Daddy Issues is a periodical about embracing, resenting and critically questioning what it means to be a father. It will attempt to account for the accomplishments and failures of a loving, contributing partnership in a human project. It will occasionally be insightful and/or funny (mostly in retrospect) due to its frightfully naive and oblivious author.
For me, Bry Webb’s album, Provider, is one of those seminal pieces of art that is forever giving. Upon its release in the autumn of 2011, it hit me with a sense of mortality, nostalgia and hope. It describes a certain set of events, themes and ideas that I had suddenly become aware were applicable to me. Then, I was only getting to know the now soon-to-be-mother of our soon-to-be-child. We went to shows, we rode bikes at night, we drank beers by the river, we wanted to contribute to each other and to the well-being of our city. I had not considered, until Provider, that I was older — we had grown up. We were two grown-ups falling in love.
We are immeasurably lucky to live in a time of equalized — or at least, equalizing — gender roles in the household. It is no longer the default position that one parent is the breadwinner and the other is the child-rearer. To maintain, invert or share traditional roles is now more than often a couple’s choice, factoring ability, interest and job standing. The idea of fatherhood has changed in greater degree for me than it changed from my father from his, and his before his. The idea of an intentional partnership is easy for me to understand — biology, however, is a horrifyingly stubborn factor when it comes to equity.
A human is growing inside of one of us, and it is not me. I’m having difficulty finding purpose, or feeling useful when social roles are fluid and yet biological ones remain so static. In so many ways we do not want to become our fathers — and yet they seem to be the role we gravitate to by default. I have always found difficulty with masculinity — or more precisely, over-masculinity. Although I can certainly blend in better than friends who are gay and have this same problem, I have always thought that presenting intentionally masculine traits was akin to encouraging the primacy of the hetero male position in the hierarchy of socio-economic value.
Flash forward to “being a father” where the primary role models you have are your own — who are wonderful human beings, but often have antiquated ideas of how a household should function. The moral compulsion is to move away or reject this entirely, but the biological compulsion (or, more accurately, the socio-historic compulsion resulting from biological differences) demands of us to look hard at our income, look hard at how we fill the role as Provider.
Much like the friends I have who do it well, Provider has given a voice to fatherhood. It is kind and gentle, yet brave and asserting. It is terrified of becoming a lowlife. It is brave in its admission of a cathartic realization that we can at once be confidently unconfident. We have moved past being concerned about what kind of person we will become, and instead are concerned about the kind of person we are — so that it will influence what another person will become. I have never experienced this sense of equipped-ness before — it is exciting and terrifying.
Part of my main interest in writing this series is to deal with this issue. If gender equity ought to be a major value in our society, how can we be good fathers? The answer is simply that fatherhood ought not be predicated on gender division — and that fatherhood is becoming and can become something more. I will endeavour to make this as accessible as possible in terms of gender — and I’d like to think that ‘father’ can be interchangeable with ‘parent’ — it won’t always be, simply because I’m using it in terms of my experience.
Bry Webb is playing with Odanah at The Good Will on Tuesday, June 30th. Tickets are $12, the show starts at 8:00 p.m. and you ought to attend.
Aaron Russin is probably not several children sitting on each other’s shoulders wrapped in a trench coat wearing a bowler cap. Follow them — I mean — *HIM* on twitter @aaronrussin.