Fatherhood typically reeks of heteropatriarchal normative masculinity that wreaks havoc on individuals, families & society.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
I don’t want to embrace the typical role of a father because that role is to be a man in a very narrow sense and to indoctrinate your children (particularly your sons) into a very narrow understanding of gender relationships and identities.
But I do embrace my children. I embrace them every day and treasure their love for me, never taking it for granted. They are a gift that brought me to parenthood and a new form of responsibility that I am only just figuring out. They also brought me to a new understanding of life that I am only just figuring out.
I have a new responsibility to the future, as well as a new understanding of the future that resides in the fleshy skin of my toddler’s body and in their wild spirit that devours each moment and day. The future is real and jumping on my bed each morning. My children remind me of the power of a single moment, while simultaneously showing me how long the future stretches, through generations.
It is a responsibility that also scares me, both in its beauty and seriousness but also in its daunting challenge. Everything in my society is intentionally designed to indoctrinate my children into power hierarchies and imbalances that are destructive. My powerful, creative and wild daughter will at some point be told that those qualities are not lady-like enough. My gentle, funny and affectionate son will be bombarded to step up and be a ‘real man’, which will, in some form, mean being less gentle and more domineering. Both of them will be steeped into a culture of where rape is taught, genocide accepted, and disabling people a norm. They will also be steeped into a culture of privilege.
My children, with their translucent skin, bright blonde hair and radiant blue eyes, represent a privilege that cannot be bought, cannot be taught, cannot be earned. They will be taught that they are special in their Whiteness; it has already begun with every stranger that stops and comments on how beautiful their blonde curls are. They will learn how to wield this privilege with impunity, to wield it without even thinking about it.
So my responsibility to them is daunting and immediate in its necessity. A parent can never protect their children from the world around them, so how can I best show them how to engage their world in ways that both demonstrate its failures but also in ways that demand better? How can I show them different ways to look at the world, to value people in new ways, to relate to the earth in different and more powerful ways? How can I challenge them to constantly move toward resistance of our culture rather than complicity?
And this is when I realize that I can’t. At least, not alone. And it is at this moment that the fallacy of fatherhood becomes glaring – fatherhood, in the form of the nuclear family, honors an individualistic role connected to the very structures of domination and power that I hope my children will resist. I will not put myself on that pedestal because I have recognized my incompleteness, my inabilities. To embrace fatherhood is to embrace beyond fatherhood. The way my children will learn to reorient the world around them is with and through their communities, through and with the people who share a desire to reorient the world.
So what I will show my children is the world around them, and around them I will show the communities of struggle – the communities of life, the communities of resistant power.
This is not an abdication of my personal responsibilities. I have an important role in my children’s life; it’s just not the one laid out for me, prescribed to me. It is to show them hope. It is to show them faith. It is to show them humility. It is to show them other forms of success matter. It is to show them gentleness. It is to show them options. It is to show them community. It is to show them beyond myself.
I will show them how to build community. To look beyond what I can give them and to create a family bigger than I can give them. To honor and respect all of their relations. I will show them that this is difficult work; they will see my failures.
These thoughts are just beginnings and I am okay with that – I am just at the beginning of the journey with my children. We will learn together and grow together; we will learn from each other. They will see the journey we are on together and I hope that they will see that the journey, despite its difficulty and pain, is good.