by Rachel Fudge
Although this new collection features work by some undeniably cool cats—like iconic punk rocker Ian MacKaye, hip hop chronicler Jeff Chang, and skater/photographer Mark Whiteley, to name just a few—what makes the titular dads rad is not their tattoos, subcultural street cred, or half-pipe prowess. It’s actually way more radical than that: These are men who are deeply invested in questioning and challenging what coeditor Tomas Moniz terms “the social stereotypes of fathering that for so long have been used to justify gender-specific parental roles.” If that sounds a wee bit dry or self-righteous, don’t stop reading. The contributors may be earnest, but didactic they are not.
Drawing from pieces published in Moniz’s zine of the same name and Jeremy Adam Smith’s sympatico website, the Daddy Dialectic [see “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pop,” no. 50], Rad Dad’s short personal essays are, in keeping with the book’s zine and blog roots, more heartfelt than they are polished—but it’s precisely the raw, unedited nature of these pieces that gives them their emotional power. Happily, this is not just a collection of self-congratulatory essays about encouraging sons to wear pink and daughters to play football; as all the contributors herein could—and do—tell you, progressive parenting is way more complicated than that, and it’s the exploration of those complications that make for the most interesting reading.
When Moniz writes in “Losing the Battle, Winning the War” about his teenage children’s seeming rejection of his progressive values (his son embraces thug life; his daughter wants to look more white), his ability to rise above petty disappointment and trust them to make their own choices is all the more heartwrenching. As is Shawn Taylor’s “A Day at the Park,” wherein he captures both the beauty and the challenges of being a “tattooed, visually Black” father of a “little ethnically ambiguous toddler.” He addresses his fear of becoming “an absent father sleeper agent”; his pain at being invisible as a father (always mistaken for an uncle, cousin, or babysitter); fighting back his own violent impulses when faced with overt racism; and proving all his self-doubts wrong by simply putting his children’s needs first.
Rad Dad’s contributors are a politically engaged, profeminist, anticonsumerist bunch, but the truth is, even if they weren’t, this would still be a pretty radical book. Even in 2011, nearly 20 years after the debut of the like-minded Hip Mama zine, for men to talk seriously and introspectively about parenting is a pretty revolutionary act. As writer Steve Almond points out in his interview with Smith, “A lot of parents—particularly prosperous, over-determined parents like myself—get sucked inward by parenting. It’s a trap, because our apathy and moral disengagement is going to cost our kids in the long run.” For some men, however, especially those who are already marginalized by mainstream culture, simply telling their stories as fathers is a crucial challenge to the dominant discourse.
GIVE IT TO: Anyone who describes fathering as “babysitting” (and anyone who reads “fathering” to mean “impregnating”).
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