Great dads and fail dads

Among the many books he edited, as a “first reader,” were all of mine, every single one. He was my biggest fan, and believed in me more than anyone I’ve ever known. He never disrespected the power of sexuality, erotic language, or the magnitude of sexual politics. He was so proud of me and his granddaughter, Aretha. His sense of social justice, and the power of poetry and language to change the world, has inspired me all my life. Susie Bright: Bill Bright, 8/13/28 – 10/15/06

This morning in quick succession I stumbled across two stories about fathers, Nils Pickert and Tom Smith. So today’s links-roundup is about fathers and children.

Nils Pickert:

My five year old son likes to wear dresses. In Berlin Kreuzberg that alone would be enough to get into conversation with other parents. Is it wise or ridiculous? “Neither one nor the other!“ I still want to shout back at them. But sadly they can’t hear me any more. Because by now I live in a small town in South Germany. Not even a hundred thousand inhabitants, very traditional, very religious. Plainly motherland. Here the partiality of my son are not only a subject for parents, they are a town wide issue. And I did my bit for that to happen…

Tom Smith, Republican candidate for Pennsylvania:

Pressed by a reporter on how he would handle a daughter or granddaughter becoming pregnant as a result of rape, Smith said he had already “lived something similar to that” in his family.

“She chose life, and I commend her for that,” he said. “She knew my views. But, fortunately for me, I didn’t have to … she chose the way I thought. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t rape.”

When a reporter asked Smith to clarify what kind of situation was similar to becoming pregnant from rape, the candidate responded, “Having a baby out of wedlock.”

He added, “Put yourself in a father’s position. Yes, it is similar.”

This letter was sent seven years ago by a father to a son who had just come out to him:
Unnamed Dad:

“James: This is a difficult but necessary letter to write.

I hope your telephone call was not to receive my blessing for the degrading of your lifestyle. I have fond memories of our times together, but that is all in the past.

Don’t expect any further conversations with me. No communications at all. I will not come to visit, nor do I want you in my house.

You’ve made your choice though wrong it may be. God did not intend for this unnatural lifestyle.

If you choose not to attend my funeral, my friends and family will understand. Have a good birthday and good life. No present exchanges will be accepted. Goodbye, Dad.”

Although this is the middle of the post, this and the next quote were the last two I found. I was looking – given Tom Smith’s claims about how his daughter having consensual sex before she got married would be just the same for him as if she got raped, for men who supported their daughters through that kind of experience: who put their daughter’s need above their own ideology or personal faith. We’ve heard a lot in the media lately from men – some of whom have daughters – about rape, about abortion: but rarely does it sound as if these men have thought about their daughters’ feelings first.

Margaret Mattox’s dad:

Over time, my father seemed to blame my selfish behavior on a manic response to drug exploration. And he is right that I was selfish. I am selfish. My experience is mine. Even knowing all the pain I caused myself, and the people I love most in the world, I’m not sure that I would trade it. Without it, I might still be that girl so desperate to please, trying to fit myself into a world where I did not belong.

I might never have hitchhiked across the country and watched a hundred baby owls explode from an ancient barn into a sky flooded with moonlight. I might not have lived for months on a mountainside in West Virginia re-introducing endangered Peregrine Falcons, protecting the tiny downy birds until they could fend for themselves. I might not have been odd enough or wounded enough to meet the artists and friends who inspire and protect me. I might not have dangerously and hungrily wandered the world searching out the person I am today.

Like soldiers who have survived a war together, my parents and I are closer than most. I can talk to my father on a level that shocks my friends. With the arrival of grandchildren we speak on the phone weekly and visit every other month. As far as our continued silence, I don’t know the right answer. So I have decided to put this out in the world like a folded paper ship on a river current, and let nature take its course. If my father finds it, I hope he carefully unfolds the creases and reads what I wrote inside. “Your belief in the beauty of the world saved me. Please don’t change.”

Ms Aronowitz’s dad:

“Ms. Aronowitz, were you aware that you are 22 weeks pregnant?” I swear I almost fucking fainted right there, but it was at that moment that I realized I needed my parents for this.

I was taken into the counseling room so they could explain a D & E to me, the risks of the procedure, made sure I wasn’t being coerced, etc. I told them I needed to go home and tell my parents. When I got home my mom was alone in the bedroom, so I just blurted it out when I walked in the door. To her unending credit, my mom looked right at me and said “yeah, about four to five months, right? You carry just like I do.” She hugged me, got me tissues, and asked me what I wanted to do. She said if I wanted to, because I was so far along, I could go live with my aunt and uncle in Albany and then give it up for adoption, but she had expected me to want an abortion and was extremely supportive about that, too. We told my dad when he came home, and we agreed to go back together the next day.

My parents are absolutely amazing, wonderful, understanding people. Without them, I would not have gotten through this. They never hesitated, never made me feel bad or guilty or ashamed, listened to all the crazy shit I said when I woke up from the anesthetic, and ordered me lots of paninis and watched Criminal Minds with me while I recovered… … I had to move back up to school for my job about three weeks after the abortion, which was difficult to do, and I have to thank my wonderful father and brother for doing all the heavy lifting, which I could not do.

At the time the story quoted from below was written, Steven and Roger Ham hadn’t been able to co-adopt all of their twelve children because in Arizona, the state government prefer to discriminate against children adopted by same-sex couples: they could only adopt as single parents, and they can’t get married in Arizona. But on 13th July this year, thanks to a helpful lawyer in another state who did all the adoptions for the price of one, all their children are now legally both of theirs – as they had been all along.

Steven and Roger Ham:

“They told me (the youngsters) would never be functioning adults,” Steven says. “I saw something different in them.”

The twins started kindergarten at 4 – a year early. They now are 8 and still a year ahead in school. Jackson plays basketball and likes to ride skateboards. Madison is queen of the monkey bars.

Going from no children to five in less than a year meant big changes for Steven and Roger, like diapers, day care and a Ford Expedition that could seat nine.

Jackson still clung to Steven’s leg. But together the children were happy. And Michael stopped rocking.

“Once they were secure, knowing that they weren’t going anywhere, they calmed down,” Steven says. He and Roger reassured them that, “This is forever.”

As difficult as it sometimes was to take on five children in such short order, Steven says not having them together would have been harder on Michael than it ever was for him and Roger. It would have been hard on all five kids.

“They had lost their parents, their home. All they had was each other,” Steven says. And now, they had two dads.

Another letter on Reddit, but from a son to a father:

Francophile’s Dad

For the first time in our nation’s history, a U.S. President and his party have publicly stated that gays and lesbians are equal citizens and should be such under the law. I know you’re aware that Obama believes gays and lesbians, like me, should have the rights and responsibilities of marriage and that the 2012 Democratic Party Platform will include marriage equality as one of its tenets.
In any other election, given any other choice, I’d stay quiet. If you, and others like you, wanted to believe the worst about Obama – a good man, trying to do good work – and vote against your interests (Romney’s tax and Medicare plans won’t help you), I’d shake my head in wonder and watch you do it anyway. But this isn’t any other election. This election presents a clear choice between two people whose policy beliefs directly affect the course of my life. Let me be clear: A vote for Mitt Romney is a vote against me. There is no argument to counter that fact.

You might want to argue that you’re not a single-issue voter, but when the single-issue is your own son’s equality under the law, I wouldn’t recommend that argument. You might want to argue that, because you live in New York State, your vote won’t ultimately matter since Obama will carry the state anyway. You’re correct. He will. In that way, I suppose, your vote won’t matter. But it matters to me. You might want to argue just because you don’t like the idea of your son telling you what you ought to do. But, whatever else, you know I’m a good man. It’s been said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing;” and I’m a good man who’s never been good at that.

Will I change your mind? I hope so. I’m sure Mom would tell me it’s a lost cause. And maybe she’s right. But that would be sad. Because it might be nice to one day have my father stand up at my wedding, realizing he helped make it happen.

Your Son

EDIT: My dad’s reply, in part: “I will honor your request because you are my son and I love you. I do support the Democratic position on gay marriage…I hope this is a position that they really stand for and not just a political statement for votes.”

This whole story about Matt Nevels and his church is something really worth reading. Especially if you’re one of those Christians convinced that you can believe in a homophobic God and that gay people ought to be discriminated against and say so, and that won’t affect your “pastoral care” one bit.

Matt Nevels, whose son Stephen died in 1992

A man read a poem in the sanctuary full of people and said Stephen had been a Christian inspiration.

Rick, Stephen’s partner, walked in the processional with the family. He kissed the casket before it was covered with dirt.

After burying Stephen, the Nevelses kept attending church, but their involvement dwindled. They stayed away from Dr. Steelman and the leadership.

Other gays at Red Bank Baptist would approach Matt and tell him in confidence that they hoped he could help make a change. One former church member who was gay and dying asked Matt to lead his funeral service at Red Bank.

As Matt became more outspoken about gay rights, Dr. Steelman worried about his influence. He asked Matt again to be careful about what he said at the funeral.

A week after Matt buried the man in 1995, three years after Stephen’s death, Dr. Steelman chose to make his stance from the pulpit.

The pastor felt he had to be at least as public as Matt had been with his views.

He spoke firmly: The institution of the family was under siege, and softening toward sin was shortsighted and wrongheaded. Homosexuality was a sin. Don’t be fooled. The church would not change its position on that.

A few people walked out.

Matt had his Bible in his lap. His skin turned gray. Frances looked over and worried he was going to have another heart attack.

Dr. Steelman’s words felt like an assault.

After the service, Matt marched out. He didn’t speak a word. He never went back.

Nils Pickert:

I didn’t want to talk my son into not wearing dresses and skirts. He didn’t make friends in doing that in Berlin already and after a lot of contemplation I had only one option left: To broaden my shoulders for my little buddy and dress in a skirt myself. After all you can’t expect a child at pre-school age to have the same ability to assert themselves as an adult. Completely without role model. And so I became that role model…
And what’s the little guy doing by now? He’s painting his fingernails. He thinks it looks pretty on my nails, too. He’s simply smiling, when other boys (and it’s nearly always boys) want to make fun of him and says: “You only don’t dare to wear skirts and dresses because your dads don’t dare to either.” That’s how broad his own shoulders have become by now. And all thanks to daddy in a skirt.


Filed under Children, Healthcare, Human Rights, LGBT Equality, Women

2 responses to “Great dads and fail dads

    • Thanks, Jamie. I’d subtitle your post “Attention-seeking blogger acts like he thinks he knows the sexual orientation of a five-year-old: how creepy.”

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