Making Space

A confluence of people, largely comprised of fathers, gathered near the Alamo recently. It’s a yearly custom, this gathering. The locale changes, but the goal of it does not: to be better fathers to our children.

The name of this collection of creatives and parents is Dad 2.0. They come from all manner of places: cities, rural communities, other countries. A wide array of viewpoints and opinions descend into one place, seeking out camaraderie and experiences together. Whatever someone is looking to glean from this assemblage of talent, they’re bound to find it. Whether from panels, speakers, or conversation amongst the crowd, there’s limitless perspectives and stories to find and hear.

Ordinarily, the stories are what I relish most. This year’s conference did not disappoint. Some stories elicited laughs, others brought tears. The gamut of emotions was run.

This year was special for me, though.

I was given the opportunity to moderate a panel about a topic I’m incredibly passionate about: gender and sexuality, especially as it pertains to raising children. I was even more fortunate to have a stellar panel: Amber Leventry, a non-binary parent with three kids, including twins, one of whom is transgender; Nick North, a trans male who birthed 4 kids before he transitioned and remarried a woman who had a child from a previous relationship; Jillian Zeigler, my wife and mother to a trans son and a non-binary child; and Brent Almond, a gay father with an adopted son that he parents with his husband.

An hour was simply not enough time to cover the enormous swath of territory that encompasses gender and sexuality, especially in these times where kids are able to articulate who they are at earlier and earlier ages. We made due with the time allotted and spent more time with those who had questions afterwards. It was an incredibly informative panel, and one that I’m proud to have been a part of.

This was near the end of the summit, so I had some time to contemplate that panel session, and one recurrent theme was apparent: making space.

Making space for everyone, no matter their gender identity or sexual identity. More importantly, I need to use my privilege as a straight white male to not only make space for our LGBTQ+ friends, but to maintain and broaden that space wherever possible. We all do. Inclusivity is elastic, and if you don’t stretch its boundaries, it will snap back to its original size. We must use our leverage to expand the space we all inhabit as humans so that everyone has a voice. The LGBTQ+ community is strong, but they need our help to combat the ugliness of bigotry that seeks to shrink their voices and the spaces in which they occupy.

It is incumbent upon us as allies to stand beside our LGBTQ+ brethren, and beyond that, elevate them so their voices are heard and respected. We also need to listen, REALLY listen, to what they are saying and what they need, then amplify their message.

It starts with making space. The next step is expanding that space so that they know they’re being heard and respected. The more we push, the more they will be seen as equals by those that seek to quell their demands for equality.

That’s the thing about elasticity; if given enough time and pressure outward, the elastic breaks. Then the space is truly inclusive, and permanently so.

Keep pushing.

Sea of Imposters

The bustling of bodies seems frenetic. I know there is purpose to their movements; indeed, their purpose is mine. But I am in a city foreign to me amongst those who have honed their skills and studied their craft, and I am hoping to glean knowledge from them. I’m not overwhelmed, not exactly. What I am is petrified.

“You don’t belong, you know.” The dreadful passenger that is my constant companion lends its voice to my fears. I’m rarely without its insistence.

“Everyone will figure you out. You’ll be known as the fraud you are.” The faces passing by are friendly, their eyes meeting mine with a smile attached. I nod and smile back, even eke out a few hellos to those who are familiar. I do not let the terror show, the one that rides with me no matter where I am. I fervently worry that those scuttling past me, or worse, those who stop to share a word or a handshake or a hug will hear that dreadful passenger and know the truth. That I am a charlatan, a sham. A trickster.

I am an imposter.

There has never been a moment where someone outside of my mind has heard that voice. Not a single instance of accusation from another human being. You’d think that without any sort of substantive proof that I’d be able to silence the dreadful passenger. To annex him to a dark cell and seal him off from any input in my thought processes. This is his true genius. He needs no proof. He can manufacture doubt from nothingness, and it will CONSUME me. The skepticism runs quickly through my nerves and bloodstream. It renders me motionless, afraid to move. As if stillness will shield prying eyes and minds from my fraudulence.

I am a writer, or at least that is who I am when I am here. I am also a father, like nearly everyone else is here.

Here happens to be Dad 2.0 Summit, a conference for dads who are telling their stories and sharing their lives through an array of mediums. Writing, video, photography….all ways these folks are presenting their journeys through parenthood. Lending themselves bare for all to see. Like I am. Ostensibly I am part of this clan. Yet the dreadful passenger tries to foil my membership with this community.

“Look at how popular they are.”

“They’re so much more successful than you are. You’re not on their level.”

“Why would you think that they’d want to talk to you? You’re nobody.”

“You can’t even get a hundred people to like one of your posts.”

He’s had years of practice to cut my confidence down in mere seconds. Fear and insecurity are his weapons, and he uses them with utmost precision. Attacks are brutal and swift and devastating. He doesn’t limit his ruthless barbs just to occasions like this. He’s omniscient. Nothing is out of his reach for comment. Parenting. Writing. Being a husband. Self-perception. What I eat. What I drink. How I love. Every crevice of my existence is available for his special brand of critique. He pulls no punches and takes no quarter. He lords over my self-esteem and pounds it to dust when he deems I’m challenging his rule.

Normally when his sharp words play in my head, I’d shrink into myself and try to quell the uncertainty raging within. But this time I allow the sea of peers to push and pull me about, adrift on camaraderie and compassion. The more I let myself bounce along the ebbs and currents of support and relatability, the quieter that voice becomes. He is losing this round, and it enrages him. He launches a final salvo.

“See all these men? They’re REAL dads. Look at you; you’re a terrible father. You sacrificed a weekend with your kids to come to a conference to be with people who know you don’t matter? Huh…some dad you are.”

That’s an uppercut to my psyche most days.

But this is not a day for hammer blows to my confidence. The waves move me towards kindred souls.

Thom, a warlock with words, seeks me out. We share stories and a few drinks. He compliments my writing and my family. I’m more than a bit floored by his generosity. Hugs and handshakes, and we carry on conversations with others who want to share their lives bare and fully.

I talk with my friend Scotty, who tells of a horrific past that you’d never suspect. He’s a humorous sort, quick with a smile. The adoration he has for his children explodes from my phone each time I see it. Tears are spent from both our eyes. His courage is immeasurable, and I’m proud to know him.

Then there’s Spike who’s a whirling dervish of ideas. We’ve had many a conversation via text and good-old-fashioned-honest-to-goodness phone calls. We’ve never met, but he and I sit in adjoining chairs, whisky in hand, catching up and casting story ideas off each other like we were college roommates. The good kind though, not the creepy ones that you invariably got assigned to for your first semester. He makes my mind buzz with creativity and the desire to commit to the concepts moving around my head at mach speed.

My roommates for this excursion, Ryan and Dan, two men I’ve never met nor hardly had spoken to prior to arriving, were sincere and hilarious, combinations not normally found together. I feel fortunate to have known them briefly there, and thankful for the friendships we’re constructing.

I have heard speakers on a large stage talk about being bullied; I’ve been in small rooms with fathers sharing their deepest fears and troubles with each other. Judgment was not cast. Empathy was the rule of the day, each day, that I was in attendance. Bonding was not a big enough word to encompass what was happening here.  It was a collective, a commune, a brotherhood.

The last night I was there, I was lucky enough to be present for a conversation between two men I admire more than I can express. Two utterly different fathers talking through their experiences. A black father who remarried and is now part of a blended family consisting of black and white children, and a married gay father with one son. They related. They regaled each other with the common struggles all parents face. They were both fathers. The rest of the descriptors I gave? None of that mattered in that moment. Or any moment, really. We were all parents, all striving to be the best parents we could be. Each one of us wanting to raise responsible, well-adjusted children that could succeed and flourish when released from the relative safety of our wings.

As I was awash in the realization of how we are all connected by the threads of fatherhood, it dawned on me: the dreadful passenger was silent. He had nothing to combat the sense of belonging I felt. Especially knowing through so many wonderful and intriguing conversations, no matter how brief or elongated, that I was not the only imposter here. I was surrounded by imposters. We all felt the niggling doubts regarding the ways we parent; how we addressed challenges; how we uttered phrases by our parents that we’d all swore we’d never levy against our own offspring.

Yet here we all were, at Dad 2.0 Summit, each seeking to silence our own dreadful passengers and become the fathers we should be and our children deserve.

Self-doubt be damned, we’re going to get there.

Photo credit: Flickr:Wild_and_Natural