By Andrew W. Griffin
Red Dirt Report
As a new father of two adopted boys, both under the age of 5, I knew that I was going to have my hands full, in addition to running this news-n-views website. Yes, I’m a pretty political guy, for anyone who is familiar with Red Dirt Report. I don’t hesitate to share my views and sometimes I piss people off. But as a reporter and analyst, I feel that is my duty.
And now with the duty of raising two boys, I wanted to find that balance. That’s where the book Rad Dad: Dispatches from the Frontiers of Fatherhood comes in. Until just recently I was unfamiliar with the award-winning ‘zine Rad Dad or the rad blog Daddy Dialectic. However, I was familiar with Washington D.C. activists Mark Andersen (of Positive Force and author of Dance of Days: Two Decades of Punk in the Nation’s Capital) and of course punk-rock icon Ian MacKaye of the bands Fugazi and Minor Threat. These were guys – now fathers – I respected and admired and when I came across info on this book Rad Dad I knew I had to get it.
And while it was a little meandering in parts, the overall book is a gem and well-worth picking up. Split up into sections – “Birth, Babies and Toddlers,” “Childhood,” “Tweens and Teens,” “Politics of Parenting: Gender, Race, Allies, Visions,” and “Interviews with Rad Dads” – the editors – blogger Jeremy Adam Smith and Rad Dad ‘zine creator Tomas Moniz – take us on a journey through the various stages of a child’s development and the different way radical fathers raise their children.
For instance, the aforementioned Mark Andersen, an adoptive father, talks about his son Soren and says, “I accept the overriding imperative to provide Soren with love, respect and security he needs and deserves every day, as a new person, learning as he goes along, dealing daily with the newest challenge. . . . For example, I regularly expose my son to anthems of my would-be-revolution, including the Clash, Fugazi, Chumbawamba, Bikini Kill, and more. But if the first song Soren ever heard was ‘Destroy Babylon’ by Bad Brains, other tunes now rule our house and my own subconscious.” Andersen explains that while children’s songs like “Pop Goes the Weasel” can run on an “endless loop,” if allowed, but what makes it fun for father and son is changing lyrics – making them meaningful, even if it’s personalizing classics like “Old McDonald.”
Another contributor, Jason Sperber, talks about “Seeing Pink” and how he wanted to raise his daughter – his “babygrrl” – to be a “fierce, strong woman of color.” But then he laments how gender norms – girls like pink and boys like blue – bombard children at an early age and how its silly and pointless. “I’m tired of seeing pink,” writes Sperber. “I’m tired of seeing blue. And I’m both pissed off and saddened deeply that at age three, my daughter and her friends, both girls and boys, have already learned to see those colors, and what they are supposed to mean, so well.”
Chip Gagnon, another “rad dad,” addresses “boys and militarism” and how he had to explain to his son that playing war and real war are not the same thing, writing, “he understands that the reality of war is not a game.”
And this is just some of what we hear from these politically-charged, progressive fathers who want to make a difference for their children. And these fathers are straight, gay, transgendered, divorced and more.
For instance, editor Moniz, a self-described “feminist father, a rad dad, a militant antiracist,” says that while you may “lose the battle” in raising your children to be loving and accepting of all people, you end up “winning the war” by living out your values in their presence and not changing who you are. After all, Moniz notes that kids spend only a fraction of time under the influence of their parents, compared to the influence they experience from media and society.
Writes Moniz: “I realize that all I can do is be the example of leading a life the way I think I should.” All the while giving your kids the “tools” to fight on for themselves in an ever-changing world.
Later in the book, Moniz interviews Ian MacKaye and one of his questions to MacKaye is “any advice to new parents?” (I read his answer with great interest – having never forgotten seeing Fugazi live in Lawrence, Kansas in 1991 – a show that blew my mind)
Responds MacKaye: “Trust yourself. It’s natural. You just figure things out as you and the child develop; if the kid’s crying, you hold him, if he’s hungry, you feed him. And take the kid for a walk!”
Ian MacKaye never bullshits and is always about getting straight to the point. And he’s absolutely right. It’s pretty simple and even in this society – with the crass advertising aimed at kids and the lousy movies and TV shows and corporate junk, it’s good to know that there are ways to raise your kids while staying true to your values and beliefs. Rad Dad is a great guide and one I hope all new fathers will take the time to read.
To check out the Rad Dad blog, go to www.raddadzine.blogspot.com.