On Fathers and Father’s Day

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In December 2019, Women Advance will be rerunning some of our favorite stories during the year.  There are too many amazing stories to highlight, but some definitely deserve another read.
Father’s Day has always had a strange pull on my small family. Certainly it has something to do with the fact that I was born on Father’s Day, Sunday, June 19 in the late 1960’s, which weirdly made the front page of the Birmingham News, the city where I was born. My father was the featured dad on our special day. He wore it proudly.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that my son was born thirty-three years (shy a day) later, on June 18th, an event which was perhaps the most significant event of my own life. Or maybe it has something to do with the fact that I married my best friend almost exactly six years earlier, on June 21st, all of which makes the third week in June in our house a big week of parties, vast meals, late nights, too much alcohol and so many laughs. We love that week.

But most of all, that strange Father’s Day pull means I get to celebrate being a father.

Let me explain. I’m a trans woman, in all the ways that too-broad definition lends itself. My hair is long and silvery-purple. My middle name is Sofia, after the Germanic-Icelandic spelling of Sophia, which means “wisdom.” I wear Mary Janes to work. I volunteer my time and efforts to further the transgender cause, however I can. But I’m still happy my son calls me “Dad,” and I always will be. I wear it proudly.

It should be clarified here that I speak only for myself. As the great trans-teacher Jenny Boylan has said, there are as many ways to be trans as there are transfolk. My experience doesn’t translate one-to-one with anyone else’s. But the fact is, I am a dad, a father. I like it. I’m good at it.

My son and I still wrestle on the floor, we playfully punch each other, we put each other in headlocks. I do dad things, like show him how to fix the porch gate, how to change a tire, replace a door handle, repair a bathroom faucet. My role as a pater familias outweighs everything else. It’s more important to me than being trans, than being a spouse, than being alive. I am, and will forever be, a “father.”

Most adult trans people wrestle with their feelings for years, or decades, before they finally come to terms with their personal truths: they don’t exactly feel like what’s in their heads and what’s in their pants are perfectly aligned. Shit happens. We accept it and try to move on. But life is messy, and so you’ll see moms who used to be dads, and dads who used to be moms, and as long as there’s love, it all works out. Kids are way more resilient than we often give them credit for, and they come to terms with these messy definitions pretty quickly.

I waited for years to come out, sitting on my own needs, worrying that my son was going to be adversely affected, that not having a strong male role model would confuse him, soften him in ways that wouldn’t work for him. But no worries there—he’s solidly male, jockish, even. He’s all dude, and seems to enjoy being the Man of the House.

In life sometimes we find ourselves running out of labels—“Am I a mom or a dad?” “Is my Aunt Frieda now my Uncle Fred, or just, uh, Fred?” “Is my dad gay, or … what?” Most transfolk accept that we’re living in a time in which we need new labels, new descriptors, new definitions.

Or maybe we don’t. Maybe it’s okay to live an altogether unlabeled existence, maybe we just live our lives according to the raw, ineffable urges in our hearts, and as long as there’s love, we know it will all work out. Who cares what it’s called? Language is used as a weapon as often as it is used as a balm. In classic literature, we were taught that to name something is to define it, limit it, control it. Maybe we can move beyond the labels and in our supreme messiness just … be who we are?

Being a father is who I am. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me. It’s the defining role in my life. It gave a depth to my life in a way I never knew existed. And I don’t ask my son call me Mom because I respect the contributions and the roles that his actual mother provides in his life. He’s already got a mom.

So we work it out. We’ll be going to the movies and I’ll be putting my mascara on and my son will yell, “Come on dad, we’re gonna be late, let’s go!” And I’ll cap the mascara and smile at myself in the mirror. I’m good with it. I’m a father, and always will be. I wear it with pride.

So give me Father’s Day. Give me the Father’s Day gifts. Just don’t get me a boring tie. Make it something fun, and cute. I promise to wear it proudly.

Polly Schattel is member of Women AdvaNCe’s Board and an award-winning filmmaker and writer based in Asheville, NC. Find her at www.newsouthernfilms.com.”

Originally published June 14, 2019



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