“Is she okay being touched?” I asked the father of the crying child. He said yes, so I picked her up and she hugged me as I pointed to Les, her father, who was busy filming rehearsal for the Fathering Festival movement piece. “Daddy’s right there, you can still see him.” She cried less. I let her use the markers we had set out to trace the children’s hands as part of the festival. I drew smiley faces on the backs of her hands as she colored the paper. Despite being a woman of few words, the two-year-old proceeded to tell me the names of all the colors she was using.
As long as Daddy was within her line of sight, Maz was okay. It’s funny how small children don’t understand that something can still exist even if you can’t see it. It’s also funny that when you tell a child “I’m full but thank you for sharing your snack”, they continue to pile tiny squares of bread into your hand. Children are funny that way. They don’t understand a lot of things, but they are smarter than most people give them credit for. They know that it is okay to show human emotion, and they understand the importance of play. They know right from wrong, and they forgive accidents. They know the most important aspects of humanity that adults often forget.
Billy Yalowitz, Les Rivera, and Eric Marsh Jr,. founders of the Fathering Circle, co-organized the Fathering Festival to promote the importance of equitable parenting and discuss the effects on parenting influenced by social norms of masculinity and the residues of boyhood. The group also works on advocacy for children. The festival emphasized the Fathering Circle’s key principles, which include listening to children and being present when they need to release emotions. The Festival included a storytelling workshop - in which children constructed a story about dads from start to finish - movement workshops, and drumming sessions. Parenting workshops were held concurrently in the Auditorium, as well as Spoken Word performances and listening circles.
The Fathering Festival showed me that even men are hurt by sexism because they often can’t be vulnerable with their children or their partners. Through play, these fathers become vulnerable to their children and are allowed to have intimate emotional moments that society would normally inhibit.