Rad Dad: An Interview With Tomas Moniz
by Sheri Reed

I heard about Tomas Moniz and his new rad dad zine on the Hip Mama site a few months ago, and since Tomas is just up the road from us, I contacted him to talk about radical fathering and publishing a zine for and by radical fathers and others. Tomas Moniz is living, writing, teaching, loving, fighting, and parenting three awesome children 15, 10, 8 in California's East Bay. He works on rad dad and boxcutter. You can contact him at tom_moniz@riseup.net. Look for Tomas's upcoming column on mamazine.com coming soon.

mamazine.com: What led you to start your new 'zine rad dad? Tell us a little about how this project came to fruition.

Tomas: Fear that I was fucking up and being tired of feeling alone. I had my first child at 20, and no one I knew around me was going through the things new parents are blessed with: infant needs, sleep deprivation, little free time, basically the end of the world as I knew it. Where were the other fathers I could talk to about this? Or at least who could I read? Nothing. Then when my second one came and although my partner and I had a bit more experience and confidence, we still didn't have that community we envisioned. But we knew we didn't have to continue this. So hanging around parks, I began talking as much as I could to other parents, especially fathers because there seemed to be few of us around and even fewer willing to explore the uncomfortable shit that parenting evokes, like my sense of failing or my fear of repeating the past. During this time I become more involved with anarchist politics and the crucial idea of just doing it yourself. So I started writing more, made a zine called boxcutter, and I wrote about parenting so much that I realized hmmm, here's an idea…

mamazine.com: In Issue #2 of rad dad, you say, "There is a silence among men, about fathering. I experience this as I've been talking with men about it; they are excited yet scared, nervous about making mistakes, most are dying to parent in ways many of us weren't fathered." How—and why—do you think men's approach to fathering is evolving and changing? How do you think fatherlessness and single fatherhood factor into these changes?

Tomas: Well, it's obvious that feminism has changed the way (well maybe changed is too strong a word) but illuminated the problematic nature of traditional gender roles; it's altered the way men and women relate and, therefore, how they relate to roles within their lives: jobs, domesticity, parenting, and so much more. I think it's been changing slowly, however, over the last few decades because many men (and some women) want to still have access to privilege and power and the benefits that come with the rigidity of the current gender roles.

However, I think it is less the approach to fathering than the failure of our patriarchal culture to offer sustainable constructions of masculinity or fatherhood. Many men saw how the prescribed notions of fathering in the past just plain sucked, that they lead to pathetic and unhealthy relationships between people, relationships based on competition, on hierarchy, on intimidation. So along with the feminist movement, it became clear that the traditional notion of being a man or a father is flawed, and that we needed other models. Gloria Anzaldua, for example, said that the original notion of machismo meant taking care of your family, both immediate and communal, meant being in touch with your whole being, willing to embrace all facets of being a man, a person. I wanna reclaim that form of machismo so that whether we're from fatherless families, or fathering from outside traditional living situations, or fathering on our own, we're doing it from a place of love and respect.

mamazine.com: In Rebecca Traister's recent Salon.com article "My Lunch With an Antifeminist Pundit," she interviews Kate O'Beirne, author of the new book Women Who Make the World Worse. For the most part, O'Beirne's premise seems to be that most women don't want the things feminists are fighting for, and also in the interview, she says, "…men show devotion to the family by working really hard. Women show devotion to the family by showing devotion to the family." I disagree here. Many women do want what feminists are fighting for and, for the same matter, many men want the things that you, a radical dad, are fighting for. Why do you think people like O'Beirne are so invested in traditional gender roles? What's so scary about nurturing fathers? And where do you think your more untraditional approach to fathering came from?

Tomas: It always scares me to generalize about what any large group wants, and this kind of thinking is what has allowed men to not take responsibility for embodying the full spectrum of parenting; for example, I found that whenever I talk to people about fathering it always seems to end up on discipline. So lately when I talk to men I have been avoiding that and instead asking how nurturing has become a quality in their parenting. And change is scary. If men can nurture, if the sanctuary of parenting that has been woman-centered for so long is now open to all parents, then what else? Now I fear that what will happen (and what has happened in many areas in the past) is that men get some privileges in this realm while not giving up others. Like the issue with women still doing more of the household chores while now also being expected to work on a career. I want the expectations to be equal. I want it expected that men make their position as fathers more important than their free time, their careers, their outside responsibilities. Feminism means equity, equity in household chores, equity in who comforts, who disciplines, who rests, who goes on fieldtrips. I think I came to be this way from watching my own single mother struggle to be autonomous while still needing to lean on others, and also from being with a partner who trusted me enough and had her own desires to be her own person during the early years of parenting. She worked on her career, and I worked on my schooling, which allowed me to be home a lot more than her. But it never was an issue. It just was what needed to happen. No big deal.

mamazine.com: In rad dad #1, you say, "Lately, I have made it a commitment to approach all men I see in public with kids, because that's an awesome position to be in and although it should be seen as natural…it is a big deal; it's seen in that way by almost everyone around you." Are you still doing this? How do you think this helps fathers nurture and parent in the big picture?

Tomas: Yes as much as possible. Ain't nothing like seeing guys with kids talking about parenting. I get excited by that. They do. But it is tough. We live in such a distrusting environment, like why is this stranger talking to me? What's he want? So I balance wanting to just give recognition to other men in public with kids. Talk to them about their pleasures at first, just revel in our roles as parents. But I also want to start being more direct in asking for participation in creating a more public presence of fathers, in rad dad, in setting up self-schooling groups, or even just events that are for and by other fathers. But there is always in my mind the fear of rejection or that I am pushing my agenda too much, which I don't want to do. I'm looking for that happy medium. Any suggestions?

mamazine.com: Considering the socsiety and culture we live in as parents today, what one thing would you change that would make parenting easier for you or would make you feel more supported as a parent? As a radical father and activist, what is your main focus for positive change?

Tomas: That it be a more child-friendly place—restaurants, movies, parks, airports wherever kids are too often seen as disturbances or problems; this I think reflects our cultural dysfunction, explains why workplace parents feel so on edge or unsafe in an environment that allows no time for mothers, let alone for fathers. And we wonder why breastfeeding in public still pops up every now and then as an issue. Our society has no respect for children. It was funny that even when a group of us parents were talking about creating a kids space at this years anarchist book fair, we didn't even think to ask the seven kids running around us what they might want, until they overheard us and chimed in. We all looked at each other and just shook our heads at our own oversight…

mamazine.com: How do you make time now for your own paid work and/or unpaid creative and activist projects and keep your children's growing lives and activities in balance, as well as your own, without feeling the squeeze of sacrifice?

Tomas: I have to acknowledge the amazing community I am a part of; it has allowed me to really see raising kids as a group and not just something relegated to me and my partner watching out for our own. I am part of a group of parents in our neighborhood that child-swap, who look out for all the kids so that my children are able to explore far and wide; this has allowed me to enjoy my time with my kids and still have time to relax and make dinner, or calmly do the dishes, or pick up the pen while they run wild through the streets. It's also about trusting the adults and non-parents in the area to keep an eye out for them as well. I also try to do what I do with them around; we all read together, we try to do whatever work they have while I sit next to them and write or pay bills or whatever.

mamazine.com: What are you reading now?

Tomas: In our family we love scary stories, and I cannot tell you how thrilled I was to start reading Octavia Butler's new book Fledgling about vampires. I'm also enjoying rereading Derrick Jensen's book A Language Older Than Words.

mamazine.com: How can interested parents or others subscribe to, submit to, and/or help keep rad dad going?

Tomas: Submissions for #3 are wanted now – but otherwise it's two bucks and a stamp for each issue: 1636 Fairview St, Berkeley, CA 94703. I'll be at a table March 18th at the SF Anarchist Bookfair, and we have a kids/family space, so anyone in the Bay Area, stop on by.

feature added on 2006-01-29 :: ::

>> features list