Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Reader's Reply

I decided to respond to your comments on "Under Every Freshly Turned Stone" in a new post which is separate from my own review of the article in question. For the sake of clarity I'll reply to each commenter in the order their comments were received. The writer's name links back to the comment in question.

The Mama ~ No need to worry about propriety for my sake. I'll be interested in rereading the article to look for degrading comments about women. Truth be told I only managed to read a couple sentences before making the post looking for others' feelings on it.

Sandy ~ The state registries do seem like a power grab more than anything. I didn't know such a thing existed. Thankfully I was also unaware of how difficult it can be to get a birthfather's name on a birth certificate! It may be because Athena's labor took place at a midwife birthing center instead of a hospital or because I was with her for every appointment with the social worker and signed the same reams of paper work that she did. My name went on the cert right next to hers without a problem. The notion of state registries failing as a result of trans-state adoptions is a very troubling one, nearly as troubling as their existence and their legal ramifications in the first place.

Artemis ~ Thanks for taking the time to comment. In this context "no response" is still a very useful response.

LeMira ~ I second your "first," if that makes any sense. I look forward to rereading the article now more than ever (as much as one can look forward to a nauseating experience) just because of the phrase "macho losers." Reading into what you've written I'd guess that this woman is still rooted in concrete operations (the inability to engage in abstract thought which is necessary to approach compassion from a "what's it like in their shoes" perspective [this isn't intended to be an insult nor insinuate she's dumb. Carl Jung estimated between 70% and 80% of the human population would never reach abstract cognitive operations]. Without abstraction we cannot separate reality from our own direct perception, hence her apparent inability to empathize with first-mothers/fathers). I'd also be a bit surprised (ah assumptions. . . here we go!) if there weren't an element of paternal estrangement and possibly racism involved in her hermeneutic (world-view).

Lia ~ Wow. I definitely didn't get to that part of the article. Wailing children, domestic violence, sleeping around, and total incapacity to express love? This sounds like a real piece of work. I'm sorry for sending you to such a dismissive trollop. But thanks for taking the time to respond anyway.

The reason I asked for input from everyone was to get an idea of where other readers are. It is easy to feel like I'm constantly ripping open my nerve endings and getting hyper sensitized to perceived sexism and pro - life/choice bias in adoption. Thanks again to everyone who responded and to everyone who didn't, that's okay. No worries.

While I have your attention, go here, here, and here. Be the supportive, wonderful people I know you to be. Read with open minds for these ladies have wonderful and very different perspectives. Leave comments of appreciation. They deserve more than they get. They deserve more than we can give.

Be gentle out there everyone. It can be a tough world out there. No need to make it any harder.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Under Every Freshly Turned Stone

I came across this today. I haven't been able to read all the way through the article yet. My mind is still too foggy to write a proper response. Last night's insomnia is doing me no favors. However, I just had an interesting idea. Consider this a call to reader participation! First there are a few caveats (I know, I'm dreadfully predictable in that regard. Please bear with me)

Whether you've been reading for a while or just stopping by I'd like to hear from you. I value everyone's opinion. That includes those that disagree with my own. Please take a few minutes and participate. Anonymous commenting is available. Similarly, if you want to write something but don't want it made public, simply mark it "PRIVATE" and I'll respect your wishes.

Here's the idea. Follow the link and read the article. Then come back here and post your response in the comments section of this post. The idea here is that you get to have a fresh eye at the read without my input predisposing you to experience it one way or another. Next week I'll post my take on the article and respond to everyone who posted public comments.

I'm actually quite excited about this idea so please participate if you can. Lurkers, first timers, and everyone in between are invited.

The Sonless Father

***Please forgive any grammatical or spelling errors. This is an insomnia inspired post and has not been proof-read. Editing and re-posting may occur by Wednesday***

Recently Athena and I visited Ms Scarlet, Prof Plum, and Festus along with Athena's immediate family. Festus wasn't too sure about that many tall people staring at him but he eventually warmed to the idea. That was almost entirely due to Ms Scarlet and Athena's dad playing with and generally distracting him. All in all it was a pretty good visit. There will be more written to recount the events of that later. I bring it up now because it was shortly after that visit that I began thinking about the terminology I use to describe my relationship with Festus.

If you've read many of the other posts on this blog you've no doubt seen me refer to him as my son. I've also referred to myself on numerous occasions as his birth/first-father. What I am wondering is how accurate these terms are. In the abstract sense what do these terms mean? Am I his father? Is he my son?

In a very real and observable way the answer is no. I am not his father. Festus doesn't live with me. I am not responsible for his rearing. He won't grow up calling me "dad" and I'll never be the person he reluctantly turns to in adolescence when things feel out of control. When establishing his individuality it won't be me he's differentiating from. That also means it's me he didn't identify with. These are facts I'm coming to terms with, sacrifices I've made. It may seem strange for this to come up given my primary reasons for choosing to place him with an adoptive family. To reiterate: since childhood I've known I did not want to parent. That knowledge, unfortunately, doesn't mean these sacrifices are without pain. Quite the opposite. They hurt a good deal. While these specific thoughts may not hurt me as much as a person who fully desired to raise his/her child I believe these circumstances do compound my sense of guilt.

Feeling guilty and selfish is something every first-parent experiences.

I've been staring at that sentence for several minutes. Attempting to continue, I've tried out a dozen different follow statements to continue the paragraph. Each time I re-read that sentence a part of me becomes paralyzed. If I open this up I don't get to close it again. I may not get to sleep tonight if I'm honest about this sense of guilt and shame. The truth is that's the deadliest part of the adoption experience for me. It's not the sacrifice, the uncertainty, nor even socially endorsed ostracism. Shame. Despite my best efforts there are still parts of me that wish I could take back the last two years. The strange thing is the degree of compartmentalization. I feel no shame or guilt at all when I see my son. I wouldn't change anything in those moments. All the shame I experience is internalized. I'm ashamed for. . . what? I don't know why. Do I wish I had made different choices? No. Do I wish I had handled Athena's pregnancy differently? Only in rare instances and those usually related to doing dishes or feeling overwhelmed. So why this sense of shame? Because secretly I feel I was intensely selfish in my decision.

I feel selfish because I didn't sacrifice myself and my life for my son. I feel shame because I believe I was selfish. My guilt is compounded because of the circumstances that lead me to place my son for adoption. I didn't do it because I could not raise him. I did it because I would not raise him. That statement is my mental flog. It is rare that it does so but when the self-flagellation takes hold it is more than cantankerous. It is sinister and ruthless. There is nothing anyone can say to me that is more dehumanizing, cruel, or torturous than what I tell myself already. This is one arena in which I feel comfortable saying I speak not only for myself but for most, if not all, first-parents.

All this because I am not a father.

But what of my son? Is he, in fact, my son at all? If I am not his father how can he be? Here is where things get strange and language shows how utterly incapable it is of accurately representing reality. Festus is my son. Just as I am not his father he is my son. It is observable, objective, and real. His hair is starting to curl like mine. There are similarities in facial structure and the build of his body. For eight months (remember, we didn't find out Athena was pregnant the moment Festus was conceived) Athena and I cared for him the best we could. I must say the best we could was damn impressive. I'm very proud of how we responded to his presence. We completely rearranged our lives to aid every aspect of Festus' development. I cannot think of a single aspect of our daily lives that did not directly revolve around care for him. At the end of those eight months I was weary beyond my bones. I hadn't anything left to give. I was completely tapped out. I gave Festus all the help I could muster and I am dedicated to continue doing so until my death.

I am not his father but he is still my son. Prof Plum is his real father. Ms Scarlet is his real mother. He is my son. He is Athena's son.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

On not being a Bastard

At this time I feel it's worth reminding all readers that this blog is coming from the context and experience of a birth-father. As a result the focus is on arenas in which men are the silent minority. I know women have a hard time seeking gender equality. It's not a fair world. Men have a lot of advantages, especially so in the professional world. Just as a woman has the right, indeed the obligation, the speak up when discriminated against so, too, do I.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Adoption - The Un-Manliest Enterprise, Part 1

I'm going to be looking at some themes in perceived gender roles, rights of passage, and socially endorsed expression of gender roles in this post. As a result there's going to be a lot of discussion about what "society expects" and some fairly global language about pressures on men , boys, and how they should behave to affirm those identities. I won't waste everyone's time with caveats every time I say something definitive. Consider this the catch-all: every man experiences social pressures differently. This is my experience and understanding. It has been garnered not only by direct experience but also through intensive study of anthropology and meandering study of gender issues in the U.S.A. and abroad.

I've heard since early childhood that if every man could just get in touch with his feminine side all conflict would end, world peace would be declared, famine would end, total racial equality would occur overnight, border disputes would end, global warming would be reversed, and there would never be another natural disaster as long as humanity survived, which would be forever. Naturally. Okay, I made up the one about natural disasters.

Sounds pretty good. So how do we get in touch with our feminine side and get the ball rolling here? Watch Sex and the City, use hand lotion, shave obsessively, consider allowing your significant other (who is a woman, naturally) to put nail polish on you for fun, cry when you see kittens, openly love everyone by giving them lots of hugs and listening intently to everything they say, and start asking people if those pants make your butt look big. Admittedly I made up this entire paragraph. However it isn't very far from the ideas typically expressed about how a man can successfully touch femininity. The general approach seems to be something like this:

Man - Masculinity = Man + Femininity

How wonderfully convenient that it should be so simple. Unfortunately that isn't actually the case. Femininity is its own entity. I believe it is much more than the lack of masculinity. If the equation above were true that insinuates the default position for humans is feminine. Therefore masculinity only shows up what it crushes femininity to take control. Right from the premise we see this is a set up for a fight. If that's our basic understanding of gender there cannot be a constructive dialogue because oppressor and victim roles are already firmly established. More so the oppressor can do nothing corrective to the power structure short of disappearing entirely! Even more dangerous is accepts femininity as being inherently fragile. As a result the only strong sense of femininity is one that is masculinity-proof. This is a very destructive view. It also happens to be the view of many "feminists"* I've encountered.

*quotes used because I believe these women are co-opting a term to lend credence to their views

We also encounter troubling messages on the other side. I recently read a quote from a popular television show that got me thinking about this. On a crime show, the studly, troubled, masculine police officer speaks about his obligation to love and care for his children like this;

". . . it's not an obsession. It's a love. It's a connection that transcends anything and everything. I would die for my children. And there's nothing in the world that will change that. Ever."

Why would he die for his children? Is he going into battle? Does he expect their lives to be threatened by raiders in the harvest season? No. But why wouldn't it be manly for him to respond "I would sacrifice my happiness," "do even what I consider unimaginable for their benefit," or even "I will love them completely"? His statement reflected a preparation for death but not for compassion. Why is this the case? The answer is, unfortunately, a very simple one. In the western world masculinity has become associated with war, ownership, and procreation. From an evolutionary standpoint this makes some sense because it means the man will have resources, the will to defend them, and progeny to carry on the line who are likely to share those traits. In short he's got enough testosterone to keep humanity going. But this has become so overblown as to lampoon whatever biological basis may have existed. We're making fun of ourselves. It's now extended to other arenas. Mild homophobia is manly. Working with large, heavy bits of steel (preferably phallic) is manly. Listening to Country music or Classic Rock is manly, as is driving a pickup truck. Driving a sport car is compensatory manliness. These messages are all around us. All one need do is turn on the television and watch ten minutes of commercials. Oh, right, it's also manly to get skin cancer so one should never apply sunscreen and become very, very tan.

But more than any of that being masculine means ownership and procreation. Those add up to fatherhood. Being a man means being a father. Where does this put first-fathers? The primary directive of manliness has been violated. We have willingly surrendered our child. We have forsaken ownership. Our bravado is now hollow because no matter what we achieve, nor how virile we are, we could not care for our child.

Now I must transition and speak only to my own experience.

For a long time it felt like a formal declaration of inadequacy had been tattooed on my face. Everyone around me could see that I was not a real man. I was an unprepared boy playing dress up in adult clothes. It seemed something was fundamentally wrong with me that I didn't have the ability nor the desire to raise my son. Somewhere inside of me there was a horrible mutation that made me less than human. No matter what I did from here on I was not a man. I was not a father. I was a pathetic freak that would disappear from the face of the earth. Evolution made a mistake with me that it was soon to correct.

I count myself fortunate that I sought therapy as soon as Athena told me she was pregnant. Through those weekly sessions I was able to work through and unpack all the baggage I had brought into the pregnancy and develop a new definition for masculinity. It doesn't have a check list. It doesn't fight femininity tooth and claw for dominance. My masculinity is my own. No one can take it from me because no one gave it to me. It had to be built up piece by piece. Masculinity is the confidence that I am exactly who and what I am. My sense of gender is my sense of self. That is to say I cannot use gender to define who I am. First I had to know myself, then love myself, and recognize my confidence and strength. Then I could look outward to see what it means to be a man. To be a man is to be me.  Just as it is to be you. Or to be a woman.

I know my femininity and masculinity because I know myself. As a culture we're getting the cart before the horse. If anyone has a genuine claim to being a man it is a birthfather. Few others have had to deconstruct and rebuild their identity as thoroughly as an honest first-father.

That's all for the moment. No doubt there will be more on this later.

Addendum  in response to some questions put forth.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Reflection: Lies at the Pregnancy Center

A dark gloom had cast itself over us. No one was surprised. It was early January and the winters here are as grey as they are cold: disturbingly so. It had been a few days, maybe a week, since Athena had broken the news to me. I don't remember exactly how long it was and I'm pretty sure I couldn't have told you then. Days had been melting into one another. Morning and afternoon smearing themselves over into the evening darkness. That can happen when you don't see the sun for a week. More so when what little light there is disappears at 4:30 in the afternoon. When you haven't left your apartment for days, are dehydrated, and so stressed out that the thought of washing dishes makes you burst into tears, remembering the date seems trite.

Around the corner from my parents' house there was and is a Pregnancy Counseling Center. Since neither of us had any idea what to do next Athena and I decided to head there. It was a house that had been converted into a little waiting room and a couple of offices. The girl who was interning as the receptionist was quite nice. Soft spoken and with kindness in her eyes she handed Athena some paperwork to fill out after asking what brought us there. I was amazed at how confident Athena sounded when she replied "I think I'm pregnant." The word still caught in my throat. Every time I thought it I went blank. Every time I said it I felt like it was a guillotine blade rushing down toward me. But there stood Athena, bold as life, saying "pregnant" as though it were any other word. I was amazed.

The counselor came out of her office and introduced herself. She was clearly surprised to see facial hair in the waiting room and commented on how nice it was to see a man there. She asked if we would be comfortable with the intern sitting in on our session to observe. I think we said yes, but I honestly have no memory of her presence. It's possible she did an excellent job disappearing. It's also possible that we said "no." In any case, before proceeding the counselor asked Athena to take another pregnancy test. She explained how it worked ("It doesn't matter if the line is pale, or crooked, or dark, or broken") and sent Athena off to the restroom. Once again the test showed positive in less than half the time allotted. That was a sight we'd grow accustomed to in the future. We sat in a couple chairs and the counselor closed the door to her office. She started giving us papers and flyers with information on them. She talked with us about how it's Athena's choice and she can do whatever she wants to do. I started noticing the way she was phrasing things. I grew suspicious of her reasons for being there. She asked Athena when her last period had been. Neither of us recalled exactly so the woman estimated from the earliest possible date. "So you're seven weeks pregnant."

Here's where the foley artist plays the scratching record.

I won't get into all the gory details of our sex life, but I knew that was incorrect. I knew without doubt that conception couldn't have occurred for another two weeks after that date. So I mentioned this. The counselor replied "well we go by the beginning of the previous period because that's when conception was possible." "So you're ignoring factual information in favor of rough estimates?" I thought to myself. My suspicion of this woman doubled.

More papers were handed to us with phone numbers of organizations to call to get Athena and Festus prenatal care. We were about to leave when the woman asked us "do you want to see what your baby looks like?" My first instinct was to break her jaw right then and there. "NO!" I screamed in my head. "That's not going to represent what our 'baby' looks like! You don't even know how long she's been pregnant!"

"Sure," Athena said. Clearly I wore a look of horror because Athena added "I'm curious." Out came the plastic case with models of fetuses at various stages of development. This was a tactic so brazen I couldn't even respond. I knew there wouldn't be an isolated fetus model. It was a full series. We couldn't see just one. We had to see all of them. Models for everything from one week (which, based on my research since, looked more like one month) to six months. I tried to look away. I tried not to pay attention. I knew this was manipulative horse shit and I would not be taken by it. Despite my efforts I couldn't help but see. I couldn't help notice the woman place her left hand along the edge of the plastic tray that notes the age of the fetus. I couldn't help but see her point to the "Week 11" model.

My outrage was expressed to Athena on the drive home. We looked at the paperwork the counselor gave us. Included was the dark red flyer entitled "Why aren't Women being Told?" It claimed abortion was the number one cause of breast cancer. I wanted to burn the counseling center down. "I know the study they're referencing" I said to Athena, "but this is total crap."

I thought of the college age girl I saw in the waiting room on our way out. I thought of the lies she was about to be told. She would be told that if she was pregnant her choices were delivery or death. She would be told how easy adoptions are now days. The scare tactics would be poured on by a "loving" motherly figure until the girl's mind had been made for her.

This wasn't a pregnancy counseling center. It was an anti-abortion ministry.

I don't much care where one stands on the moral issues of abortion and birthing. It doesn't matter to me when a fetus becomes a human. I do, however, care a great deal for anyone in a vulnerable position who's brave enough to ask for help. When people are lying to frightened, overwhelmed, and confused young girls and women to further their own moral agenda I consider it evil. In my book respecting human life begins with respecting humans.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Absence before absence

I haven't been able to keep my promised posting schedule this week. Life has been getting the better of me lately. Athena has been sick all week. Between work, cooking, caring, and haggling with mechanics trying to get my car functional again there hasn't been much time for writing anything. Let's be honest here. There hasn't been much time for thinking. Fortunately Athena is on the mend. We'll be visiting her family this weekend and should be able to get some medicinal aid for her as well. Unfortunately there's a long weekend coming up which means less writing for a while. I'll attempt returning to a heavier writing schedule next week. There are a couple notions that have been crashing around my brain that need to be fleshed out.

Also, please check the pole at the top right of the page. I'd like some input about what you're interested in seeing here. Please take the handful of seconds necessary to respond. Whether you follow, read anonymously, or are visiting for the first time I want your opinion.
Poll is now closed.