Friday, June 30, 2006

Coming Apart, Coming Together

I’m sitting on a twin bed in my parent’s basement in Wisconsin, listening to The Mountain Goats and looking at Cole dozing on the bed next to me. He’s 3 and 3/4 (as he proudly tells almost everyone he meets). We make this trip from our home in San Francisco every year – to see the relatives, get out of the city, and experience some real summer, complete with humidity, fireflies and thunderstorms. I teach high school, which means that right now I’m enjoying the glorious relaxation of summer vacation. My son’s out of preschool until September, and the next couple months will be full of adventures together.

This trip is also providing me with some necessary time to reflect on some of the big turns my life has taken recently. The last time I was here, in December, and Cole’s mom had just told me she was moving out and wanted to break up with me. I spent most of that visit moping around, confused, discouraged and depressed. My life was being torn apart in a way I didn’t choose and didn’t want. My relationship worries were compounded because I was worried about Cole and how all this would affect him.

Now, with half a year of distance, things are looking a lot brighter. My ex and I have managed to stay on friendly terms and have hashed out an initial co-parenting arrangement. She did move out, but she only moved two blocks away, which makes things easier for everyone. Cole definitely seemed to regress in his behavior for a while – ignoring his teachers, hitting and kicking other kids, and clinging to me and crying when I dropped him off at school. Lately, though, he seems to be adjusting to the changes and getting used to his new family arrangements.

That said, I’m sure there will be some hard times ahead, and I’m so glad to have this summer time available to spend full days with him – and give him the opportunity to spend a lot of time with other caring people in his life, like his grandparents. He spent today with his Grandma Jean, picking rhubarb in the backyard, playing with sand at the park, and reading lots and lots of books. I made a side trip to Madison to comb the thrift stores for good vintage shirts, and pick up a few staples from the health food co-op. I made it back for in time for the small town fireworks display, and Cole stayed up through the whole thing – but his eyes were shut for good about one minute after the last boom went off. That’s how summer starts for us.

SAHDs: The View from India

I came across this article in The Times of India about stay-at-home dads. It contains the usual frame and perspectives you find in every other dad-at-home newspaper article, with an Indian twist. But it contains this interesting statistic:

According to sociologist Dr. Sushma Tulzhapurkar, who has just completed her PhD thesis on 'urban fatherhood', as much as three per cent of all urban working fathers are deciding to stay at home to look after the kids while their wives go out to work.

"Around 10 years back, it was an unheard concept and not to mention socially unacceptable for men to give up their jobs and remain at home," opines Dr Tulzhapurkar.

I'm attempting to track down Dr. Tulzhapurkar; if I can, I'll report more on her research here in Daddy Dialectic.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Same-sex parenting and kids

Last year my then-14-year old daughter CB stumbled upon a right-wing online political discussion board. What shocked her was a post, and numerous followup comments, that were about a lesbian couple and their daughter. The post and comments were crude, homophobic and hateful. CB thought the post was very much what immature teenagers would say, and asked if most adults were so immature.

For CB this is mystifying, because she has a number of friends who have same-sex couples as parents. So does my son. For them, the bigotry and hatred against gays and same-sex parents doesn't make sense.

I had to tell her that on this particular issue, way too many adults are in fact very immature and intolerant. We had a discussion about why that is so, how many people are ignorant, or somehow that their own sexual identities are threatened in some way. I explained to CB that another part of the reaction is because same-sex couples who want to marry and adopt children are directly challenging traditionally defined gender and parenting roles.

As Rogers Cadenhead has pointed out on his blog (which I found via RebelDad), some conservatives fear that if homosexuals marry it will undermine "the basic grammar of marriage," that is, the traditional and narrowly-defined gender roles of husbands and wives.

There is also a growing movement among states to ban the fostering or adoption of children by gay couples, based again on a traditional notions of gender.

These attitudes have culminated in a fear of even discussing with children the fact that two men or two women can love each other and be committed to each other just as much as a man and a woman, and that gay couples can be good and loving parents. This fear is taking the shape of a crusade to prevent school children from being exposed to gender roles that differ from the traditional two-parent, mom at home with the kids and dad at work image. Heather Has Two Mommies has been banned in order to "protect" our children. Tinky-Winky and SpongeBob Squarepants are portrayed as nefarious underminers of traditional values.

I'm not in a same-sex relationship nor have I adopted children, but my personal experiences and those of my kids directly contradict the fear and heated opposition to same-sex relationships and parenting that we're seeing in this country.

At the most basic level, I've yet to see a convincing argument as to how exactly same-sex marriage threatens my own relationship and marriage with my wife. But what I've come to realize is that this issue is not about facts, it's about deeply ingrained conceptions of gender.

The issue of committed same-sex relationships does indeed challenge traditional gender roles and stereotypes. But of course any stay-at-home dad is also a direct challenge to this "traditional" definition of gender roles and of parenting. What could be more subversive of that definition than a dad who stays home full time with the kids and a mom who works full time bringing home the paycheck? Do those who claim to be protecting "traditional values" intend to outlaw stay-at-home dads?

It seems that all too many people approach these issues without the crucial ingredients for making good, informed decisions: personal experience and empathy. And that lack of experience and empathy just reinforces their inability to get beyond traditional gender roles to see the human side of these issues.

Those who are so viscerally opposed to gay marriage, gay adoption, and open discussion of non-traditional families seem to be those who don't personally know any gay couples or gay parents. Personal experience can make all the difference, and makes it really difficult to demonize a whole group of people just because they are different from you or your expectations.

What's interesting on this front is the generational divide. Young people approve of gay marriage at much higher rates than their elders; even many young Republicans have no problem with the idea. Given the extent to which the Republican party in general has seized on this issue, and has adopted an electoral strategy that demonizes the idea of same-sex couples marrying or adopting children, this is particularly striking. My hunch is that this generational difference is due to personal experiences, that younger generations have much more direct personal experience with gay men and lesbians in loving, committed and long-term relationships, and that they are more accepting of non-traditional gender roles.

But won't the children be confused?

My own kids know quite a few children who have gay parents, that is, two mommies or two daddies. My kids have known kids with same-sex parents from their first days in kindergarten, not because it was focused on, but because it was just part of the natural conversation between kids about their families. And they accept it as natural.

One kindergarten friend of my daughter explained in a matter-of-fact way that she had been conceived through in-vitro fertilization, and that she had two mommies. This was not upsetting or disorienting to my daughter or the other children in the class. She accepted it, just as she accepted her friend as just another kid.

Both of my kids over the years have had really good friends who have committed gay couples as parents. These parents are like any other parents. The kids spend a lot of time at our house, and a lot of time at their friends' houses. They go to birthday parties, have play dates, have sleepovers at their friends' homes. My kids are not confused, they know and have seen that what matters is having parents who love their kids and are committed to them.

Likewise on the issue of homosexuality itself, both of my kids see it as a very unproblematic issue, though they understand that others do not. I remember one conversation when my son BK was about 9 or 10, and we were talking about homosexuality and heterosexuality. My daughter, then 12 or 13, stated that she did not think she was gay. BK said, well, I'm not really sure, I don't think I am but I'm not sure. There was no defensiveness or fear in his statement, it was just a matter-of-fact statement that indicated to me that our kids understand that sexual orientation comes in various forms, that it's not necessarily a choice, and that there's nothing wrong with gay people. Given the amount of homophobia in our society, I was heartened by BK's attitude.

Above I said that the same-sex parents we know are no different from other parents. But that is not totally true. Same-sex parents face challenges that heterosexual married parents don't have to worry about. They don't have: the right to visit their partner or child in the hospital; bereavement leave if their partner or partner's child dies; sick leave to care for their partner or child; social security survivor benefits; the right to be recognized as a co-parent with full parental rights. The list is a very long one. In short, society actually puts enormous obstacles in the way of these couples, making it even more difficult for them to achieve the most basic goals that any family has.

Gender roles and expectations all too often stand in the way of healthy, happy families. They've prevented dads from expressing their love for their kids in tender ways, from trading off career and status for time with kids. They prevent same-sex couples from having their relationships protected in the ways that heterosexuals' relationships are protected. They prevent kids from finding secure homes in loving families just because both parents are of the same sex. They prevent children from learning that loving families come in more than just the traditional variety.

The bottom line for me is love and caring. What's important is that people love each other and care for each other. What's important is that kids have parents who love them.

Just as traditional roles limit men and dads, by preventing them from being able to express themselves as full human beings, so too these attitudes towards same-sex couples and their families prevent those families from having what any family wants: security in the knowledge that they are safe, that they are valued as parents and as human beings. And that's not only important for them. It's important for all of us.

Reposted (and slightly revised) from Daddychip2

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A bit more on Hirshman

One brief followup to my last post. Last night I listened to an audio interview of Linda Hirshman and Leslie Steiner Morgan at the Washington Post. It's interesting to actually hear the voices and be able to attach them to the names and arguments. But what I heard confirmed my earlier analysis in a couple of ways.

First, Hirshman clearly criticizes women who make decisions based on what they believe is best for their family. Hirshman argued that when an educated woman decides to stay home, the benefits that accrue to her children and family are far outweighed by the damage done to wider society, or women as a whole.

This is a pure example of masculinist values. Masculinist ideology tells its targets (traditionally men), that personal relationships are not so important, what really matters is their loyalty to larger wider entities, corporations, states, etc. So traditionally, men have been pressured into devaluing -- or at least not publicly acknowledging -- the importance of personal relationships, and sacrificing them for some "greater good." Those who focus on personal relationships and local social networks are derided as "feminine."

It is ironic that Hirshman uses this exact same strategy in an attempt to shame educated women into sacrificing their families for the "greater good." Unfortunately, just as in masculinist societies, such a strategy is necessary because often that "greater good" doesn't really reflect the interests of anyone other than an elite group. If there is a greater good that needs action -- for example defense of one's home -- you don't really need to use gender stereotypes or masculinist ideology to motivate people.

Secondly, Hirshman's vision of a better future is one where men and women share equally in breadwinning and in childrearing. I find this to be utterly contradictory to her earlier arguments. As I noted, why would men be willing to take on more childrearing if, in fact, it is the utterly nonchallenging task not worthy of educated people? Wouldn't both mother and father -- assuming they are highly educated, which is her premise -- be wasting their talents and intellects?

Okay, I promise to shift to a new topic in my next post later this week, but I had to get these thoughts out there. I'd love to hear other ways in which you think Hirshman is reinforcing patriarchal, masculinist values.

Cross posted at Daddychip2

Monday, June 26, 2006

what if...comments on radical books for kids

On the anarchist parenting listserv that I subscribe to, there's been a recent discussion about what kind of kids books are out there that have a radical bent. Some of the titles, I never considered; some I don’t necessarily agree with; some I never even heard of. And so, armed with this info, my kids as well as many of the neighborhood children who are a part of a child-swap (article to come soon), my dog Noodle and myself have spent a few afternoons walking to the south Berkeley library trying to find them.

Along the way one excursion, we all started talking about how books teach. I love hearing what they think they learn from books. My eight year old pipes in that she knows how to swim in freezing water if she ever falls through a frozen lake.

‘Nice,’ I say, ‘and I hope I’m with you when I decide to cross the Alaskan wilderness.’

‘And I learned how to make a fire too,’ she brags.

My ten year old daughter asks why we need to find books that are radical in the first place. ‘Yeah,’ the three others chime in sarcastically in that ten year old way they have ‘like, why does everything need to be radical, Tom?’ They sound so exasperated. But they get it. One of them brings up Girls to the Rescue and how normally it is always the opposite. Boy saves girl, but they laugh and know what is up, but they also know how overwhelming it is to be told they same boy saves girl story over and over. And then my daughter brings up Cars. Here’s the main reason I am so impressed with kids and why I was reminded that having these sometimes tedious, difficult conversations is so important, reminded why being willing to talk about what things could look like if in fact things were different is so effective.

My daughter says, ‘yeah look at how popular Cars are now because of that movie. Maybe they should make a movie called Bikes or Walks.’ They all laugh, but she is so right. What if…


I was pleasantly surprised to find many of these books available in the local library. Take a look for yourself and please let me know what others you suggest. I am trying to come up with a radical daddy library for the storyteller in all of us to publish in rad dad #4.

Because sometimes we all need a book to help or guide us. When we are tired, when we’ve worked a long day, when we are at our wits end, sometimes what settles us most effectively is to read a story, to be a part of the listening audience, to be transported with our children to the place of what ifs and once upon a times.

And man, did I find the coolest book ever. I happened upon it at Bound Together Books in San Francisco, but I didn't buy it because it was fifteen bucks but now realize after some used book internet searching that that was a bargain. So for my birthday you all can send it to me because I have never seen a book that narrates such a radically different set of values, one that challenges the notions of capitalism, family structure, success and many other things.

It's called A Little Squatters Handbook and it is the story of five homeless people from all walks of life (there’s even one little Lego man who’s missing his little Lego arm) and how they band together to take over an abandoned building. They all sleep in the same bed (at least initially) sharing dreams and fears, mange to ward off the cops by employing various direct action tactics, and in the end they throw a party inviting all their family and new neighbors to celebrate their new communal living arrangements. Read it -- even just for yourself.

What follows the list of books -- tell me what you think...

Some Radical Parenting Books:

Whatever, Mom: Hip Mama's Guide To Raising A Teenager by Ariel Gore
Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn
Liberated Parent, Liberated Child

Kids Books for various ages:

Si, Se Puede!/Yes, We Can!: Janitor Strike In L.A. by Diana Cohn
Conversations With Durito: Stories Of The Zapatistas And Neoliberalism
by Subcomandante Marcos
Selavi, That is Life: A Haitian Story of Hope by Youme Landowne
Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson
Let's Get A Pup by Bob Graham
The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman
Sally Lockhart Mysteries by Philip Pullman
Carly by Annegert Fuchshuber
Super Cilantro Girl by Juan Felipe Herrera
Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester
The Araboolies of Liberty Street by Sam Swope
The paper bag princess by Robert N Munsch
The Big Orange Splot by D. Manus Pinkwater
The mysterious adventures of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
Rabbit Island by Jorg Steiner
From Egg To Chick by Millicent Selsam
Sitting Ducks by Michael Bedard
Brave Potatoes by Toby Speed & Barry Root
The Pirate Queen by Emily Arnold McCully
Oh Lord, I wish I was a Buzzard by Polly Greenberg & Aliki
The Enormous Carrot by Vladimir Vagin
Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems
Nanabosho: How the Turtle Got its Shell by Joe McLellan
Crocodile Crocodile by Peter Nickl
Kids On Strike photo book by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
The day Joanie Frankenhauser became a boy / Francess Lantz
The secret under my skin / Janet McNaughton
Danny, the champion of the world / Roald Dahl
América is her name / by Luis J. Rodríguez
The samurai's daughter : a Japanese legend / retold by Robert D. San Souci
The pirate meets the queen : an illuminated tale / by Matt Faulkner
Punxsutawney Phyllis / by Susanna Leonard Hill

Oh, and I’ll be biking down the coast of Oregon with my babies’ mama because the kids are at grandma’s (much love to grandma) so I’ll post again and reply to any comments after the fourth of july (and if you haven’t read Fredrick Douglas’ 'why I don’t celebrate the fourth of july’ you should…

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Hirshman's "feminism" as masculinist ideology

Being a feminist dad can be a challenge sometimes.

Let me start by saying I know there are lots of kinds of feminism out there. But feminism is important to me in part because it opens the door for guys to escape the gender straitjacket that we've often been forced into in the past. To do so we have to question and reject the masculinist ideology we've been imbued with. It's hard, but I believe well worth it.

This brings me to writer Linda Hirschman's arguments, aired over the past several months in the American Prospect and the Washington Post (see this post at Half Changed World for details).

Hirshman is angry at well-educated women who become stay at home moms. Here are her main points, in her own words, from a recent WaPost column:

... women who quit their jobs to stay home with their children were making a mistake. ... I said that the tasks of housekeeping and child rearing were not worthy of the full time and talents of intelligent and educated human beings. They do not require a great intellect, they are not honored and they do not involve risks and the rewards that risk brings.

With these arguments, Hirshman is reinforcing what I call masculinist ideology of the worst kind.

First, I think it's obvious to everyone that equality of opportunity for women has been an important goal of the feminist movement from the earliest days. But in my view, that's not enough.

What's necessary is to actually change the values of our society.

Currently those values are masculinist. That is, our society values traditional masculine-defined measures of success -- power, money, competition, control -- while it devalues things that are traditionally associated with the feminine -- caring, nurturing, relationships, nonmaterial values -- which are also all crucial to the process of raising children. The lack of balance between the two makes for an unhealthy society.

Hirshman is reinforcing the skew towards masculinist values in our society, rather than trying to shift those values. Her perspective is that of a person who has all the advantages that make for success in a masculinist world -- with the sole exception of being a female.

Hirshman is arguing that women who are wealthy and educated and class privileged should be doing exactly what men in the same position do: dominate society, and be rewarded for their domination. For her it's the only rational thing to do.

And she's angry that some intelligent, educated people disagree with her masculinist priorities. She's angry that lives don't play out in the black and white way she thinks they should, that, as Miriam Peskowitz points out in her own excellent book, The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars, moms' lives are complex, women go into and out of the workforce, work part time or full time, that they change over time in response to their own priorities and needs.

According to Hirshman's reasoning, I was insane to stay at home full time with my daughter, given my graduate degree from a top university, and my potential earning power. I was crazy to downsize my career ambitions, to forego higher pay and higher status, just so I could spend time with my kids.

Well, I know she doesn't really care what I do, since I'm a guy, but that's what she's saying.

But my wife -- very much a feminist -- who quit a corporate career exactly because it required the performance and internalization of masculinist ideology, because she wanted to have a full life more than she wanted to earn a six figure salary or move up the corporate hierarchy and exercise dominance over underlings, because she wanted to spend time with her kids while they were little, because she re-careered into a traditionally female job (teacher) -- Hirshman I'm sure would condemn her to the deepest pits of "feminist" hell.

Is money important? Is a challenging job important? Yes. But just as important are our kids. Hirshman just doesn't get it.

Hirshman continues:
the tasks of housekeeping and child rearing [are] not worthy of the full time and talents of intelligent and educated human beings
I have to admit that this was one of the most offensive parts of her argument for me.

Think about what she's saying here.

Firstly, spending time raising my children is not a worthy goal.

Secondly, she is dissing those people who actually do those tasks -- and I think she misses the fact that though related, housekeeping and child rearing are two distinct activities that are very different in their importance. She is relegating people, men and women, who don't have the class privilege or personalities or skills to climb to the top of the class ladder, those people who from choice or necessity do those jobs, to the bottom of the heap, dismissing their contributions to society as second-rate at best.

Third, and I think most damningly, she totally negates the value of caring. She dismisses the value of spending time with children as they grow, the wonder of actively participating in their development. And that is tragic.

As a guy I'll say very clearly, I would not trade my time with my kids for the best job with the highest pay in the world. Those hours were more fulfilling and enriching to me than the best novel I've read or the most lucrative account I've ever managed. I feel sorry for Hirshman that she doesn't understand this.

This is all quite ironic given this complaint of Hirshman's:

Oh, and by the way, where were the dads when all this household labor was being distributed? Maybe the thickest glass ceiling, I wrote, is at home.

She is right about this. But by reinforcing masculinist ideology rather than trying to change society and its values, Hirshman reinforces this glass ceiling.

How many guys are going to want to take the time and energy away from being "successful" in Hirshman's terms, when Hirshman herself is devaluing what happens at home? When Hirshman is basically confirming these guys' view that housework and childcare are not worthy pursuits for intelligent, educated humans?

What will change things? The kinds of discussions we are seeing among dads, especially stay at home dads, who have grappled with what Jeremy calls the dialectics of dad-hood. The kinds of shift in values that leads guys to actually want to stay at home with their kids, to downsize career and status expectations in order to have relationships with their children.

In short, the only way forward is to reject Hirshman's masculinist feminism and reorient ourselves to a feminism of humanity, which recognizes the importance of a balance, not just of material achievement but also of nurturing, not just of dominating but also of caring.

Because only by making nurturing and caring into priorities, by privileging them over the pursuit of power, domination and money, will we truly be able to achieve the humanist goals of the feminist movement.

Cross posted at Daddychip2

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Heroes vs. Villains

Scenes from playgroup, Karen's house:

"No!" cried Nico, snatching a fire truck out of Liko's hands. "Nico! Nico!" he said, clutching the truck to his chest.

Nico's dad Stefano took him into a corner and held him close. For the 10th time that afternoon, Stefano patiently explained the concept of sharing to his toddler.

Nico twisted out of his dad’s arms and ran off. Stefano's shoulders slumped. Nico had been a handful; he was often a handful in playgroup, pushing other kids, throwing things, grabbing toys, requiring constant management. Stefano was plainly worn out and perhaps slightly embarrassed.

Among the parents, there was an uncomfortable moment of silence.

Suddenly Karen spoke: "You're doing a great job, Dad."

It struck me as just the right thing to say. "Yeah," I added. "Stefano, you're a really good dad."

Karen and I both meant it.

Stefano just put his head in hands and sighed heavily.


The next day I was at a restaurant where Liko and I are regulars. Liko made himself at home, trying to get in every corner, touching everything, saying "Hi!" to everybody. It had been like that all day (and the day before, and the day before that...), him going a hundred miles an hour, me trying to keep up.

A professionally dressed middle-aged woman approached me during a respite, when Liko stopped to caress and sniff a row of flowers on the patio.

"I've been watching you two. I just wanted to say that you're doing a really great job."

"Uh, really?" I was taken aback and maybe a little guarded, uncomfortable with the idea that our antics had been so closely regarded.

She noticed my reaction, and tried to explain. "I raised two girls myself, and now they're both in their twenties. I've seen a lot of parents in action, and I wanted to say that you have a really nice touch."


"I can see you know him well and understand him. You have a really good sense of when it's time to let him be and when you have to hold him back."

"Thanks." I tried to make up for reacting like a dolt. "I really appreciate that."

Liko took off into the restaurant and the clanging, steam-filled kitchen. I dashed in and grabbed him; when we returned, the woman was gone.

Afterwards, I thought about her praise and my reaction. I was embarrassed, feeling unworthy, initially thinking, actually, that she was a little strange for watching us, and even patronizing me in going out of her way to deliver the praise.

Then I thought to myself: you are a fuckhead.

She was trying to make me feel good, just as Karen and I had tried to pat Stefano on the back; such acts make a better world. I tried to see myself as the woman might have seen me. I tried on the idea of seeing myself through her eyes, of dropping my guard and just basking in praise from a stranger. Why not?


It's Father's Day, a day of praise for dads. Well, why not have such a day? Why not reflect the best in a dad back to him, so that he can see himself in some more exalted context than the diaper-changing, food-throwing, toddler-chasing reality in which he lives?

Is it just a greeting-card cliché to say that every dad is a hero? Maybe not. In parenthood, there's an element of evolutionary self-interest: animals that we are, we seek reproductive success. But as anyone who grew up reading comic books knows, heroes become heroes by ultimately transcending self-interest. It is always the villain who acts purely on self-interest, however deranged. The figure we call a hero acts on behalf of something greater than himself: an ideal, a tribe, a family.

Like Rilke's Apollo, the hero asks us to change our lives. The quest to become that hero is what we call commitment. Commitment - political and personal - creates an image that we chase all our lives and never reach, and yet there's something heroic in acts like caring for a child or marching against war, which defy distance and death.

We not just admit that to ourselves? Why not strive to be heroes, instead of the bunch of losers that we might feel ourselves to be? We need ideals. We need praise. "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," says Dialectical Daddy Tom in his June 17 post. "It is those weapons we must employ over and over to create the world we want."


It's Father's Day. Praise to my father!

I won't share with the reader his many fine personal qualities - I don't expect you to care - but I will say that my dad modeled for me the kind of thoughtful heroism that I'm trying (and possibly failing) to describe.

No, he's not perfect. Of course not; I’m not even sure what “perfect” means. But he taught me through his actions how to take care of other people; even now he asks me to change my life. For that I'm grateful.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

call for submissions


This is tomas from rad dad and I sending out this call for submissions for the next issue of rad dad, a zine which ariel gore called the best of 2005…on board already are an interview with radical father: matt hern, who runs the Purple Thistle Centre, a essay on race, and a piece on
experiences with a colicky baby…

So join us…

I’m looking for pieces that deal with sexism, gender, pop culture, relationships; however, feel free to just send something in.

I’m hoping to get the submissions by the first week of july and it will be available mid july.

Hope everyone’s well…

tomas moniz
and copies of #3 are still available for $3 for a limited time...

1636 fairview st
berkeley ca

what i do...

is tell stories but I think I’ll take it easy for the next few days and leave you with the intro to my zine, rad dad #3, and a call for submissions to rad dad #4. This project has inspired, frustrated and most of all motivated me. I’ve meet amazing radical parents, who believe parenting is integral to any movement or aspect of social change. For once I’ve been able to feel validated by the many parents who believe as I do that any sustained attempt to create a better world has to be multi-generational -- involving, kids, parents, and elders.

I want to thank Jeremy for making this site possible and begin to drop hints of somehow organizing a radical parents conference in the bay area...

let me know



Storytelling -- intro to 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.’

Being a dad

Becoming a dad changed my life. Cliché, perhaps, but nevertheless true.

For the first two years of my daughter's life I stayed home and took care of her full time while my wife worked 10 hour days.

Given my wife's salary and career at the time, and my not-so-wonderful job prospects, it seemed like a no-brainer.

Turns out it was the best career move I've ever made. I've never had a job that was so demanding, yet so rewarding. By the time my wife decided she wanted out from her corporate life, I had become not just a different person -- I think that happens to anyone who has kids. I became a different man.

Being a stay at home dad (SAHD) back then (early 1990s) was unusual. When I started I thought nothing of it. But I quickly learned that it was outside the norms.

For the most part people, including friends and family, were very supportive. But I'd get the occasional strange look, the occasional woman who could not believe a guy could actually care for a little baby, the occasional comment about my daughter growing up confused, the occasional cold shoulder from stay-at-home moms at the playground. I have to admit, though, that I often went out of my way to let people know I was a SAHD. I was proud of what I was doing.

And I loved it. Yeah, it could be boring and isolating and sleep-depriving. But after a few months, I couldn't even imagine having to work 40 or more hours a week, having to be away from my little baby for so long. I appreciated the sacrifice my wife was making -- and I still am eternally thankful to her for giving me that time with our daughter.

One of the saddest days of my life came when I had to start working full time. My wife had taken a long-term leave from her job so she could spend a year at home with our daughter -- a year that ended up stretching to ten.

It was a tough change for me. I loved the job, and it was great getting paid to do something I enjoyed doing.

But the sadness in my heart outweighed the joy. And on the first day of full-time work, when I came home at the end of the day, our little daughter, two years old, was mad at me for having been gone the whole day. I nearly cried.

My sadness increased when our son was born three years after his sister. I was able to take a few weeks off from work after his birth, and my job provided me with very flexible work schedule, so I spent as much time with him as I could. And I loved that time. But I knew what I was missing. Being a stay at home dad had changed me forever.

These experiences made me totally reevaluate what was important in life. I'd been conditioned to see making money, achieving status, advancing in a career, "succeeding" in traditional terms, as the most important goal.

But my stint as a SAHD made me realize that all of that was much less important and meaningful than spending time with my kids.

After an internal struggle, I took a deep breath and downsized my career expectations. I put aside the ambitions I'd had, ambitions that would have meant 70-80 hour work weeks, coming home in time to tuck my kids into bed, missing the best years of their childhood.

As a result, while I wasn't able to stay at home full time, I have managed to spend more time with my kids than most dads. I walked them to elementary school every morning and picked them up in the afternoon. I worked several hours a week in their classrooms. Before he started kindergarten I spent at least one weekday morning every week just hanging out with my son. I've made it a point to spend as much time as possible with them.

The past fifteen years have been an adventure. They've also led me to see the world in a different way.

My dadding experiences have shown me the destructiveness of gender expectations and social norms that pigeon-hole moms as "caregivers" and dads as "breadwinners." They've highlighted the dialectics of dad-ness, the fact that for men to be free, we have to fight masculinist gender stereotypes and expectations. We have to be not just fathers, but daddies who strive to make the world a better place for our kids, but also for all kids. And we have to show our kids the way forward.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Introducing the Dialectical Daddies!

Today we become a group blog, a concept for which the Star Trek word "Borg" might apply.

Let me introduce my fellow Dialectical Daddies:

Gopal is a friend and colleague in the Bay Area media justice movement; we both serve on the Board of Media Alliance. He's also a sharp political observer and a stay-at-home dad in a communal home.

Chris is also a friend in so-called "real life." At one time he was - this is unbelievable to me now - the only dad my age that I knew in San Francisco. Chris is also a teacher, activist, rocker, and baker of cupcakes for his 3-year-old Cole.

Tom is also a teacher and activist who publishes the 'zine Rad Dad, whose perspective I value.

Chip is an experienced blogger and the father of teenagers. Though he's the only daddy I don't personally know, in his blog I found a progressive who fearlessly tracks his experience against his values and politics - a kindred spirit and a true Dialectical Daddy!

What is a Dialectical Daddy? It's the social dad, the dad as citizen of the world. It's a dad who loves his kids enough to work for a more just and sustainable society, a place where all children can grow up free, fed, and cared for. A Dialectical Daddy faces contradictions but never stops trying to resolve them. A Dialectical Daddy knows that if women are free, he'll also be free. He never stops trying to live the life he's imagined, consistent with his values and hopes. A Dialectical Daddy tries to be conscious of the impact of his decisions on the world and on the future in which his children will live.

That, anyway, with an awkward degree of grandiose hand-waving, is the ideal Daddy Dialectic tries to promote. Welcome dads!

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Dads vs. Globalization

My buddy and British spy Susan Godstone sent me "Is being a good dad ruining your career?" from the U.K. Observer, which links falling job security to the rising number of involved fathers and stay-at-home dads:

The current generation of 30-something workers may already be at the height of their careers. If we are lucky our earnings will peak in our forties, after which we will be obsolete - replaced by upstart, bargain-bin graduates. At best, we will have to take pay cuts. More likely we will be nudged towards retirement, for which few of us have made adequate provision...

If you care about spending time with your family that is a raw deal: work longer and harder to be a bit poorer at the end of it all. Instead of delaying the gratification of time off, perhaps indefinitely, people in their twenties and thirties should really be taking their leisure and family dividend when they can afford it. We won't get a life in retirement, so we should demand one now.

Actually, the article (by Rafael Behr) goes a way past the merely economic:

The loneliest I have ever been was sitting at the kitchen table at 2 o'clock in the morning while my wife and our newly born daughter were still at the hospital. Adrenalin carried me home. Then I grappled with an absurd dilemma: to tidy the house so that our new life could get off to an orderly start or to sleep. (Anyone who has had a baby knows the easy answer. Sleep.)

After a few minutes ineffectually carrying objects up and down the stairs and depositing them in random places I sat down and poured myself a drink. Then I cried. I like to think I was moved exclusively by relief that everything had passed without medical emergency. But if I'm honest there was also a pang of helplessness, the feeling that at that precise moment there was nothing I could do for my family. It is a terrible thing to fear redundancy at home and at work.


This is probably as good a time as any to announce two things.

First, starting on June 15 Daddy Dialectic will become a group blog - I'll post in a few days to introduce my fellow Dialectical Daddies. Second, not coincidentally, starting on June 15 my wife will be off for the summer - she's a teacher - and I'll be ramping up my consulting and freelancing work for the duration. While it might seem like that'd give me even more time for daddy dialectics, in fact I'll be focusing on other things...things that pay money!

Liko's Newest Word


Also: My previous entry provoked two readers to share examples of conservative family values creepiness. For your further amusement and horror, here's another one: "More and more fathers are becoming aware of their influence and regularly dating their daughters..."

Thanks to peeps at Other magazine for pointing me to esteemed colleague Claire pretty much expresses my thoughts on the issue: "Why does Focus on the Family believe that only fear of sex will activate fathers? Are right wing fathers otherwise completely uninterested in their children?"

Friday, June 09, 2006

The LibDems vs. Homophobic Bullying

The fairly mainstream Liberal Democratic party of the United Kingdom launched an online petition as part of a coordinated campaign to stop homophobic bullying:

Commenting, Liberal Democrat Shadow Education Secretary, Sarah Teather MP said:

"Our petition is calling for all schools to develop measures to tackle homophobic bullying. Taunts and name calling should be challenged immediately so that it’s clear such behaviour won’t be tolerated.

"Liberal Democrats are concerned about all aspects of bullying but are focusing the spotlight on homophobic abuse because it’s currently harder to monitor and stop..."

Liberal Democrat Higher and Further Education Spokesperson, Stephen Williams MP who organised the Education and Skill Select Committee's first ever session on bullying, added...

"If a pupil is bullied because of race, looks or a disability they are likely to at least have supportive parents. This is often not the case for young gay people and it is difficult for them to know which teacher they can confide in.

"Putting a duty on schools will ensure there is someone for the young person to turn to and will send out a message that homophobic abuse should be treated with the same zero tolerance as racist abuse. Schools should be safe places of learning for all children irrespective of their sexuality."

I'm posting this as a follow-up to my June 1 post (and the discussion it provoked) on bullying and raising boys.

I confess that as an American, with all my cultural biases, and even with my politics, I find it amusing that a national political party thinks it can legislate against bullying - on the other hand, it's good that they're doing something. No idea about the context or if this petition will have any traction in the U.K., but my God, here in the USA we're debating a fucking amendment to the Constitution that would explicitly forbid people of the same biological sex from getting married.

Our entire country is run by homophobic bullies!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Rich Dad vs. Poor Dad

To my way of thinking, the Washington Post's Leslie Morgan Steiner represents everything that's wrong with the way the mainstream corporate media cover children and parenting: she's shallow, blind to anything that falls outside her cultural and economic comfort zone, and obsessed with counterfeit conflicts like the so-called "mommy wars."

A few days ago, she posted the following to her blog:

A June 1 article in The Washington Post ran under the headline Father Knows Best: Education Linked to Dads' Parenting Skills with the news that dads with higher levels of education are more involved in their children's daily lives. The survey involved about 4,900 men age 15 to 44 nationwide who were interviewed in 2002 and 2003 by the National Center for Health Statistics.

Based on the findings, researchers estimated that about 28 million American men have children under the age of 19. About 75 percent live with their kids. Those with more education tend to interact the most, the survey found. Among dads who had attended college, about 87 percent said they played with their children daily, compared with about 76 percent of those who had a high school diploma or less.

Roughly 65 percent of more educated fathers say they routinely bathe or dress their children, compared with 42 percent of those less educated. About 32 percent of more educated men read to their kids daily, compared with about 20 percent of less educated men...

This information is all interesting. I was glad to read about it. But what struck me as incredulous is that this survey marks the first time our government has questioned men about issues related to family life...No wonder the 2.3 million single fathers and 147,000 stay-at-home dads in this country feel invisible.

I don't feel invisible, exactly, and furthermore, this is not the first study of its type: in 2002 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services "Fatherhood Initiative" produced a number of studies about male participation in parenting. What struck me about Steiner's entry, the comments that followed, and the original article is how no one saw the survey as still more evidence of the radical inequality that defines family life in this country.

Of course educated white-collar dads are more involved in the lives of their kids: they have more flexibility on the job and more options in life. Some might work more hours than blue-collar counterparts or maybe spend more time at home massaging spreadsheets after the kids go to bed, but many (not all, but many) can blow out in the afternoon to go to the doctor and they can take time off when necessary. Many - including yours truly - have the New Economy option of becoming freelancers or consultants, so that they stay at home more.

And of course our children benefit over the long run in terms of educational achievement, etc. That's how class works in this country. That's one of the ways that a few can prosper while the rest suffer. (BTW, via the blog Working Dad, I found this article about economic class integration at public schools - of course, no one talks about eliminating class altogether. Why, that's just not practical!)


Of course, all is not rosy for the educated and affluent. Here's an anecdote, which is a warning to us all. A friend of mine teaches in an exclusive, very pricey afterschool program. If the parent isn't there to pick up the student at a certain time, the kid is brought up to the office and the parents are charged for every minute that the kid sits there waiting.

My friend noted that it is always the same kids who are left waiting. And those are always the same kids with emotional and behavioral problems; the two groups are identical.

I found this to be really disturbing.


Speaking of disturbing, there's an illuminating and complex dialogue going on at the Rebeldad site about the social isolation of stay-at-home dads, in which I'm participating. Check it out.

Daddy Dialectic vs. Blogger

It seems that thanks to a Blogger network problem, Daddy Dialectic readers have only intermittently during the past 24 hours been able to post comments - naturally, this happened in the middle of my first attempt at an open thread ("worst parenting advice," below) and lots of people have told me about it. Thanks, and please try again - you never know when Blogger will get its shit together.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Share the worst advice you've ever gotten!

I'm working on an article on the stupid advice parents can receive.

Here's my question to you, the reader: What's the worst advice you've gotten as a parent?

Post your comment!

Try to leave an email address so that I can contact you in case I quote your comment in the article.

With vs. Without Baby: The Play

Based on several more or less true stories!

Waitron: Jeanne Garofalo
Dad: Tony Roberts (circa 1976)
Mom: Diane Weist (circa 1979)

Act I, Scene 2:

Scene: Local restaurant serving "California cuisine."

(DAD and MOM finish food, pay check. WAITRON stops to talk.)

Waitron: Hey, good to see you guys. Where's the baby?
Dad: At home with granma. We're on a "date" (makes air quotes).
Waitron: You guys look really different without the baby.
Mom: Yeah? How?
Waitron: You look like a hip young couple out on the town.
Dad: What do you mean?
Waitron: You just look different with the baby.
Mom: Not young? Not hip?
Waitron (stuttering): No...not like that..just different.
Dad: Maybe it's the fact that I'm wearing all black?
Waitron: You always wear black.
Dad: It doesn't stain as easily.

Act I, Scene 3:

Scene: Affluent street in West Coast city.

(MOM and DAD leave restaurant, walk down the street.)

Mom: Honey, yesterday somebody said that everytime he sees me, I look more like a mommy.
Dad: You are a mommy.
Mom: He said that sometimes he doesn't recognize me right away, that's how different I look.
Dad: You look the same to me. (Pause) Actually, I think you're sexier.
Mom: Why should we look different to other people?
Dad: We're always walking around with multiple identities, a couple in our head and at least one for every person we meet.
Mom: What if you hate the images people have of you?
Dad: You don't want to look like a mom?
Mom: I still don't feel like one. I keep trying, but I don't feel like a mommy.
Dad: That's OK. It's OK.

(MOM and DAD walk a block in silence)

Dad: Maybe we should try out other restraurants?
Mom: Yeah. Someplace where they don't remember us being a young, hip couple.


What's the point of this? No idea; it's just a synthesis of conversations I've had recently.

"Is the true self this which stands on the pavement in January, or that which bends over the balcony in June? Am I here, or am I there? Or is the true self neither this nor that, neither here nor there, but something so varied and wandering that it is only when we give the rein to its wishes and let it take its way unimpeded that we are indeed ourselves? Circumstances compel unity; for convenience' sake a man must be whole. The good citizen when he open his door in the evening must be a banker, golfer, husband, father; not a nomad wandering the desert, a mystic staring at the sky, a debauchee in the slums of San Francisco..." - Virginia Woolf, "Street Hauntings"

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Boys vs. Girls

The following is based on a comment I made at Half Changed World, in response to a question posed by Jennifer of the blog Under the Ponderosas: "What makes you say society is hard on boys who aren't conventionally masculine?" It got me to thinking and remembering, and led me to a thought about raising my son that I don't think I like very much.

When I was a kid in Saginaw, MI, I played the flute in my junior high school band, the only boy to do so. There were twelve chairs, and for the first half of the first year, I was dead last. The drum section - all macho schmucks - teased and bullied me relentlessly.

At some point - driven by an impulse that I did not consciously acknowledge - I started to practice furiously. In a single session, I zoomed past all the girls from last chair to first, and I held that first chair for the rest of my time in band.

At roughly the same time, I challenged one of the drummers to a fight. I lost, of course - of the dozen fights I was in that year, the best I could ever manage was a draw.

But a strange - or maybe just predictable - thing happened: the teasing and bullying gradually evaporated.

With hindsight, I see clearly that the end of the harassment had everything to do with dominating the girls in the flute section. It helped that I was willing to fight with my fists, even if I lost. The important thing is that I fought at all.

I just put Liko down to sleep. While I was watching him sleep, I remembered all this. I asked myself: if he faced the same level of teasing and bullying, would I want him to fight other boys and dominate girls if that meant an end to his persecution?

I'm afraid that for all my dude-feminist posturing, the answer is almost certainly yes.

Times have changed and also, Liko won't grow up in a place like Saginaw. Hopefully, he'll grow up in a more forgiving, egalitarian social atmosphere, where gender is not quite so polarized and people are more secure in difference, than the one I experienced in the Midwest in the mid-Eighties.

But it would obviously be better if my ideals weren't put to any kind of test.

Postscript: I still play the flute, but only for Liko. When I take it out and start putting it together, he scampers off to find his plastic yellow recorder. While I play little baby tunes, he tries to imitate me, his eyes watching my every move.