Daddy Issues: Rad Dad Magazine Explores the Politics of Fatherhood

Tomas Moniz is Editor-in-Chief of Rad Dad Magazine and, more importantly, a father to three children ages 16, 19 and 23. His vision of creating a space for discussing radical politics and parenting first began as an award-winning zine. This year, Moniz decided to keep the Rad Dad dispatches going in the form of a magazine. The premiere Spring issue sold out. Contributions dealt with slut-shaming on the playground and being a woman who is a daddy to her kids—not as a single mother, but as the father figure of an adopted child in a same-sex relationship.

Another poignant essay took Father’s Day to task for being a commercialized bonanza reinforcing rigid boundaries. “I want new archetypes for fathers, ones that are imperfect and yet competent,” wrote Craig Elliot, “and ones that place a greater emphasis on love, compassion and community.” Rad Dad Magazine followed up with a summer Father’s Day special advancing the cause. But for as great of a discussion Rad Dad fosters, its second issue came with a sense of urgency. Moniz sounded a call for many more subscribers to continue his mission into 2015 or the Fall October edition may be the last.

Rad Dad Magazine builds on a tradition of radically reimagining parenthood whether its reading a withered copy of Summerhill by A.S. Neil or peace activist Dr. Benjamin Spock’s perennial bestseller The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, first published in 1946. Rad Dad magazine contributes to a necessary conversation that challenges patriarchy, a discussion that must grow and continue.

SAN ROMAN: What has been your own experience as a ‘Rad Dad’ and what does that mean in your own life?

MONIZ: It’s clearly something I’ve failed at numerous times. For me, starting the magazine and looking for other parents who are trying to parent in conscientious ways was the point of everything I was doing. I can be a better parent when I have stories and I get to know other parents who are trying similar things with me. That’s where I came at the project from: I need help. I know there’s different ways of fathering than my own experience growing up and what I see in the media. That was the impetus behind starting Rad Dad.

SAN ROMAN: You started out as a young father at the age of 20. How does that perspective play into Rad Dad?

MONIZ: If there’s anything I’d love to do more of in Rad Dad it’s getting young fathers to write. That was what my experience when I was that young. There were simply no role models out there. I was really struggling against the social expectations placed upon men, how to behave and what the gender roles should be within a family. I think that story is missing, particularly from young fathers. In my experience, for ten years I piecemealed together what I was doing until I was in my late 20s. That’s when I started reading alternative media around parenting. When children start becoming more autonomous, more demanding of their own choices, how do you balance that? How do you work with them as opposed to putting your ideas on them? That’s where I began to think that there’s got to be something else out there.

SAN ROMAN: How much do you think so-called mainstream fathering is informed (or misinformed) by patriarchy and what are the consequences of that?

MONIZ: The drawbacks are exhausting in the way in which patriarchy limits our own relationship with our children, our partners and the idea of creating family and building community. It’s debilitating. The way fathering is represented in the mainstream media is usually about discipline or about being hip, cool and maintaining these male attitudes. Partly what I’ve been really inspired by in reading stories from people who have written for Rad Dad is how truly people, men included, are really trying to redefine their relationship to children and to family. That’s where the excitement for me comes in; looking at what these people are doing on their own, struggling against all these preconceived notions and the way gender is limiting our relationship with our children.

SAN ROMAN: On the flip side, what were your experiences as a son?

MONIZ: It’s powerful. I’m currently looking at an essay about masculinity because I had a similar story. I was raised mostly by a single mother. I had a biological father who was in and out of jail and in and out of my life. I had a father who raised me, who was my brother’s biological parent, and it was the same kind of thing. He was very traditional and male in the strong, silent thing. He had a really wicked temper that flared up and flared away. We had to learn to navigate that. When I had a child at 20, I could sense that relationship in myself to my own children, how quickly I could get angry, how sometimes I felt I was doing the same types of things my father was doing. I needed to figure out how to work through that and claim the beautiful things that my relationship with my fathers gave me but also try and re-imagine my own relationship with my children. I still feel like I’m learning that to this day.

SAN ROMAN: What were those beautiful things despite the shortcomings that you talked about?

MONIZ: My own personal relationship with my biological father was amazing. He was from New Mexico. The ideas he had about social justice and radical politics came up in the Chicano Nationalist movement. It was really inspiring to hear him tell stories about being young and running through the Las Vegas, New Mexico night. That cultural pride really inspired me and gave me a connection to not just an immediate family but a larger cultural family. That allowed me to find connections to other radical scenes. I’m really glad that happened for me. Unlike the stereotype of someone who was in jail, he was totally loving. He read a lot. I had really great, meaningful conversations with him. That’s something I try to replicate in my own relationship; be vulnerable, be honest, unlike my father who raised me for years and was standoffish.

SAN ROMAN: How did Rad Dad transition from its days as a zine to becoming a full-fledged magazine?

MONIZ: Literally the first ten issues of the zine, I handmade all the covers, stapled them all, and copy and pasted the insides. It very much had that zine quality that came from the early 90s. It immediately caught attention. People within a specific community—the radical and zine community—loved it, submitted to it and supported it. I’m from the Bay Area but it quickly got distributed in various bookstores across the United States, not a lot, but enough that I’d get orders regularly. I personally mailed them out every new issue. It was a lot of work but it built a lot of community and I made a lot of connections because of it. As my kids got older—my oldest son has moved away, my middle daughter is now in college and I’m kind of with my last child right now—I didn’t want to stop the project but I certainly wanted to allow the space for other people to participate and take over it. It’s not about me but ultimately about the community of people parenting. The idea of the magazine is to create a larger structure so that I can actually begin to step out of it and people can take up more leadership in it.

SAN ROMAN: What will readers find in Rad Dad Magazine’s pages?

MONIZ: It’s open to people of all genders. You don’t have to have children to write for it or to read it. Where it’s at now is we as a society of people who are concerned about social justice, we are part of a community that community needs to be multi-generational if it is going to succeed on any kind of long-term front. So how we relate to kids, how we build families, how we create community, those are some of the key questions in Rad Dad. Yes, you got your birth stories but you also have people involved in larger movements talking about the place of children in those movements. In issue 2, one queer man talks about his relationship to children and how it ultimately makes him a better person. We have transgendered fathers writing for it, mothers writing for it. It’s a nice hodgepodge of different stories, but ultimately it’s about how we can create better communities for ourselves.

SAN ROMAN: You mentioned in one of your Rad Dad pieces that an anarchist zine on parenting helped you get your start. When you’re a parent, you’re in an authority role. Anarchism is anti-authority in many regards. How does that dynamic play out?

MONIZ: I definitely identify as an anarchist. To me, that’s the beautiful challenge. Anarchism at its root is about transparent relationships whether its boss and worker, your partner or loving relationships. Children are the same. How can we work together to create the family that we want? Clearly I have more experience and there are times when I need my kids to listen to me. It’s about being open, vulnerable and transparent, owning mistakes that we make because we’re not perfect. We all get frustrated. That’s what I’ve always been drawn to about radicalism or anarchism is that we are self-reflective about the choices that we’ve make. We need to work together collaboratively.

SAN ROMAN: How about alternatives to coercion in that anarchistic Rad Dad mindset?

MONIZ: I was parented in a horrible way through guilt and intimidation. I’ve made those mistakes myself. I see myself making them continually. I really try to model as I get older, talking about the consequences for a choice a child might make. It’s really hard in this society with drugs and rampant social violence that’s out there, particularly for kids of color. The sexism that my daughters experience, I’ve learned more from them about patriarchy and misogyny than any other aspect of my life. It makes me sad that it took me until I was raising young women to realize how daily they are inundated with that kind of behavior. It’s appalling. For me, anarchism is less about any particular definition and more about how we approach relationships.

SAN ROMAN: There’s that stereotype of ‘red diaper babies.’ And many times children of activist parents, most often fathers, grow up resentful for split commitments between the demanding activist life and the family. What are your thoughts on that?

MONIZ: There’s a great book on this very subject and one that I’ve written about a couple times. The book is called Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind by Victoria Law. It’s really about as people who are involved in activist movements, we need to rethink that. How can we create movements that allow families to be a part of it, particularly fathers so that we don’t have to leave our wives or children behind? I think that’s a key question because it is unfair. I wrote an essay involving a lot of Chicano Nationalism because when I grew up all the role models I saw, like Pancho Villa or Joaquin Murrieta, had no kids. There are no young kids involved in those stories. We need to start having stories where the people we want to emulate involves their families. What would that mean if we were to see a radical kid space? That’s just as powerful in creating a better world as simply running to the front line or sitting in trees. That’s a powerful conversation that we need to have. We shouldn’t have to choose. Men can usually do that, but that’s patriarchy. Women are not as welcome in those spaces once they do have kids because the expectation is that they should be taking care of them.

SAN ROMAN: How does the Rad Dad discussion branch out beyond activist circles?

MONIZ: Being a Rad Dad isn’t always about how committed you are to other things. It’s about the work we do day-to-day creating our families, feeding our kids, loving our partners. My goal is to try and find those essays of people that are rediscovering their commitment to their families or interviewing their dads and getting a new perspective on living an authentic life. All the essays are from readers. I open up the call to submissions and see what comes out. Sometimes I’m inundated but most of the time I’m struggling to find pieces that tell a rich, diverse story. In trying to put politics in practice, any day I see fathers out in the world with their children, I want to go up to them and start conservations to normalize that behavior. As complete human beings we are better when we are consciously working to create families. That doesn’t mean you have to have kids. It can mean how you involve yourself with kids in your community. I do want to make the conversation about parenting normalized for men and for everyone.

SAN ROMAN: What are your plans for Rad Dad Magazine in the future?

MONIZ: We’re heading towards October at this point for the next issue. The question is this, it’s either going to be our last magazine or the last one before we go on to 2015. We’ll do one fundraising drive in October to see if we can raise printing costs for next year. That’s a scary thing. I get a lot of positive feedback from people who really appreciate it but ultimately we need to build more subscribers. Our goal is to double our subscribers. We’ll see if we go forward or not.