The Part-Time Blog of a Full-Time Indian: Fatherhood, making this up as I go

March 04, 2010

The Part-Time Blog of a Full-Time Indian: Fatherhood, making this up as I go
Gyasi logoPublished widely in Native American newspapers and websites, Gyasi Ross has kindly volunteered to share his blogs here on Look for his writings, The Part-Time Blog of a Full-Time Indian, the first Wednesday of every month.

No clue how to be a dad

With every day that passes, I realize more and more that I have absolutely no clue how to be a dad.

I act like I know, though. I try to look wise and comfortable/not-completely-awkward while I potty train my boy. "Don't play with that -- it's not a toy! Wash your hands."

I can read his mind though, "Practice what you preach, daddy."

The truth is that I still feel like the 14-year-old who has no idea how to take care of his egg baby in Home Ec class; you know the kid who just kept his egg baby in his locker all week? My first inclination is to think "Who would really know if I dropped him and just replaced it with another egg?" Fortunately, his mother is much more responsible than I am, and that she keeps my Home Ec tendencies in check.

Still, please don't tell my son (or any other children that I may have in the future) that I'm just making this up as I go. I mean, I am trying to learn from the masters. I steal a bit from my uncles, a bit from Mike Brady, a smidgen from Heathcliff Huxtable, and a whole lot from my grandpas.

I'll go as far as to say that I'll be a lot more effective as a grandpa than as a dad. I had incredible grandpas - both of them very involved, strict, and they both knew their ways around a belt. Ouch.

But being a dad? Eh, not so much.

And I don't think I'm alone.

'We are a generation of men raised by women'

I look at most of my closer male friends, and most of them are fathers. Most of them are like me in that they never had a dad who potty-trained them or taught them to wash their hands afterwards; really, how can a woman show a boy the correct way to stand up, push his hips forward and NOT pee on his own leg?

Similarly, a lot of my male friends -- like me -- were spanked almost exclusively by a mother who was shorter than them by the time they were 11 years old; how can a mom have a man-to-man talk with a boy? How awkward is it for a mom to have the birds and bees talk with her baby boy? How strange is it for our single moms to try to teach us to block out on rebounds or shoot a gun? Still, our moms did it. To quote "Fight Club," "we are a generation of men raised by women." But without being raised by men, how do we know how to teach the NEXT generation to be "real men?"

It's hard.

I know that I've spent a decent amount of time during this blog series chastising Skin fathers and praising Skin mothers. It's not a hard thing to do -- Skin mothers have consistently shown themselves to be amazing. The "neck" (remember that?). Skin fathers (myself included, certainly!) have consistently shown a much larger learning curve, taking a bit longer to learn the fine art of parenting.

I know that.

Things are getting better

Still, as the title implies, I'm giving Skin fathers props on this one; lots of props. To me -- someone who always looks for reasons to criticize -- there is much cause for optimism for Skin fathers. I know that things are getting better -- that there are more good and stable Skin fathers than at any time in recent memory. How do I know? It's simple; because I see them. I go to powwows; I see more dads walking around with their boys in little matching Grass Dance outfits. I see the young dads walking around the powwow arbors showing off their Air Jordans and braids, but now they're pushing around a stroller. Or I go to Skin basketball tournaments, and I see more dads that bring their families -- dads that have to shoo their little guys and gals off the court because the kids keep trying to get on the court and play. Just like daddy.

Sometimes my "optimism" comes from the men I do NOT see at the powwows and tournaments and rodeos. I used to see them there, but they dropped out of sight. Now, they're cooking breakfast for their family on Sunday morning, or taking their sons to church. Or maybe curled up on the floor on Sundays watching NFL football -- which is "church" to some (myself included).

Of course there are still deadbeat dads. There are still knucklehead dads and absentee fathers. Many of us just haven't learned our lessons yet and it would be a lie to say that all of us are responsible fathers. I certainly have times when I've prioritized things above my son. I work hard not to, but I'm very far from being an ideal father. Still, my suspicion -- and it's only a suspicion -- is that there is a slightly more judgmental eye being cast toward those individuals who have tons of kids by tons of different mothers. I likewise think that our people are more critical toward fathers who never see their children nowadays.

Thank you to the Skin fathers who care

It's getting better. I can see it. I see it in my friends, who are generally incredible fathers and are my inspiration to be a better father.

Ironically, my friends are typically guys who many would consider candidates to be irresponsible fathers because they lived reckless childhoods and early adulthoods. They are the Skins that no one thought SHOULD have children, much less would actually be good dads.

They're ex-car stereo thieves and marijuana peddlers and tramps and "in school suspension" veterans and ex-wannabe gang bangers (or all of the above). Many of them got involved in those activities largely because their fathers were not as involved as maybe they should have been, if at all. Yet, my friends realize they have an obligation to teach their children a better way. And I cannot help but feel encouraged and optimistic that the upcoming generations of Skin fathers will be better than our own.

Thank you to the Skin fathers who care and work to bring their children further than your fathers brought you. To the rest -- are Skin fathers getting better, or am I delusional?

What do you Skins think?

Gyasi "Fancy Skin" Ross is a member of the Amskapipikuni (Blackfeet Nation) and his family also comes from the Suquamish Tribe. His Pikuni (Blackfoot) name is "Oonikoomsika." He is co-founder of Native Speaks LLC, a progressive company owned by young Native professionals which provides consultation and instruction for professionals and companies. Gyasi is currently booking dates for his newest presentation, "Mother Lovers: Poetic (and Musical) Justice." E-mail him at

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