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…

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