putting engaged fatherhood on the books

This morning I took The Button to our local public library‘s weekly preschool storytime, to which we hadn’t been in a long time because of her nap schedule. As part of One Book, One Bakersfield, One Kern‘s citywide reading of The Other Wes Moore, today’s storytime was pegged to a parenting workshop about “creating family storytimes powerful enough to help raise responsible and compassionate children.” The librarian said that today’s books would be about moms and dads and all the things they do for their children (I’m paraphrasing from memory here).

The first book was about all the great things moms do for their kids, literally—each page was another thing moms do, though at the moment I can only remember the page about baking cookies, LOL. Okay, I thought, then the next book must be about dads, right? And it was—except it was about a dad who was so grumpy that he turned into a grizzly bear after he went back to bed while his wife and all but one of his kids left the house. The rest of the book was the one kid doing stuff for his dad-who’s-now-a-bear, like brushing his teeth, and discovering that it was fun to have a bear for a dad. At the end, the dad did what he did best (or some language like that) and gave the son a—you got it—bear hug. Then he turned back into a human being in time for the mom to return and complain about the pig sty they’d turned the house into, upon which he and the son started turning into pigs while they began to clean up.

Um. What?

Yeah. Exactly. I know the librarian and decided to give her the benefit of the doubt and see how the rest of the books balanced this out. The next book was Mama, Do You Love Me?, which could have easily been balanced out by something like Guess How Much I Love You for representation’s sake (except the dad’s a rabbit instead of, you know, a person), but wasn’t. That was followed by a book that featured a mom/dad pair dealing equally with a baby who thought all animals say “moo.” And that was followed by a book about the love shared between a mommy and her child. At that point, the running tally was three books about a mother’s love, one book with both parents that wasn’t really about them anyway, and one book about a grumpy dad who starts the day off by going back to sleep, turns into a bear, needs his son to do everything for him, leaves the house a mess, and only knows how to hug.

And then the librarian said that storytime proper was over and the kids would go color while a guest did the storytelling-is-important workshop.

Again: what? Okay, to be completely fair, she said she’d read one more book while the kids colored, and it was basically the dad counterpart to the mom-child-love book read earlier, but really, who was gonna listen while they did arts and crafts? And the predominantly mom grown-up crowd wouldn’t get to hear that one, anyway.

Maybe my irritation could be construed as overblown or oversensitive—after all, the selections were chosen with the best of intentions, and nothing bad was meant by the dad book chosen or the imbalance with the mom representations in quality or quantity, and it’s only books, after all, right? Yada, yada, yada.

Yeah. Sorry. As a writer, teacher, and parent, let me say this: Representations count. Representations matter.

Which is why I’m glad to see independent creators like Asian American parent/artist/writer Janine Macbeth addressing this issue with her Kickstarter project Oh Oh, Baby Boy! The Makings of Engaged Fatherhood. I’m even happier to note that the project, which closes this Sunday, has already met its goal and thus will be funded, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need and deserve more support in the eleventh hour—Macbeth’s even pushing for a stretch goal that will allow for an increased press run. It’s a beautiful picture book for the whole family, featuring people of color, tracing how the way we raise our sons can help create new generations of involved, engaged fathers and, as she calls them, uplifted families.

We need all the diverse representations we can get, for ourselves and for our children, so please support this project. (And others too, like Rad Dad: Dispatches from the Frontiers of Fatherhood, to which I’m a contributor and for which I’ll be at readings in Bakersfield, at Russo’s Books, on Thursday Nov. 10 at 6:30, and in Los Angeles, at Skylight Books, on Friday Nov. 13 at 5:00.)

And check out Chris Fan’s great post on Hyphen Magazine’s blog about this issue too!

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About Jason Sperber

Jason Sperber is a stay-at-home-dad of 2 daughters and a writer in Bakersfield, California. He blogs (very infrequently) at daddy in a strange land and co-founded Rice Daddies, the group blog by Asian American dads, and is the resident hapa Trekkie at The Nerds Of Color. Follow him on Twitter at @dad_strangeland.
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