Punk Parenthood For The Sleep Deprived 6: Who Invented The Typical Boy?

Dec 22, 2014

It is 6:30 in the morning, I am nine months pregnant, I am hungry as hell, and my two-year-old son is attempting to prevent me from eating breakfast.

“Mama’s hungry, Milo,” I tell him, wiggling out of his grip. “I can’t make breakfast and carry you, so you have to sit here by yourself for a minute.” He protests. I take a deep breath. “I’m hungry,” I tell him again. “Remember I’m growing a baby? Growing a baby makes you really hungry. I need to have my breakfast.”

“No.” He’s listening, but not budging. “No Mama eat breakfast.”

I put him down on a kitchen chair and crouch down so I’m looking directly into his eyes.

You don’t get to tell me that I can’t eat breakfast.”

I walk away, towards the fridge. He stops fussing, finally.

Now that he’s two I find myself uttering these kinds of statements several times a week, sometimes more than once a day.

If the cat makes that noise it means he doesn’t like what you’re doing and you need to stop. If you want Daddy to get you more grapes you need to ask with words—hitting doesn’t work. Make sure you ask your friends if they want you to hug them before you do it.”

These kinds of instructions weigh differently on me than the other million things I ask and tell him to do in a day. They aren’t simply teaching him how to have good manners or clean up his toys or go to bed when we’ve finished reading Curious George Flies a Kite. Because rather than just steering him to do something that makes our lives slightly more pleasant, they involve teaching him about consent. As the mother of a boy (two boys by the time this gets posted), I think a lot about how that may be one of the most important lessons I teach him.

When I was in university, one of my zine-making friends published a satirical zine making fun of all the ways women on our campus were being told to avoid rape. It was the mid-nineties and people were just starting to talk about date rape, an important change from the rhetoric I’d grown up with which posited rapists as shadowy strangers who leapt at you if you were foolish enough to walk through a dark parking lot alone. However, even with that progression in the way we talked about rape, it still never occurred to me that it shouldn’t have been seen as solely my responsibility to ensure that I did not get raped, by a date or a shadowy stranger or anyone else. I spent my university days doing what felt like my due diligence. I didn’t drink, go to sketchy parties, take the bus alone late at night, or wear revealing clothes. I went on dates in well lit, public places, and made sure my friends knew where I was. I never got raped. I congratulated myself.

Until my friend published her satirical zine, it never occurred to me to question the advice I’d been given. Even after I’d read it, I still couldn’t quite grasp the alternative. If we weren’t going to offer advice to women on how not to get raped, how exactly were we going to stop rape at all?

I’m now acutely aware of the very obvious answer to this question: we teach men not to rape them.

And so here I am, now on the front lines of creating two people who will hopefully not grow up to be assholes. And, wow, that sometimes feels like a big job.

Before I found out that this second kid was in possession of a penis, I was thinking that I wanted to have a girl. Not for any big, serious reason. Mostly because I thought it would be cool, as a parent, to experience parenting both genders. I’m not very girly, so it wasn’t that I wanted to bond with a female child over typical girly pursuits. But I did think I’d get a kick out of raising a strong young woman. Three nights before my twenty-week ultrasound, the one that reveals the baby’s sex, the shootings in Santa Barbara happened. The internet cesspools welled up with hatred for feminists and misplaced sympathy for this shooter who couldn’t get laid. I couldn’t believe the painfully entitled garbage I was reading, written by both men and women. Men insisting that women needed to not “put guys in the friendzone” and women insisting that this was not a crime that showed a need for feminism in our modern world.

I found myself out for a walk one night by myself, thinking about it all. I burst into tears and was struck with the thought that I did not want a female child after all. Because this just seemed like an incredibly shitty time to be female. I didn’t want that despair to be passed on.

If the baby had been female, I would have gotten over this, of course. I know that men don’t necessarily have it easier as they navigate the world. And I know so many families with brave, smart, happy female children who are going to completely kick ass as they grow up, thanks to the amazing efforts of their parents. I would have happily joined the ranks of those parents of awesome daughters. But when the ultrasound technician announced in her thick Russian accent that our kid, “Is baby brother!” I cannot deny that I was happy. And a bit relieved.

For Halloween this year I dressed Milo up as Clark Kent. Mostly because it was a costume that was easily cobbled together out of clothing he already owned plus an old pair of my glasses with the lenses popped out. But it made me think about how Clark Kent is a nice, upstanding guy on the surface who is an even better—literally super—person underneath. As someone whose own experiences with men have left me deeply suspicious of charm, I am really keen on my own kids growing up to be even better people inside than they appear to be from the outside.

In the weeks over which I worked on this column, the Canadian media exploded with frankly horrifying stories about wildly popular public radio host Jian Ghomeshi who, at the time of this writing, has been accused of sexual and physical abuse by nine women. It was an awful story and I thought at first that I didn’t want to read anything written about it because I expected it to be more of the same old woman-blaming, anti-feminist garbage that comes out whenever something like that hits the media.

But something kind of shocking happened. People, lots of people, started writing articles and editorials and social media status updates in support of the women who’d come forward. A friend of mine who is the director of one of the city’s rape crisis centres wrote a follow-up post to express how surprised she was with the intelligent questions people were asking. It seemed to give her hope. Male musicians who previously had a lot to gain from being “in” with Ghomeshi and his connections in the arts, including another friend of mine who is raising two daughters, wrote touching and angry posts and essays in support of women and entreating men to elevate their behavior. And I didn’t see any writing about how women should take the responsibility to avoid getting raped or beat up.

I started reading the news and opinions again. It didn’t make me want to give up on humanity nearly as much as I thought it might. I even had some flickers of hope for the world that is going to be out there influencing my sons as they grown up. I’m still serious about doing my part, but it’s good to know that other people are too.

The Punk Parenthood Questionnaire

This is my last Punk Parenthood column before I take a who-knows-how-long break to go have another baby. I asked Rob Seaton (from excellent Canadian bands The Statues and Strange Attractor, as well as newer band Der Faden) to answer the questions. Rob’s a thoughtful guy, a talented musician, and father to two girls aged nine and seven.

1. How does your background in the punk/underground scene affect your parenting?

I think this is an interesting question. The short answer is that I’m not really sure that it has. I suppose it brings about that idea of defining punk and punk values, but for me I think it really comes down to the ability to think critically. It’s probably what drew me towards punk in the first place.

There’s a ton of varying information on every aspect of parenting and it can be an overwhelming prospect to sift through it, especially when you’re sleep deprived and your kid’s only way of communicating is through wails or grunts. It’s about being able to take the information, applying it, assessing the feedback, and finding what works for you as a family. Some of it is instinct, some of it is guessing, and some of it is relying on trusted sources when you ask for help. I always felt comfortable taking the road less travelled on some aspects of parenting. I have found it to be a lot like songwriting. Some of the ideas and answers come hard and fast, and other times it’s about having to go back and forth and edit.

2. What quality of yours do you most hope to pass on to your kids?

Again, I would say that ability to hone your critical thinking. I honestly believe that it plays such a huge role in our lives. Not to say that we should spend all of our time putting everything under a magnifying glass, but being able to identify patterns in people/politics/relationships can really help you to put the brakes on when you don’t feel comfortable with how something is playing out—to think before making any judgement or taking action.

Also, as trite as this sounds, I really just want to them to be kind. It’s something I think about often for myself. We’re exposed to so much negativity that the collective “we” just put our heads down to try and galvanize our hearts. It’s important to me that they see what offering a few minutes of one’s own time can add to someone else’s day. Pleasantries do actually make a difference.

3. Have you found solidarity within the punk community when it comes to parenting? Do you have different experiences in different groups of friends?

You touched on this in your last column. The need for a community is one of the most important aspects of parenting. I have friends that I’ve met via touring and shows. A handful of them have become friends for life, and I have friends who may not be into punk that have been in my life for as long as I can remember. I also have friends just because we all have kids. That has happened because of shared values and interests, punk or otherwise. I think people who have children definitely can relate to certain shared experiences and that provides a stepping stone towards conversation, idea sharing, venting, and even being able to let loose a bit while the kids find something to destroy, create, imagine, or all of the above. I also have people in my life who don’t have kids or don’t want kids but I don’t believe it has any bearing on our relationship because I do.

I can only think of a single time where someone called me “breeder” with a sneer when I mentioned I was a dad. About an hour later they were passed out beside a puddle of barf. You always have to consider the source.

4. What music are you most excited that your kids are into?

I’m excited that they’re into music at all! We all hear and are moved by different things. They’re certainly exposed to music that I’m not, and some of it is total garbage, in my opinion. It’s not up to me to tell them that, though. That being said, we listen to a lot of music together: road trips, driving to dance classes, running errands, or just around the house. I let them play the things they want but I also manage to slip in some of my favorites. Lately, they’ve been really into Masked Intruder, but I would have to say the one record that they know inside and out that I’m certainly stoked about is the novelty punk record Bad Habits by The Monks. I first heard that record in 1980 thanks to my older brothers and it’s always been a favorite. They like to pretend that it’s Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Neville in the band. I bet we’ve listened to that over five hundred times together.

5. Describe the last time your kids made you laugh really hard.

This is a daily occurrence. They both really have a great sense of humor and amazing comedic timing. There is a single standout event for me that I’ll share because I still get asked to tell this story. It happened when Katie-Anne was five and Audrey was three (they’re now nine and seven). They were signed up for a weeknight gymnastics class at 5 PM. I don’t finish work until 4 PM so I was rushing from work to pick them up at school and daycare.

We got home and I herded them inside the house to get them changed into leotards while also trying to throw together a snack so that they could eat on the ride to the gym. I was killing it. We were totally going to be on time. I got them strapped back into car seats, tossed the snack at them, and was getting ready to close the door when Katie-Anne said to me, “No thanks.” I replied with “No thanks, what?” not really sure what she was talking about. “No thanks, I don’t need a snack.” Being the guy that over explains everything to them, I start in on how she needs energy for the class, low blood sugar, blah blah blah… and she says, “I already had something.” “Oh yeah?” I asked. “What did you have?” She looked at me nonchalantly and said, “I had a Guinness.” I, of course, started laughing and followed that up with “And how was it?” For as long as I live I hope to never forget her answer. She looked me in the eye and said, “It was fucking awesome.”