Essays on Fatherhood by Men in the Academy
Publication Year: 2011
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Thinking Stiffs: An Introduction
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A Marxist literary critic at Disney World, a biologist swimming with sharks in the Amazon, a political-scientist-turned-administrator in a prop-filled death-and-dying classroom—each is a contributor to this volume. Working stiffs, or perhaps we should say thinking stiffs, they, along with their fellow contributors, map out the terrain of academic dads. What difference does contemplative fatherhood make...
Part One. Fathers in Theory, Fathers in Praxis: Merging Work and Parenting
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In a recent blog post on “Mama PhD,” Libby Gruner tells us of her little daughter rewriting the story of Beauty and the Beast; in the revised version, Belle refuses to marry her ugly beau, making her intentions clear by saying, “You’re not my boss. I’m going to put you in the zoo.” Hurrah. Let’s suppose you’ve labored long in the salt mines of academia, carrying out in your arms small...
Gaining a Daughter: A Father's Transgendered Tale
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I look around and find myself, strangely enough, in the women’s lingerie section of the Kmart in an upstate New York town. I am with my nineteen-year-old son, who is comparison shopping for a pair of black tights. Some farm ladies are regarding us with dubious glances. My son asks if I think medium is too large for him...
Gifts from the Sea
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When Tatiana was four years old her duty was to sing to the bears. She understood that singing was serious work and that she was protecting her family. Skipping down the trail, holding hands with her mom and dad, who swung her across the wet patches and mud puddles, she threaded this melody through the forest...
The Luck of the Irish
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“The luck of the devil,” says a Republican, and “the luck of the Irish,” says a Democrat, both meaning that’s how the privileged scion of generations of working-class immigrants got elected president in 1960. Only a few years before that, it was how I got into academia and how, the next year, I got to Russia. The big step forward in my lucky life was being a pupil of R. P. Blackmur, from whom I learned...
Shifting the Tectonic Plates of Academia
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When my wife, Brenda, was a graduate student, she was warned by a male professor to not have children if she intended to be a serious academic, or, put another way, an academic who would be taken seriously. That was more than a decade ago; I wonder if this professor still offers the same advice. Perhaps now, as a result of personal growth, he directs young female scholars to have as many...
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Nineteen ninety-seven was the year that my son, Garland, and I came into a new life at the same time. He emerged from the warmth of his mother’s womb, while I came out of a similar level of comfort as I moved from faculty to administration. Neither of us asked for what we got, and neither of us understood what we were getting ourselves into. Wide-eyed, we would both enter this new world screaming...
A River Runs through It: Queer Theory and Fatherhood
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“Go on, let him suck your oo-poo.” “No!” “Why not? Go on, let him try, they’re big enough.” “No way, it’s too freaky! It crosses the line!” In our house, oo-poos are breasts—lactating breasts, to be exact. Each of the children has used a di¤erent name for them. For Magnus, our third, they are oo-poos. My wife, Amanda, is pretty tired of having hers sucked dry. It’s January-in-Australia-hot...
On Writing and Rearing
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We have two computers and three papers due. My essay on nineteenth-century poetry is already weeks late. My daughter has to write five paragraphs responding to Ferde Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite. Her fifth-grade teacher wants to know, from “Sunrise” to “Cloudburst,” what each movement makes her feel. My son has seven pages to cover the history of comedy...
Doing Things with Words
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As an academic, I am trained to do things with words. Indeed, that is an understatement: Perhaps I am an academic because the only work I can do is work with words. My self-identity is shaped by my reactions to my words, and to the words of others. In the dynamic between the two, at the end of each day, I ask myself how my words have performed on my behalf and how I have performed on their...
On Fecundity, Fidelity, and Expectation: Reflections on Philosophy and Fatherhood
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I am thirty-two years old, I have had my PhD for over three years, and, as yet, I don’t have a tenure-track job. To complicate things further (as of June 2009), my wife is six months pregnant with our first child—a son that is going to be named John Atticus Simmons (we will call him Atticus). The countdown to D-Day has begun, and I am not sure whether to attempt to avoid the event by ducking and...
Sheathing the Sword
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That “Jabaly temper.” When I was a boy, reference to that overseas distant mountain anger was a source of cold whispers. If someone like my father or his sister Adele blew their stack, or stomped out of the room, we would all think, “Oh boy, that Jabaly temper.” My grandmother Nazera, father’s mother, was the Jabaly, from the Arabic word for mountain...
Part Two. Family Made: The Difference of Alternative or Delayed Fatherhood
Weighed but Found Wanting: Ten Years of Being Measured and Divided
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With about ten minutes left to my workday, I’ve got a minor dilemma. Do I try to take on another major project only to just get started, or do I simply sit there and wait for the clock to reach 7:30? After all, this is one of those rare evenings: There are no essays to grade, no texts to review, no thesis statements to critique. The problem is that as my brain starts to take on that...
Vespers, Matins, Lauds: The Life of a Liberal Arts College Professor
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I work at a highly selective monastery in the Midwest. I took a vow of chastity, relative poverty, and obedience. The six years of my novitiate were brutal, and I falsely imagined that becoming a full-fledged monk would allow for both greater peace of mind and greater autonomy. I was wrong. Whatever I gained was lost to additional obligations: all of that service that only the truly sanctified can perform. And to think I had, still have, a family on the side—indeed, a secret life—like one of those priests you...
How White Was My Prairie
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At an all-campus forum on race relations, I, a white man, stood up to respond, fairly vigorously, to a charge of (as I saw it) institutional racism, made by an African American colleague. Within seconds a first-year black student started yelling at me from the crowd. “You can’t talk to her that way,” he shouted, and went on to excoriate me for what he considered my rudeness and my attitude...
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I am standing on the pool deck, wet from the shower, shaking, arms crossed as I look out over the screaming children having lessons. I’m trying to find Rowan, my four-year-old son. His two moms signed him up for lessons on Saturdays—mostly to burn the yayas out of him but also because one of his moms, Rory, loves the water and wants him to love it too. I’ve never been to this...
Once Was Lost
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In the middle of my life, on a warm but drizzling April afternoon, I found myself in an obscure woods, situated anonymously between suburban Westchester houses and a fenced-in park. This was in 2003, about a year and a half after 9/11 and my mother’s death a continent away. Drenched and exhausted, I ran as briskly as I could manage given my fifty years and the tumbledown logs in my way. I would turn and peer into the darkening mists between the barren Beckett trees...
Shared Attention: Hearing Cameron's Voice
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My son, Cameron, who is autistic and nearly nonverbal, slides a card through his Language Master machine. “Daddy’s office,” the recorded voice says. He runs the card through the machine once more: “Daddy’s office!” “Oppice, yes,” Cam affirms, looking up at me. He’s telling me he wants to visit my office at school. But if the thoughts are his, the recorded voice is mine: I dictate his array of choices, I speak for him. I am his language master...
Accidental Academic, Deliberate Dad
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In seventh-grade “Career Planning” class, I had to take one of those psychology tests that ask the same few questions a dozen ways each, as if you could forget your answers every few minutes. But as the unpopular oddball, I was clear about schools. Learning was fun, but school was not. Every time the test asked about more education, my answer was none. Tech school? Nope. Master’s degree? No, thanks. PhD? What for? But in high school I changed my mind about education...
Late Fatherhood among the Baptists
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I never told my father this, but there was a time in my life—in my late teens, to be precise—when I resented him for waiting until he was forty to have me. And even though my mother was thirty-seven when I was born, just three years younger than my father, it was my now late-fiftyish father and not my mid-fiftyish mother whose age was a slight embarrassment to me as I moved into my senior year of high school and saw many of my friends’ fathers, like mine, attending...
Being a Dad, Studying Fathers: A Personal Reflection
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Phoenix, my youngest son, was born when I was forty-nine years old. His birth energized my fascination with the daily labor of fathering, something I had largely ignored as an ignorant, working-class teenage father thirty-one years before. True to his mythological name, Phoenix offered me new life to be an engaged father. He also inspired me to practice what I “preach”...
Single Dad in Academia: Fatherhood and the Redemption of Scholarship
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I have been a single father for the past ten years, raising a boy and a girl two and a half years apart. From rugrats to rock singer wannabes, my children are an integral part of every hour and every day of my academic life. To most of my colleagues, my fate looks like a catastrophe visited upon a helpless college professor; but raising my kids while teaching at a midsize university in Virginia has become...
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During his 2008 election campaign, Barack Obama was vocal about African American men being more involved with their children. The sentiment is easy to agree with, though it is infused with class, ethnic, gender, and racial assumptions. Being more involved sounds simple, but it is not a purely individual choice. It is a choice that, even under ideal...
Part Three. Forging New Fatherhoods: Ambitions Altered and Transformed
Maybe It Is Just Math: Fatherhood and Disease in Academia
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Everyone wants the good news, so here it is: I was the doomed kid born poor and raised in violence who worked his way through school, earned his PhD, and got a good job. In the history of my family, I was the first and only. I read consistently; I read a lot. We moved a lot; I had few friends. We were dirt poor; I had a library...
Dreaming of Direction: Reconciling Fatherhood and Ambition
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Two weeks after the birth of my third child, I had a dream. This wasn’t just any dream. It was one of those long, cinematic dreams that seems to mean something. I remember only one comparable dream in my adult life, and, at least in my private narrative of my life, that other dream has always signaled for me the beginning of a fairly important love affair...
Making a Home for Family and Scholarship
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It was freezing in New York, where we were vacationing in my parents’ house. I had to take Zaizai (“little son” in Cantonese) out to buy groceries. He was only a few months old. To protect him from the sleet and wind, I carried Zaizai in a soft baby carrier in front. I put the carrier inside my oversized down parka and zipped it up to keep him doubly warm. Then I walked to the deli with Joyce, my wife. A young man...
Change Is Here, but We Need to Talk about It: Reflections on Black Fatherhood in the Academy
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Ralph Ellison’s exploration of black masculinity continues to serve as a foundational metaphor for understanding the historical construction of black masculinity. And while issues of invisibility and examples of black male maladjustment abound in contemporary American culture, we cannot deny the successful integration of certain black men into the American mainstream. If there is any doubt about this...
Vocabularies and Their Subversion: A Reminiscence
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Curriculum Vita, c. 1995: First writing, mostly journalism; then teaching writing; then mélange of both, slightly better paid; then writing for money, PR etc., much better paid. This much well into midlife. For someone with my set of skills, the combinations aren’t uncommon. A comparable sequence could be filleted from many an author’s or professor’s biography. But in my case, no single career emerges. Midlife, I arrive...
Balancing Diapers and a Doctorate: The Adventures of a Single Dad in Grad School
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“Me make a mess.” These were the words my two-year-old son, Geoffrey, said as he stood over the toilet with a feather duster in one hand and a ten-dollar bottle of Bausch & Lomb ReNu® Multi-Purpose Solution in the other on one bright, and otherwise cheery, Saturday in April. Three completely separate thoughts ran through...
It’s a Chapter-Book, Huh: Teaching, Writing, and Early Fatherhood
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Though unaware of this fact until after my daughter’s birth, I could not have chosen a better career for balancing professional fulfillment and fatherhood. The time demands of faculty life, for example, are onerous, but controllable—except when I am in class or a meeting, I can take her to the doctor or pick her up from school as...
Pitcher This: An Academic Dad's Award-Winning Attempt to Be in Two Places at Once
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Recently, a few weeks after successfully negotiating the tenure-gauntlet—having managed to maneuver my way through it for six years—I found myself leaning against the island in the middle of our kitchen exhausted. It was late afternoon and I had commuted home from the college where I teach, one that’s fifty miles north of the small town where we live. For several nights, I had stayed up long past when I should and hours after grading and prepping for classes...
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My son, August, has a number of odd quirks that distinguish him from the typically developing ten-year-old. He lives with cerebral palsy, is a spastic quadriplegic, has cortical visual impairment (meaning he is legally blind), is completely nonverbal and cognitively disabled, has a microcephalic head, and must wear a diaper. Moreover, he is immobile—he can’t crawl or scoot around or hold himself up or even sit in a chair without being strapped in it. If someone were to put him on the floor and...
The Precarious Private Life of Professor Father Fiction Chef and Other Possible Poignancies
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Of course you wanted to be a rock star. What red-blooded American male growing up in the eighties didn’t? You played the electric guitar at five hundred decibels (all distortion) and decided with tears in your eyes you had a true gift and intended to share it with the entire world, especially chicks. And while you were live at Dreamfest 1985, you decided you could be a screenwriter, too. You could write your own musical scores and direct them, as well. Go on tour with the band between films. Like...
Notes on Contributors
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Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2011