Rad Dad is a 2011 collection of very brief essays (and a few interviews), edited by Tomas Moniz and Jeremy Adam Smith. Its material is drawn entirely from two radical fathering/fatherhood publications, the zine Rad Dad and the blog Daddy Dialectic.
The book’s biggest strength is in its pieces’ diversity and earnestness. Although it’s a quick read, it offers a lot to think about in terms of how feminist-leaning, anti-capitalist/anti-consumerist, anti-racist fathers experience their own lives and relationships in a culture where fatherhood is deeply tied up with problematic, limited masculinities–and especially with the “breadwinner” role of providing families with Stuff and Money.
As in nearly every anthology, the quality is somewhat uneven. But hoo boy the essay “Skate Dad” earns special mention in that it nearly made me just stop reading. This piece is an unusually low ‘low point.’ In the context of a generally thoughtful and reflective collection, I was taken aback by its I-think-I’m-so-cool-and-progressive sexist paternalistic vibe: “Transfer that treatment to when a skater’s daughter brings a guy home–that guy is in for a seriously uncomfortable meeting-the-parents experience, several times over, until he proves himself in a big way” (107). Can we please move past the “Anything happens to my daughter, I got a .45 and a shovel, I doubt anybody would miss you” routine, at least in progressive circles, and drop the Big Man act? (And yeah, I’m quoting Clueless. Of course I am, because Clueless rules forever.)
I really appreciate Moniz’s introductory acknowledgement of his own and many fathers’ initial reluctance to write about parenting, because they worry about their own privilege and/or because they worry about making a contribution at all:
In the first issue of Rad Dad, I confessed that I waited years for someone else to do a zine that would foster parents’, and particularly fathers’, political awareness. I’ll tell you why I was so hesitant: I wasn’t sure how to talk about parenting without it sounding narcissistic or self-satisfied or privileged–See, look, I change diapers, aren’t I a good father? or Let me tell you about how I once got up and rocked the baby to sleep–while the mother still did the majority of housecleaning, errands, and other parental responsibilities.
[...] Many fathers I met were uncomfortable writing about parenting because of this issue–as well as the internaliezd belief that we fathers don’t have much to offer or say about parenting. (10)
This discussion frames the book’s project of storytelling, self-reflection, and personal/political engagement quite effectively.
In an abbreviated version of his blog post “10 questions on profeminist fatherhood,” Smith writes thoughtfully about the power dynamics within his family as they changed during the transition to parenthood:
Most shocking of all, I think the power in our relationship started to inexorably tilt in my direction, as perhaps it always did, as we became parents. Even when I took time off of paid work to serve as my son’s primary caregiver, the tilt continued. It didn’t seem, and still doesn’t seem, to matter what I want or decide—I just keep growing more powerful in the relationship.
What do I mean by power? In this context, we might say it’s the ability to do and say what we want and need to do or say. From this perspective, we’ve both lost power: Parenthood constrains our choices in countless ways, which I don’t think I need to explain to other parents.
But there is no question, absolutely none, that my wife has lost more power than I have. This won’t surprise moms who are reading this, but it certainly surprised me.
The biggest reason for this, I would say, is that I have simply not been as absorbed by the physical and emotional demands of caregiving, even when I was primary caregiver; and at this writing, I am the one who is making most of the money and feels most driven to advance in my so-called career. (130-131)
Also, what a great description of what some of my friends call “the witching hour,” from David L. Hoyt:
It was a bitterly cold winter afternoon. Four p.m. and already dark. I was tired, and dreading the two-hour stretch that yawned before me, from the end of Spot’s afternoon nap, to Spot’s mom coming home from work a little after six.
It is a bleak stretch of time, bleak in my mind like the glare of sodium vapor street lamps over a frozen, salt-crusted alley.
Bleak, I tell you. Bleak.
Although–or perhaps because–I sometimes had to remind myself to take off the ol’ judging hat, I really enjoyed reading a collection of casual stories and opinion pieces by fathers who are actually thinking about issues surrounding race and racism, class and classism, consumerism, poverty, law enforcement and the prison system, and gender and sexism.
But my two-year-old would tell you to get the book just because it has somebody about his size wearing a “bicycle helmet! bicycle helmet! for me! get!” on the cover.