Friday, January 26, 2007

paternagoraphobia, the fear of being a father in public beacuse, for some reason or another, your society eschews your right to paternity

It’s an all-thumbs mix of shun and sun when I take my girls out in public. Depending on my mood alone the stares of strangers alternately fill me with pride and make me want to hide in a dark hole. And they do stare, let me tell you. The only times they don’t is when I am with a woman, then they just stare at my gorgeous kids.

Last August Lyli and Scarleht and I went on a road trip with my friends Brendan and Eamon. Three mid-twenties young men driving around the San Juan Islands with two little toe-headed twin two year olds? A sight unseen by most eyes, judging by the variety of reactions we received, especially at ferry landings where the nuclear gape of families in air-conditioned SUVs permeated us with its fallout of fascination. I must admit, at times I find it entertaining when someone looks at my girls, then at me, then around their field of vision for someone approximating a mother.

It’s especially strange when I’m out with my girls with a lady friend and everyone thinks that she’s their ma. Usually they pick up on this phenomenon and mention something about how “awkward” or “interesting” it feels. Sometimes this makes me smile and look away. Sometimes it makes me sink into my shell. Rarely it makes me hold eye contact and blush and sweat.

On Olympia’s streets even, some of the most diverse I’ve wandered in my sheltered Pacific Northwest existence, my little rag-tag group of thrift-clad toddlers and hairy hippy papa me garners gazes from all ages, genders, classes, ethnicities, etcetera. Personally I find it unnerving to be the needle in the haystack but, as my roommate Eamon wisely put it: “better than a needle in a box of needles.”

No surprise then I seek solace and solitude instead with my girls in the woods around our farmhouse outside the city of Olympia. Most of my social tendencies are counterfeit anyway, set in place to compensate for the quietudes of my youth, having grown up detached from general society in the foothills of the blue mountains amidst ponderosa pines and stacks of books instead of televisions and those scrapers of the sky. Plus I enjoy the time I get utterly alone with my children in a

For the most part, I can trace the qualities I like about myself back to that secluded, natural setting, and can only wish something of the sort for my progeny. Hence why I jumped at the chance to live on an old farm in Mason County, only slightly removed from the main drag of Western Wash where I get my urban fixes, society style and business done.

As I slowly force myself to broach my shyness and begin to hang out at public playgrounds with my kids every now and then (I try for twice a month) I begin to realize that I’m not alone, even in my own community, and meeting fathers I haven’t met before bolsters those emotions. Most of my papa parties have been mostly close to failures, though I suppose I should give myself and us a bit more credit than that and admit that “these things take time” as folks are so apt to aphorize.

But gradually I come around, learning to deal with these nervous bouts that strike at the most inopportune of moments. I fondly dub it paternagoraphobia, the fear of being a father in public beacuse, for some reason or another, your society eschews your right to paternity. Solve this problem and we solve so many myriad problems by ripple effect that it will make the politicians smile for once and the philosophers and poets drink and make love (as usual).


Anonymous said...

Im sorry, friend, but I just dont buy it. I mean, yes, its unnerving to be in the spotlight when you're not quite sure of the role you think you are supposed to be performing, but I dont really believe that you are afraid. You posess many things at which you are inherently gifted, and fathering turned out to top the list.

Despite the fact that you have spent several paragraphs writing about (an alleged) fear that is systemically induced by patriarchy, for what its worth, I think that you are aware that what you accomplish every day is a miracle. The poigniant patience and humble honesty with which you raise our children is a testament to the fact that you are not truly afraid.

I think that you could easily spend ten times as many paragraphs writing that "this is how we win!" Because by reinforcing a new archetype in a world of protocol, you are evolving the image of father and the face of familyhood for everyone.

You could spend your time writing about that, or about anything,and you would do it impecibly. When you are speaking your truth your words manifest with such a linguistic fluency that the words often sing themselves from the page, because you do it without fear. Because I dont really believe that you are afraid. I believe that you think everyone expects you to be, and that it seems easier to believe them than to prove them wrong. But that's only true if you are afraid.

One more thing: drinkers and lovers drink and make love. Poets write poems. Dont hesitate to make the distinction.

Anonymous said...

way better
than a needle in a box of needles
you pretty much kick ass my friend
i was missing your words


Anonymous said...

I missed your words, too. Andy really looks forward to coming to one of the papa parties. He could use some other papa's to talk to.

I also grew up totally removed from society. I own a portion of an island in Alaska, Bare Island, there is one other family who seasonally visits their new place that wasn't there while I was growing up-aside from that, a cannery that hasn't done any business in fifteen years, and a few scattered homesteads throught the straights. I grew up listening desperately for the sound of a skiff or boat motor, or the mail plane that came once a week. I have found myself socially challenged most of my life, although we did move to town when I was five, we travelled around a lot, and spent a bunch of time out at the cabin, which my dad built out of chainsawed driftwood, and homesteaded in 1971. It shaped who I am, I still prefer the company of books to TV, and most people. I don't often admit that because I feel like I SHOULD like most people, and I do, very much- but not the drama that comes with, I guess. The funny thing is, after years of feeling socially awkward, I flourished in theatre and forced a social breakout in myself as a teenager. I now realize that my regular use of mind-altering substances throughout my life has been a way to force my social behavior, Oly is the only place I really had a social life, and that due to drinking during the 2 years my daughter was living with her dad in MI, and home was too lonely to go to. I actually think that things have caught up with me a little- a semi-forced sabbatical since I have been preggo has created my desire to have contact with friends again, althouh I rarely initiate it, and enjoy myspace for the simple reason of socialization without socialization. I crave the company of other mothers, sisters, women of my heart. I went out and had a lovely time last week, but found myself socially awkward and strange as I sat at Otto's, hiding behind the easy facade of mother of Naliandrah....

I feel ya.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Sky. You've definitely captured feelings I've gone through, and go through, at times.

“One man scorned and covered with scars still strove with his last ounce of courage to reach the unreachable stars; and the world was better for this.”

-Rob Richards

punkelf said...

A lovely tale of folks making asses of themselves and umption.
Brother, you are one of the good ones. Though you may not believe it, I have experienced some of what you describe. Certainly not to extent that you do, but...
Anyway, thought I'd throw some mental darts at this cognitive target you've created, as I think it encircles many of the reasons why you may have subconsciously felt the need to create this blog.

There is a novelty about men and children, particularly babies and toddlers. I was tempted to trace this back to the industrial revolution, and the first big blow to the family of men leaving the homestead for work. But it's older than that... Can you think of any examples of paintings of a man with a baby? No, yet there are so many of a woman with baby, that the genre has a name, Madonna, which is sometimes applied to works from cultures and times unaware of Mary.
When a man is good with babies and toddlers, it is frequently commented on. The expectation is a burly guy who can build a bridge, rebuild an engine, and gut a bear, will become comically helpless faced with an infant. With women it is the opposite, notice is drawn to the woman who could care less about der kinder. Seasons and seasons of situation comedies are built on the former one note joke.
Those are the lenses that the average American views you through. And nobody wants to be viewed as TV stereotype. Your life, your triumphs and tragedies with the twins can not be summed up by Three Men and a Baby.

If it is any consolation to you or your female companions, the marital associations cut both ways. Many times I have been cast into the role of pater by strangers, just because I am accompanying lady friend and her progeny.

People make assumptions. Yes, it is tiring, but don't fear it. At best it is an opportunity to educate someone, as you often do with this blog. At worst, well at worst you just gotta find a way to make it comedic to yourself.

Here's a parting story:
In Arkansas, I lived with my friends Bart and Terri and their two kids for about a year. Bart, a former chef, and I would often go shopping for supper supplies, sometimes with the munchikins in tow. Two well groomed young men, with kids, buying the necessities for a gourmet meal... in Arkansas. With all the sureptitious stares and glares, it was all I could do to not slap Bart on the fanny, and fall over laughing.

Just because people project their fear and ignorance at you, don't mean ya gotta accept it.

Love ya, bro

the crusty old fart

rural dad said...

I hear you...when I grew up in the remote suburban wasteland of CA, the only time I felt at ease was in the wilds...when I lived in the city for a few years, it often felt like I was more alone.

Now that I live in the sticks, I'm more content. I have to remember in social settings that I'll come off as creepy if I'm too antisocial, but they are rare enough events that I can make an effort and enjoy people's long as its not too often.

Anonymous said...

when i'm out with my god-daughter i get alot of looks that inspire the fight or flee instinct in me, i get the urge to demonstrate the kindness of good parenting skills to these judgemental fools or leave before a scene is made of their pointed questions and my barbed replys (i inevitably follow through with the former, though the latter is always in my minds-eye).

what makes up for these moments of biased challenges and refutals is the moments where a smile cracks like a sunny side up egg over the round face of a stranger whom i might have have made a biased judgement of their biased judgements based in my previous experiences involving judgemental people unable or unwilling to peek out the top of the box they reside in and the appearences they often hold. when i see those people smiling and sharing the love of life that i see as so valuable with others, my day is made and my memories are beautiful.

props to the people who love that it takes all types and teach their kids the same.

Anonymous said...

Don't let it get to you, Sky.

I would say that people (in general) in our society eschew the sight of children in public whatsoever. Its a shame. We could learn a lot from-oh, you know- every other nation in the world, where it is considered normal and appropriate for kids to be a part of life and not always in the house or off at daycare.

It will be a great day when the sight of a father parenting no longer draws surprised stares from the public. Until then, take it as a compliment.


Anonymous said...

I feel for you, but have not endured it as long as you have. I was with a girl for almost a year, and part of the package was her 4y/o daughter. Her Mom and I often worked opposing schedules so I would take care of her and frequently took her out in public. I often got weird looks (my dark hair and her white/blonde hair may have had something to do with it) and it annoyed me to no end. Most of the looks were from men and older women though it seemed.

Strangely enough, I got the BEST reactions when I took her to gun shows. The old codgers selling their wares loved her and I never noticed a dirty look while toting her around.

Good luck with the struggle!