Rad Dads: Politics, Parenting and Evolving Notions of Fatherhood

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Parenting has never been easy. Merging your politics with your parenting decisions can be even more challenging. In the edition of Making Contact shared here, fathers and mothers discuss fatherhood and how it’s changing. Traditional ideas about what a dad is supposed to be are slowly disappearing, but what will take their place?

This edition features interviews with Tomas Moniz, creator of Rad Dad; Airial Clark, the author of The Sex-Positive Parent blog; Janine Macbeth, author of Oh Oh Baby Boy; and many other fathers.

Here are some lightly edited excerpts from the show’s transcript:

Andrew Stelzer: About two dozen people came together for an event organized by Rad Dad, a zine about parenting. Throughout this show, we’ll hear from several people at that gathering, discussing the questions — what is a rad dad? To start off, let’s hear Craig Elliot reading a piece he wrote for an issue of Rad Dad, followed by Rad Dad creator Tomas Moniz.

Craig Elliot: So this is the Father’s Day I wish to see. I know it’s approaching Father’s Day each year only because of the pro-capitalist email and stale mail marketing for dads and grants. Otherwise I don’t think I would remember. Certainly not needing to remember is a privilege of how I benefit in this patriarchal society even when I express my masculinity differently. Well, I work to resist the unearned distribution of privilege and changes social order I can’t escape that I continue to benefit. Until that day it is up to me to use my power for good and attempt to shift the gender depressive system that we have. I do a lot of that by raising my kids.

I am not very fond of Father’s Day. It is over-marketed in a limited masculine way. Ties! Grilling equipment! Golf! It feels dishonoring in a twisted sort of way. Only because it still asks us to confirm to the essentialist normative version of a father. Which only oscillates between “work” and the goofy incompetent Homer Simpson’s style. Neither of which is at all appealing. Except in small circles…. I expect a greater emphasis on honoring the roles of fathers and the impact they have on children’s lives…. What I want is the time when the parents can be truly honored. Not just for one day. And not just designated in a trite gendered way that is focused in stuff. I want days filled with love. Care and caring are powerful medicines in the battle against depression and for social justice…

For me this would look like a morning with my family with breakfast that my kids made…. Kids that laugh, cry, care, hug and love is what I need every day. This is parenting that changes the world.

Tomas Moniz: Being a rad dad is not about being cool. It’s not about being hip, not about trying to be in style, not a trend. A rad dad is about radical parenting, the uncomfortable kind, the difficult kind. Radicals are not complacent [about] our impact on our children, our partners, and our environment. Radical as in taking responsibilities for the privileges some of us as have whether we want those privileges of not. Radical as in being cognizance on how we challenge patriarchy or not. How we participate in capitalism and how we depend on unquestioned roles of authority and hierarchy.

And then radical as in having courage to consider ways of changing these aspects of parenting. Lately, I have seen numerous new books and websites [that] are clearly trying to profit and benefit from … hip fathering. So many of these books and sites lack a social critique, an understanding [that] fathering has been intimately connected to patriarchy, to violence, to capitalism …

For me, creating the zine, Rad Dad, was about reaching out to community. It is not about a place to provide excuses for some of the messed ways fathering has [been] manifested by some men in our society. Nor about absolving ourselves of our complicity in the ugly history of traditional fathering. We got to own up to it. And that’s why I know I need other radical parents — both mamas and papas and radical parent allies — to help me see how I am caught up in this history, especially when I am unaware of it, which sadly happens to often.

I need them to show them how myths of parenting are perpetuated in the media or to help me see how fathering is being used as a marketing ploy or is being packaged for consumer convenience. [Striving to be a rad dad] for me is recognizing how I need help. It is as much as about radical parenting as much it is about fighting to change society in every aspect. So basically, I want the word father to be synonymous to dedication with nurturing.