Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Liko blows out a candle

"Daddy, where does the fire go after you blow it out?"

"Where do you think it goes?"

"I think it goes to where they keep the fire. It's flying through the air right now into these pipes that go to a factory where they use the fire to make things like...[looks around the room]"

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Daddy Shift

My new (first!) book, The Daddy Shift, is now available for order everywhere books are sold, and its very first review appears in this month's issue of Mothering magazine:

In The Daddy Shift: How Stay-at-Home Dads, Breadwinning Moms, and Shared Parenting are Transforming the American Family, Jeremy Adam Smith leaves no stone unturned in his adroit navigation of the slippery terrain of the changing role of "dad." Part lucidly written historical, social, and economic analyses of moneymaking and caregiving roles, and part eloquent portraits of stay-at-home dads of various cultural backgrounds (including gay couples), the book covers a lot of ground. But it never feels as if Smith is stretching to make his points. His investigations are very well researched, and he's pursued them with a rigorous intellectual integrity that makes his arguments engagingly persuasive. The result is an impressive book that even the childless should read, for at essence, The Daddy Shift is not just about stay-at-home dads, but about the changing roles of men and women in society.

Not a bad start. And my publisher, Beacon Press, even made this nice little promotional video. Embed it on your blog, forward it to friends! Here are some upcoming Bay Area events:

On May 30th at 2 pm, I will conduct a workshop for new and expectant parents on father involvement at Natural Resources in San Francisco. Come explore how new fathers and mothers can equally share in the joys and burdens of parenthood. Emphasis will be placed on successful co-parenting relationships and in understanding and overcoming obstacles to father involvement. To sign up, call 415 550-2611 or email Co-sponsored by the Bay Area Homebirth Collective.

On Saturday, June 6, at 7 pm, Cover to Cover will host a release party for The Daddy Shift. Cover to Cover is located in San Francisco, 1307 Castro St (between 24th St & Jersey St). Come one, come all.

On Sunday, June 14 at 5 pm, Jeremy will read at an event for Rad Dad, which won the 2009 Independent Press Award for best  'zine. The reading will be held at Pegasus Books, 2349 Shattuck Avenue in downtown Berkeley, CA.

I want to thank all of Daddy Dialectic's readers and contributors, whose stories and comments through the years have helped shape my ideas about parenthood in America. I'm grateful. And I hope you'll consider purchasing a copy of The Daddy Shift--especially for friends and relatives (or even spouses...) who may be questioning why parents would want to share in caring for their children.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

because you never know -- the intro to rad dad 13

Just a note to say that a bunch of local radical parents (including your very own Jeremy Adam Smith) will have a reading at Pegasus Bookstore in downtown Berkeley on June 14th at 5 pm -- spread the word and come out and say hi -- it should be a lot of fun! Here's my introduction to the newest issue of Rad Dad, nominated this year for an Independent Press Award for best 'zine:

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.

I know.

Kow Jai

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.

Jai. Heart.

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, May 11, 2009

Practical Feminism, Part 1: A Belated Mother's Day Tribute

I fell out of love with my mother at the age of 26.

Of course, what I fell out of love with wasn’t really my mother; it was a certain relationship with my mother, which was the model until then for how I attempted to love all women. It didn’t work. It couldn’t, for me or for the women I attempted to love.

Within 6 years of that momentous event, and after a good number of romantic misfires, I married a woman who happened to share many of my mother’s best characteristics, both physical and spiritual: her rich black hair, her modesty, her elegant, practical intelligence, and her drive for personal independence won through a professional career.

My wife’s ambitions are self-conscious and grounded in an engagement with feminism. There is a tall bookshelf in our living room devoted exclusively to women’s studies, to the history, sociology, psychology, and economics of women, gender, sexuality and feminism. When I first met her, her two degrees were hung prominently on the wall, and she had developed elaborate strategies for deflecting her parent’s nagging: When was she going to get married? Did she want to have children? Why was she still single?

My mother’s feminism, on the other hand, was entirely untheoretical. She was part of no movement. She did not steep herself in (then non-existent) undergraduate women’s studies, nor in 60’s campus counterculture, nor in women’s issues generally. She didn’t come from a family with pronounced ideological commitments to social causes. Her father was an Ivy-educated, domineering, and quick-witted accountant from Philadelphia whose wife, my grandmother, dropped out of college after only one year to marry him.

After my mother was born, and my grandfather returned from the war in Europe, my grandmother became his secretary, working in an office on the ground floor directly across the hall from his. They were clearly -- even to me as a little boy -- a couple in love. They gardened together behind the grand old house they had acquired from one of Cincinnati’s minor industrial barons; they both loved the drawings of M.C. Escher and the humor of James Thurber, they both enjoyed bird watching, the Muppet Show, the same sweet dessert liquors, and the music of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

But it was always clear that a Patriarch towered at the apex of my mother’s family. And I am convinced that my grandmother’s lifelong subscription to National Geographic and her devotion to PBS programming were attempts to make up for, through self-directed enrichment, the college degree she gave up in order to be the Patriarch’s wife.

Social change often works in microscopic, capillary ways. From this decidedly conventional family background, my mother went to college and graduated, all with the support of grandfather the Patriarch. She then continued on to law school, among the first generation of women to do so in any significant numbers, and earned a Juris Doctorate. My grandfather didn’t understand why she wanted this, but again he supported her. Along the way, my mother met a man who later became a college professor -- my father -- who would never make as much money as she did.

Within one generation, my mother had outstripped my grandmother’s educational achievements, and by the beginning of her professional career, she had completely overturned the household role models she had grown up with, effectuating a family revolution of practical feminism. My father followed my mother in the early years, and tailored his career moves to suit hers. For a few years in my toddlerhood, he was a stay-at-home-dad. Yet no one complained, and my mother now sees herself as just another working professional. Maybe if my grandmother had finished college, she might have found a job and a route to independence back in the 1940’s. But it’s not clear that she really wanted to; and even if she had, it’s not clear how far she could have gone. My mother did want to, and it just so happened that circumstances had evolved in her favor. Now she has helped to change those same circumstances even further.

My mother saw her chance, and she took it. As a consequence, perhaps in unconscious imitation, I am now following in my father’s footsteps, raising a child with a woman who will probably always make more money than I ever could, and doing my stint at an at-home-dad. It feels very familiar, very matter-of-fact, and although I know in my head that there are more and more families in which the woman makes as much as, if not more than, the man, I am always privately surprised that it is not still more common.

Small actions can have large ramifications over the course of a few generations. En masse, they can amount to broad social changes in attitudes, opportunities, and behaviors. My grandfather saw no need to encourage the education of his wife and embodied many of the prejudices of his generation, but he provided his daughter with all possible resources to fuel her ambitions. He was in many ways a difficult man, but his loving open-mindedness allowed my mother to flourish. That, in turn, made for a loving mother who allowed her son to flourish, and left the son, now an adult, to wonder “Where will I be able to find anything comparable to this?”

Fortunately, after many years of looking, I have.

[This post also appears on Dad's Book of Days]

Friday, May 08, 2009

What happens when compassion hurts?

This is the edited transcript of a May 7 talk I gave to the nurses of UC Berkeley Health Services on surviving compassion fatigue. It occurs to me that it applies just as much to parents. Originally posted to the Greater Good blog.

I’m going to warn you: This is a somewhat difficult talk, full of paradoxes. I’m going to talk about the best in human nature and behavior, and also the worst. I’m going to talk about how human beings seem designed to care for each other, but also how the grind of daily care can be soul-destroying. And in the end, I hope to share my thoughts on how we can work with other people to bring out the good in each of us.

I’m an early riser, and I do most of my writing in the early morning. A month ago, I was walking to a coffee shop at 6:30 am, and I was doing what I often do during my early morning walks, which is to look around at the Victorians and hills and mist of the place where I live and think about how beautiful all of it is.

Without warning, I felt a blow on the back of my head, and someone ran past me holding a tire iron.