Tomas Moniz is the creator of the print zine Rad Dad, co-editor with Jeremy Adam Smith of the anthology Rad Dad: Dispatches from the Frontiers of Fatherhood, and editor of the anthology Rad Families: A Celebration. He’s also the author of the novel King Pleasure, forthcoming from Hawthorne Books in 2018, and a writer and performer of what he refers to as “randy poetry.” Moniz lives in Oakland, California, and spent the last year on sabbatical from teaching, finishing his novel at a residency in Spain, and traveling around Europe and Central and South America. Literary Reflections editor Andrea Lani caught up with Moniz over Skype while he was visiting his youngest daughter in New Orleans at the tail-end of his travels. She started their conversation with a discussion of zines, which are handmade, hand-distributed, often themed publications.
Andrea Lani: Can you tell me about how the zine Rad Dad came about?
Tomas Moniz: It came about particularly because I was having problems with my 13-year-old son, and I needed help. Having some experience with zine-making, I realized I could simply put out a call to ask people to collaborate around parenting. I had been writing about parenting in other zines but needed a lot more help than just one or two articles. I wanted to have a conversation around how to do things differently. Ever since then, I’ve been learning, and I’m still not sure what’s going on, but it’s nice to rely on people’s stories.
Over the years the project evolved, like many things; it became richer, and it became a lot more collaborative. There was a time when I was asking people to do a lot of stuff for free, and I really wanted to begin to pay people to write, do the art, and help with layout, so we transitioned to that kind of project for the last four or five issues, which was really great. And then, at some point, I realized that was not sustainable for me, so I allowed myself to imagine how I could support other parenting projects by letting go of Rad Dad last year. I think sometimes everyone looks to one particular project to fill a void, and stepping back has allowed me to get excited about so many projects that are coming up now.
AL: It seems like most of the parenting zines I used to read have disappeared. I don’t know if that’s because the creators’ kids have grown up or if they were swallowed by the internet. Is there still a place for print zines now that we’re all so screen-oriented? And do blogs and websites fill the same niche, or is something lost without the tactile, DIY experience of a print zine?
TM: I actually feel like because we’re on so many screens, that it’s more imperative than ever that zines continue, and I feel like they are. There’s been this conversation about some polarization between blogs and zines, but I don’t think they’re polarized that much. Zines are really particular. Like books, they’re something you can give people and something you can feel in your hands and appreciate in a different environment. I’m sick of being on a screen, but I also recognize there’s a real power being able to put up a blog and share your story and reach out to people in different parts of the country and the world. Zines and blogs kind of collaborate in some ways. A lot of people discovered Rad Dad through the internet and the internet has provided a space for people to share stories and “meet.” I think that’s really powerful. Zine culture is still thriving. Experimentation that still happens. People can do short-term projects with zines that allow them to grow and try different things. And you don’t have to get permission from a publisher or wait a year for something to happen. You can make a zine in 24 hours.
AL: Your first anthology, Rad Dad, concludes with an essay you wrote about storytelling. I loved that you ended the book this way because the whole time I was reading it, I was thinking about the power of storytelling, how it puts the reader into another person’s circumstances and creates understanding and compassion. I could literally feel myself becoming a better person as I read. What role do you think storytelling can play in healing our very fractured and divided society and overcoming some of the ugliness we’ve seen emerge in a big way over the last few months?
TM: That was one of the first pieces I ever wrote for the zine, so it was fun to end that project with it. Storytelling serves multiple purposes. Good storytelling creates empathy, and it also creates a certain amount of strength to survive and continue. It creates community, and it defines outcomes we’d like. So I think it’s crucial, especially among the people we see as family.
AL: How can we use storytelling to communicate with people who are radically different than we are?
TM: Sharing personal stories about parenting and mistakes and things I have done with people with whom I may have absolutely nothing in common has allowed me to bridge that difference. Having conversations around such human things, like parenting, like failure, like falling in love, or like falling out of love—sharing these stories that we all go through—can hopefully allow us to see each other’s humanity. But it’s scary too. It takes risks. You have to put yourself out there and be vulnerable. You have to listen in a way that might make you uncomfortable. It may also help us define where we’re willing to bend and where we’re not willing to bend. I think that’s an important lesson, too: boundaries.
AL: You write that “rad dad” is an action, not a label. Could you explain what you mean by that?
TM: One of the things that I tried to avoid with Rad Dad was this kind of congratulatory, pat-on-the-back approach to fathering. I had people who were interested in participating in Rad Dad who were uncomfortable with trying to say they were doing a great job when they were doing what women had done and other parents had done. My idea was that being a rad dad or being a rad parent is not about what you think you are but what you try to do, and that also includes the way we make mistakes, things we think we do well, rethinking what we’re doing as we’re doing it. This is a difficult and vulnerable space to be in, and I think that’s what parenting does: puts us in spots to reevaluate and reconfirm and commit to doing better. I think that’s really important to model to our children. We can’t pretend that we are perfect beings, and I think kids know that, but seeing adults acknowledge and work through mistakes is powerful. That’s why I always remind myself it’s an action. It’s not something I did once and can be done with; it’s something I have to repeat regularly.
AL: In the introduction to your second anthology, Rad Families, you refer to it as “less sequel, more evolution.” How did the stories, and your thinking, both as a parent and a book editor, evolve between the two volumes?
TM: That was the key line I came up with when I was thinking about how to introduce this book. I didn’t even want to write an introduction. The publisher told me I had to. That was an angry introduction, partly because I felt like it was so obvious that things had changed so much and that it was valuable to read these stories. So when I sat down and I worked through how I was feeling about the project, I realized it wasn’t a sequel, it was an evolution. Earlier, we—I mean a lot of people who were involved with Rad Dad, particularly male-identified people—were trying to break something, trying to resist some of the stereotypes that were out there about fathers particularly, and, at the same time, finding a way to claim space in this position. My experience has been—and it seems so obvious now—that there are so many rad families out there that are celebrating and succeeding, even as they evolve and change. Pulling this anthology together felt a little more celebratory, and I appreciated that.
AL: It’s easy to forget to celebrate victories and accomplishments.
TM: It’s also imperative to celebrate in light of the social stuff that’s happening today. There’s a lot of ugly things happening. But we are still creating really beautiful families and communities and small projects that we’re a part of and I think that will help us get through the next few years.
AL: That kind of answers my next question. There’s a lot of hope in both the books, that even though we have a long way to go, we’re heading toward a society that is more equal, more inclusive, more open-minded, and more welcoming of difference. I’m wondering if you still have cause for hope, and what are your sources of hope during troubled times?
TM: I’ve always said that by reading these stories, by sharing these stories, I’ve become a better person and parent. I think, for me, that’s where the hope lies. Hearing stories of trans parents creating a loving family in a difficult environment—that is a story that I need. A single mom dealing with raising her children—that’s the story of my mom. I need those stories. Those stories are really powerful; they remind me that as I’m struggling, there are other people who are doing the same thing.
AL: In addition to doing these great compilations of parenting stories, you are a poet and a novelist. In the Literary Reflections department at Literary Mama, we publish a lot of essays about how people came to writing through parenting or how parenting influenced their writing. Conversely, how has writing influenced your parenting?
TM: That’s really interesting, because I was a super young parent; I was a parent at 20. I’d never been an adult without parenting. For me, writing has allowed me to unpack some of the assumptions I made about who I was and what children are supposed to be and how this all works. Without writing, I think I would have been a different, probably much less happy, person, because writing allowed me to forgive myself when I made mistakes and to explore the kind of parenting person I wanted to be. And it also kept me honest; I want to be this rad dad, but look how often I make mistakes. But it also has challenged me to try to work to be that person. It’s been interesting to write fiction connected to my personal experiences but also interesting to create worlds where I want to be a different person and make different choices. It always comes back to creating family.
AL: So family comes up often in those other genres for you, too?
TM: Particularly in the fiction. I started out as a poet, and my poetry has always been playful, slightly randy, slightly dirty. I used to joke when I did book fairs and zine fairs that I have dirty poetry that leads to radical parenting. It’s been fun, and, through it all, I’ve explored family—the impacts my parents had on me and the fear about the way in which I might impact my children. All the genres I work in have forced me to confront who I am in a positive way.
AL: Were you writing from the beginning, when you were 20 and having kids?
TM: When I look back on it now, I think I probably was, though I didn’t see it at the time. I can look back on things I was writing in college and things I was working on outside of it and see the writer trying to come out.
AL: It takes a while, doesn’t it?
TM: It does. To this day, I feel like I’m still learning and pushing myself in various genres. But I definitely feel that language has become the thing that I can use to explore what’s going on for me. I signed a contract with Hawthorn Books and I’ve got my first novel coming out next summer. Basically, it’s the story of a queer single father whose one daughter is leaving for college; it’s about dissolving relationships and growing relationships and Oakland and drinking.
AL: Is it ever too late to become a Rad Parent?
TM: No, not at all. I’m looking forward to being a rad grandparent at some point. I think it’s the challenge for all of us to step back and reflect not only on what we’ve done but on how we can do better and how we might incorporate more people into our families and our communities. Being radical is an action that never stops.