Tag Archives: Personal

Surnames and Patriarchy

The “good ole days”, when men were men, and women took the last name of their man and of course the children would also take the surname of their father. Simple, neat, tidy and terribly old school. There are a lot of reasons and circumstances for women to keep their surname after they hook up with their partner, and when this happens, how do you choose a last name for your child(ren)?

When Men Were Men

Men proudly defending their tradition of keeping women down.

Things have changed over the last generation or two, and increasingly men are no longer the men they once were, and it’s a good thing. I can think of a plethora of reasons why a woman would choose not to take the surname of her partner, and my wife fits into this category. In our case, my wife is a scientist and has several publications under her surname and for her to change her name would, at best make it difficult for people to track her body of work, and at worst may actually prevent her career from taking off. If my wife had a career that was less dependent on her name, I would have still raised the issue of whether or not we should share a common last name after being married. In my mind, we are both individuals and to assume that she would take my name would be akin to denying her identity as a result of our relationship.

 Surname Options

Since my wife and I both still have our original surnames, we had to decide what the last name of our children would be. The following is a list of the options that we considered in choosing a last name for our kids:

  1. My last name for one, and my wife’s last name for the other
  2. My last name for all of them
  3. My wife’s last name for all of them
  4. A hybrid of my last name and my wife’s last name
  5. A hyphenated combination of both of our surnames
  6. An entirely new last name for both of our children

Jenn and I were both opposed to option #5 because we thought that if our kids keep their last names and they decide to hyphenate the names of their children, then you’d be creating a situation where the length of hyphenated surnames could grow exponentially with every new generation and that seemed ridiculous.

We, or at least I, had a lot of fun with option #4. By combining our surnames in a particular way, you could create a resulting surname of “Bakins”, which seemed awesome to me because I am a geek and saw an opportunity to name my son “Bilbo” which would have made me the father of “Bilbo Bakins”. Absolutely fricking awesome,right? Jenn, appreciated the humour, but also appreciated that this was probably not how our son would want to be known for his whole life. Option #6 was also ruled out pretty quickly, and if I recall correctly it was primarily because there would be no connection (by name) to either Jenn or myself. This left us with options 1, 2 or 3 and the concern of being linked to our children by name.

We gave a lot of consideration to options 1, 2 and 3, and ultimately opted for option #2, but I feel that all three of these options had a lot of merit. If social conventions hold, then whatever surname we gave our son would likely be the family name that survives this branch of our collective family tree. Most people who get married tend to take the family name of their husband, and so, traditionally most people probably never really consider how this affects how a mother feels about her name not being carried on through her children. Because Jenn still has her own family name, from my perspective this was certainly an important factor to take into account since I didn’t want Jenn to feel that I was insensitive to the possibility that her family name might not carry on through her children.

Honestly, thinking through this whole thought process again makes me think that we should reconsider changing our kids family name to Jenn’s. It seems funny to me, and very indicative of our patriarchal society that it is assumed that a woman will take the name of her man. Moreover, the children which she carries in her body, which are literally part of her body for the first 9 months of existence are then brought into the world and appropriated in name by the father. To be sure, this is a complex issue and I know that I am presenting an oversimplified version of the facts, but this reality does make me cringe. I would certainly not want to be a woman in today’s (or yesterday’s) society. It makes me feel very passionate about how this world will treat my daughter and how much, as a society, we owe women. What are your thoughts on surnames and the way they are dictated by a our societies patriarchal influences?

The Lesson That a Trivial Parenting Decision Taught Me: Daddy or Papa?

daddy-vs-papaWhat is in a word? Over time, I suspect that my children will call me a wide variety of things, some of which I’d rather they didn’t. Initially, at least, I have some control over how I am known to my kids and I opted for the less conventional (in my region) “Papa”. I quickly found out that this decision was taken much more seriously by some of my acquaintances than it was by me. Don’t get me wrong, I put some thought into it, but my decision actually seemed to bother some people more than, in my opinion, it ought to have.

Why Papa?

There were a few reasons that made me choose to be called “Papa” rather than “Dad”. The most basic reason was that it was unconventional in my area, so it was just a way of being a little different. This has turned out to work pretty well for me, because when my kids are with a group of kids, it is very easy for me to tell when I am being called because so few fathers are called “Papa”. So I like being unique, and I’m a lazy parent who doesn’t like having to look too hard for my kids in a crowd, but there was a more personal reason for me to go with the more unconventional option.

When I was a boy there was a time that I decided that instead of calling my father “Dad”, I was going to try calling him either “Pa” or “Pop”. My father and mother came into my room one day and I tried it out, and they both really loved it. They tried to get me to say it again and out of embarrassment I refused. It really is a shame, because I liked it and it seemed like they both liked it too. In any case, as a bit of an homage to my father, this is why I chose to be known by my children as “Papa”.

What Did I Learn?

The decision to be called “Papa” by my children was one of my first real decisions as a parent. Clearly not a big or terribly important decision, but I did learn a lot from it. As I mentioned, I took a surprising amount of heat from relatives and friends for making this fairly trivial decision, and this, my friends, is what they call foreshadowing. You’d be amazed at how many of your decisions other people will call into question when you are raising your children. Unsolicited parenting advice abounds, and can come from a close relative or the person sitting next to you on the bus.

In the end, I feel that this early “parenting” decision gave me a little bit of a heads up that it is important for me to be able to let people’s opinions about my parenting style roll off of me. To be sure, this is easier said than done and honestly, I feel that I am still fine tuning my understanding and implementation of this lesson. On the other side of this, I have also learned that I should not offer fellow parents unsolicited advice. The role of a parent is so deeply personal, that it is very hard to say things about parenting without making a person feel criticized. What sort of parenting advice have you had from relatives or strangers? Also, what is the preferred nomenclature (obscure reference to a Coen brothers film) of your child’s father: Daddy or Papa? Finally, what Coen brothers film did I just reference?

Monuments Explained

In my previous post I put up a poem that I wrote when I was a younger punk than I am now. When I wrote the poem my intent was to point out that, generally, people have a tendency to avoid dealing with the larger problems of the world. Children have quite a few unique characteristics, two of which are a remarkable clarity of thought and the inability to edit their thoughts. While this sometimes leads to public declarations like “Papa has a penis” or “Papa toots” it can also lead to fairly profound observations about the world. The final line “Quite often the monuments to our ignorance stand no higher than the waist” was meant to point out how children often seem to be able to ask very penetrating questions which reveal our lack of understanding and resolve to address such problems.  Therefore, with the clarity of thought that their fresh perspective affords them, children are like pint sized monuments to our ignorance.

What Have I Done for the World Lately

In any fundamental way, am I any less ignorant than my parents, or theirs? Well, if I’m going to be honest, I’d like to say that I am, but the reality of the situation is that I’m not. On an individual level, I have done nothing substantial or significant to end poverty, war, pollution et cetera. My poem wasn’t really supposed to be an indictment of individuals for lacking the moral fortitude to “save the world”. It was really just an interesting observation that children can see through a lot of the crappy excuses that we use to ignore some major issues that exist in the world.

Since children do seem to have this ability to ask very revealing questions, my new role as a father leaves me wondering what approach I should take when these questions are asked of me. I have a plan for how I’d like to address the more often thought of “drugs” and “sex” related questions, but I’m realizing that I have no plan for how I’m going to respond when I am asked why person X from country Y has no food when we have plenty or why it’s okay for people from one country to kill people in another country when it is a “war”, but normally that is murder. I need a plan for this.

The Plan

vietnam-war
How would you explain this photo to your child?

What I would most like to avoid is becoming my own self-fulfilling prophecy by having my children become the monuments to my ignorance. The simple realization that there are no good answers to questions like those above is going to have to be my starting point. I think it is very important for me to not shy away from those questions, even when there are no good answers. Come to think of it, I think the way to go is to become a child again myself. Explore their enquiries with them and ask penetrating questions back. This way you wouldn’t be avoiding the issues, and you would avoid coming off as arrogant. Well, this is where my idea has taken me this time, what are your thoughts on the issue?

Monuments

This post is a bit of a personal rambling. When I was younger, and in university, I had some ideas that I sometimes wrote down. I guess, generally they had the form of poetry. Luckily for you, this particular idea was short and sweet. It encapsulated the essence of a thought that I had when I was a child.

I present to you a “poem” that I wrote that is, in some way, about children. Read it, comment if you like and in my next blog post I will explain what my thoughts were when I wrote this.

Monuments

What things are out there for the normal person? What is with them at the end of their day?

For the most part, the learned seem not to have done their job, but they are not alone in their negligence.

Quite often the monuments to our ignorance stand no higher than the waist.

-Me

On Death and Birth

VennThat’s right, I’m going there, in my blog which is about parenting and children, and by inference birth and life. On a few occasions, while watching my kids play around, it has occurred to me that they have absolutely no idea that, at some point, they are going to die. Of course I don’t think this really matters since they are only two years old, but it has made me think back to my introduction to the harsh reality that is death and how my understanding of death, and now birth, has grown and changed over the years.

Death

In my life, there have been a number times when I have had to say a final good-bye to a person very close to me, and every time it has been a deeply saddening experience. Just before the twins came along, there was quite a drama unfolding within our family, as two close and beloved family members passed away as a result of unrelated health problems. This certainly cast a pall over the lead up to our children’s birth, but my experience of these two deaths was significantly different to the death of anyone else who had ever been close to me, and it was, in part, because of the imminent birth of my children.

In every instance that I have had to deal with death in the past, there has always been this incredibly simple, yet baffling thought that has occurred to me. There is a person who exists one minute, and then a moment later, all that made that person what they are, is absolutely gone. Every part of their body still seems to exist in front of you, but they are no longer there. What a feeling of loss and emptiness this gives.

Birth

With the arrival of my children, there were a number of thoughts on my mind that seemed somehow familiar. They were familiar because they were similar in form to the thoughts that I’d had when someone close to me dies, but these thoughts were different in content because they gave me feelings exactly opposite to those that surround a person’s death. In this case, first there was no one, and moments later there were two new people that formerly didn’t exist. In the same way that I had always found it hard to comprehend that after someone dies, even though the body remains, they no longer exist, I found it equally perplexing that out of nothing, there was now something.

I have always found it difficult to get used to the reality that a person has died. Seeing something that makes you chuckle, for instance, might make you think “I should give X a call and tell them about this because they’d love it” and shortly after having this type of thought, you’d have to make the realization that there will be no more phone calls to share the details of your day with that person any more. It’s a sad and hard reality to come to grips with after the death of a loved one. With the birth of my twins, however, I was making the realization over and over again that now there were two new people with which I could share the details of my day (once they learned English, that is).

With the death of these two family members, there seemed to be a poetic balance about the situation. Two lives lost and two lives gained. Of course, in a literal sense, my children could not possibly replace the lives of the family that we lost, but they were a reminder that each death is the result of a birth, and we were witnessing the whole process of renewal within a very short time. I remember it being an emotion packed experience, and in this instance there was both intense sadness and joy all within a very short period of time, and a lot of reflection upon the whole event.

My Hospital Postpartum Experience

This is a continuation of my previous post called My Hospital Birthing Experience. For the whole story of the birth of my twins, I recommend reading the previous post first.

Healthcare Hooligans

To Swaddle or Not

SwaddleAfter the delivery, while Jenn and I were recovering, nurse Ratched came in to show us how to swaddle our babies and explained that it would help them to sleep. We visited with family and then after a short time were taken to the maternity ward where we were told that they don’t swaddle at that hospital. Exhausted, we explained that we had just been shown how to swaddle by another nurse and that we were now going to get some sleep. Our new maternity ward nurse awkwardly grumbled something about nurse Ratched and left.

Breast Feeding Nazis

The hospital that we delivered our children at has a “breastfeeding friendly” policy, which in retrospect seems like a poor name for their policy. Jenn and I had always been fully on board with breastfeeding our kids and needed no convincing. Every nurse that walked in was astounded to find her tandem nursing both kids within hours of their birth. However, they were hungry hungry kiddos. Jenn’s milk production wasn’t what it needed to be for two mouths, and so I started making visits to the nursing station to get some formula to help supplement Jenn’s milk. Each time I went I was given what amounted to a stern talking to about how we shouldn’t be using formula, and that you need to increase the demand for milk for the production to go up. Yes, sure, but you see we have two and they are hungry, so give us the formula.

After visiting with the lactation consultant and our original “cool” OB/GYN and explaining how long Jenn was breast feeding every day and how the kids didn’t seem to be getting enough, they 100% agreed with us that the kids needed more, and they told the nurses to lay off and give us formula when we asked. Relieved at the conversation with the “professionals” Jenn and I spent some time enjoying our new family members, which meant that I waited too long and went to get formula from the nurses after a shift change and apparently they left no notes, so again we were given the runaround when asking for formula. They even suggested that we shouldn’t be asking for formula because, since they were giving us such small amounts, they had to throw away most of the bottle of formula they were giving us after a short period of time. Really??? Hey I have an idea, how about you give us a whole bottle?

Jenn was an absolute hero when it came to breastfeeding our kids, and put in a ridiculous amount of time and effort to get her milk production up. The result of the hospital policy, however, was to make me feel like 1) an ignorant parent 2) an incompetent parent and 3) a beggar any time that I asked for formula. What’s worse than that was Jenn was made to feel inadequate as a mother. Ironically, when we finally went home with our kids we found some orange coloured crystals in our son’s diaper and so we called the nurse’s hotline and learned that was a sign that he was dehydrated. Hmmm, how would that happen, oh yeah by not being given the formula he needed in the hospital.

Parting Parental Competency Check

We were only in the hospital for 3 days, but honestly I was so frustrated by the experience that on the final day I was ready to bolt out of there. Hold on though, before you go there is one last hoop for you to jump through. Brought to you by the health care professionals that brought you:

  1. Assisted delivery without discussing the course of action to take in the event of a breech delivery
  2. Breech delivery
  3. Swaddling contradictions
  4. Implied parental incompetence which resulted in #5
  5. Withholding formula to the point of dehydration

So, as our parting gift, we had to demonstrate that we knew how to properly buckle our kids into a car seat. I actually think this is a good idea, but the irony of being evaluated on my ability to perform this task by these people was really frustrating to me.

Needless to say, I didn’t really enjoy my birth or postpartum experiences, but I felt significantly better and comfortable in my role as a parent once we got home. I would absolutely love to hear stories from others about how they feel about their birth (dads included) so feel free to make use of the comment section below.

My Hospital Birthing Experience

On a Monday in early May of 2011 we got the call in the early afternoon that it was time to come to the hospital to have labour induced. Everything seemed so civilized and orderly. We would arrive at the hospital in the early afternoon, induce labour and then after a few days, go home with our new family. Driving to the hospital was like going to the airport for some kind of trip, bags packed and feeling excited. Oh, it was a “trip” alright.

Induction Hormone Injected, Catcher’s Mitt On

Partly because everything seemed so “civil and orderly” as a result of having labour induced and planned out, and partly because of our fast food culture, after the induction hormone had been injected I think I expected a pretty quick delivery to unfold. Don’t get me wrong, we were parents by 9:06 am the next morning which, now I understand, is still actually quite quick, but I didn’t know that when the hormone was first given. So, long story short (and entirely skipping the drama that my wife experienced), we played the waiting game overnight.

We had an amazing nurse with us all night long, and Jenn’s OB/GYN was working overnight. That was great for us, since we had a good relationship with the Dr. and overnight we had grown quite comfortable with the nurse. It was the opinion of our OB/GYN that we could plan for a natural birth because both the twins were head down as we went into this whole process, so things were looking good.

For a little context for those who have never had multiples, if both fetuses are head down when the first child is born, then there is a risk that subsequent fetuses may shift their position and end up becoming breeched births (feet first and not the way they should ideally come out). If this happened, it was the opinion of our OB that it would be safest to deliver the second baby via C-section, as breech births are more of a risk to the fetus. Understandably, this was my wife’s least favourite option because it meant that after delivering, she would be recovering from a natural birth and a C-section.

Back to the story, at 7:00 am, still pregnant, it was shift change at the hospital. Good-bye nice nurse and cool OB/GYN, hello nurse Ratched and unknown OB/GYN. Jenn had been working hard for a while already by this point, but there was no significant change in the progress of the birth, and by 8:30ish, the new Dr. is telling us that it is decision time. Will it be a C-section or an assisted birth using forceps? Without going into the details of the conversation, it was obvious that the new Dr. thought that a C-section was the wrong choice and the assisted birth was the right choice. We were feeling exhausted and had never discussed the details of an assisted birth with our OB. After asking some questions as to why the Dr. thought the assisted birth was the better option, it became apparent that we were annoying her, and so we decided to go with the assisted birth. There was, however, no discussion as to what would happen if the second baby shifted and it came out breech.

The Assisted Birth

A-birth While the hospital staff were prepping themselves and Jenn, I was all dressed up with nowhere to go for the 15 minutes that I was in the “holding tank”. Finally I was let in and things got underway fairly quickly. My son came first, and although they used forceps, the process seemed fairly quick and routine. I was overwhelmed at the sight of my son, who was now an actual little person, not just an idea. Seeing him make his first uncoordinated jerky movements and then hearing his first cry took me on a mental roller coaster ride into the future, imagining some of the life events that were ahead of him and us. It was a truly emotional and eye-opening experience. I had a comfortable intellectualized notion of how I was becoming a father, and seeing my son in front of me forced a new and daunting reality upon me. I was both excited and making the realization that I wasn’t aware how real all of this was.

After my son was born, and before my wife could really even see him, he was taken to another part of the room and they started the work of delivering my daughter. Nothing was said by the medical staff to us about what was happening, but after a minute or so it became apparent to me that my daughter was now in a breech position. The mood had gotten more tense and to make things worse my wife had started throwing up again. Not being able to roll over, Jenn was concerned with choking, and at the same time the OB, in a very urgent tone, started saying that Jenn really had to push now. I remember looking at Jenn and saying with a tone that, from me, meant this was now very serious “you have to push now!” Jenn fully understood how serious I was, but she was in a bout of nausea and she replied “I’m trying!” I felt horrible for Jenn and very powerless and frantic about the situation.

B-O2Four minutes after my son, my daughter was born but the sight was very different. Instead of a healthy bright red crying infant, my daughter was bluish/purple, silent and motionless. Time slowed, it felt like my breath was sucked from my lungs, and for a second time I made the realization that I wasn’t aware how real all of this was. Again, they whisked my second child away to another part of the room and my attention went back to Jenn, who wasn’t aware of everything that I had just seen. I tried to help her through her nausea and simultaneously figure out what was happening with my daughter, and then Jenn asked “how are they?” I put on my best game face and told her they were both fine, then nurse Ratched and I caught one another’s eyes and I could tell that she wasn’t sure either. I told Jenn that I was going to go and take a look at them and that I’d be right back. When I arrived they had just covered my daughter’s mouth with an oxygen mask and she was starting to breath. It was truly amazing to see her colour change from purple to red after only a few breaths. As stressful as it was, it seems this is not uncommon and it was not a big deal for the hospital staff. Our new daughter was evaluated and found to be totally healthy and normal despite her awkward entrance into the world!