I was well into my thirties when my partner of six years and I signed ourselves up for parenting. And I mean signed up literally. Since we are in a same-sex partnership, we didn’t have the benefit of sperm whenever we wanted, so we opted for the foster care/adoption route. Our first child came to us as a two year old boy. We presented both of ourselves as his mothers, with the names Mama and Mommy. I tried on the Mommy title, but I was never quite at home with it. So, three years ago when we were given the opportunity to adopt a baby boy from my tribe, the Navajo Nation, I chose to become Daddy instead. To this day, my youngest son has never called me anything but “Da-da.” This distinction put me in the “edgy” category with friends and my community. What was I doing? Was I aware that I was blending the gender gap? To be honest, I did what felt right for me. I didn’t sit and ponder about the social and political implications of my decision as I am doing now.
I grew up in a very traditional home, what kids today would refer to as “old school”: my mother stayed at home, while my father trudged off to work each day. My parents had defined roles, and they were not subject to revision. Both my parents succumbed to society’s parental labels before they themselves had any children. My mother is a carbon copy of my grandmother; her role as Mommy meant she was responsible to feed us, clothe us, check our schoolwork and make sure we were all clean by the time my father arrived home from work. My father started working when he was twelve to support his mother and sisters, so it was clear to him that a Daddy’s role was to work, to bring home the money so we could enjoy our standard of living. He would often use this phrase, “standard of living,” with me and my brothers in passing, but he never took the time to explain what it meant, so I had only a vague sense that it was important and that we were under someone’s standard.
As I unravel my own beliefs about what a Mommy and Daddy are supposed to be, I am jettisoned back to my childhood. Until the age of twelve, my mother considered me a Mommy-in-training. However, my father was also more understanding than my mother when it came to my identity and sense of self. It sickened my mother that I was a tomboy, but my father took it in stride. He would even call me Sam when I thought I wanted to be a cowboy. I took it so seriously that I would write Sam as my name on my school papers. This concerned my mother because Sam was incongruent with the label she had attached to the inside of the little dresses she’d send me to school in. My father saw it all as harmless and necessary in figuring out who I was. My mother believed that a parent’s role was to tell their child who and what they were.
My life’s work has brought me to this incredible place of self-acceptance. I can go against the social fabric and be Daddy to my kids. In our own ways, my partner and I have roles, and we do not blend them. However, the difference is that we define what is encased in the roles and do not rely on society to tell us who is who and what is what. For example, I have a law degree and have had vast experience in the professional world, yet I chose to stay home full-time and raise the kids. This means I do the laundry, feed them, clothe them, and decide what activities consume their days. My partner travels all over the country and makes our standard of living possible. Yet, she is Mama and I am Daddy. I will put my kids on the baseball field as my Daddy did. However, I will not brand my beliefs onto my kids. My oldest son wore a velvet dress around the house for a time when he was four because he was curious as to what it meant to be a girl. My youngest boy has hair almost as long as mine and is often referred to as a girl. I most often don’t correct people. To me, at his age there is no distinction really.
I have never wanted to be someone who was overtly political. Yet as I grow older, I realize how crucial politics have become to our sense of identity. Everything seems to need a label in order to be understood. My partner remarked the other day how she was impressed that I was so proud to be a Daddy. My son, who is almost three now, “outs” me wherever we go. While at his gym, where there are dozens of Mommies with their children, he calls out “Da-da,” and immediately the Moms begin to look around for a man. To him, I am Daddy. I am who he looks to for toughness and also for tenderness. We wrestle all the time. I try to teach him to take risks at every opportunity. I always try to be a courageous Daddy to him. I am still afraid of spiders. Yet, my idea of courage includes being able to admit when you are afraid. So I step back whenever spiders are involved and let his Mama do the removal job.
We live in a system that seems bent on understanding through labeling. The problem is that we don’t have the right labels or enough of them. Our labels seek to divide, not unite. Our labels seek to cause fear, not courage. Our labels seek to elicit shame, not pride. Our labels seek to domesticate the spirit in us that can only grow by being free. I’ve only recently realized, mostly through the reflection of my partner, that it takes courage to be a Daddy to my kids. I see people unable to comprehend exactly what that means, which translates to me that I am not yet accepted. I am not accepted because they are unable to comprehend exactly what I mean, or what I stand for. Fortunately, my reality is not contingent on their acceptance, and my life is not suspended on someone else’s belief system. I stand for freedom. True freedom has to do with the human spirit. Who stops us from being truly free? We stop ourselves. What does it mean to be truly free? I learn everyday that I have the power to believe whatever I want. I choose everyday to believe that I am free. I want to teach my kids this concept as well. I want them to know that to be truly free means to be truly ourselves. Like an undomesticated flower, I grow in the direction of the sun and have no worries about the past or fears about the future. I am in the present moment. And in this moment, I am a woman who is a Daddy to her kids.