Dad Love 10: We become gendered.

February 17, 2017

It seems like just seconds ago I was writing about Cozy turning two. We were on our sweltering Mexican island preparing for a birthday adventure in the Yucatan jungle. Now we’re in freezing damp Portland and this child seems like a completely different being. Those six months have been a tsunami of evolution. While the  whole country seems to have devolved, Cozy has become a person and also, dammit, a girl. She’s down for the cause, this girl. She marched in the Women’s March and met the mayor at the Portland United Against Hate rally. Have you met Cozy V. Blazak yet? The mayor has.

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I’ve been lecturing about gender socialization since the George HW Bush Administration (Remember him?), so I know you don’t raise kids in a vacuum. You can’t create your kid like an art project. Society sneaks in on the corners (and on the Disney Channel), but I was a little surprised how quickly my genderless baby became a full-fledged girly girl. I’ve written about her princess thing. The other day I was fixing something and asked her to hand me a long screwdriver. She correctly grabbed the flathead and I thought, “That’s my kid.” And then she raised it up in the air and proclaimed, “Elena of Avalor!”

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This two-and-a-half-year-old is infinitely fascinating. She loves to do the “woos” at the right places of “I Am the Walrus” and tell you the names of her friends in daycare. “The guys, Josie, Amelia….” As soon as she gets to “school,” she goes straight to work making art, just like her mama. She likes to jump off of things (“Daddy, watch this!”) and play hide and seek. And if you ask her what she wants to eat, it’s either mac & cheese, candy, or “ice cream chips.” Most of the time we can figure out what’s she’s trying to tell us and she gets frustrated when we can’t. All this happened is a space of six months. Boom.

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We are quickly leaving the phase when we can pick out her clothes. For me that was about sixth grade. I learned this lesson when I tried to put on the Falcons sweatshirt for Super Bowl Sunday that my dad bought her a year ago. Nope. She wanted to wear her Minnie Mouse dress. Sorry Grandpa. It’s either gotta have Minnie on it, be pink, or be a skirt. I didn’t even know they made skirts for toddlers, now I’m searching target.com for anything she might like. The girl stuff is like a magnet to her. It’s not like either of her parents wear pink. (Well, I do have this flouncy number from my New Romantic days.)

It makes me think of some of my LGBTQ friends who have said that they didn’t have that same experience. Little girls who never wanted dolls and little boys who wanted to wear skirts. It’s a great window into the nature/nurture debate about gender and sexual orientation. I don’t know if Cozy is gonna be a lesbian, but if she is, she’s gonna be a lipstick lesbian with the best skirt collection in town. Just a hunch.

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For now, I’m just loving this phase. I still spend too much time watching her sleep but I also will have endless fun doing puzzles, coloring, or teaching her how men do laundry and lay on the floor to listen to John Coltrane records. She pretends she has a trumpet and plays along. I guess she’s more of a Miles Davis.

She’s deeply empathic (“What’s wrong, Daddy?”) so she must know I’m more in love with her every passing day. I wonder if she knows that people respond to her in a totally unique way, like she’s a shaman onboard the Good Ship Lollipop. The world feels like a better place because she’s in it. I hope she uses this power she has in a meaningful way. How old do you have to be to run for mayor?

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Dad Love 9: I Become Winona Ryder in Stranger Things

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Watching the Wheels turns 2 and can use the potty!

November 23, 2016

Well, when they say “time flies,” they really mean it. Two years ago, Cozy was an infant, Andrea was off to work at Planned Parenthood, I was enjoying my parental leave from Portland State University and the country seemed in good hands. Now, Andrea is working at a great law firm, Cozy’s hanging with her posse at daycare, I’m looking to return to academia and the country is about to be handed to a buffoon who wants to use the White House to build his anemic hotel empire. A lot has changed since I started this blog.

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I’ve had a productive year as a writer. My second short story was published in an amazing collection called A Journey of Words, forever linking the words “ants” and “Uranus.” Most significantly, my new novel, The Dream Police, is out and currently being read by actual people. The first few reviews on Amazon are wonderful. It couldn’t have happened without the amazing support I got on Kickstarter. As if in a dream, when people asked, “What do you do?” I’d just say – writer.

The real great leap forward has been Cozy and her brain. Like last year, we celebrated her birthday on Isla Mujeres in Mexico. She turned two and her verbal skills just went though the roof! We went from a limited vocabulary (in both English and Spanish) to full sentences in a flash. Her brain is connecting concepts and linking them at lightning speed. Instead of “hat,” it’s now “Cozy’s hat” or “Mama’s hat.” Possessives! That’s huge! Pretty soon she will be jamming on verb tenses. It’s an exciting thing to watch evolve.

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I think any new parent will tell you, one of the best parts of this phase is that the kid can tell you want they need. When she was a screaming baby, we’d wonder, “Is she okay or does she just need a boob?” Now she can say, “Tummy hurt” and “Where is it?” (Which usually refers to Rocco, her beloved pet rock.) It’s liberating to be able to have actual conversations with this former-baby.

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She’s off to daycare now a few days a week and loves going to “school.” She puts on her little backpack and heads off for a day of art projects, Spanish lessons, and walks around the neighborhood, including past “the big castle” (aka St. Andrew’s church). When she gets home she goes to her books. “I’m reading!” she exclaims. My nerd in training. Have I mentioned her love of The Beatles yet? Just ask her to sing, “Hey Jude.”

This blog has been a great place to explore her development and the development of the world she is inheriting. I’ve tried to keep the focus on issues related to gender and feminism, but my work is also about racism and the abuses of power, so how could I not discuss Trump, Black Lives Matter, and yoga pants? The blog has had over 400,000 visits. The pieces on Trump have been most popular but my blog on breast feeding dads continues to get creepy viewers by the score.

There is definitely a parallel between Watching the Wheels and Cozy Blazak. Both can walk on their own and are learning to talk in world where it’s not given that we’ll just get what what we want. How will liberals advance in the Un-united States of Trumpland? How will a little girl grow up safe in a country where voters elevated the symbol of rape culture to the highest office in the land? There will be plenty to write about in the next year as we guide our daughter through this backward moment in out history.

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The biggest change this past year has been in me and my desire to get back to work. Andrea and I were in New Orleans last week for the annual conference of the American Society of Criminology. I was reunited with my colleagues who do research on hate crimes and terrorism. It was a reminder of how important my scholarly work is, especially now as we see hate crimes on the increase. I was just on a program on Al Jazeera discussing the climate of hate in Trumpland. It was a tap on the shoulder, reminding me that I am a global voice on this issue. I’m incredibly proud of how The Dream Police turned out but it’s time to get back into the trenches.

So come along for a ride on this 2-year-old toddler of a blog. You KNOW there’s some good stuff coming. At least before Trump shuts down the free media.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Dad Love 8 – I’m on drugs

June 30, 2016

This whole child havin’ thing is crazy making. You can bounce from bliss to panic in the blink of an eye. It’s not uncommon for me to have already diagnosed myself as bi-polar while most folks are still taking advantage of Happy Hour. I saw a guy at the grocery store today with a tiny baby strapped to his chest and I could tell he hadn’t had more than an hour of sleep in the last month. I laughed out loud. I was there, dude. Now I’ve got a 22-month-old who thinks she’s too big to ride in the baby seat of the grocery cart and attempts to eat all the strawberries before I’ve paid for them (saving me a few pennies over the months, I’m sure). And there’s not a single second that I’m not glad I’ve had every single second.

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People (meaning other parents) told me to hold on for the bridge between 18 months and 2 years. That’s the bridge between a toddling toddler and college prep student. There is a cognitive explosion as words develop meanings and meanings expand. A ball can be both a ball and red. “Out” can mean get me out of the high chair but also let’s outside and start a riot. You can see her brain developing behind her eyes as she starts to make connections. She knows I’m going to laugh when I put her in the carseat and she says, “Hot,” like she’s Eartha Kitt. (We’re in Portland, so 80 degrees is hot for us.) Some words she knows in English, Spanish, and sign language (and possibly robot). I can hardly keep up.

She’s already got a whole parlor act up her sleeve. Just ask her to do her animal sounds. Her elephant is a spot on imitation of a female Sumatran elephant in the mating season. And her pig will just have you rolling on the floor. She’s mastering the fist-bump and trying out word combinations. “All done,” means she equally divided her meal between her tummy and the floor. “Up down,” means she wants me to throw her in the air until I fall down and have a heart attack. And “How about,” means how about you pick out a different book to read, Dad. I’m tired of you massacring the poetic Spanish language of Buenas Noches, Luna.

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Through all this I just mostly stare at her and wonder where she came from. It’s like I’m in some strange dream state. And that’s dangerous because you can let your guard down. The other day we were at the playground and she was spinning around on the merry-go-round. I thought I’d take a Snapchat to send to Andrea at work.  I finished as Cozy was sliding off onto the ground. She seemed okay so I mailed the video away and when I looked up she was gone. As in gone girl gone. I quickly looked under the merry-go-round and she wasn’t there. For a split second I thought maybe she never existed in the first place and this whole “Cozy thing” was just a dream. Then I saw her climbing up the steps of the big slide. A great relief but suddenly I felt like the dad of the 2-year-old who got eaten by that alligator at Disney World. Lesson learned. No Snapchat is worth that terror.

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Our Cozy is already a scholar. She’s fasciated with all manner of flora and fauna. She is obsessed with bees and their love of flowers (which she shares). She will study the plants on our block and in our backyard like she is Meriwether Lewis chronicling each species in the Northwest for President Jefferson. And I just watch. Was I like that before I was 2? I’d like to think I was. I know by 5, I was alone in the woods looking for dinosaur fossils and tadpoles. I only know this kid is going places. How soon does Berkeley start doling out scholarships?

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I stare like I’m a NASA scientist discovering a new life form on Europa. I stare at new expressions on her face while she finds new ways to put her building blocks together. I stare at her smile when she wakes up ready for a new day. “Hi!” she says. I stare at her while she helps her mama with a new painting. I stare at her in the rearview mirror as she sings a little song that I know I’ve never played before. And I still stare at her while she sleeps to make sure she’s still breathing.

I’ve said several times that I didn’t expect to be home this long and the return to work is on the horizon. But this period, the second year, the great leap forward into personhood, is so filled with daily miracles that I’m glad I am here for it. I’m trying to chronicle the fears and joys as best as I can while not taking my eyes off her. Now if I could get her to not throw her lunch on the floor.

There are two points to this blogpost. First is to chart Cozy’s (and my) evolution and the second is just to post a lot of cute pictures of the kid.

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Gender – Nature vs. Nurture 6: Fierce fashionista for a fiercer world

June 22, 2016

Having a terrible two year-old is now less than two months away. Cozy has gone from a baby blob to a Munchkin who is off to join the Lollipop Gang. We finally got her birth video this week and it seems like another lifetime ago that she came flying out of mom’s hoo-haw with a look on her face that said, “What the hell is this reality you’ve pulled me into?” Now it seems like this character we lovingly call Bug has always been here.

Part of the idea of this blog was to have a place to chart the evolution of my daughter in a patriarchal world that has a very clear place for “sugar and spice” girls. As someone who used to assign Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble, I know that gender is a performance that we learn to perform it differently at different times and in different places. If Cozy had been born in Chad, Africa or in Portland, Oregon in 1914, her idea of how girls act (act being the key word) would be very different. People can say, “girls are just different,” but they are different because they are taught to be different from day one. That’s the sociological party-line and I’m sticking to it.

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So, here we are at 22 months and this girl, with her working mom and stay-at-home dad, is still, to me, is without gender. But it’s funny how much of her behavior could be assigned gender. For example, she loves to play with blocks, scream, knock things down, build forts in her crib, and chase the cat. If she had a penis, we’d be told, “Well Cozy is just being a boy. Boys are different.” But she’s just being Cozy. She likes to shop but goes for gender-neutral belts and hats. She hasn’t learned that “her” clothes are in a different section of the store.

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Similarly, on occasion she gets into Mom’s make up and clothes and has a mean obsession with shoes that could be written as “feminine” if there weren’t endless stories of little boys who did the same thing. (I’m sure a toddler Bruno Magli was a shoe hound as well). Cozy is now starting to pick out outfits that tend toward the post-modern clash. The Minnie Mouse dress with the rubber Wellies are go-to daywear. Maybe that’s the influence of her old punk dad. But she’s not leaving her room unless she’s got her fake pearls on. That might be a bit of the Old South creeping in.

She has a baby doll that came from somewhere and she never bothers with it. Elmo, Baby Elmo, and Bunny are her constant companions. The damn baby can raise itself. She parades around the house with her blanket like Linus, looking for her red monster. “The Elmo!” she yells. Then we bounce the soccer ball and dance to Queen Latifah CDs.

So much of early gender socialization is just attribution to the popular gender norms of the time. “Oh, he’s acting like a boy! Good! Do more of that!” The converse is, “Oh, he’s acting like a girl. You better put the breaks on that shit!” Girls get a bit more freedom in the early days until they hit double digits and start to get slammed with the message that their primary objective is supposed to be attracting boys. Everybody sing, “Someday my Prince will come…” But it’s always struck me as funny that we give little girls baby dolls to start the mom training and we don’t think little boys might need one for some dad training. Cozy is more interested in art than babies. (But she will say “hi” to every baby she meets.)

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It’s not hard to raise a child as a child instead of as a “boy” or a “girl.” (Those quotation marks carry a lot of sociological weight.) But at some point the outside world will have a lot more sway than Mom and Dad. She might start wondering where that baby doll is hiding.

GENDER – Nature vs. Nurture 5: Elmo is queer

GENDER – Nature vs. Nurture 4: She’s gotta be free

GENDER – Nature vs. Nurture 3: How babies queer gender

GENDER – Nature vs. Nurture 2: Ain’t I a black girl?

GENDER – Nature vs. Nurture: Round 1

The Feminine Mystique: Stay-at-Home Dad Edition

April 14, 2016

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When Norton Books published Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique in 1963 it opened the door for the great “second wave” of feminism. Friedan, who had been a labor reporter, had a revelation after a college reunion with her classmates at Smith College in 1957. After surveying the women about their lives in 1950s domestic tranquility she found that they were far from happy. A life of staying home and taking care of your husband and children as “Mrs. Joe Blow” was not exactly satisfying to a human being who was taught to follow her own path in life. Friedan labeled this the “problem with no name” as women suffered at the hands of what was supposed to make them blissfully happy, a prison with a picket fence.

She named the problem and it was sexism. These (mostly middle-class and white) women were taught to find happiness in cleaning products, perfect dinners and occasionally entertaining the husband’s boss. Their own dreams would be packed away in a hope chest. My mother, who was married in 1962, once told me, “I should have finished college and maybe become a lawyer.” But women went to college to find husbands and a chance to move out of their parents home. They traded their father’s name for their husband’s name and kept the “father knows best” machine moving forward at the cost of their own personhood.

The book created a revolution on a macro level, waking up a generation of women to the lie of domestic bliss. Some recently awakened feminists worked with their husbands to create partnerships and trade “Mrs.” for “Ms.” Others just walked out the door to find their freedom. But, at its core The Feminine Mystique is a micro-level psychological evaluation of the soul crushing way patriarchy takes a female’s humanity away and replaces it with a myth, propped up by bottles of “mother’s little helper.”

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Fifty-three years later women now make up 47% of the total U.S. work force and while they still have to work over three extra months to earn the same income as men, there is an unspoken norm that women can find their path outside the home. The converse is that men can stay home and take care of the domestic front. (According to the latest data, 16% of stay-at-home parents are men.) So it shouldn’t be surprising that we men are experiencing some of the things Friedan wrote about in 1963.

When is my time?

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I used to love showing my students clips of episodes of Leave It To Beaver from the late 1950s and early 1960s and leading discussions about how far we’ve come in such a short time. What do we know about Mrs. Cleaver after six years of the show? Hardly anything! Besides cooking and cleaning and taking care of The Beaver, the rest is a mystery. It should be made clear for those who don’t know, The Beaver was her young son, Theodore. Beyond that, one can only guess.

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I’m the 2016 June Cleaver. I have a Cozy instead of a Beaver and my day is pretty full with her. I thought I’d have all this time to myself but a toddler just vacuums it right up. We drive Andrea to work at the law firm by 8 am and then we’re off. I have to get her dressed for the day and fed a healthy breakfast, half of which will end up on the floor. Maybe when Sesame Street comes on at 9 am I can jump in the shower and check my email. I try to clean while she plays but I’m often just cleaning up after her playing, trying to keep my cool as she’s spreading Andrea’s coloring pencils all over the floor or trying to pull a Basquiat on the living room wall. After lunch, she takes her much needed nap. I would like to nap as well, but her nap is much needed because I’ve got some laundry to do and, if at all possible, a bit of writing.

Afternoons we run errands and try to make plans for dinner. The good thing is the folks at the grocery store love Cozy (we are there enough). The bad thing is that doesn’t get us any free pie. If it’s sunny we might go to the park or blow bubbles on the porch, but whatever it is, it’s for the house or the kid, and not for me. Then there are ants in the kitchen, a missing sippy-cup half-full of milk and a horrible stench coming from the diaper bucket. By the time we pick up Andrea downtown at 5, I’m wondering where the day went. “How was your day?” she’ll ask. “Good. Cozy didn’t eat any crayons,” I’ll say. And through this there are an infinite number diaper changes (nothing in a diaper can shock me now) and plenty of carrying the baby around trying to turn her grumpy mood around. It’s wonderful and yet it feels like it is erasing me.

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When Andrea gets home, I like to imagine it’s going to be a shift change and I’ll just crack open a beer. But she’s just put in a full day of work at a very busy firm. She needs to just unwind and veg out of a while. Doing the dishes or making dinner seems extra difficult when you’ve been just been slaving 8 to 5. “How about take-out tonight?” There’s some time to play with baby and wife, but I prefer just playing with the wife by that point. Then maybe a TV show and story time and hope we’ve got a little body memory left once the kid hits the sack.

But I’m lucky. My wife knows how this transition has been like for me. I went from a fulfilling career that impacted many lives to spending my days trying to figure out what’s in the kid’s mouth. I went from long discussions on the complexities of Queer Theory to babbling about  poop. “Baby make a caca?” So she’s given me a free pass to the bar or the coffee shop whenever I need it. Of course, I want to go to those places with her. Bars really need daycare areas. But I do get a night out for a show each month. Last week I saw Ages and Ages at the Doug Fir and slammed whiskeys on ice to make up for lost time. It’s a brief window into the person I was.

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There should be enough time in the day to get everything done in the house but there never is. Cozy is a tasmanian devil and if there’s anything left from the tax return, I’m buying an apron that says, “I hate housework.” I feel guilty asking Andrea to help but she does anyway. Unlike the working husband who has no clue what is stay-at-home wife’s life is like, she has a pretty good idea of the daily strain of being Mr. Mom.

Walk a mile in my slippers

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I first read The Feminine Mystique in grad school as a “feminist scholar.” Now I feel like I’m living it. The great irony is that millions of men are living it and probably bitching and moaning and wondering when they can have three hours just to sit and watch a baseball game. Alone. Hopefully they’ll see that this experience has been the norm for so many women for so long. It explains why a generation of moms got lost in handfuls of Valium and stacks of romance novels. More than once I’ve eyed the booze and muttered, “Calgon, take me away!

But it might be slightly different for men for two reasons. The first is that I had my time in the self-actualizing world of work. I made something amazing and then left it behind for childcare. Friedan’s women mostly went from school to marriage. In a sense, they didn’t know what they were missing, they just knew they were missing something. Those women are now finding out. But men who leave the work world leave a world that defined their core identity. Then: “What do you do?” “I’m a sociology professor.” Now: “What do you do?” “I think about what I did.”

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The second reason is the American definition of masculinity has laid heavily on the idea of being the breadwinner of the family. That iconic image of the working man is still a giant pillar of popular culture. To not occupy what feminist theorist Dorothy Smith called the “public sphere” is hard enough, but to not be the primary income generator is counter to all the gender socialization men have had for generations. In Trump America, to be not be financially strong is to be a “loser.”

One of the purposes of this blog is to mark all the times that I get it. Those little micro-moments that women have experienced a billion times that are blocked out by my lens of male privilege. And I’ve had many. But as the balance bounces a bit, it may be time to write a new version of The Feminine Mystique for men who are at home with the kids and wondering if there is more to life than uploading e-coupons and catching the first half of Ellen.

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I truly love this time at home with Cozy. And there’s an extra thrill when Andrea is a excited when I’ve come up with a new spin on macaroni and cheese (mushrooms and avocado!). But I am anxious to get back to work and reconnect with my outside-world self. The other option is that I’ll be writing articles for Cosmopolitan about how to turn your woman on with the right macaroni and cheese recipe. (Mushrooms and avocado!) But to my mother, yes, you should have gone to law school, but thank you for all that mac and cheese.

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