The New Radical Dad - Men's Week

Photo by Rodrigo Amorim.

An individual devoted to reasoned nonconformity and critical thinking can find the prospect of starting a family quite daunting. Those pursuing a lifestyle with ambitions of both running against the grain of society and being a reliable parent must resolve many questions concerning the contradictions therein. For instance, how does one raise a child in an environment they’re somewhat at odds with while maintaining a vague aura of “normalcy” for that child? Of course, the problem becomes more complicated when the times we live in can hardly be described as “normal.”

Berkley, California-based writer, father, and all around left-of-center-type, Tomas Moniz, began blazing trails in this complicated conversation by founding the magazine, Rad Dad, in 2007. The indie music ‘zine-styled publication features essay-testimonials from fathers of various backgrounds, from social activists to LGBTQ individuals, based on personal lessons learned from espousing their counter-cultural beliefs onto their kids. A great example of one of these lessons through storytelling is found in the latest edition of Rad Dad, in which Moniz attempts to have a more honest conversation about sex than he had with his parents.

After discovering his 16-year-old daughter had spent the night with her boyfriend, Moniz is caught off-guard, prompting him to pronounce an all-too-familiar edict:

“The other day I found myself exclaiming to my two daughters… don’t have sex until you’re in your twenties, but here are some condoms,” writes Moniz, “I’m not sure if there is a better example of sending a mixed message.”

After lamenting the lack of positive role models and cultural messaging aimed at young women by the mainstream, Moniz determined what’s even more important than instilling values of safe sex in his children is an emphasis on self-worth and empowerment – namely, that no means no and stop means stop. Yet again, society falls short in reinforcing these beliefs, leaving Moniz to rummage through his own youth in search of the proper ethos.

“In an attempt to provide those positive examples of body ownership and empowerment, I searched out zines about self-defense, about sexual abuse, about sex positive experiences, things written by other young women,” writes Moniz. “And then, I rediscovered Riot Grrrl.”

During its heyday in the ’90s, Moniz had little connection to the famed and short-lived punk-rock feminist scene. He was too preoccupied with his duties as a struggling 21-year-old father and a full-time student.

From there, Moniz divulges personal details on the unintended consequences of sex in his own life and the effect that had on pursuing an education, particularly choosing classes on feminism where he first came across Riot Grrl ‘zines, much like the one he operates today. He ends with some clairvoyance and perspective, even if it’s on his own circumstances:

“…maybe it’s just the story of one person simply learning to see himself and those around him as the complex people they are: full of contradictions, fickle to a fault, sometimes brave, sometimes inspired. Trying to live a life worth living,” writes Moniz. “And of course, trying to hand my daughters condoms.”

In times like these that are much less prosperous than the economic booms of the ’90s, anecdotes like Moniz’s found in Rad Dad are only becoming more important, says collaborator, author, and renowned blogger on fatherhood, Jeremy Adam Smith.

“During the Great Depression, a lot of alternative ideas about fatherhood started to emerge because many men were robbed of the ability to support families. So people asked themselves during that period, ‘What else can a father do for his family?’” says Smith. “And I think something very similar has been going on now, where the father’s traditional role has changed and indeed is out of reach of many men. In that kind of situation, men and women ask themselves, ‘What can I be?’”

Smith, who co-edited the book version of Rad Dad with Moniz, runs an award winning blog on unconventional fatherhood, called Daddy Dialectic. He is also the author of many books on subjects ranging from parenting, to science, politics, and culture. Among them is his noteworthy text on the rise of stay-at-home fathers, The Daddy Shift, and a more contemplative collection of essays on the science of prejudice, Are We Born Racist?, which Smith co-edited.

Rad Dad, the book. Image courtesy of PM Press.

In his observation, he finds that, while hard economic times of any sort cause society to reevaluate the role of the father, the effects of the Great Recession, however, come with a new brand of complicated gender dynamics. Where both men and women are facing relative lengths in the unemployment line, men still have lost more jobs in the Great Recession than have women. Further, women are working more, are better educated, have higher earning power, and have greater potential to support families than ever before.

“So we’re moving from a model that used to stress efficiency, where one parent specializes in parenting and the other parent specializes in breadwinning, to a model that stresses resiliency in the face of economic shocks,” says Smith. “And one characteristic of the resilient family is a certain redundancy in the system, so that both parents are capable of working for pay and both parents are capable of housework and childcare at home.”

According to Moniz, the economic downturn also provides many teachable moments about society for children, especially for the fathers who have contributed to the pages of Rad Dad. He recounts an entry in one of the recent editions of Rad Dad by a father of a special needs child about how he took his child to see the recent Occupy Wall Street rally in Washington, D.C.

“It’s interesting because it’s a different kind of spin than you get, or at least that I’ve heard, from the mainstream media initially dismissing [the movement] as if it were only 20-year-old only men and women involved,” Moniz tells BTR. “There were lots of families involved.”

Yet the large changing economic dynamic both in the nation and within the home, while difficult financially, makes for other, even more meaningful opportunities for parents, says Vincent DiCaro, Vice President of Development and Communication at the National Fatherhood Initiative.

“I think in some ways that’s the silver lining to all this, which is we need more dads to be active and engaged because it’s good for kids,” says DiCaro. “So to the extent that the recession has brought some of the issues to light, then hopefully moving forward as the economy recovers, we’ll stick with this idea that it’s equally important for both moms and dads to be engaged in their child’s lives.”

DiCaro has noticed changes in demand for the programming offered by his organization based on the changes both he, Smith, and many others have observed. Founded in 1994, the NFI sought to address the growing epidemic of absent fathers in America as well as to revive cultural values in fatherhood. Training in the educational programming the NFI has curated, such as their flagship “24/7 Dad” program, is being sought after at increasing rates by grassroots organizations directly addressing these issues in local communities.

“If you go back five years, the number of organizations doing this sort of work was significantly smaller,” says DiCaro. “If you go back ten years, it’s infinitesimal.”

Decades even before then, Tomas Moniz found himself lost attempting to navigate the straits of young parenthood while at odds with a world looking down on him for his life choices — choices that he says, despite his fatherly advice to his daughters, he in no way regrets to this day.

“My experience was that most people viewed the decision to keep the child as something that would destroy my life,” Moniz remembers. “In retrospect, I think it was one of the greatest choices I’ve made in my life.”