“Book review: Rad Dad, Dispatches from the Frontiers of Fatherhood”

This book is a collection of essays that I was throughly pleased to flip through when I first got a copy. I quickly jumped right in and couldn’t wait to see what sort of parental advice, and different perspectives I could gain from my “punk rock peers”. I enjoyed reading the experiences, as I always do, of parents and their trials and tribulations. Some were humorous, others heartbreaking, and that is the reality of being a parent I think the biggest thing you can do as a mom or dad is expect that there will be disasters and work though them the best that you can.

Though at times I thought some of them to be pretty enlightening, and allowed me the feeling of “not being alone”, I felt that some also came off pretty pretentious and self righteous. “How dare these words make me feel guilty on top of the already hard job of being a parent”, I thought to myself. It gave me the opportunity to reflect on why I was feeling that way, and already I had to chuckle out loud. This book was working. Some of these essays reminded me of experiences I had had, and others were so far off my wavelength that I didn’t know if I should feel bad for the situation, the parent, or the child, but that was the beauty. We are all working our way through this thing called parenthood the best way we know how. There were moments I felt selfish for having a tough time navigating home and work life when I couldn’t possibly know what it is like to be in a persons shoes who has less advantages (real or perceived) than myself. I am not a big fan of books that make me feel bad about myself, but this isn’t a self help manual for being a parent. It’s an in your face punch that allows you to reevaluate your own life and ideals, your own parenting, and the microcosm of life we can sometimes create for ourselves.

It is hard for me to get political on a blog who’s main focus is to be all encompassing. Now that might make me some sort of “new-yuppie-corporate-sellout” but instead of pointing fingers, I try and change my little piece of world, and the biggest thing I have had to do is attack my external issues with love. Pacifism is punk, right? As a member, (or former member if there is such a thing) of the punk scene myself, I have been on the far left end of the spectrum for most of my life. Later, as I aged, I digested what portions of the “punk rock ethos” diatribe I was really willing to prescribe to. It’s not so cut and dry, the personal becomes political, and I can’t raise my kid by living a ten commandments laid out by the back cover of an Aus Rotten LP. It just doesn’t make sense when I am shuffling between PTA meetings, school volunteer groups and soccer practice to wave the banner of anarchism.

Perhaps that is the real gem inside this book however, not to relate to the people inside the book, although some I certainly did, but to get upset, and really have it’s pages force us to reflect upon ourselves. Are we living and teaching the ideals we hold in our heart or are we just mimicking the generation before us and just trying to make it through to the next sunrise? Are we singing along to anthems of anti-capitalism in our family mini van on the way to McDonalds, or living and teaching the ideals that we claim to have? I don’t think it has to be all or nothing, and this book (and zine) really help to illustrate that.

This book is edited by the founder of Rad Dad zine, Tomas Moniz and he’s teamed up with Dad Blogger, Jeremy Adam Smith to compile some of the finest articles from their “Rad Dad Zine”. I found him by default after searching for one of our own “Rad Dad Features” we have on our own site. I figured that we had to have had something in common here. Most of the dads who contributed to the book are or were activists in their local political communities. These dads are able to tie in their personal and political lives and try to make it work despite the criticisms, hurdles and issues that a political activists life faces. I have taken my own daughter to a political protest, and I can assure you, it was met with mixed support from both sides of the spectrum. The common thread in these pages are the ideals that I myself have held for years, the punk rock ethos of “non-sexist, non-racist, non-homophobic, pacifistic and anti-consumerismism living, and they are really things that should be second nature to us after living on this planet for so long. This book illustrates that it’s still necessary to fight for these ideals and that these things are very much still a part of our culture. It does at times feel like its just preaching to the choir, and seriously doubt any audience that it is intended to change will ever pick up the book at all. It does reinforce my own beliefs, make me proud to be a part of the punk rock culture, and give a feeling of camaraderie that we are all moving in the right direction.

I have always felt the personal was political and love was the biggest political act of all (Orwell’s 1984 anyone?). The thing I have learned from that is that the best teaching is living by example. I try to live the way I would want my daughter to live, and hope that she further expands on that to become a great adult. I don’t expect my daughter to follow every step I have made along the way, but I would be pleased if she developed her own set of values that she felt strongly about, whether they fall in line with mine or not. That is the biggest thing for me. I am not raising a mini me, and punk has taught me that you have to define yourself for yourself, and the same with my child.

Fortunately the parents in this book care enough about their children to even consider how their political stance, actions in life and existence effects another human on this earth, and that is really the battle that we have to fight. To be able to evaluate and rebuild yourself, and allow your child to see that, and to show them that you are doing your hardest to be the best parent you can be.

Since this book is a collection of zine articles, it definitely gives that feeling, and it really does offer some varied insight about the challenges you can face as a parent, especially an “alternative parent”, whatever that means. Fatherhood is an incredibly political act, especially when you step out of the defined gender roles that society has placed on us. Though more and more I see a decline of that and find many parents to be comfortable with working together to make a happy family. More on that here:

If you are looking for a guide on how to be a good parent, this isn’t it. There is no such thing. You have to follow your own morals and values, and a lot of is is trial an error. What this book showcases is that there is no right way to do it at all. Rad Dad is a resource that helps dads reevaluate their ideas of what a parent is. It is hard to step out from under the shadow of what society defines a good father as and write your own rules. Some of the ideas in the book did really reinforce a lot of my values and I was pleased to see that, some I thought were a little far fetched like how Disney Princesses enforce gender ideals upon her, but there certainly are people that really believe that and I applaud them for covering all their bases. For me, my wife runs the show and I am not ashamed to admit that. My daughter has a great many positive, strong and leading female role models, so a Disney DVD isn’t going to crash her ideas and turn her into a subservient slave for male culture. But at least they’ve got me thinking…

It really is great to see these ideals presented in such a cohesive form. It’s awesome to see that there is no right way to be a dad, and the inspiration within these pages really come through. What it means to be a dad isn’t something that can easily be defined. Sometimes it’s the greatest job in the world, other times it is hard and thankless, problems arise, things change and we have to do the best we can. If we are able to stick to our core of love, and these dads do, things seem to turn out alright.

So take whatever you will from Rad Dad. I want my main point to shine through that I do really recommend it. Not only the book, but the zine that many of the articles have been pulled from. These are entertaining articles, and no matter what your position on the issues I can guarantee you will take something from it. It might not only change how you view other parents, but one can hope it will also give you a reason to reflect on yourself.


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