The Denver Zine Library at 2727 West 27th Avenue is hosting a special Rad Dad reading on Saturday at 1 p.m. featuring Tomas Moniz, editor of the Rad Dad zine and co-editor (with Daddy Dialectic editor Jeremy Adam Smith) of the new book Rad Dad: Dispatches From the Frontiers of Fatherhood.
We caught up with the Berkley, CA-based zinester for a conversation about the politics of parenting, the dearth of good resources for fathers, and why zines still matter.
Westword: The parenting sections at most bookstores were completely underwhelming in terms of anything geared towards dads when my kids were born. I would have been so stoked to have found a book like Rad Dad at the time.
Tomas Moniz: My experience was similar. I was a really young parent -- I was 20 -- and the first few years it was just kind of chaos trying to get through everything. As my son got older I started to begin realize that I wanted to parent differently than the ways I was parented and found myself reacting to the messages I was getting about parenting from mainstream society, particularly in relation to fathers. That lead me to the same search you were doing, like, 'What's out there? There's got to be something.'
Did you find anything?
I certainly was inspired by Ariel Gore's Hip Mama and began to come across a lot of amazing, alternative publications around parenting, like China Marten's The Future Generation and things like that, but there was still a dad-void, and so I took it upon myself to try to fill it. As I became more involved in the zine world, I realized I was doing a lot of writing about my struggles I was having with my son: He was about 10 by that time and as he was going on he started getting into more and more trouble. At that point I realized I would really love a space with other fathers to talk about parenting that is not based on the gender-normative examples that we're typically given, and also to talk about some of the radical politics that were on my mind with regard to parenting. I wanted to have those kinds of conversations with people, and that's what started it.
How did you start to make those connections and find your first contributors for the zine?
I put it out there on an anarchist parenting blog and it just must have touched a nerve right away. Between that and word-of-mouth I got enough material to do the first zine, and it picked up steam really quickly after that. I immediately found a lot of support from other parents out there.
How would you describe the ideal of parenting and specifically fatherhood collectively represented through the stories in Rad Dad?
It was really important to me to get a really diverse range of voices for the zine and especially for the book, so there really isn't any one 'ideal' that's being communicated. The zine now is open to people of all genders and you don't even necessarily have to be a parent to contribute, because I think other voices, and also stories around multi-generational social movements, are also important to larger conversations about parenting. But the book is primarily focused on fathers and I just kind of wanted to present everyday parents dealing with the difficulties and pleasures of parenting in a way that hopefully inspires and, in a way, creates the kind of world that we want to live in. It's difficult because we live in a world that sends such mixed messages to men -- and to women and children -- about the definitions of fatherhood and parenting. It's tough! I think the main thing is that I feel like I'm always kind of searching for help, and to have a lot of other voices together doing the same thing is a nice reminder that by sharing our stories we can be there for each other.
The zine/book tour and the event at the Denver Zine Library is kind of a return to roots for you after getting the book published. What has the experience of opening these stories up to a bigger audience through the book been like for you? Have you been surprised by the response?
Even the struggle to choose which texts were going to be in the book was interesting, because the zine certainly is a little rougher in its presentation and has a slightly more radical element to it around attitudes toward authority and the police, for example, and towards corporations. Some of that unfortunately didn't get into the book as much; it's more about the family as opposed to really engaging with some of the more difficult, touchy subjects about the ways in which families and societies interact, which we've gotten into in the zine over the years. But overall the response has been really nice, and it's been great because I've now done a lot of readings in various communities and they always end up being about the community and not at all geared towards me: These events are creating opportunities for communities to get together to talk about radical parenting. I've seen that now in a number of places, where the zine and now also the book has been an impetus for getting a group of parents together to talk about what they can do to support each other in their community, and I've just sat back and watched it. It almost makes me wish I had a young baby again, because I was so alone when I was going through it all and I realize now that I didn't have to be. That's one of the biggest things I realize now: What a difference having that kind community might make.
Your own kids are older now. To the extent that you've approached fatherhood as a bit of an experiment and set out to do some things conscientiously and a little bit differently, how has it panned out in retrospect and how has the act of writing about and thinking about those issues shaped the kind of father you've ended up being?
I think the overall process has made me be a better parent, individually and also collectively, because I've had an opportunity as I started sharing stories and listening to other people to create a really amazing group of friends and people I can turn to when things get difficult. I've certainly learned a lot of things along they way!
Have your kids read any of the writing you've done about raising them?
Now that they're older I share everything I write with them. They're kind of like my first editors, and they hold me to what I say about how I hope to parent. They remind me, sometimes directly and sometimes just by being in my life in such a powerful committed way. It's been interesting because as your kids get older, you find that there are always new challenges as a parent, that parenting doesn't necessarily get easier as they grow up. Right now the struggle that I'm facing is one of letting go, and it's a different stage of parenting than many of the zine's readers and other contributors may be at: My daughter at 16 is definitely on her way out, and that's a beautiful thing to witness but it's also been difficult. My son has also taught me a lot about letting go -- when I was the age he is now I had already had him -- and it's definitely interesting to marvel at the different worlds we inhabited at the same age.
Why is it important to you, in the age of the blog, to do actual zines people can hold in their hands and pass around?
I try not to get into the whole debate about print vs. blogs because I think they're both important and I've certainly participated in many blogs online. But for me I just feel that the zine does add an element of connection that isn't there online, and when I'm struggling -- when I'm feeling alone, when I'm feeling marginalized -- I find that it doesn't help me to sit in front of my own computer. What I find inspiring is when I talk to people face to face, and that's one of the things the zine has done... Online there's so much information that it's easy to get lost, whereas the zine is something I want to be able to give someone, you know? Hand it to them at a zine fair, or at a show, or in the park, and use it to start a conversation.
I see that you're actively recruiting contributors for future issues of the zine, and that you'll be featuring some local readers at the Denver Zine Library event. I'm glad to see the book isn't going to stand as an endpoint to the Rad Dad conversation.
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I love hearing other people's stories and seeing them read, and seeing people read to their own communities is great. And I do want to emphasize that the book is not the end product of the zine. It's a byproduct, and the zine is continuing to come out. I'm always looking for people to submit, and it's still very much a work in progress. I'm thinking of doing a special edition called Bad Dad, really talking about some of the mistakes we've made as parents. Eventually Rad Dad is something that I would love to pass the mantle on, to give the project away to other parents who are just starting the journey so that they can continue the conversation.