How to become a Feminist dad

Most parenting and pregnancy guidance is targeted at women. Gender specialist Sebastian Molano tells us the few lessons he has learned as a new father.
Thomas 8047/ CC BY 2.0/ Flickr

My child was born 20 weeks ago. Rafael Marley Rounseville Molano came to this world with his right fist up, on an early morning after 26 hours of contractions and a natural birth.

80% of the men in the world will become fathers in their lifetime, so it is highly likely that you or male-identified people around you will become fathers.

How patriarchal culture first comes into our lives

I am a Colombian, male-identified, immigrant living in the US, cisgender and heterosexual. I grew up in a single parent household with mom. My first experience with power was my father’s ruling.  Though we lived in different homes, my upbringing was marked by the traditional patriarchal model: he exercised power and set the rules.

In “The Will to Change: Men, masculinity and love” bell hooks talks about how the first contact humans have with patriarchy is at home as children with our fathers or father figures.

In my larger family, men were absent from the kitchen or the provision of care work. As I grew up, these unspoken rules were enforced constantly. This helped configure a clear picture of what being a man meant in my culture and what being a father looked like: bring money, set the rules, exercise power and control. Patriarchal culture starts with pink and blue and replicates throughout our lives in a predatory manner.

The arrival of a child provides men with a unique chance to explore and deconstruct the rigid and sometimes harmful ways of being a dad. Today, men have a growing enabling context to embrace fatherhood in holistic way thanks to feminism.

Parenting books targeted at women, how can we change that?

Currently, most of the books and resources available on parenting and pregnancy are targeting women. The absence of books and resources that meaningfully approach the challenges and questions men have from a feminist standpoint is notorious.

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When the information is presented to male audiences, it usually reinforces traditional, patriarchal notions of your role as male: pay this, provide that, protect your family from others and remain calm when things get tough.  Books such as “The Expectant Father”, a best-seller in English, ignore the importance to connect mind, heart and body with this transformative change.

Others such as  The reluctant father; From Dude to Dad: the Diaper Dude Guide to Pregnancy” and “The Baby Owner’s Manual: Operating Instructions, Troubleshooting Tips, and Advice on First-Year Maintenance (Owner’s and Instruction Manual)” are self-explanatory.

Patriarchy has a stronghold in this archetype of detached fatherhood, it creates the next generation of decent men who will work to maintain a failed, unequal, harmful system that hurt them, their children and their partners.  There are valuable resources out there: If you want to do yourself a favor, skip these and go for the real deal “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” by La Leche League and “Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5”  by the American Academics of Pediatrics. These books will set you on a great start.

How to be a more feminist dad?

These learnings have been fueled by a relentless belief in the power of becoming a feminist dad to disrupt and destroy patriarchy from within.

Dare to look at yourself

This might be the last real chance you have to take a stock of who you are as a man. An opportunity to look at your baggage and declutter your heart. This might mean talking to your father or father figure  and confront the fears and loose ends that impede you to have the relationship you wish you had with him. Also, to acknowledge what has made your bond loving and everlasting.

If your father was absent, reflect on what the absence has meant in your life, from treating women to drinking. This is the moment to look down into yourself and change whatever you need to change. The beauty of this is that you don’t have to do this alone. Programs like Parenting Journey on Fatherhood offer life transformative courses for new and old dads.

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Patriarchy teaches us that domination is power. The real power comes with dominating your own self, not your children or your partner.

Engage in the hard work of love

You will learn how to clean diapers, fix furniture and carry on sleep deprived. You need to choose to be intentional about engaging in the “hard work of love”. bell hooks described it as the needed connection we must forge between emotions and our ability to translate them in words and actions.

Loving is harder than using violence. It takes courage to be nurturing, to be connected with your emotions and articulate them so they enable love. This means loving your child, yourself and assuring that your partner feels that love daily.

You can do this by listening openly, creating space for empathy. And for the love of the goddesses, clean the pump parts every single day and keep her hydrated. You don’t need the perfect registry or the coolest stroller, becoming a feminist dad demands something that resembles the magnitude of the change you will go through, it requires you to be willing to change who you are and how you live your life.

Allow yourself to cry

My ability to cry has increased exponentially since my child was born. It is a combination of lack of sleep, hormonal changes –yes, men experience them too– and the beautiful gift of life.

The first day I took care of Rafael solo during my parental leave, he cried for two hours. Day two, he cried for three hours. Day three, he was 45 minutes into crying when I felt that I could not take it anymore. I sat on the couch, holding him on my arms and cried with all the energy I had inside. It came from a deep place. I felt liberated. It gave me the strength to be weak, vulnerable and get all my fears out. It is way better to cry than losing your temper and hurting your baby.

The shaking babies’ syndrome is a real danger.  Most of the times, men are unable to control their frustration and end up being violent against their children. Dare to take a look at yourself so you can connect your mind, your heart and your body.

Fatherhood is something you do not something  you are

Fatherhood is something you do not something you are. For men, the bar on care work and housework is so low that when men step up and do their part, society grants them benefits, praise and recognition that they don’t deserve.

This is called the #PedestalEffect. If you want to be a feminist dad, don’t expect to be given special treatment because you take parental leave, stay at home because a child is sick or come home at 5 for bath time. You are not doing anyone a favor, you are doing what the majority of women are expected to do, in addition to making money, be fit, and save the world. Step up.

Advice from other mothers has also been a huge learning curve in my experience.  As we are all in this journey, please share your own experiences and advice. In this process to become a feminist dad, we all can and should use help.

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Sebastián Molano

Sebastián Molano is a Colombian gender specialist and development worker living in Boston. Currently, he consults for different NGO's on how to promote gender justice and engage men and boys in development projects. You can check here his TEDx Talk in gender isses: [a href="http://bit.ly/TEDxTalk-DefyinGendeRoles"]http://bit.ly/TEDxTalk-DefyinGendeRoles[/a] With the support of his awesome life partner/wife, Sebastián writes about the need to engage men and women in a needed, healthy discussion about new and liberating re-configuration of gender roles. He leads Defying Gender Roles a multi-lingual group that seeks to engage men and women in how to challenge harmful prevailing gender norms and roles. Check it out: http://defyingenderoles.org/
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