Mister Mom

A couple of things:

 

 

 

  • Are you reading VillageQ? Because you should be. Because there’s a host of excellence going on there.

 

  • I have a short story published in THEM Lit. If you have any interested in gender and literature, check it out. Everything in the publication is phenomenal—AND I hear they’re coming out with a paper run pretty soon here!

 

On to the proper post:

 

Members of Queen, in drag, looking amazing. From the music video for I Want To Break Free.

Members of Queen, in drag, looking amazing. From the music video for I Want To Break Free.

 

 

I hate that phrase. Mr Mom. It always made me feel uncomfortable when I was a kid—like I wasn’t sure who they were mocking, but I was pretty sure I didn’t like it. Maybe it was personal—my dad does things coded as feminine by the patriarchy—he loves cooking and sewing, for example. Or maybe it was both my parents and their second wave teachings. Either way, I hate the phrase. I’m glad it seems to be going out of style, though a quick search on google’s news page tells me it’s not fully out of vernacular.

But it haunted my thoughts the other day. Our neighbors stopped to talk to Jetpack. They asked what he learned that day at preschool—”nothing.” They suggested he teach it, since he’s so smart. And then they suggested I teach it. I laughed, and Jetpack agreed. “Daddy Levi can teach cooking!”

OWCH. Cooking? I mean. I love cooking. I love feeding my family. But—and I admit this sounds a little ridiculous, but this is how it felt—if I died tomorrow, he’d remember me as that guy that cooked a lot. Not as the guy who writes. Not as a dad who reads with him, or who helps people out, or who gardens—but that guy that cooks.

I don’t think I prepared myself for the little disappointments—the way that kids can sometimes cut at their parents. They have a lot of power! I’m sure there’s a lesson in here somewhere—maybe my own internalized sexism? Maybe not taking things so seriously? Maybe some of both?

Anyway. We’re getting take out for dinner tonight. Gyros. You know you’re jealous.

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For Boston

Seems close, but we still only have the one stoplight.

I’m from Boston. Ok, I’m not from Boston. But if you grew up west of Pennsylvania, it’s just easier to say Boston rather than: “Just outside of Boston. About 45 minutes west. Have you heard of Hopkinton, where the Marathon starts? What about Framingham? Ok, well it’s right next to Framingham. No, I don’t have the accent.”

It just so happens that I took a loosely planned road trip with a friend from Minneapolis to pick up hir furniture in New Jersey (where ze is from) last week. With room in the trailer, we headed up to Massachusetts to get my drum set out of my parents’ house. We drove through Hopkinton to get there, and though we didn’t drive over the starting line of the marathon, we were very close – close enough to read all the signs store owners had placed in their windows for the runners.

The marathon falls on a state-specific holiday every year. Officially called Patriots’ Day, most locals call it Marathon Monday. My father ran the marathon nearly every year since I was a child until his Achilles heel injury in 2005. We would find a spot on the route, coordinate with extended family members about the time and place, make signs of encouragement, and bring snacks. The night before, we’d have a large spaghetti dinner so that my dad could carbo-load.

I can’t imagine that anyone reading this has not heard of the Boston Marathon bombings that occurred exactly one week ago. Feels like a lifetime. My friend and I were able to spend some time with my family-of-origin as we packed up some of my things on the Saturday before the Monday bombings. Several (agonizing) days of driving later, and we were home. I was setting up my drums in my basement Monday after lunch, listening to NPR, as the word came through that someone had bombed the finish line of the marathon. Of course there’s confusion at first, and denial that it’s as bad as they say it is. I was thinking “I was just there. I asked Dad if he was ever going to run it again. I was in Hopkinton two days ago.” I was glued to media outlets for the rest of the day week. All my family is fine, by the way.

It made me start to think about conversations with kids. No one talked to E about the bombings; she’s too young to notice and we left NPR off for the week. I realized that I feel mostly reactionary with kids. If they ask a question, I will answer it – or at least I’ll think about it and get back to them. But how do I bring up things that may come up for them? How do you help kids deal with potential danger while allowing them to be be kids while they can? After an extended Captain Planet marathon the other day, E asked me: “Are there like really real bad guys out there?” and I didn’t know how to answer that. Yes, there are. But they won’t be putting a force field around an island to heat it up; they’ll probably try to touch your genitals. Reality is a hard thing for me to wrap my own brain around sometimes. I can’t imagine a world where I’m not hypervigilant about danger. Balancing the weight of the good and evil in the world and making the best choices you can make each day; that’s all I’ve got. But how to explain this to a kid?

“The word is beautiful and shitty, kid. Learn to enjoy booze and your friends and you’ll make it just fine.” I guess that’s not going to make it into a kid’s book any time soon. Any tips on bringing up conversations with older kids? Can’t Mr. Rogers just raise our children for us?

Stay safe out there. #bostonstrong

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Little Bear at six months browsing the kid bookshelf in our living room

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the books we have available for Little Bear. I love reading, and even as a child reading was part of the way I made sense of the world. I really resonate with Hermione from the Harry Potter books in that my first response in the face of a problem is to check the library. While I recognize that Little Bear is probably not going to have the same relationship to books that I have, I want her to have access to books that help her make sense of the world. As a parent and a book-lover, I want to be able to have ways of introducing age-appropriate discussions about difference, inequalities, and justice.

I was doing a little research about children’s books and race, and found some really disturbing statistics over at the Cooperative Children’s Book Center about books by and about people of color. For example, in 2012 there are approximately 5,000 new children’s books published. However, only 119 were about African-Americans and only 68 were written by African-Americans. There were only 6 books about Native Americans and 22 by Native Americans. There were only 76 books about Asian Pacific Americans, and 83 books by Asian Pacific Americans. Only 59 books were by Latinos and 54 books were about Latinos. To be clear, I am not saying I think all children’s book authors who are people of color should only write or illustrate books about people of color, nor am I saying that white people absolutely shouldn’t write books about people of color. To be honest, I am still wrestling with notions of authority and authenticity when thinking about who should or shouldn’t be telling stories about marginalized communities. However, on the whole I try to operate on the basis that people in marginalized communities know their struggles, joys, lives better than someone not in that community.

So why is this important? Why are kid’s book in particular important? In Don’t Tell The Grown-ups: The Subversive Power of Children’s Literature Allison Lurie writes that

The great subversive works of children’s literature suggest that there are other views of human life besides those of the shopping mall and the corporation. They mock current assumptions and express the imaginative, unconventional, noncommercial view of the world in its simplest and purest form. They appeal to the imaginative, questioning, rebellious child within all of us, renew our instinctive energy, and act as a force for change. This is why such literature is worthy of our attention and will endure long after more conventional tales have been forgotten. 

The stories we tell are powerful. Stories help shape our sense of the world, of what is right and wrong. Children’s books have explicit and implicit messages about race, gender, class, ability, power, and culture. Being able to share books that explore these issues is important to me as a parent. My partner and I have tried to provide Little Bear with books by and about a lot of different types of people and families. As we saw above with books by and about people of color most books are still by and about white people. I am willing to bet all the coffee in my cupboard that a similar trend emerges for ability, sexual orientation, class and gender identity.

In a pretty quick search for children’s literature by and about people of color, I found a few decent lists and essays at the Cooperative Children’s Book Center and a list at my local public library website.  Where have you found good lists of books by and about people of color? How about books about sexual orientation and gender identity? Books about ability? Am I over-emphasizing the importance of children’s books? Whether you are a parent or not, what are your thoughts about finding a variety of books for the kids in your life?

CCBC Multicultural Children’s Literature Page

CCBC’s 50 multicultural books every kid should know

Hennepin County Library Birth to Six book list on Helping Kids Relate

 

Linktastic Linkathon

Baby Jetpack

Hello fabulous readers! You’re looking especially well-rested today, and what you’ve done with your tentacles is just absolutely divine.

This week we had scheduled as a Guest week, but alas, we’ve all been quite busy and have no secured said guest. (Do you want post? Check out our submission page up top, or send us an email!)
So I’m going to just throw some lovely things your way, links and whatnot, and you WILL all be happy.

The Purim Superhero: LGBT Jewish Picture Book
I know, I know, Purim was this past weekend. And this isn’t a Jewish blog. But this book makes queer-me super duper happy for a handful of reasons.
1) The first english-language LGBT Jewish picture book EVER.
2) This quote by the author: “I’m very excited that this is a picture book about a kid with same-sex parents where his family structure is not the problem, but is still an important part of the story.” YES. It’s a book about queer families where their very existence isn’t the point of the book. Thank you, thank you, thank you. (Also, it looks like a fab book, especially if you’re interested in Jewish stories, and have the money to spend [I don’t right now, but soon…]) And if you buy it (or have bought it), let us know what you think!

Lesbian Family: Adoption Around the World

I notice in the comments that the map isn’t fully accurate, but it’s an interesting thing to look at. In the comments, there is also instructions to a much more detailed and up-to-date map that is unfortunately not linkable. Relatedly, while Germany un-banned “same-sex” couples adoption, Puerto Rico‘s Supreme Court upheld a ban . (Because nothing says “best for a child’s dignity, stability and well-being” like de-legitimizing a 12-year-old’s family).

How White Queers Can Be More Inclusive of Queer POC

We here at Queer Dads have not, to the detriment of this blog, talked much about race just yet. The post has just three short points. Even people who consider themselves allies need a little reminding, sometimes.

Raising a Son Within Princess Culture

I link this with two caveats: one, I don’t necessarily agree with everything the author says, and two, I try to avoid Huffington Post links. But on the other hand, it warms my heart that more mainstream parents are addressing the failings of binary gender designations with regards to our kids. (A word of warning: do not read them comments.)

That’s what I’ve got this week! If you have a link you think would be of interest (on topic or off, self serving or just something you ran across) please feel free to comment!

Thanks, Democracy Now!

At the end of January, the radio program Democracy Now asked a question on air that got me so choked up I could hardly speak. I may have gripping my steering wheel with emotion and made up a tiny happy dance in my seat, and then looked around, embarrassed.

 
Democracy Now, for those of you not in the know, is a daily independent news program. It is aired around the US, has very high quality journalism, and is entirely funded without advertisements or corporate interests.

 
The interview I’m talking about was with John Kiriakou, a former CIA official jailed for whistleblowing related to the torture program. He’s been sentenced to 30 months. I’ll leave my political feels outside of this post, of course, and get to the bit that tugged at my heart.

 
At the closing of a long interview, Nermeen Shaikh, one of the producers, asked Kiriakou, “John Kiriakou, you’ll shortly be going to prison. Do you know exactly when your prison sentence will begin? And how are you preparing for this? You’re the father of five children.”*

 
Shut the front door.

 
Are we really asking men how their lives will effect their children? As if their parenting is important to their children? As if their decisions have long-term effects on their offspring?
 

Say it ain’t so.

 
In these United States of America, Beyonce’s decision to wear a rocking and revealing outfit on the Oscar stage is seen as inappropriate in relation to her role as a parent. Neil Patrick Harris, though, can make cock jokes all day on his web show Puppet Dreams, nakedly, and nobody blinks, even once, at the effect that might have on the twins that he and David Burtka are raising. Of course, Beyonce’s viewing audience was a little larger–and there’s a pretty hefty racial component to Beyonce’s critics–but still. Fatherhood is both viewed as precious and rare, and at the same time not important. We are important and amazing unicorns–but you can’t rely on a unicorn to take you to work, amirite?

 
I could delve further–the patriarchy does a disservice to everyone in this respect, I think, by taking away personal responsibility from father figures, and at the same time taking away their agency.

 
But I’ll make this a slightly more positive post. Thank you, Democracy Now, for respecting John Kiriakou’s importance as a parent. And a wish that this is a changing wind for good for parents and children to the strengthening of family bonds. And a last, tiny wish, for John Kiriakou and his partner and five children, that their family comes through these next 30 months gently.

 

*Kiriakou’s response reflected a loving and involved parent: “It’s, frankly, very hard to prepare. You have to do things like arrange a power of attorney, arrange child care. I mean, there are so many things to do, it’s just overwhelming. My wife, thank God, is very strong and very tough and very supportive. And we are treating this like temporary duty overseas. It was not unusual for me to go overseas for many months at a time, sometimes as long as two years at a time, two-and-a-half years. So we’re treating this like an overseas deployment. I can call my children virtually every day. If I’m close enough, they can come and visit me. And I’m just hoping for the best…they know that I’ve been involved in a fight with the FBI for the last year. And I told them, ‘You know I’ve been fighting the FBI. And unfortunately, I lost. And so, because I lost, my punishment is I’m going to have to go away for a couple of years, and I’m going to try to teach bad guys how to get their high school diplomas. And when I’m all done with that, I’ll come home, and we’ll live as a family, and everything’s going to be OK again.'” Owch, my heart.

Guest Post: Raising My Fabulous Child

Iʼm Matthias, and Iʼm a single dad to two small tornadoes. My life is crazy on a good day and Iʼm learning and loving every moment of it. (This post is a submission by a guest author. To submit your own guest post, click here.)

 

ThumperStyle

It hurts to have this much style.

Thumper and I were at the movies, heading toward the concessions counter. Thumper was skipping along as usual and another moviegoer smiled and commented: “What a happy girl.” Then she took another look, taking in the pink outfit and short haircut and changed her mind; “…boy,” she corrected herself. Then looking to me perhaps for clarification, she revised further: “…person.” This is one of my favorite examples of life with my gender-playful child.

Iʼm a trans guy, and a dad for almost five years now. Iʼve always talked about my trans identity with my kids, Thumper (almost five) and Monster (two and a half). I started explaining it by saying I used to be a girl when I was little. And that was it. I mean, all sorts of things change. Change is something that kids are learning about all the time. How snow melts into water, how water freezes into ice, how seeds grow into plants. Whatʼs one more? To kids who have never had gender norms imposed on them, girls growing up to be men is just one more possibility in a whole world of changing things.

Despite my best efforts, my children categorize things as “girl” or “boy” things. However, they freely choose between those options. Thumper has been largely choosing girl clothing for a little over a year, since he was three. He went through this awful phase of not wanting to wear any clothes at all–which is fine and good except it was late fall, I didnʼt have a car, and we walked everywhere. I had to get him to put something on so I could get him to school and get to work. After a few mornings of loading him naked into a sleeping bag and buckling him in the stroller for this lovely 30-some degree walk, I was at witʼs end. It was around this time that someone gave us a bag of dress-up clothes, including princess dresses. It was indeed magical, the switch from daily wrestling matches to get my kid into clothes to him being excited to put on a dress to wear to school.

Over a year later, Thumper still prefers dresses, skirts, anything pink or sparkly. Iʼm happy to be a parent who celebrates my fancy kid. Iʼm glad that I have experiences that I can share with him, and that he feels comfortable talking to me about things like gender. There are quite a few resources out there for parents of trans or gender-exploring children, but I havenʼt found any specifically for queer parents. I have moments of feeling scared about what life might be like for him as he starts school, but Iʼm more excited to share in this abundance of gender with my kid!

So, queer parents, how do we encourage our children to think creatively about gender?

When is a Dad Like a Unicorn?

20130126-141148.jpgA few months ago I took Little Bear in for her 9 month check-in by myself. Previously, Little Bear’s mama and I had taken her in to her doctor appointments together. The nurse doing Little Bear’s basic measurements commented that it’s rare to see a dad bringing a kid in alone. A check out person at the store started a conversation with me while Little Bear and I were grocery shopping, and upon finding out that I am a part stay at home dad, part student, part worker, exclaimed that I am making such a sacrifice for my family. Apparently it’s just marvelous that I am willing to stay home and willing to not work full time. We’re at a restaurant and Little Bear needs a new diaper, as babies do, while we were walking back to the restroom a woman leans over and tells me it’s so unique to see a father taking such interest in parenting.

These incidents are only a handful in the strange phenomena I sometimes notice when I’m out with Little Bear. I get smiles and greetings, and people (frequently people I perceive to be women) strike up conversation with me. Overall, the impression I’ve gotten is that a dad with a baby is sometimes as magical as a unicorn. I shouldn’t be surprised. As a transmasculine person, I have certainly already experienced the benefits in male privilege in places where previously I was read as female. Being a white guy with a cute baby just rakes in heteronormative bonus points.

I have to tell you, sometimes these experiences make me feel like I’m Super Dad. All the social rewards, even if they are just in the forms of smiles and short comments, sometimes go to my head. “I am amazing,” I think, “it is so impressive that I am such a great father!”

However, the fact that I am a dad taking care of his kid shouldn’t make me special. Being a dad shouldn’t mean that it’s above and beyond for me to change my kid’s diaper. It shouldn’t be unusual that I take her to a pediatrician appointment. I shouldn’t be getting extra rewards when I am doing what moms are socially expected to do.

I rarely get critiqued on my parenting by strangers, but I know that this also sometimes happens to masculine-presenting parents and caretakers. When it happens, it feels like a slap in the face. Surprisingly enough, I probably do know the best ways to soothe my kid when she’s crying. That men aren’t as perceived as competent at care-taking is just another facet of the gendered division of labor enforced by heteronormative, patriarchal norms. It’s a little exaggerated, but sometimes it seems that society sees me as above and beyond incredible for meeting my child’s basic needs, or so clueless that I should hand over my kid to someone else who hasn’t been wiping her ass for 14 months. I do want to be a fabulous dad, but not because there’s a low social hurdle.

In the meantime, Little Bear and I are going to keep taking walks, going to the store, visiting the library, and living our life. We’re going to try to not let compliments go to my head. What about you?If you are a parent or a caretaker, how have you noticed gender affecting how you are perceived in public when you are with kids? If you’re not a parent or caretaker, have you noticed any differences in how folks of different genders with kids are treated?