonese or Mandarin; but I know what Wittman means when he says we have lost the fight and to regain it, we need to relearn our language. Or better yet create our own. Chin, if you wanna wage war against the storytellers, cut out your own tongue.

Because all language starts with stories. When my son asks me about why my mom ran like the prodigal daughter home to her parents after giving two years of her life to the New Mexican desert, what can I say? The myth that was told me from my abuela goes: it was a snowy night when your mom came, mijo, to say good-bye. She looked at all of us and hugged each one of us. But she did not say a word. And neither did we. We all stood in silence. What could we say, mijo, what could we say? Then, she just turned and left.

She never said a word about them again till I was 18. How strong must you be to hold your tongue for so long? The truth is something a little different: my mom, lonely, a single mother because my father left her and then went to jail, trying to survive, knowing she needed family, decide to return home. Who can blame her? What else needs to be said? But the problem was the silence. That is what caused the pain, what divided families years after the events happened. What people remember is the silence that followed my mother’s departure.

Wittman says Repetition makes a custom. Doing things over and over establishes reality. Hearing the words more than once, the people will get it. I want to get it. I want my kids to get it. I want everyone one to once and for all get it. But in order to do so, we must all start talking and start listening. Don’t worry if it is slightly different each time you tell it; don’t worry if someone else tells it different. Just tell it like it might save your life. Tell it like it fighting for your kids. For indeed, in these times, in this day and age, it just might and you certainly are.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

rad dad #4

rad dad #4 is hot off the presses. it has an interview with
matt hern, a story on ethnic identity, a new father on colic,
father memories, an essay on looking for community, and a radical
children’s book list, wrapped in another letterpress cover by
bay area artist and zinester: artnoose. it’s 3 dollars plus
postage (63 cents)…rad dad #3 is still available while it lasts

check us at the portland zine fair aug 11-13 (sky, aka pirate papa
from rd #3, will be there) and tomas will be at the san Francisco
zine fair sept 9-10

as always, I’m look for fellow rabble rousers for rad dad #5 –
out in november

until then we fight patriarchy one diaper at a time

tomas moniz
editor and writer
rad dad zine
1636 fairview st
berkeley ca, 94703

Friday, March 24, 2006

storytelling -- the intro for rad dad 3

Parenting starts with a story:

My grandma, worried that her 3-year son had not spoken a word yet, had him chase down a grasshopper. Diligently, without complaint, the boy did and returned with a smile. Open she said; confused but with hesitation, he opened wide. Wide. She shoved it in and closed his mouth. Hablas, mijo, hablas. He spit it out crying. Crying and yelling. He has not stopped either since she says and smiles thinking of her now 50 year old son talking his time away in a New Mexican state penitentiary.

This is my father. He smiles when he tells this story now on a snowy day to my children in his trailer on the outskirts of town. He has been out of jail for a year now. My kids look to me for guidance. Do we believe? I can only smile. Teasing, my father says, ‘what mija you don’t believe me? Come here I’ll tell you more.’

I realize this is so central to my parenting. Stories. But I did not know this when I became a father. I didn’t know those afternoons or early mornings when my partner had to leave to culinary school and I had to discover what to do for the next eight hours that I was talking to both my newborn son and myself. I was showing us they way. I was imagining the path home. Telling myself, telling my son that success is possible, that despite my fear, my ignorance, my loneliness this path was traversable. It’s the stories that we tell each other that create connections, that foster empathy, that teach.

But we aren’t the only ones telling tales. I see now how storytelling works in a cultural, social level as well; how myths of capitalism, christianity, patriarchy are told over and over and over until our kids tell them back to each other while at play, to their teachers in their homework, to us if we listen during those tucking ins at bed time or in the quite hours when we wake up together in our bed. This is linguistic terrorism. I have also come to see how it’s our cultural stories that impact our kids more than any one thing can, more than parents, more than teachers.

My daughter combing her hair in the morning, sulks away from the mirror saying her hair is ugly. Who taught her that beauty standard because no amount ‘oh no it doesn’t, honey’ is gone change her view in that moment. My other daughter informing her sister as they play in the car that if she ever lives with a boy then she has to have sex with him. ‘Really, why?’ my partner asks. Because. As if that explains it. We need stories to counter these. We need heroes, legends, rituals that offer other narratives, other examples of how to look, how to live, what should be valued, what holds meaning, what it means to be alive.

Because that shit works; the other day my son, who used to be a vegetarian for the last five years (on his own accord) but now laughs at that Super Size Me film not because of what it’s saying but that it took the guy twenty whole minutes to eat his meal and then he puked. ‘Hella stoopid. I’d eat two in ten minutes,’ my son brags. As if it’s something to be proud of. My son who’s biggest dream right now is to own a scraper to cruise through south Berkeley bumpin base because it looks tight. Yes that’s my son, but so is this. My son taking his 3 year old cousin by the hand for a walk in the back yard and she picks up a worm. He asks her has she ever heard the story about Ella who ate a big ol’ worm when she was a baby thinking it was a cheeto. ‘Ever since then, he says ‘Ella is a little an animal lover. I think it’s the worm inside her.’ They laugh and laugh. I can only smile. I don’t know what it means, what the moral is, but I know my son is gonna make it. In his own way, on his own terms. But he’s gonna survive all the lies that are forced on him and so many others like him. All the bullshit he’s asked to believe or buy into.

What are the stories you need to tell? What do you share with your child, your lovers, your family and friends?

Our strongest weapons are our stories, the stories we tell our children, the ones we whisper to each other in beds of our own making, the myths that fill our imaginations shared among conspirators at bars or over camp fires or sitting in jail cells. It is those weapons we must employ over and over to create the world we want. I have realized that of all the things that give my life meaning it has been the spoken visions of the future or the shared memories of the past that sustain me in the present, that nurture my growth, my will, my determination. In stories, truth doesn’t matter, facts become fictitious, desire and purpose mold the outcome. If I need to hear stories of survival, if I need to find inspiration, if I need to laugh and laugh and laugh, I need only open my mouth, need only to sit with someone close and say ‘tell me a story.’ Here is one of my favorites to tell my kids when they ask why I do what I do. And I swear it is all true.

At 20, a few months before the birth of my son, I hitchhiked from Las Vegas, New Mexico down the highway to the State Penitentiary just outside of Santa Fe to see my father face to face. To try to find some answers, to perhaps find guidance. He tells me he fucked up. He should be out there with me, working with me, living life with me. ‘Because,’ he says, ‘I realized I’m a slave in here. And now I can only fight against other slaves. But if I was out there with you, when I realized I was a slave, I coulda done something, I coulda fought back at least. Somehow. In here, it’s just fucked up. All you can do is write and fight.’

My father explained that in jail, pencils are like daggers, you can write and you can stab. ‘Mira,’ he points to his hand, ‘here are the pencil tips that I cannot get out.’

Welcome to rad dad 3.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

the intro from rad dad #2

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 fathers, no, not even fathers, just simply the men in our lives. 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. 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 all our relations. I just stared and 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. A few weeks ago a young boy who has been in my life for years now, a boy whose father has not been around, a father who breaks my heart and is all that is wrong with the “men” in our society, “men” and their disposable offspring. Well, this boy was with his mother and was looking at one of those mirrors that elongates and distorts its reflection; he stared at himself, made a muscle, and said ‘look, it’s almost as big as Tom’s.’ When I heard this story I again realized, as with the picture, how fathering is something all men do whether we want to or not, whether we are prepared for it or not. So it is incumbent upon us to think through who we are and how we affect others especially the children in our lives. Whether we are parents or not. I had this argument a few weeks ago about this with a male non-parent who said it’s not his responsibility to know how to be around kids. He believes this because of the silence around parenting, around its public perceptions of children being seen not heard, of good behavior, of issues of ownership (if it ain’t my kid why should I care or being oblivious to creating and fostering kid friendly spaces). I know friends who take diversity training courses to be prepared for when they work with people of color…but there is no conversation about working with parents, outreach to parents, ways to make actions, spaces, conferences, whatever, parent and child friendly.

In particular, there is a silence among men about fathering. I experienced this as I’ve talked with men about fathering; they are excited yet scared, nervous about making mistakes, most are dying to parent in ways that many of us weren’t fathered; there are very few role models, and the society we live in disempowers men to break from the prescribed role of the “male” parent, the one that supports patriarchy, capitalism, hierarchy and authoritarianism. And sadly, many women collude in this process of disempowering male experiences. It seems that women have the ability to speak about parenting because somehow they are better with kids, more sensitive, more nurturing, because they are women. Men can speak to being proud, being happy and supportive. Or even worse they can speak to issues of discipline. I have found that it has been incredibly difficult to get men to commit to writing something about their ideas, their approach, their fears or experiences. They feel shamed or silenced or not knowledgeable enough. This must end. Because the diversity of fathering is multitude while the prescribed role singular: what can we learn from a gay father about discussing sexuality with our daughters? I want to hear it. What can a working class father share with us about fighting patriarchy in the household while still having to struggle with a 9-5 job. We need to hear it. How does a white father discuss race with his white son or his biracial daughter. Every single one of us can benefit from hearing that story.

For the last few months I have been going to some zine fairs and trying to get the word our about rad dad and I am puzzled by the responses when I say it’s a zine on fathering, on how men 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 is and when I ask if there are children in their lives or are they uncles or are they thinking about being a parent most 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 and the know and unknown children in our lives and communities is analogous to how we envision a better world, a more compassionate, loving, creative world. If we continue to curtail that relationship, we continue to live our lives surrounded by levees that cannot hold…