Am I A Dad Yet? Do I Even Want To Be?
A friend who is a few months ahead of me in the testosterone-driven second puberty sent me a text: “are you ready to have a hairy butt?”
A few weeks ago, my friend, a chosen sibling who is a few months ahead of me into a testosterone-driven second puberty, sent me a text: “are you ready to have a hairy butt?”
The question stopped me in my tracks and it took me days to respond. In part because the question brought up an immediate, knee-jerk response of disgust and shame. (All I can say is that a lifelong indoctrination in whiteness, misogyny, and transphobia can be hard to shake.)
I’d forgotten that a hairier backside is most likely in my near future, that my butt hair was probably getting longer, darker, hairier every second that I contemplated a response to his question. And also because the other answer, the realer answer, was “Yes. Maybe. I think so? I hope.”
Am I a dad yet? I’m still not sure. It seems a nearly impossible task to imagine and celebrate and affirm the masculine parent I am and am becoming.
Then this weekend, I took my family camping. My spouse, who was not sure about a weekend in a tent four hours from home, and my toddler, who is always up for anything (especially anything that includes dirty clothes, fire, and a hearty assortment of packaged snacks), willingly came with me on a trip to the woods. We were with friends who know much more than I do about camping, with the stories and gear to prove it.
After one night of sleeping under weepy rain clouds in unseasonably cold Memorial Day weather, we ditched the campground for Starbucks at 6:20 a.m. and deciding to spend night No. 2 at home.
And I found myself thinking of my own dad. Like me, my dad knows when to ditch a campground. Like me, I’ve seen him sheepishly consider his body hair — he once lost a hairy chest competition on a cruise ship that he entered only because we begged. It occurs to me I can’t construct a single storyline that doesn’t tie my parenting experience to his.
This might be complicated by my experience as a trans person, but don’t we all feel that smallness, longing, fear, hope from time to time when we consider our parents and how we are both like and not like them?
When we assign breastfeeding, birth-giving, diaper-changing, tear-wiping to mothers alone, we both bury them in loneliness and guilt, and also ignore the physicality, the intimacy, and the tenderness of fatherhood in all its forms.
In my memories of and reflections on my own experience of childhood and parenthood, and as I listen to others recount their own, I can’t help but notice that father love is talked about, or thought of, as primarily cerebral, and mother love as fundamentally physical. I know it’s a false binary, but I want to acknowledge it so that we can dismantle it together.
When we assign breastfeeding, birth-giving, diaper-changing, tear-wiping to mothers alone, we both bury them in loneliness and guilt, and also ignore the physicality, the intimacy, and the tenderness of fatherhood in all its forms. In too many cases, we use up our mothers’ bodies, praising their martyrdom, contributing to their suffering, all the while ignoring, mocking, and distancing our fathers’ bodies. Making a joke of their hairy butts, shying away from closeness with them as if we need more language, more skills, a longer resume to keep up — to earn closeness — with them.
Can we write about, envision, become ourselves as parents without our own parents’ shadows casting a slant on our stories, one way or another?
As I stand in this in-between, nonbinary experience, in this in-between season of life, I can feel the burden of patriarchy in yet a new way: in the realization that all this time, I’ve found worthiness in a gender performance that held folks at arm’s length and muted my deeper thoughts, hopes, longings, and self.
I tell myself and others often: “You are who you say you are.”
Whether we’re longing to be close to our dads, desperately trying to emulate them, determined to avoid their hurts and mistakes, or just feeling distant from them in a way we don’t know how to bridge, maybe the best we can do is curiosity about their experiences. Were they ready for a hairy butt? Was he ready to be a dad? In these questions, I think, I hope there lies a truth of fatherhood that both brings us closer and leaves room for all the body hair we do or don’t have.
And on this Father’s Day, that’s what I hope for all of us: closeness. Intimacy that transcends gender and recognizes how cute and cool and amazing we (and our body hair) are. I wish for us adventures, conversations, and relationships where we have room to deviate from the script and find what truly brings joy.
My parenthood, like many before me, is complex. But more and more these days, I feel able to ask, wonder, play. My greatest hope as I create, define, and explore this role for myself is to hold all of it with honesty and love. A hairy butt does not a dad make. Nor does sperm or a birth certificate or a candy cigar.
I tell myself and others often: “You are who you say you are.” So, to answer my own question, Yes. I’m ready. And I am who I say I am. A (complicated, nonbinary) dad (and baba).