Making space for women: The Feminist Dad manifesto

Contrary to what Beyonce tries to tell you, men run the world. Look at the Run the World music video as an example. “Queen B” uses provocative dance and revealing clothes to bring her message of female domination across. If, as she so boldly claims, women did control the world then surely there could’ve been a more sophisticated way to deliver the message. Something more elegant that emphasises the more feminine side of dominance. You know, like a hand rocking a cradle, or arms embracing a child, or even Hellen of Troy launching a thousand ships. Instead she takes the path of least resistance and panders to the most influetial members of society by putting her wares on show.

Why does the current poster girl for female domination choose this route whenever she preaches to her choir? Because the marketing men tell her to. Beyonce is in the unfortunate position of being moderately talented and pretty. Unfortunate because it makes her a marketable commodity who is open to being used as a pawn.

Wipe the coffee off your screen and let me explain. See, my wife is a strong woman; physically and philosophically. She can chop wood and has lasteda decade of my constant attacks on her faith without flinching. She breastfed for three months and then continued to do the middle of the night wake ups when spawn gets restless, she makes decisions and is my pillar of support through everything. I don’t dictate to her and make a conscious effort to allow her to live an independent life. I say a conscious effort, but it’s only conscious because she comes from a family of many women who play traditional female roles and aren’t really equal to their husbands.

I say the above with all respect, but if the husband is considered the head of the household and makes the bulk of family decisions, that automatically demotes the interests of the wife to a lower priority.

My wife still says she sees me as the head of the household and weights my opinions and decisions as higher than her own, but that’s an unfortunate hangover of her otherwise spectacular upbringning.

My slightly counter-intuitive point is then this: as the traditionally more dominant sex, the onus is on men to shape the role of future women by making space for them to be in leadership roles. It needs to be a clear idea in the mind of all women that they are equal in all spheres of life and even superior in others. Men need to indicate that women can be more than physically attractive to be recognised by renouncing them in the instances where they use traditional ways of appealing to men to get a point across.

It’s a powerful thought to have the assumed ability to empower someone, but unlike the way in which South Africa was liberated, men must clear the room when women are willing and able to use the freedoms granted to them.

I’ve spoken before about my attempts to raise my daughter in a world where women occupy all the influential roles in her life, but I’ve realised that my feminist ambitions started long before I became a dad. I love my wife because she challenges me and although some men might see her as being disrespectful, or me as being too timid, I know it’s for the greater good.

To conclude about the Beyonce thing, it’s true that she should be admired for making good use of all the freedoms granted to her by the men who run her world, but in the same breathe her interpretation of the power she gains from that freedom. Why serve up the same product that they would’ve made you make?

Actions change perceptions and I vow to open more doors for women and step aside as they rule the room.

The Eulogy of Lorraine Schutters

Lorraine Annetta Schutters was born to Susanna and Joseph Simrie on the third of March 1950. She was the third of six children, and is survived by her eldest sister Freda. The daughter of a bricklayer and a housewife.

She grew up in a modest home in Elsies River and attended the local primary and high schools where she fostered long lasting friendships with three special women (Charlotte, Elsa and Veronica) who my sisters and I regard as family.

Mom showed a flair for the academic winning numerous book scholarships which lightened the load her ambitions placed on her parents.

Leadership qualities manifested in her taking up the role of head girl at Elsies River High School, a role which she fulfilled with the grace and dignity that earned her many admirers among her peers. The love that has flowed out of those people whose lives she touched so many years ago is a testament to the person she was and we as a family are thankful for your kindness and support.

It was through friendship circles that she would come to meet the man who would later become her husband, Melvin.

I would like to believe that, despite what has happened since, the romance that blossomed between my mother and and father is evident in the way they raised my sisters and I.

That romance took her north to Pretoria, where she continued to spread her vibrant energy and form deep friendships with many people who have sent heartfelt condolences. Many couldn’t make it, but have made their deep sorrow known, this is too greatly appreciated.

My mother’s outspoken nature won her many friends, but there were also many critics among her relatives and in-laws. But your presence here today is an indication of the poise mom carried herself with.

Three children and a separation later and she was back home, in Cape Town, ready to start rebuilding a life from scratch.

The task she put ahead of all else was to raise her brood to be independent, free thinking people and walk with them in the path of the lord.

I remember most the walking. The three and a bit kilometers from Highbury to this church was our weekly pilgrimage. I didn’t understand then, and rebelled against it, but seeing how this community has rallied around my family during our time of need gives me a small idea of why.

Church was more than just a Sunday service. And while she didn’t believe in joining committees or fellowships, she was very interested in making friends and forging relationships. St George’s became a big part of her network of extended family.

Her children were confirmed here, I was married here and her granddaughter was baptised here. This church is as much a part of her she is of it, and my family understands the depth of the grief.

When I think of my mother’s qualities, her strength, resilience and tenacity come to mind.

She was the corner stone of my family. Our rock and our stone wall.

My mother weathered many storms, shielding us from the full force of life’s unpleasantness. She forever put herself second to the needs of her children, and it’s a shame that she was called to rest when she could finally see to herself.

My mother was a charitable woman who was selfless in her giving. I remember many times when I was forced to run after beggars who I’d just turned away because she made sandwiches.

But above all, mummy was tenacious. She’d never leave an argument, or let a lesson go unlearnt. 
It took an equal amount of tenacity and resilience to love her.

The hardest lesson my mother taught was to take responsibility. If it’s your burden to bare, you carry it to the best of your ability. You taught by example mom, and I understand it now.

She lived with grace, humility and with unshakable resolve. I’ll miss crossing swords with her sharp mind and razor tongue. I’ll miss laying my head on her hip in the afternoon after a heavy night before. I’ll miss her smile and infectious laugh. And I’ll miss the love she had for everyone that entered her life. She cared deeply, lived fully and spoke loudly.

Yes, we lost a great mother, sister, friend and woman, but she was never ours to have. She was always on loan from a higher power. 

To sum up my mother I’d like to paraphrase a Billy Joel classic: 
She can kill with a smile and wound with her eyes/She ruined my faith with her casual lies/She only revealed what she wanted us to see/She asked for the truth, but she’d never believe/But she’s always a woman to me.
She was frequently kind, and suddenly cruel/She did as she pleased, she was nobody’s fool/She can’t be convicted, she earned her degree/She brought out the best and the worst I could be/But I blame it all on myself ‘cause she’s always a woman to me.

I will love you and miss you for all of my days. Goodbye mom. 

       

Every man should…

When I eventually fell in love with my daughter it was about two days after she was born. I waited for the feeling in the delivery room, but it never came. There were no tears, or even a hint of a swelling of pride. Even a ripple of smugness would’ve been better than just standing there, feeling like a freak.

Even when my dad arrived, with that unmistakable grandfather glow, there was nothing. Just a sense of responsibility for this new life that was plucked from my wife’s innards. Mind you, I was more amazed to see bits of my wife that she never knew existed.

Maybe that was the connection between Spawn and me, that we’ve both been and seen inside her like she never has and will never be able to.

But it was in a moment of quiet, at home. I think the wife was in the shower, or something. I was sitting in that lovely standard issue leather hospital chair, left to my own devices with the most fragile thing I’d ever seen. Her swollen sleeping face let out a smile that I would later come to know as the burp face.

The flood of emotion was immense. It’s as if my heart opened up to accommodate the new volume of love that was suddenly rushing in. I never knew a love like that existed and I think it even made me love my wife more, a sentiment that complimented the new respect I had for mothers after witnessing the trauma of childbirth.

Grief, however, comes a lot quicker.

Granted, I only had the best part of an hour between seeing my mother in the hospital bed, in a dramatically worse condition than when i said my goodbyes about 12 hours before, to seeing her take her last breath. But I did process the thought in that time none the less.

I thought I’d be better equipped for it. I thought I’d cried all my funeral tears at the grave of my friend Mark. I thought my stoic philosophy would’ve covered me for this.

I was wrong.

It’s not that I cried when I saw it happen. That I was prepared for and the fact that my sisters and I were all there gave a macabre closure to it all. There was no room for shock. There was no time for disbelief. There was only death and the stone corpse of a mother who had sacrificed so much of her life to see us live ours.

My daughter was in amongst the malaise. In a way I feel guilty for exposing her to the rawness of death, but she’s tough and adaptable. It was better that she learn it now and know that granny won’t be getting up from her sleep.

Crying came when I was tasked to break the news to my mother’s dearest friend. I didn’t cry because I had just lost a parent, but rather for my aunt who had known my mother for 50 years. I cried because I had never heard such a heart-wrenching sound like the one she let out when my straight delivery struck home. It was around ten minutes past death, and I felt grief.

In church the next morning I sat in the front pew like I did every Sunday and balled when the opening tune of ‘Be Now My Vision’ vibrated out of the organ. I sang that song at my wedding, after the knot was tied. It played at the Easter service when my daughter was baptised. And now it will haunt me to the day I die. I don’t know why, but I fought for it to be included in among the funeral hymns. I cursed myself when it played.

Before the cursing though, there were words.

When we met with the priest, he asked me if I was okay to take on the eulogy responsibility. What he didn’t know is that I’d preached from the altar before at a Youth Day service that was packed to the rafters. My mother was flushed with pride. Speaking in front of a full church was the least of my worries.

What I didn’t account for was that it was the last opportunity I’d have to say goodbye to my mother, and it would be in front of hundreds of people.

There came a supreme sense of calm as I went through the opening lines of my heartfelt tribute to the greatest woman I had ever known. I glowed in my perfectly fitting suit jacket. I spoke with clarity, authority, charm and wit that would’ve made my mother smile. And then came the last line.

Even when writing the eulogy, I didn’t count on ending it. After all my thoughts were down I edited out the repetitions and redundancies. Crossed Is and dotted Ts. Was careful not to split infinitives or dangle participles. Hell, I even quoted a few lines from Billy Joel.

But nothing prepared me for the inevitable goodbye. “I will love you and miss you for all of my days. Goodbyemom.”

Grief moves more swiftly than love.

A case for exposing your child to rap music

My daughter makes up her own songs. While this isn’t peculiar for a 2-year-old, it’s the uncanny rhyme schemes and subject matter that I find strange. She narrates her life experiences (morning routines make a regular appearance) and arranges it along new rhythm patterns. Yes, all parents think their offspring as special, but hear me out.

I got to her early with in utero listening sessions of RHCP and the Smashing Pumpkins to get a solid grounding in funk, melody and songwriting.

After birth came lessons in flow from Notorious B.I.G., Eminem and a conscious decision to push more female rappers. Iggy Azaelia and K. Flay were the most obvious for the whole strong female character vibe I try to brainwash spawn with.

I’ve found that no other genre strikes the same balance between great technique and flexible rules. Despite what the grammar nazis say, English is constantly evolving and bends with the populace. As long as people are being understood, the language is doing its job.

Rap music then allows the child to hear the magic of word play and break free from the strict version that gets taught in books. It also adds context with rhythm techniques and conceptual thinking. Spawn, for instance now knows that she can manipulate a rhyme by emphasising syllables – which is a big deal for a 2-year-old, whatever class you come from.

The downside though is that she swears like a sailor, actively practicing her pronunciation of the word “fuck” to maximise impact. And while I’m okay with naughty words not being taboo in my house, and she’s been wise enough to only use fuck in private with me and the wife, the wife is not happy at all. To be fair there was a church incident that could’ve been quite embarrassing for other parents.

While I’m certain that exposing spawn to rap music from a young age will serve her well in the language classroom, I’m also have a well prepared argument for when I inevitably get called in by her teachers to address her cursing. But that’s a story for another day

My Daughter Does Burpees

http://instagram.com/p/nh31oIht92/#

I don’t force her to and didn’t teach it to her as a party trick, but my soon-to-be 3-year-old does burpees for fun.

It started after I joined CrossFit for a work thing at the old gig. Now the thing about CrossFit is that it’s a moerse effective strength and conditioning programme, but will point out your weaknesses like pedophiles at a playground. One of my weaknesses was a painfully slow burpee, so I practiced at home.

I make a point of doing my fitness things away from my wife’s gaze because I’m a little self-conscious. I also try and keep it from our spawn because she automatically thinks it’s a game and then there goes my PB.

And one day spawn caught a glance of her dad being ridiculous and decided to join in.

Burpees became squats, and then escalated to mother and me carting our little princess to CrossFit on a Saturday morning.

I know what you’re thinking: “You overbearing idiot, let the kid be a kid. A CrossFit box is no place for preschoolers.”

You’re right to a point, but her tender years only puts her at a disadvantage when she’s asked to do things that require advanced coordination, all her attention, or pure height. In every other activity spawn has been outstanding.

She has the best squat in the class and even corrects her form if the coach led her astray, she has astounding stamina — something she proved in the first class when the “ladies first” rule meant that she was doing three times as much work as the rest of the class.

That said, I’m just happy that she enjoys being active as much as I do and was super emotional after seeing her do well at and genuinely have an appetite for CrossFit.

If you’re a CrossFit member, or are looking for an alternative to the traditional more chaotic kiddies fitness programmes you should definitely give CrossFit Kids a try. It’s fun, they’ll meet new friends, you’ll have something to share and they’ll be learning to more accurately move and control their bodies. Also, you’ll be able to shame your globogym-frequenting friends by telling them that your kid can make it through their toughest workouts.

 

 

Learning

An important part of fatherhood is teaching — transferring skills and knowledge to your spawn. It takes a village to equip your offspring with the required social and emotional intelligence to navigate the world, but only you and your partner are responsible for fostering the child’s curiosity.

The first lesson I learnt was when I reflected on the human condition (something that can only be pondered when under the influence of extreme narcotics or boredom). Robert Ardrey’s words feed the arrogance of man: “We are born of risen apes, not fallen angels.”

What this means to me is that like apes, we learn by mimicry. We copy good ideas and try and perfect it to make our lives more efficient, so we have more time for pleasure. Crawling around isn’t efficient, so children watch adults and copy their movements.

And when you master the thing that you copied, you begin to play around with it and find ways to express yourself in it. Messi and Ronaldo both learned the same basic movements that any able-bodied human has access to, but once mastering the basics they take it to another level with sheer imagination.

Imagination is driven by curiosity. “What if?” is the starting point of all innovation, but the ability to question is determined by exposure.

Exposure to other ideas and practices broadens your reference and allows you to be more creative in your what ifs. If you’ve been exposed to the many ways the question has been asked and answered, you can then pick your favourites and expand on them.

You’re the only person who is responsible for your child’s exposure to the world. Use this power wisely.

Behind the lens

The first time I felt like I needed a father figure was when I found out my wife was pregnant. Nobody prepares you for that shit.

To be honest, the first thought I had was “Get rid of it.” I’m not ashamed of that thought though, our current situation wasn’t primed for parenthood and I’ve always had reservations about unplanned family expansion.

Our turning point was the upfront cost of a fancy abortion (think incoming and outgoing counseling, not a wire coat hanger and a shot of whisky), we didn’t have the cash.

Telling our parents was the easy part, they were all ecstatic and supportive. But not once throughout the pregnancy did my dad ever pull me aside for a chat about the pitfalls of impending fatherhood. Granted, he and my mom were separated/divorced since I was 4, but he was then already a three infant veteran (not counting extra-marital siring).

I pressed him for details about my own rearing and was answered with anecdotes about my mother’s antics on the numerous trips between Pretoria and Cape Town. Conversations with my father-in-law uncovered similar tales of absent fathers, or rather, fathers who took their place behind the lens.

As wonderful as it is watching my daughter becoming the amazing person she is, I don’t want to be a behind-the-lens dad. I want to be active and involved, sharing the load with my wife and giving her a chance to be selfish. And I know I’m not alone.
Nobody prepares dads for fatherhood, but we can help each other be a perfect dad.

New dad primer

So the pregnancy test is positive, now what?

Don’t be an asshole and steal your wife’s shine. You had life-changing sex, but she has to deal with the consequences. Everything you say from here on out should be to glorify her.

The girl you married is gone forever, accept this now. Your wife is going to change in ways you never thought possible. She’ll grow more beautiful and irritate the life out of you in equal measure.

Read all of the books, but remember that each child is different – the trick is to find out about every possible different type of child. Preparation is everything.

Plan that expensive trip, it’s going to be years before you can enjoy an intimate vacation, do it now. Also cram in all the romance you can into the next nine months, and double your efforts in the last trimester.

Fuck like rabbits, pregnant women are horny all the time and the sex helps her body prep for childbirth. You won’t hurt the baby unless you’re using your wife’s belly as a trampoline – you’re not that gifted. Also, the joys of consequence free unprotected sex (with your wife) are endless!

Don’t sweat it working out a budget is the most difficult thing about early parenthood. As long as you have money to cover everything, you’re fine.

Book the antenatal classes because no man wants to be that guy who rushes his wife and kid to the emergency room for a false alarm. Also you get to meet other men in the exact same situation as you, and the snacks a generally good.

Lift more, 3kg will become 15kg in less than two years. And there will come a day when it’s you and a cranky toddler at a shopping mall on Christmas Eve – the stroller is not an option.

Don’t skip the cardio. Toddlers are balls of energy and love nothing more than running around. Don’t ever be the guy who would rather have a drink than indulge his kid with some healthy playtime.

Prepare to lose friends. Just like when you got married and started finding more in common with your similarly attached friends, fatherhood is the same.

Get ready for the ride of a lifetime. You can’t even comprehend the gravity of the love you’ll feel for your child and admiration you’ll have for your wife in the first few months. It’s a kak jol by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s fulfilling.

Have fun. Be yourself. It’s your kid and no-one can tell you how to raise it. Show them who you are and love them in your way.