It’s Wednesday the 6th of October, three days until our wedding. And I am feeling introspective.
Carolina, my fiancee, and I have decided that the only way to do justice to my proposal at the 2010 UUA General Assembly is to do Justice in the taking of our vows and the celebrations surrounding the event. We have decided that after going to General Assembly and advocating for a “Justice GA” in 2012 we would like to help to set the tone by having a “Justice Wedding” in 2010. In other words, we will have a three day weekend of events oriented to foster the values in which we believe and to promote the causes that match those values. In fact, rather than ask for gifts, we are asking our guests to give a donation in our name to Standing on the Side of Love.
The “wacky wedding weekend” begins on Friday evening with a free screening of 9500 Liberty followed by a community forum to discuss the film. 9500 Liberty tells of a town in Virginia which passed an anti-immigration law similar to Arizona Senate Bill 1070 (SB 1070); it demonstrates the devastating social and economic impact of the “Immigration Resolution” that was felt in the lives of real people in homes and in local businesses. It reveals the ferocious fight to adopt and then reverse the policy inside government chambers, on the streets, and on the Internet. 9500 Liberty provides a front row seat to all three battlegrounds.
The debate around SB 1070 has been heated, not only here in Arizona but everywhere in the country. Many see us as a bellwether state where the issue of undocumented immigration (I refuse to use the dehumanizing term “illegal”) is concerned. Carolina and I feel very strongly that SB 1070 is a hateful law designed to marginalize people of color and turn neighbor against neighbor. Further it is a first step down the slippery slope of anti-immigrant hysteria. As such, she and I, along with HUNDREDS of our Unitarian Universalist (UU) family, marched in protest of the law, some even choosing to take arrest to make the point that this law is not only not the real will of the people it is unconstitutional and should never have been signed. We will continue to do outreach to the Latina(o) community here in Arizona and to use our privilege to work toward the defeat of SB 1070 and the passage of humane Comprehensive Immigration Reform.
On Saturday we have decided to hold a PReception prior to the marriage ceremony on Sunday the 10th. The PReception too is a “social action” event in that all of the dishes and flatware being used to serve our guests is either made from post-consumer materials or is biodegradable or compostable. We feel very strongly in the idea of “pack-it-in, pack-it-out”. The native Americans have said that one shows respect to the land by leaving as little a mark on her as possible. It would be a travesty if our celebration were to leave refuse in landfills that would outlive our families to several generations.
On Sunday the 10th of October, 2010 Carolina and I will take our vows and again there will be a social action element. We have asked all of our guests to come wearing a Standing on the Side of Love t-shirt. I hope to see a SEA of yellow shirts surrounding us as we pledge ourselves to one another. Also, we have decided to take a page from another great organization, whiteknot.org, and will be providing a piece of ribbon and a pin to each of our guests. Carolina and I are being hand-fasted and as the knot is tied around our wrists we will ask our guests to tie a knot in their ribbon to symbolize our support for of all of those, including our minister and some of our wedding party, who are not able to tie the knot due to their sexual orientation.
We thought hard and long about whether we should even take vows given that many of our friends cannot. We consulted with friends and gathered opinions and came to the conclusion that this would be yet another opportunity to use our privilege to the advantage of our cause. We are in a position, as a white, middle class, heterosexual couple to show the world that the lack of equal marriage for our GLBTQI friends and family is as much an issue for us as it is for them. Where the rights of our brothers and sisters are denied so too are our rights denied. We hope that by this small action we can move a little closer toward the day where all people can enjoy the rights and privileges of marriage regardless of whom they choose to love.
The final event of the day will be a flashmob. We plan to take those of our guests who are willing to a local store (to be named later) and protest in support of Equal Marriage and against the corporate donation to anti-gay homophobic candidates in certain state elections. Imagine if you will between thirty and fifty (perhaps more!) people in your local store suddenly bursting into song: “we are standing on the side of love...” all of them but two in BRIGHT yellow shirts and those last two in wedding finery - he in a tuxedo (with a cumberbund and bow tie in SSL yellow) and she in her poofy, beaded cake-topper wedding dress (with a matching sash in SSL yellow). We plan to sing a song or two and then leave, all the while handing out SSL cards denouncing homophobia as the great sin. It should be a blast.
We are planning to blog again about the events and tweet (twitter.com/acmehero) as well as post to Facebook to give a real-time feel. And, of course, we will be videoing the events as much as possible. I will try to send those in to the SSL folks as well. Perhaps we can inspire other events like this around the country. Wouldn’t that be great? Weddings all over the country where core values like diginity, environmental responsibility and giving back to the community are a central focus. We hope to see it. Until then and evermore Carolina and I will be Standing on the Side of Love in Arizona.
This post is one part history lesson, one part book report and one part personal philosophy. It is the story of the second oldest faith tradition in human history one that could currently be said to encompass the beliefs of roughly fifteen percent of the US population, forty million people, and about one billion people worldwide. By pure numbers alone it accounts itself as the third largest faith tradition of the all behind Christianity and Islam. At present it is the fastest growing “religious preference” in the United States and the only one to have increased its percentage of the population in every one of the fifty states over the past generation. It could arguably be called the single most influential source tradition within my faith of Unitarian Universalism: the Humanist tradition.
According to www.uua.orgHumanism is defined as a non-theist tradition that focuses on human potential and emphasizes personal responsibility for ethical behavior. Rev. Sarah Oelberg, who is quoted in UUA.org, describes Humanism as including the following values:
Showing love to all humans is a worthy goal.
Immortality is found in the examples we set and the work we do.
We gain insight from many sources and all cultures, and there are many religious books and teachings that can instruct us about how to live.
We have the power within ourselves to realize the best we are capable of as human beings.
We are responsible for what we do and become; our lives are in our own hands.
That is a good nutshell but I think the book Good Without God, by Greg Epstein Humanist pastor at Harvard University, can do a better job of narrowing down the Humanist philosophy. We’ll take a look at Rabbi Epstein’s views on Humanism in a little bit. First though, let’s take a look back at the history of Humanism, a long and rich history, much of which Epstein outlines in his book, and one in which as a Humanist and a Unitarian Universalist I take great pride.
I said in my opening that Humanism is the second oldest faith tradition in human history and I think that is likely true. As Epstein puts it:
“picture what most likely happened the first time someone came up with a theory about God or gods, or goddesses, one of his family members scowled, bushy eyebrow raised, and grunted the equivalent of “Don’t be ridiculous!” If religion is ancient, the Humanism and atheism are most likely almost as old.”
After all, doubt is as much a part of the human condition as faith, and is arguably equally strong. Humanist ideas are as old then as religion itself. Indian thinkers were penning Humanist ideas in Sanskrit more than 500 years before the early books of the Bible were likely written. Greek thinkers like Epicurus and Eastern thinkers Confucius wroate about Humanist ideas as did Middle Eastern thinkers such as Ibn Al-Rawandi whom Epstein quotes, addressing God:
“Thou didst apportion the means of thy livelihood to Thy Creatures like a drunkard who shows himself churlish. Had a man made such a division, we would have said to him, You have swindled. Let this teach you a lesson”.
The Judeo-Christian, Islamic and Hindu words are all rife with the writings of free-thinkers who questioned the beliefs of the faiths of their countrymen all across the ages. From the earliest writing to the present day there are many who choose to look beyond the conventions of their culture and kin and find a deeper meaning solely within the human condition itself. Today, we call that Humanism.
But, that word did not really come into our vocabulary until the early twentieth century. It was solidified with the drafting of the first Humanist Manifesto in 1933, a document born of Unitarian and Universalist roots. Of the thirty-four signers of the document, eight of them were Unitarian or Universalist clergy. Humanism is deeply ingrained within our movement.
In 1998 a survey was conducted among Unitarian Universalists to examine the philosophical makeup of our membership. Fully forty-six percent of our congregants at the time identified as Humanist. Both Epstein and I lump many different belief systems into the Humanist bucket. I think that’s fine, there’s room at the inn. As Epstein says in his opening chapters:
“If you identify as an atheist, an agnostic, freethinker, rationalist, skeptic, cynic, secular humanist, naturalist, or deist; as spiritual, apathetic, nonreligious, “nothing”; or any other irreligious descriptive, you could probably count yourself as what he, and I, would call a Humanist.”
“Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.
The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.”
Blah, blah, blah.
I am currently facilitating a Building Your Own Theology (BYOT) class, in it I am continually asking: what is it that makes Unitarian Universalism a religion? How can a non-creedal belief system with no dogma and no formal catechism be considered a religion? A dear and wise woman answered that for me. She said a religion is a belief system that informs all aspects of your life. I find that a very useful description.
Unitarian Universalism and more particularly our Humanist tradition, more than meets this criteria for me. It provides me with a framework for understanding myself, the people with whom I interact, the world around me and my place within it. There is a great song in the Unitarian Universalist supplemental hymnal Singing the Journey titled “Where Do We Come From?” We’ve sung it many times in our congregation. We all know it, many if not most of us by heart.
“Where do we come from, what are we, where are we going? Mystery, mystery, life is a riddle and a mystery.”
How does my Humanism help me answer these questions? Let’s take a look.
Where do we come from?
This is perhaps the second most driving of these three questions in terms of its influence on religious thought. What is the origin of life? Epstein handles this with his typical style:
“Our history began with the Big Bang…it continued with this galaxy’s first star, which appeared five billion years later and the Milky Way’s birthing of our sun five billion years ago. With the formation of the Earth a billion years later came the first living cells, and then two billion years after that came new kinds of cells that “invented” both sexual reproduction and the predator-prey relationship. These twin developments led to an ever-quickening spiral of change… (leading directly to)…humans, self-awareness... (and our)…creation of myth…religion…culture…and eventually…American Idol.”
The story of evolution holds an epic beauty that in my never-to-be-humble opinion has far more impact than any mythological creation story. It doesn’t make human beings less special to accept that we are a part of a larger unguided process, it makes us more special. Out of the roughly five billion years of our Earth’s history humanity has been around for one twenty-five thousandth of that time. Let me say that again, one twenty-five thousandth…of that time. We are singular in history, unique, the culmination of every biological process since the dawn of time. But, as a Humanist I don’t pretend that the Theory of Evolution is an absolute certainty.
I have Christian friends who are wont to remind me that my “faith” in evolution is no different from their “faith” in God. Epstein reminds us to remind them that the question is not about whether one believes, but upon what evidence one’s beliefs are based. While we both share a faith, theirs is in something which cannot be studied or proven or even argued with any degree of certainty at all. Whereas my faith is in humankind itself, in our ability to think, and reason and through those faculties arrive at conclusions based upon the best evidence available at the time, and further on our ability to revise those theories when and if new evidence to the contrary comes to light. Epstein asks: would you want to fly in an airplane designed by an engineer with no advanced scientific degree, who in fact did not believe in science, and instead consulted the Bible or the pop for advice on how to build airplanes? Probably not. The scientific method is the single best tool humans have ever developed for understanding the underlying workings of our world.
Those who are in my BYOT class have heard me more than once say that I have a real problem with the word faith. To me it has always meant turning off my rational mind and accepting a premise because someone “said so”. However, one of the first pieces of concrete awesomeness I found in Epstein’s writing is that I shouldn’t be allergic to the word faith. Rather, I should recognize that my faith is not in some improvable negative (i.e., God does not exist) but in the capacity of humans to “live well based upon conclusions and convictions reached by empirical testing and free, unfettered, rational inquiry.” In other words, as Humanists and as Unitarian Universalists we question everything, including our questions! We are, to use Epstein's phrase, the Keepers of the Question. And that is a holy calling!
What are we?
Which rules the day, Nature or Nurture? Or is it, as some religionists would have us believe, solely the guiding hand of our Loving Father that determines the person we are to become? Are we evil by nature as the Calvinists would have us believe, driven to serve only our own base natures and separated from the Grace of the Almighty? Is it only the belief in a higher power that cajoles us into good behavior? Even more important is the question of what constitutes “good” behavior. How can one know what is good? Or, as Socrates asks it: is that which the gods love good because they love it, or do they love it because it is good?
To my mind, it is our capacity for thinking, for rational action, that leads us to do good not the invisible hand of a faceless god. There are many species that have self awareness, the ability to understand that they are a unique, individual entity, to, for example, recognize themselves in a mirror. But it is a unique capacity of higher primates to have “other awareness”, to empathize, to be able to walk a mile, or even a few feet, in someone else’s shoes. That, is a capacity unknown to any other species. And that awareness, not just that we are unique, but that so are Tom, Dick, Sarah and Sally, is what leads us to goodness. It is our ability to think beyond our own needs and desires to the needs and desires of those around us.
This, by the way, is a fundamental truth outlined in every major religion in the world,a fact Epstein points out in his book. Reciprocity, paying it forward, treating people with the same dignity we would like shown to us, call it what you will. In Christianity it is called the Golden Rule. In Islam, Muhammad, all praise be upon him, said “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.” Buddhists have been told: “hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” In Judaism, the Talmud instructs: “what is hateful to you, do not to your fellowman. That is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary.” In other words, look inside ourselves for our own desires, project those upon our neighbors and treat them as ourselves.
To the Humanist something is only good or bad to the extent that is helps or harms humanity itself. We are singly the most cooperative species in the history of life to date. Our ability to come together in crisis or for a common purpose is evidenced every day! From people leaving their livelihoods and loved ones to rush to the aid of New York in the aftermath of 9/11 to the multi-day ordeal of a child lost in the woods and a community coming together to find him to the clean up efforts happening right now all along the Gulf coast. Ours is a community of goodness! If fully one quarter of those people self identify as agnostic or atheist or Humanist, then what is their driving urge? If we are baseless, false and evil in our core and only able to find good to the extent that we connect to a higher power, then the question should really be why are we as good as we are as often as we are?
It is my contention, and I don’t presume to speak for anyone other than myself in this, that humans more often than not, when given the opportunity, will do the right thing. When given a chance we will help those around us. When given the opportunity and when other factors, such as poverty for example, are not driving a wedge between ourselves and our humanity, we will choose to help rather than to harm, to uplift rather than to tear down. And there are examples of this all around us in our everyday lives.
Now that is not to say that there are not examples of evil in the world as well. Clearly there are. But they are not the norm. The very fact of their aberrant nature is what calls them out so loudly and why we are so appalled by them when they do come to light.
Where are we going?
I said earlier that the first of these three questions: where do we come from, was likely the second most driving from a religious perspective, this last question is without doubt, the most contentious. It is the one that drives us to look for a higher meaning in the first place. Where are we going?
For many if not most people this question means “after this lifetime”, but not for a Humanist. We freely admit that we simply don’t know what happens after this life ends. The most likely answer, given all of the available empirical evidence to date is that nothing happens after this lifetime. And that, quite simply, is the reason we need to have an impact now.
We gain immortality to the extent we impact the world during our lifetime. We gain immortality through our children, by guiding them to live a life of purpose, by passing our genes on to the next generation, and they, in turn passing theirs on to the following generation and on and on. We also live on through the work we do to make the world a better place.
Mother Theresa will not be remembered by her children and grandchildren, but she will be remembered but thousands, if not millions, for the work she did in providing solace and comfort to those in need around her. She will be remembered in that she paid forward, putting in place a framework to continue that work well into the future.
Warren Buffet will be remembered not only for his laudable contributions to the business world but for giving away his entire fortune to worthy causes, that legacy will stretch from this generation into the future beyond his children’s children’s children’s lifetimes.
I want to be clear that I think striving to better ourselves, to get that great job, or new house, or awesome iPod-thingy is not in and of itself a bad thing. Not at all! Warren Buffet couldn’t have given away forty billion dollars to charity if he hadn’t earned it to begin with.
But there are too many people, we meet them every day, for which the next great thingy IS their life’s calling. And what happens once that thingy is achieved? Does it make you happy? Sure! For about a minute. And then there is a new thingy or a better house or a higher paying job to get get get.
It should also be said that there is such a thing as too much austerity. I do not want to live in the woods and navel gaze or give up all my possessions and minister to the poor on the streets of Phoenix. And I don’t recommend that for you either - its much too hot. But a life of balance where we give as well as get, where we rest as well as work, where we look to the welfare of others as well as to our own, is a life of real happiness. At least in my opinion. My Humanist faith tells me it matters very little where we are going, what matters are the choices we make and the actions we take along the way.
We Unitarian Universalists would do well to remember our history. Ours are not “new age” philosophies, and ours is not a new age religion. It is a religion that grows from the strong roots of liberal Christian traditions that are ages old and finds truth in religious teachings from all over the world with histories longer than any of the Abrahamaic religions. It draws strength from the words and deeds of humans throughout history who have shared their wisdom with us and spoken truth to power. It acknowledges the power of the natural world to inform our lives and guide us to our higher selves. And, it recognizes that our own humanity and the human condition itself is as much, if not more, inspirational than any revealed truth. Unitarian Universalists don’t need the one perfect truth. Not as long as we continue to be the Keepers of the Question.
Happy Father’s Day. Whether you celebrated the day with a special dinner or just a lazy day off, if you received that special gift you wanted or got yet another un-wearable tie, given in love, I hope your Father’s Day was exactly what you wanted and that you know the joyous feeling of appreciation your family feels for the gift of your presence in their lives.
As I began to think about this message I wanted to share, I felt myself becoming more than just a little bit afraid. How does a single, childless man, the son of a single mother, someone who has never known a father in his own life, even begin to find the authority or context to speak about fatherhood? How is it possible for someone who has never seen a father of his own in action to have any idea of what's expected or required from a dad?
When I was very young, I often longed for the father I never had - usually after I’d had some sort of run-in with my mom. I would sometimes lie in bed staring out the window to the sky and romanticize my mythical father; in my childish mind he took the shape of a fighter pilot in the foreign legion, or a famous actor, or an independently wealthy super-spy.
Or, an independently wealthy, former fighter pilot turned super-spy working undercover as a famous actor.
In any case, I was sure that someday he would return to find my mother and me and we would live out our own happily ever after. It was the stuff of fantasy in the way that only children can create it.
Later, in elementary school, I found myself becoming just a little bitter about my lack of a dad. It made me different. And as we all know, difference is death in the Petri dish of social Darwinism that is the schoolyard. Then there were the activities: the father-and-son picnics I could never go to, the Pinewood Derbies where I stood on the sidelines and watched, while super-dads helped their sons race their wooden masterpieces to the finish line. There were the family softball games where I played (or rather watched) from right field as dads cheered on their sons. And yes, there was Father’s Day.
“My dad is and accountant”
“My daddy is a lawyer”
“My dad is a construction worker”
“My dad can beat up your dad!”
“What does your dad do Jimmy?”
I am not looking for sympathy here. I don’t want it and I have never needed it. I may not have had a father, but I had and have the single most awesome mom a person could ever want. She gave me more love than I could've expected if I'd had twenty parents. And, it is her I celebrate today.
My goal in telling you a little of my story is to provide some context. It is clear to me, from my own experience and the experiences of millions of kids all over our country, that fatherhood comes in many forms.
I just have to take a look around the congregation of my place of worship to see that. We celebrate and worship each Sunday with many so called “traditional” families and they sit side-by-side with many “post-modern” families. There are kids in our congregation with two dads or two moms. There are kids in our congregation who have step-dads and there are kids who, like me, have no dad. There are even one or two kids with no moms or dads!
The role of father has evolved over time. The first modern celebration of a "Father's Day" was held on July 5, 1908, in Fairmont, West Virginia, in the Williams Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church South. Grace Golden Clayton, the originator, chose the Sunday nearest to the birthday of her father, whom she was mourning, as the date. In December of that year a mining disaster in nearby Mon-on-gah had killed 361 men, 250 of them fathers, leaving around a thousand children fatherless. Clayton suggested to her pastor that they honor all those fathers. Of course as it was the first event of it's kind no thought was given to promoting the event, and as a consequence Father's Day wasn't celebrated again for many years. In fact, the original sermon was never reproduced and has been lost to time.
The first "official" observance of Father's Day is believed to have been organized through the efforts of Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, Washington. Having heard a church sermon at the local Episcopal Church in 1909 about the newly recognized Mother's Day, Dodd felt strongly that fathers shood also be recognized. The following year she took the idea to the Spokane YMCA and their Ministerial Alliance. They endorsed Dodd’s idea, and helped it spread, by celebrating the first Father’s Day on June 19th, 1910. however, it took many more years to make the holiday official.
Whether we count the first Father's day as happening in 1908 or in 1910 matters little except to historians; either way it was a long time ago. The Great Depression was still a generation away, the term "nuclear family" had not yet been invented, women’s suffrage was still being debated state by state, and Stonewall was more than fifty years away. These were a far different times than our own. The world was a very different place. The American family was a very different entity, and so were American fathers.
At the turn of the 20th century, the commonly understood role of the father was the stern disciplinarian: stoic, remote, and terrifying. With a fourteen or sixteen hour workday, particularly for rural farm families, a man might start his day long before his children woke and return home well after they had gone to bed. A child might interact with her father only when receiving discipline or on holidays and otherwise might only interact with her mother. A father was responsible for the support of his family, and often that was where his duties ended. The rearing of children was the province of their mother and, if the family was wealthy, the servants.
The idea of fatherhood really began to change in the years following the Great Depression and World War II. Industrialization and the growth of the middle class meant that fathers were spending less time toiling to support their children and more time parenting them. Evenings and weekends became family time, and fathers engaged with their children much more often and in new ways.
The fifties and sixties brought us Father Knows Best and Leave It To Beaver. Dad was not only authoritarian he was also wise. He could deliver a baseball, a life lesson and a spanking with an equal amount of love, sometimes in the same 30 minutes. But the sixties also brought us My Three Sons, a clear departure from the nuclear family.
By the time that Richard Nixon made Father’s Day official in 1972, the idea of fatherhood and the role of fathers had changed even more. As women began to take a much more active role in the working world, men were called upon to take a more active role in the rearing of their kids. They were being asked to help nurture their children along side their wives and to help to foster an atmosphere that promoted intellectual and emotional growth.
During the eighties, the American family saw further changes. Children raised by single parents became much more common and the term “latchkey kid”, first coined during World War II when one parent would be off fighting the war the the other would be working became, a much more common occurrence.
The late eighties and nineties saw a widespread call for equality from LGBT couples and many began to build families of their own through adoption, fostering or natural means. In recent years laws banning gays from foster care and adoption are being challenged in the courts. More and more, children are being raised in families built on love without a care for the conventions of the past.
Today it’s not at all uncommon for children to be raised in a non-nuclear or postmodern family structure. According to the 2000 census approximately forty percent of American children are being raised in families without both a mom and a dad. Again, I ask how do those families share in the celebration of Father’s Day?
Another title for this post could be: The Story of Two Jacobs. Both of them are wonderful little boys, each with a different type of Father.
Our first Jacob is a regular fixture at VUU, the son of Linda and Anne. Linda and Anne tried very hard for a quite a while to conceive Jacob. He was very much wanted and they dedicated themselves to bringing him into their lives. There were many trips to the doctor and many long nights spent talking about what it meant to bring a child into their lives especially. They asked the same questions every prospective parent asks. Could they provide for him the life they hoped he'd have? Could they give him they strength of character that every child needs?
Although they have never really worried about Jacob needing a father per se, they definitely worried about him having male role models. They have made sure to encourage strong relationships between Jacob and the men in theirs and his life. His grandparents, family friends, and others have all played a role in giving Jacob the confidence he needs to grow into a boy of conviction.
Once, when Jacob's preschool asked the class to talk about what they wanted to be when they grew up, Jacob answered without missing a beat: "I want to be a mommy when I grow up!" And when the other kids in his class insisted that he couldn't be a mommy because he was a little boy, he countered with unassailable kid logic: "I can be anything I want to when I grow up, my mommys told me so!"
Our second Jacob, a beautiful little boy, was 22 months old and a victim of neglect and abuse when he entered the home of Karen, as her foster child. In a very sort period of time Karen fell in love with little Jacob and adopted him, binding him with love to her heart and home to share her life with her partner who, as it happens, was also named Caren.
As a result of his treatment before he came into these women's lives, Jacob was slow to develop. It took him longer than most kids to begin speaking. When he finally did begin to speak he would often call out to men with whom he came in contact, mistakenly calling them "daddy". This happened several times in restaurants and other public places much to the embarassment of his mothers.
Jacob's moms struggled with how they should each be addressed. Since they both shared the same first name having little Jacob call one of his mommies "Mommy Karen" and the other "Mommy Caren" clearly wouldn't work. One day, after spending the day painting and working on things around their home, Caren came downstairs, in her overalls, and a flannel shirt, a baseball cap sitting backwards on her head. Jacob, looked up in surprise said "daddy"! From that day forward, our second Caren was Jacob's daddy.
Jacob referred to her as daddy to his friends, his family and his teachers. Once, when his preschool class made their family trees as a class project Jacob did his too, confidently placing Caren as his "daddy" at the top of his tree next to his mommy, Karen. When his classmates told him that she couldn't be his daddy because she was a girl, he confidently and without any sense of difference firmly told them: "she's my daddy!" And that was that.
And that was that. Caren, took to the role like a duck to water. Jacob was as much her son as he was her partner's even though as a gay woman the law said she had no standing. In her heart and in her action, she was Jacob's daddy. In fact, so much so that her biological niece's and nephews began to jokingly call her "Uncle Caren".
Caren helped to shepherd a child, once so scared of the world that even getting him to dip his toe in the water to take a bath was too much for him, into a healthy, loving little boy. That is love, that is nurturing, and that is Fatherhood, gender be damned.
I believe its possible for an adult of any gender or familial relationship to help a child to learn the lessons typically ascribed to a father: Courage, Commitment, Honor, Steadfastness. Anne Geddes, the famed photographer of babies and moms, once said: "any man can be a father but it takes someone special to be a dad." I couldn't agree more. But, I would urge us to take that further and remember that much like children themselves, fatherhood comes in all shapes and sizes, all colors of the rainbow and, that in whatever form its found, biological father, uncle, grandfather, "big-brother", sister, aunt, mother or grandmother, it is the love, the nurturing, the support and the guidance that matter.
On this Father's Day let us celebrate all of those in our lives and in the lives our kids who willingly take on the role of father. Let us revel in the diversity of our community. All of our kids can and should have someone with whom they can share this Father's Day. To paraphrase a famous movie line: father is as father does.