“I defined feminist simply, as someone who believes in the full equality of men and women. Their advice applied broadly: to anyone who wants to raise children who are kind, confident and free to pursue their dreams.”
I read this recently in an article published by the New York Times entitled “How to raise a feminist son.” These words resonated with me because they spoke about equality regardless of gender and that has to be a good thing. More than ever before our landscape is very much about equality, feminism and respect. We are bombarded with stories about injustice and right now we have a government who are incapable of making the appropriate and rightful decision about marriage equality (because everyone has the right to marry who they love.) Sadly stories around family violence are persistent and they are heartbreaking and horrifying in equal measure.
It’s a mad world.
But in the quest for equality and absolutely this is a fight we cannot back away from, let us be careful not to forget about the husbands, fathers, brothers, employers, colleagues and friends that want the same thing. The fight for equality does not, should not mean that sometimes we aren’t always going to be equal and that’s actually okay. Because this doesn’t mean one is better than the other, it simply means that if I need to change a tyre I will call RACQ or I will ask my husband to help me and I see no shame in saying that out loud. Much the same way as if he needs to buy a birthday gift then he will defer to me. Am I capable of changing a tyre? Well, that’s yet to be proven but I’m sure if I was desperate and if I wanted to learn then I could. It doesn’t mean I want to do it. My time is far better spent doing other things (unless of course I’m stranded on the side of the road which is why I’d call RACQ) and of course my husband is more than capable of doing the present shopping but he’d much rather not. This is just a personal illustration of how we navigate our lives together. Our marriage is built on love and respect and we are equal and different. I’m perfectly comfortable in admitting I’m a feminist who can’t change a tyre.
Changing tyres and present shopping are insignificant. It’s the big stuff, the meaningful and consequential is what I measure equality by and it is the moral compass I want Charlie to have as he grows up.
As parents there are so many things we aren’t getting right. We have many a shining moment where our son’s laughter precedes everything. Days where we feel strongly connected, we are light and bright, days where everything is aligned and our inner bubble feels content and serendipity is at play. Then there are the days where we make decisions that become our version of parenting fails. Everyone is cranky and crabby and we are exhausted and done. Still, for all of our flaws and failures, there is one thing that I am so infinitely glad for and that is Charlie gets to be one of those children who can grow up and with searing honesty gets to say that he has a great dad. As an adult it feels like a bit of a privilege to look back on a childhood and though you can have both good and bad memories for the most part you can say you had a happy childhood. As a parent I think it is my absolute purpose and responsibility to ensure that Charlie gets that and there is immense peace in knowing he will.
We know that the relationship between a father and a son plays such a fundamental role in a child’s upbringing and the impact is forever. We know the words we use have influence and the actions they see have power.
My abiding anxiety means I worry about a lot of things but it’s nice to not have to worry about the relationship that my son and my husband share. It’s extraordinary and beautiful.
Of course not all days are created equal and father and son are both undeniably and infuriating in their stubbornness and this manifests in a showdown at teeth brushing time. They are both fierce in their independence and let’s face it sometimes emotions get a bit intense and patience can be a struggle when you parent a little person. Attitude and behaviours are sparked by these wild emotions and holy god it’s exhausting. Our natural state seems to be one of push and pull. But thank god those times are short lived and they are also unimportant and we are then reminded to try harder next time.
If motherhood strips you bare then fatherhood strips you back and I’ve witnessed my husband confront a slippery slide of emotions that are by virtue of the highs and lows of parenting. He once described it as having his world not only turned upside down but inside out. Everything changed, his life and his values and it is only now, 4 years later that I think sometimes as the mother I made it all about me, how I was coping, the impact motherhood had on me, on my body and on my life. But it’s not just about me and fatherhood is equal to motherhood.
MM’s first born and only child became his world and watching this from the sideline is breathtaking. He is remarkable in his calm knowledge of what to do and how to be a dad. Whilst I have read articles, books, blogs and googled the shit out of motherhood, he has just got on with it. He has chosen to define fatherhood on his own terms. The discussions they have are silly and funny but wise and measured. The nightly ritual of having a shower together is rowdy and messy and I’m pretty certain he’d rather shower alone than with a four year old, a bunch of plastic turtles, Mr Potato Head and a kitchen whisk but only last night he told me that someday they won’t ever shower together again. He will never know when the last shower together will be. We know the firsts but we don’t get any warning about the lasts and so as much as he misses the daily act of showering in peace he knows the noise and chaos won’t always be.
I look at the two of them together and the love they have for each other is magical and profound. Sometimes it is in the little things, the shared moments, the private jokes. Days that are filled with swimming classes, washing cars, Shaun the Sheep and the thankless, mundane task of teeth brushing. There is the lego, so much bloody lego but he pieces it together effortlessly whereas I visibly recoil the moment I hear the box tip over. There are the cars, the rubbish trucks and the excavators. During a recent driving trip I pointed out to Charlie the crane truck on the left only to be told it was a hypersonic boom. My girlfriend was recently told that “girls wreck your hearts but boys wreck your houses” and so when we do eventually get around to moving this won’t be before MM has to spend a stupid amount of time plastering and painting because not only has Charlie crashed through our hearts he’s also ruined a few walls and doors. MM is teaching him how to skate through life, literally and metaphorically. Through me he is learning to eat green things and to do handstands on the grass and through his dad he is learning to skim stones over the water and drink the leftover milk from his cereal bowl.
Remembering that to me feminism is about equality I am glad that I have a husband who is raising our son understanding that this is a value I want to inspire. I’m grateful that he is encouraged to cry, that he is learning to apologise when he should and mostly I’m grateful that he sees the way I am loved and respected and so he has this to guide him.
Happy Father’s Day.