Killing the father within us: A journey from the father role to real motherhood

11 10 2014

This is a translation into English of my previous post:
Matar al padre que llevamos dentro.

What follows has been rescued from the memories of an intimate perception of my fatherhood and co-motherhood, my personal journey into motherhood. It is a distorted narration, sift by the screening mechanisms that appear when we tell our stories to ourselves. It is not my business to tell the motherhood experience of the people who have shared or share the care of my children. Neither their biological mother’s experience, nor the one that my current partner delivers (although she does not want to call it that way, motherhood) or my ex’s current partner’s (whom I don’t know well enough).

First cares.

When I was thirteen my two siblings and I received the following news from my parents: << we know you wanted a pet, but that won’t be possible. You’re going to have a brother.>>

During family meals sometimes we say that my youngest brother had five parents when he was a kid. It wasn’t that much, but all three elder brothers shared parenting with my mother and my father to the extent of our abilities. We talk here about: cleaning the baby’s bum, changing diapers, putting him to sleep, preparing and giving bottles, feeding him when already a toddler, babysitting when parents went out with friends, going to the park, walking him to kindergarten, etc, etc. Every activity we could manage, we did. I experienced it as a shared proto-motherhood without the hard part of motherhood. The way I recall it, the distribution of activities didn’t depend on gender. You should ask my sister.

I liked that experience. A lot. I liked the relationship you establish with the small animal that is becoming a person. That little guy is now an adult who is expecting a child with his partner. My little brother is not my son, but somehow it was. And I have to thank him for it.

It should be said that my parents, both working outside home, always or almost always had a person hired for a few hours helping in the work of care.

Update: I’ve asked my sister. She (three years younger than me) thinks the care she might have provided to our youngest brother have not left much of a mark in her relation to her own children. I have also asked my other brother (one year younger than me). He remembers the child caring experience and the impact it has had on him as father-mother. I asked my mother too. She says that they always tried to minimize the impact of taking care of our youngest brother in our lives as kids. The feminist subtleties of each person in the triad of eldest siblings and of my parents will be kept aside for another text. A text about a wonderful family that I love to death. And a text with a lot of CT [i] (a term referring to the cultural and political process behind the soft transition from dictatorship to democracy in Spain).

The inside: the rest of the she-warrior.

During high-school and college I used to daydream about being the rest of the she-warrior. That was the expression I used for myself. Not that I said aloud frequently because it made me look like a weirdo. As I imagined myself as a future scientist scientific future -learning not the truth, but descriptions of how nature-works-, forever learning, I also imagined myself working at home taking care of it, welcoming someone back from doing things outside, enduring an arrangement with an empowered woman who took care of what was visible and important in the eyes of the society while I engaged in the crucial things, the foundations upon which all that is visible is built, care.

Of course I wanted to do something other than looking after others. To develop the individuality that everybody can see. Working (on the outside), giving and receiving, getting involved with other people activities. All those things, but outside of the market, meaning no money involved. Those things my mind wandered off.

Having been raised in a household where a conscious effort was always made to provide an equalitarian and non-discriminatory education, but where stories/legacies of parents exist as in any other family, we can say that: I had both a certain inclination towards feminine associated roles and a total ignorance of being a carrier and enjoyer of privileges (as a man and as a person educated in a world of affection and red-coloured glasses). Privileges that my kids enjoy too, though with less-coloured glasses (at least I try).

Update: I no longer crave to be the rest of a she-warrior. What I want is to give and receive rest and to give and receive guerrilla. Better if in a communal way. Community means many, but means also two, although in that case I think that the more you manage to throw ropes from your ship towards other ships the better; just for keeping in mind that yours is a micro-community inside a bigger one. Not that I’m too good throwing ropes now, but I certainly was terrible in my youth.

Now looking backwards from a distance, I think this whole rest of the she-warrior thing during my adolescence and young adulthood had to do with three elements: pleasure, power and fear. The pleasure of caring -idealized because of my relationship with my little brother-, and the pleasure caused to those you care; this second being very noticeable while parenting. The sense of affective power over the one being cared; care has this dark side too. And fear, a deep dislike –not a political but a visceral one- to working for money.

The outside: the established roles.

The outside world remained outside. Until I left my city, I left my PhD research to work for money rejecting my fellowship and my until then idealized academia, and moved to a strange city with the person with whom I’d lived for a year and who would my children years later. A big city, where the only references were paid work and the person with whom I shared life, forming a community of two, but uprooted, without ropes to the Community. Until the market came into my life, or did I dive myself into it?

I remember my father saying in a brief conversation shortly before I took the decision: Son, I do not think you’ll be able to properly manage yourself in a market environment, outside the academia or a civil servant position. But I put together a rational plot for myself and wrapped very carefully my visceral fear in it.

Contradictions with my inside world? Yes. I think that you learn from your contradictions. Sometimes it takes a long time to learn.

Five years of success, if measured with the heteropatriarcal yardstick. A yardstick that got into me and grabbed my spine. Long working hours outside home, positions of increasing responsibility, salary rises, job changes. We got married. Somehow, both members of the micro-community let ourselves intoxicate by this dynamic, which produced a sense of abundance during our leisure time. I continued to share the care of the house, but my hard paid work was gradually affecting the distribution of care, more and more.

And our first child happened, a wanted child. Both during pregnancy and first year of life, the experience was great on one hand and I participated in the care process, in whole care process all the time I was not working for money.

My partner’s seasonal job and the birthdate of the child allowed me to take maternity leave for the whole first month of his life, a month that she could not have enjoyed at the end of her legal 4 months leave because her contract would be already finished by the third one. A month working as a co-mother, actual co-mother.

But that year was a terrifying experience too. Finished that first month, the outside world waited there as if nothing had happened. Or better, leveraging what had happened: here’s the thing, we have everything ready for you to provide and for her to care. Uncle Sam wants you, who as a man will provide the money, responsible for a group where someone cannot help himself; and wants her, who as a woman, whether you want it or not, receiving a lower salary and having seasonal job, will need to take care of what we don’t care but really cares. You have to be a father, and she’ll have to be a mother.

Although I juggled my co-motherhood whenever I was not working for money with my provider fatherhood role, stress was evident and it grew during that year to become entrenched in a depression. Sometimes I just wanted to stay home and pursue my carer work, sometimes I just wanted to get out and wander the streets grabbed to an empty shopping cart. Breaking the bilateral pact with my partner and the unilateral care pact that you accept when you want and have children. To disappear and be responsible only for myself and my daily survival. To vanish in an individuality I could not see then as a dependent[ii] one at all. Sometimes I said to the adult nearest to me: this dynamic is horrible but I stand it for you, for you and for the child. Ha! Blaming the micro-community. From my privileged position, fucked up but privileged. I think when suffering from privileged depressions, more than in other situations, one often blames the others.

Sick leave for about a month: Good on the one hand, devoted to care; then back to paid work, unbearable tension, and looking for a new job paid, back to the south. Hoping that the south, the smaller city and the closeness of the extended family were the solution. Escaping.

The south and the medium-sized city helped something. The extended family saves your life… in a way. It helps to face the care that you are not able to face. But it does not bridge the gap between the established roles. Even if one is a co-mother every time the paid work allows it. It just puts a little tribe[iii] around your co-mother role. But as I said before, sometimes learning takes a lot. Learning to see.

The father-main-provider role continued to prevail, the burden of paid work increasing and stressing things, care work somewhat softened by the tribe. Mainly because of the fact that you knew they were there and they were affection providers.

And our second child happened, wanted too. This time I could not take the month of maternity leave. The birthdate and the seasonal nature of my partner’s job were the same. But I was working for an SME and it was not possible. I would have been fired.

In the years that followed, the dynamics remained the same. Co-mother when I could, very interesting paid work gnawing inside and changing again a possible father-co-mother balance for a somewhat schizoid situation. Job change, slightly more favourable dynamics to the co-motherhood for a year, then living in the big city during the working week and “children for you” during the weekend (fair enough) for a few months; dismissal and unemployed for nine months.

Nine months of fear of not being able to provide adequately, wondering what would happen if it took too long stretched and unemployment benefits finished. But also, nine months of full co-motherhood enjoyment. Our children often called us from long before: dad, oh.. mom!, addressing their mother; mom, oh… dad!, addressing me. I do not know if this is normal behaviour, as so often happens when us parents as we call our children and exchange their names. But I always wanted to believe it was a sign that, in their eyes, were co-breeders, co-mothers use the term I’ve been using so far.

This was a period of recovery of lost shares of care work, since my partner began an educational phase that kept her busy in the mornings. Recovery of a loved role, since it is a part life equally or more important than the other one. Dedication to care. The beginning of a more rational questioning about what non-father and co-mother I wanted to be. An illiterate questioning, without the language strands that I would acquire later. Strands I am still learning to weave.

After those nine months of unemployment, back to the dynamics of a co-mother who also works out for money. Obviously influenced by the fact that my salary still was the main source of income, sometimes the only one, and my partner had made a career change after her training phase. She began to do what she really liked to do. A freelance precariat but a passionate one.

And underneath, underground streams accumulated since nearly two years earlier, fed back by the roles established by the system, continued to drill our micro-community until nine months later the divorce arrived. With all its shit, its stresses and defects, with all those things that stir the fact of putting in an legal document the dissolution of a micro-community, but after all, an uncontested divorce and a shared custody agreement; where the paper signed before a judge is a simple base in case an atomic bomb falls upon us, and in which we manage the rules/dynamics of our co-motherhood the best we know/can as the context changes.

Motherhood: stripping off the father role and addressing parenting by dismantling the mother role.

So, suddenly we found ourselves for a couple of years with a single-motherhood performed by the mother and the father every other week. The kids got along and the caring arrangement allowed us both co-mothers (now in a separated manner) to enjoy/suffer care work, enjoy the independence of those who have no kids in charge, and miss them from the third day they were in their other home. As a female friend told me, I’ll have to divorce just to have a deal like yours.

A few months after the separation, I started reading books that lined the shelves of a person I met, a person who became my partner. Readings, discussions, attendance to some lectures and workshops where a world of diversity opened in front of me. Very different views on many issues that armed me with words and helped me to express as a discourse what previously had only been feel-thoughts: transfeminisms, non binarism, performativity, privileges.

A year went by and my partner and I started living together. We co-care each other. And give and receive guerrilla, although she fights more. I’m just starting to take my first steps. She in the streets, a real activist. I softly fight in the online world, and at work, chatting with my colleagues at coffee breaks. Am I playing ballroom guerrilla?

Another year passed by and the mother of my children moved away for job survival reasons to the north after much thought. Moving away (physically). A difficult decision she tries to ease doing work raids to the south when she manages -as it will happen for a week since tomorrow- and holiday periods in which the kids travel north. A decision that the outside world -the one that mystifies motherhood- judges harshly because she is a woman, whereas if I had taken that decision (I might need to do in the future, and further north) it would judge it with pity and even acclaim as a proof that sometimes you have to do things you would not want for the sake of your children. She co-mothers bravely and difficultly in the distance.

Since four years ago when I got divorced, I do what any mother does nowadays, take responsibility of the pact of care subscribed to your kids and deliver it as my body allows/enjoys/suffers, making it compatible with the provision of resources and the needs/desires of throwing ropes to other ships. I am very lucky to have the help of a partner who met two children and has had its own accelerated journey from an initial coexistence with them to a co-motherhood (although she does not like to use that term, motherhood). And in any case, like any mother, and I look for the support of the tribe when the tribe is needed and it is available.

I do what any mother does, except for one crucial fact; the reading that the outside world makes on my situation and my actions for being a man and having the protective layer of privileges in this heteropatriarcal system we live in. A reading that conveys compassion (in the worst non-empathic sense of the word) mixed with admiration. A reading that will not apply to any of my female co-workers because they are women.

In this process women have been, through their daily struggle on the streets and within the homes, the persons that have allowed me understand the journey that the body was asking me to embark since adolescence. From the established and expected role as a father to perfoming a real motherhood. Developing the care pact with my children and seeking a balance between my own and our group needs/desires and the barriers that the system is continuously trying to impose upon us. Sometimes in a better way, sometimes worse, in form and results. I, like any other mother, but still privileged as a man.

[i] Martínez, Guillem -coordinador- (2012) CT o la Cultura de la Transición. Crítica a 35 años de cultura española.Ed.: Debolsillo, Barcelona, 2012.

[ii] Hernando, Almudena (2012), La fantasía de la individualidad. Sobre la construcción sociohistórica del sujeto moderno. Ed.: Katz Conocimiento

[iii] Del Olmo, Carolina (2013), ¿Dónde está mi tribu? Maternidad y crianza en una sociedad individualista. Ed.: Clave Intelectual

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