Friday, May 8, 2009

Let Me Build You a Statue

These Delirious Hem pieces are amazing and thought provoking. I could write a response to each and every one of them if time was no object.

So what to add? How about a confession I'm not supposed to make. When I was pregnant, I desperately wanted a boy and when I found out I was having a boy, I cried with joy.

What the hell? What's my problem with girls? Do I think boys are better, more valuable? Of course not. Would I have loved a daughter any less? I seriously doubt it. I grew up in a house where the boy was openly given preferential treatment over the girls. Not only was there no one on either side of the family who would ever call themselves a feminist, the boys and men definitely were more valuable and better respected. I am familiar with how that stings a girl growing up.

If I had a daughter, I likely would never mention such a preference for concern that she'd misconstrue it to mean that I didn't want her.

But I did have a preference. There are some personal, complicated reasons, but also there is a philosophical one. I want to try to contribute to society a man who is thoughtful, introspective and considerate. Somebody who doesn't view himself as the center, the norm, the standard. A man who can both respect and not take advantage of the women of his generation. As feminists and mothers in general, I believe we spend a lot of time making up for what current society lacks and preparing our daughters to handle that. I think this is incredibly important and must continue. But I think some of us overlook how we need to prepare our sons. It's easy to do, society offers so many more advantages to our sons. But society fails them on many other levels. Raising our sons not to grow up to become the "hey wanna fuck" types might be a start, but it's hardly enough. We need to change how we raise both girls and boys.

I know a lot of poet-moms and poet-dads. I am rather shocked by the disconnect between the two. In general. I'm speaking generally, I know of a number of exceptions. I'm not discussing the exceptions in this post. I'm discussing a trend.

For instance, many of the poet-dads brag about "changing a lot of diapers" or staying home a day or two a week to watch their children. Yes, that's great. Yes, it undoubtedly is helpful to the mother. Yes, that's likely a big step forward from what their fathers did. But these guys see themselves as heros almost, like what their doing is above and beyond the expectation. It doesn't occur to them that 30% of diaper changing and 20% of childcare is closer to being described as supplemental.

I wouldn't even mind this imbalance if there was at least an better awareness of it. A poet-dad admitting that his wife does the bulk of the child rearing which allows him to write more and travel, well that's a totally different situation. That's awareness and honesty. He's not inflating himself or diminishing her.

Can you imagine a poet-mom bragging that she changes a lot of diapers? Your response would be, um, yeah, that's part of raising a baby. If I bragged about staying home to watch my child, you'd stare and scratch your head. Yes, you're a mother, you don't leave your young child alone to fend for himself. How many times have I heard a poet-dad say he's "babysitting" his own children? How can one babysit his own child? Aren't poets supposedly be conscious of their word choices? How many poet-dads of young children go away to writing colonies for a month at a time without a second thought? It's kind of amazing. I go away for three nights and am constantly reminded, often by complete strangers, how lucky (and of course, selfish I am) to leave my son with his own father.

Chris has yet to eat Gideon, but perhaps he's just waiting for him to plump up some.

I often ask myself how did these otherwise intelligent, thoughtful, generally decent poet-dads become this way? I'm quite fond of many of them, consider many my friends. I'm not saying their not good fathers. They certainly are.

But I don't want my son to grow up with their approaches, assumptions and perceptions. I don't want him to grow up and be like them.

Has writing this lost me the esteem or friendship of a poet-dad? I hope not. It's not my intention.

I think many of these poets-dads had hardworking, intelligent, loving mothers who tried to do as much as they could. I don't think their mothers made a big deal about how much work and sacrifice they were doing. So these boys grew into men who didn't give it much thought. That's just what women did. These poet-dads love women. They recognize their talents. They want to be more involved parents than their own fathers. In many cases they are. In theory they believe in equality, fairness and somehow convince themselves they're living it. They don't understand where the poet-mom's frustration and anger stems from. They don't see the situation as a shared problem. They are oblivious to how they contribute to it. They're unaware at how insensitive, selfish and borderline cruel this stance can be. Any women who points that out to them is UNBALANCED or UNWELL. It's not the situation that is unbalanced or sickly, it's her.

Or maybe she's just JEALOUS.

Maybe she is jealous?

The poet-mom is expected to toil in silence. Aren't all mothers? Why should she be different? No whining about difficulty, buck up! Nobody MADE you become a mom-poet. You choose it.

Love it or leave it!

Poet-moms are held to a higher standard. Expected to perform superhero feats minus the superhero status. Expected to write, publish, critique, plus do the bulk of child rearing and family managing. Poet-moms are also blamed for all these number troubles in literary journals. If women were writing poems instead of having babies, we'd publish them!

I want to blame poet-dads for something.

Rabies. Poet-dads are responsible for rabies. And scabies. And shingles. Unfair? Shut up. You made the choice to become a poet-dad, it's time you carried some of this suck it up weight.

I also bite my tongue when I hear poet-moms discuss all the work at home they're doing, basically waiting on their sons and husbands. Cooking the majority of the meals, doing the majority of the cleaning and all the other household responsibilities added on to their writing, projects and jobs. I have sympathy for their situations, but I want to say why aren't you making these boys and men participate more? Why aren't you requiring it? You're not doing them any favors. They're gonna grow up like our generation and expect the women to do everything and not even be conscious of the imbalance. I kind of think this next generation of women we're raising are going to be much less forgiving and understanding than we are. Because as feminists, we're raising them not to be so forgiving and understanding of inequality and double-standards. Not as partners, not as colleagues and not as friends.

For goodness sake, let's at least try to prepare our sons for this next wave of dauntless daughters. Let's give them the 21st skillz to pay the 21st century billz. Let's not write them off as doomed to be oblivious. For everyone's sake.

What I'm trying to do (and to find out if I'm successful, come back in 20 or 30 years), is raise my son to have a higher level of awareness than what I see in a number of my man poet peers. To not feel entitled (cause the world will be a very cruel place for him if he does think this way). I don't want him to perceive that 20 or 30% is somehow equal or will just have to do. I want him to be aware of imbalance and appreciate differences. Not only recognize talent and acknowledge hard work of women, but also not be an opportunist taking advantage of that talent and hard work for his own benefit.

This is a task I'm still trying to figure out. It's a learn-as-you-go thing.

As a mother, I consider this my calling. I feel that as feminist [poet] I'm supposed to be a mother of a son.


  1. oh I love this. this is exactly how I feel about raising my own two sons. Super-crass of me to link to my own work, I know, but all these feelings are exactly what went into this poem:

    Thanks for reminding me! Nic

  2. Yay Reb! And I am raising Frida to understand that being a stay-at-home mother does not mean being a slave to the household. I am trying to teach her that Mommies have work that fulfills them beyond the scope of playing hide-and-seek and making peanut butter sandwiches for her to take to school. And despite the fact that Frida is in her "princess stage", I'm trying to move her beyond gender roles. Teaching her that if Mommy cleans the gutters while Daddy unloads the dishwasher, that's not wierd.

  3. I agree with you on a lot of this. As a poet-dad, I never talk about all that I have done, nor do I blame my children for the opportunities I have given up on in order to strengthen my abilities as a poet. That’s part of the job description of being a father. I work as a teacher and I write. My job enables me to pay for the financial costs of raising a child. It does not entitle me to think of myself as being better or in a position of superiority simply because I change diapers. My wife and I are partners, both squeezing in our extra curricular activities as we can, between the responsibilities of being parents.

    This does not mean we have given over our entire lives to the raising of our children, only that we both recognize that these are certain things we cannot do because we made the decision to be parents. For me, that means not getting my MFA. There is no state school close enough and distant ed. programs are much to expensive. Again, I am not blaming my kids. My choice is mine, and if I really wanted that MFA, I’d figure out a way to get it.

    My wife, to her credit, has never dragged me through the gutter, either. What she dislikes about the man-woman roles discussion is the segment of women who allow their husbands to behave like little boys themselves and then complain about it constantly on internet forums. We both have a role to play in the raising of our children and a shared responsibility to do certain things. My wife neither praises nor criticizes my active involvement in changing diapers, 3 a.m. feedings, etc. because it is nothing to be praised or criticized. Both parents are supposed to do those things.

    Have I lost poems because of my kids? Probably. Have I been forced to give up on workshops or put off editing until later? Most certainly. But like I mentioned before, if those things were really important, I have made time for them. I regularly tell my wife to go out for a drive or go see a movie by herself. I don’t expect praise for that. I am simply offering because it’s what is done in a partnership while trying to raise kids.

  4. Well said Justin, I'm grateful that a poet-dad responded to this. Yes, while in some ways co-parenting creates limitations (as you mentioned), I think the dads who do truly (as opposed to lip-service) co-parent gain so much more, ranging from family quality to overall happiness. I don't understand how the poet-dad's who don't co-parent aren't jealous of the much better relationships with the kids that the co-parenting poet-dads have. It would make me feel very inadequate as a parent.

  5. Nic, ah super-mom, is there nothing she can't do? :)

    Bernie, last month I had to explain to Gideon why I couldn't just take off my breasts, that they weren't detachable objects, that they were part of me. Over the weekend I had to stop him from drawing a penis on the "mommy" stick figure like he drew on his and the "daddy" figures. These gender role lessons are tricky business.

  6. I agree that a dad or mom should never consider time that they are spending with their children as "babysitting" (but when they do ... that certainly is an indicator!)

    However ... I need to consider a little clarification on the modes and models here ...

    It seems to me that one (or two) of the adults in a family have to earn money to support the family. If one adult is the primary moneymaker, yes, I do think the other adult/parent should be expected to do an equal or greater amount of housekeeping/child raising, etc., particularly if the parent that is out of the house must (by necessity) work 8, 10, 12 or more hours a day.

    I am very intentionally leaving gender out of this. It's really not a matter of gender politics or feminism to me, more a matter of distribution of energy and practical necessity.

    I also say this having stayed at home, as a dad, for my first son, Linus, who is now 25 years old. I did it for about two years, in DC, during the 80's. Sometimes I worked at night as a waiter or as an recording engineer (slightly more lucrative than poetry, though not by much–too much overhead.) I can quite honestly say that this was one of the most wonderful (and sleepiest) times of my life, and I wish that I could have continued to do it, but it was not financially viable, particularly when he was of school age (even pre-school.)

    Which brings up another issue: by the time the child is 5 or 6, they are effectively out of the house for the first six hours of the day. That is an extraordinary luxury that is afforded anyone who is lucky enough to spend their time days with their children (although, yes, I do know there are errands to be run, houses to be cleaned, meals to be prepared, etc.) –Still...

    Consider the position of any poet or writer you might know and the distribution of their energies – at what liberty are they? I was going to name some examples, but I can think of few who are at liberty to write to the degree that they care to write. I listened to an interview with Paul Muldoon the other day, and he said that due to his teaching commitments and editing work for the New Yorker, he was able to write 12 poems last year! All too common, I'm afraid.

    I did whatever I could to carve out time for myself during that period. I spent a great deal of time recording my own music during the late night hours, after caring for him during the day, recording for others or restaurant work til 12 or so, working on my music til 4 or 5, usually getting by on 2 or 3 hours sleep (not smart.) If I had continued to care for Linus through the school years, I imagine I could have partitioned several hours a day during his absence for the sake of my own work. I am certain I would have enjoyed it–the work, time with my son, the relief from office politics of all sorts, in spite of the pressure to be one of the Mad Men.

    Still, I do agree that there is a certain expectation that a mother will do the majority of what have traditionally been considered 'housekeeping' and 'child-raising' work, a sort of default mode. However, my observations have led me to believe – after having been in a traditional work force for about twenty five years (teaching / wine distribution, etc.) that there is a flip side to it:

    I have never seen a father take off more than a few days of paternity leave (unless the child's well being was at risk), even when he ached to do so. And those fathers who have, like me, by choice or necessity, stayed at home to help raise their children, are subjected to extraordinary pressure and silent condemnation for doing so, despite outward signs to the contrary (ask one!)

    On the other hand, and again, this is my observations through my experience (perhaps colored by having lived in the NE and SE only?) – mothers in the work force are expected (at least at the jobs I have had) to take at least 6 weeks leave (as they should, I should add – and as should the dads, too, I believe) and if they choose not to return to their career / moneymaking professions, are rarely criticized for doing so, but looked upon as being heroic (to which I add, they are.) Not so, I feel, for dads. A father who gives up his job to stay at home is either subtly shunned, or to some degree feels that way – I believe that–and I open myself up to a tsunami here–men have not come as far as women have in the last 30 years when it comes to redefining their role in the workplace and the home.

    I imagine many people might say that I am wrong in my assumptions, but I came to the table of fatherhood without any preconceived biases or specific role/gender models that I expected myself and my family to follow. Truly, I was just winging it and hoping for the best, and these were the experiences I had. I observed what I observed, made many dumb mistakes, and try to improve upon myself as much as I could, as much as I now can.

    And yes, with both children, there were many times that, in the moment, I wish that I could have more absolute and concentrated time to devote myself to my own work. But now that Linus is 25 and my younger son, Dashiell, 11 РI only regret that I didn't adore every moment in which they loved nothing more than spending time with their dad. I think that all dads and moms should strive towards feeling the same way about their children Рthe big fat clich̩ is too true, and they do grow up too quickly. Even at 11, school buddies and such are a far more alluring draw than mom or dad (although maybe I shouldn't say this Рmaybe I am just not as intriguing as his school buddies? I might be burying myself here) Рbut truly, I do believe that for many moms and dad that this becomes very real and at a pace that you didn't anticipate it would happen.

    Carpe diem, or, let's say, Carpe kiddo. Even if it costs you a few poems. And even if it does, it might make it possible to write better than ever, only a little bit later than originally planned. You see? It's all good!

  7. This post makes me so grateful that my husband's mother taught her two sons to cook, do household chores, etc. Especially since my mother raised me to stay out of the kitchen, because if I ever went in, I'd never find my way out (isn't there a feminist quote like that? Or it could be all my mom...) She was worried I'd be the one stuck doing all the household stuff; my husband's mother was worried she'd have sons who didn't know how to do anything themselves around the house.
    So, between us, he does the majority of the cooking and cleaning, though we both pitch in. I think I'm lucky, and I'm happy with the arrangement, but it would be nice if it was a more common occurence than it is, and it wasn't like, "Oh my God, your husband cooks and cleans, it's a miracle!"

  8. Tortilla, I'm not criticizing any mutual agreements couples make to distribute responsibilities. I happily take on more domestic responsibility and childcare than my husband because he works a full-time job. Whatever works. My post was intended to focus more on a lack of awareness and empathy I've run across with some (not all, certainly) poet-dads in certain differences. They speak the feminist talk, but it's mostly talk. It's a strange disconnect.

    I'm glad poet-dads are participating in this conversation.

    Jeannine, I believe in miracles!

  9. "I came to the table of fatherhood without any preconceived biases or specific role/gender models that I expected myself and my family to follow."

    Sorry, but I believe that there isn't a person alive who doesn't have role/gender models, and that each person needs to become aware of what those preconceptions are, specifically and generally, so as to be able to make more conscious choices.

    There are some exceptions to the 30% poet dads, Reb---I can think of 2 off the top of my head---and I'm sure you can too, so there's hope. Maybe.

    I wanted a girl, but had a boy, and ended up being very happy about it.

    I remember the first time these issues and ideas cropped up in a real personal way for me. I was hugely pregnant in the heat of a very hot summer, and was listening to my husband fret about when he would have time to play his saxophone after the baby was born. I never said anything to him, but felt angry at the time because I was huffing and puffing and sweating just to haul my elephantine body up off the chair to go pee for the sixth time that hour---did I even have time to worry about when I'd write poetry? Hell no. Turns out he was a wonderful father, and though I never counted per se, I'm pretty sure he changed as many diapers as me.

    Then when my son was 9 months old my husband was hit by a train and killed, and whatever division of labor we had established, shifted radically. I raised him by myself until he was 6, with strong moral and a little bit of practical support from 2 grandmothers. I was lucky in that I didn't have to go out to work when he was very young. People felt terribly sorry for me, of course (this was a long time ago, so I'm not telling this so that you'll feel sorry for me) but they did *not* feel sorry because I had so much fucking work and had to do it all alone, --- they felt sorry because my husband had been killed. And they constantly reiterated how lucky I was that I didn't have to go out to work, that I could stay home and take care of everything.

    Six years later I got remarried, to a man who had raised his son by himself since the boy was an infant, too. The social reinforcement he got, throughout all those years, for raising his son by himself, was astonishing "You mean you changed all the diapers?" etc etc etc. He did have to work at the same time, so had that to contend with, and I'm not saying it wasn't very difficult for him, but it was as if he had committed some superhuman act, to do all the household stuff without any help.

    And then there are all those single mothers who do everything all the time by themselves -- are they admired in our society? Nope. They're misfits, still, to this day, in our society, and viewed as people who somehow fucked up by not holding on to a husband.

    I've gotten sort of off-topic of poet-dads, but it's a large issue, bigger than poets.

    I have hope for the future generations, too, Reb. Even women in their 20s seem so much more balanced than women my age are/were about all this. It's a slow process, I think. Maybe someday women will even earn equal pay for equal work, & they won't be legally murdered in other countries for acting in socially inappropriate ways and maybe someday female castration won't even exist. It's a huge issue, and people get tired of talking about it, but it still needs to be talked about. A lot. So thanks for bringing it up.

  10. Lynn, I had no idea about your first husband. That must have been incredibly difficult.

    And you're right, the subject is so much bigger than the poet scene. I was trying to limit my focus on that so not to have my head explode. And you're absolutely right about how society treats single mothers.

  11. It's always hard to get a balance. But, my family is working on it. We're pretty 'non-traditional.' We have traded a lot of the gender roles. My husband is in charge of food. He grocery shops and cooks. I do bills, taxes, and all of that. When we had a car, it was 'my' car and my husband wouldn't drive, he loves bicycles. I do much of the cleaning though and am responsible for scheduling. Sometimes, I feel overwhelmed and it really gets me down. But, the 'even' family takes constant re-adjustment.

    I DID want a girl and cried when I found out Jeff was a boy. But, in the long run, our personalities fit perfectly. Again with gender roles tho: Jeff loves Pokemon and game boy, but he also plays piano, wears a skirt around all weekend, and paints his toenails pink.