Most people I’ve interviewed for this project so far have not dug into the big question that individuals and couples face: How to raise kids to be independent, confident, and tolerant. In Berkeley, I sat down for a slice of pie with one of my favorite writers, Tomas Moniz, who runs the life-changing zine Rad Dad. Moniz and his wife Dona had their first child very young and have spent the past decade navigating the tricky waters of raising open-minded kids while managing their own lives. Now a professor and father of three, Moniz is still in the constant process of figuring things out.
RELAX, LISTEN, ASK QUESTIONS
If that’s the only parenting advice I could give, it would be that: Relax, listen, ask questions.
It’s the daily act of parenting. I started Rad Dad seven years ago. I needed help. I didn’t want to parent the way I was parented, which was a lot about shame, guilt, and control. I wanted to find other people who were interested in being genuine. When I found my son watching pornography, you know, I don’t want to shame him. I want to have an honest conversation about pornography. The same thing with drugs. To tell my son something like, “Don’t do drugs, they’re bad”—that’s not genuine. I need to ask myself, “What am I actually upset about? Why do I feel angry?”
There are moments that are crisis. Like my daughter had a party at my house when I was on tour with the Rad Dad book. She completely cleaned up, I wouldn’t have known if the neighbor hadn’t ratted her out. I had to think about why I was angry, and it was a couple things: One, that her boyfriend spent the night at the house and, two, that she lied to her mom and me. I asked her, “Why didn’t you just ask me? What were you afraid I would have said?” She was afraid I would have said no, and I told her, “Yeah, but that’s my choice to say yes or no.” These are moments that are few and far between. But usually it’s just the quiet normal moments and during them it’s about trying to remember every day, during dinner, doing homework, to stay present in my relationship with her.
Parenting by denial is not a good thing. When we talk about sex, I’m like, “Don’t have sex, here’s condoms.”
GIVE YOUR KIDS THE SKILLS TO ASK QUESTIONS
With TV and YouTube, there’s no way to monitor what they’re watching. It’s already a lost cause as soon as you start thinking about it. All I can do is give them the skills to ask questions. Dona and I have been really conscientious about bringing up sexism every time we have a chance to talk about it. Same thing with racism and homophobia. They get sick of talking about it but, hey, that’s my job.
I initially had some great ideas, like no dresses in my house or no pink. But at some point, I just let what happens happen.
I don’t try to censor much. I try to model my own behavior. We didn’t watch any movies with sexual violence in front of them, but whenever that stuff happened, it was an opportunity to have a conversation. When people make sexist comments in front of them, I mention it. I realized it was less about not letting them see things than when they do see things, having the skills to talk about it. My mantra has been: If you’re old enough to do it, you’re old enough to talk about it. If you’re old enough to watch a scary movie, you’re old enough to talk about the violence. If you’re old enough to wear makeup, you’re old enough to talk about why you want to wear makeup.
A few months ago, we were talking about makeup and my daughter said, “When I don’t wear makeup, I feel naked.” And I said, “Whoa, that’s really intense. Really? If you don’t wear your eyelash stuff, you feel naked?” And she was like, “Yeah.” And I didn’t say anything else. I think they are shocked when they say that stuff, so they don’t need me to reinforce it. They see it.
LET YOUR RELATIONSHIP EVOLVE
Dona and I were together for 15 years. We were babies together; we had kids when we were very young. She totally trusted me to parent.
After a number of years we decided to create an open relationship. While we were living together, Dona and I would negotiate how we spilt up our time, who got to go out and who watched the kids, like you’ve got this Friday night, I’ve got next Friday. When we first opened up, we had all these rules to micromanage, but they fell away when we trusted each other. It was fun. I knew Dona was there for me, we were a priority, so it made it very easy.
It’s harder being nonmonogamous with people now, when you don’t have that support. When I had a partner, there was a lot of trust and support. Now, when I have someone who I’ve been dating for a little while—you just don’t have that shared, built-in history.
One of the mistakes we made is we should have been more open with our youngest daughter about dating. Dona and I really just kept going as friends, really intimately, without mentioning to our kids that we were seeing other people. We worked so hard to have a good relationship that I think the reality of us not living together didn’t fully sink in. In retrospect, I thought I had brought up. But I never really showed my dating to them, partly because out of respect for Dona, I kept that spot for her. So, the first time that my daughter met someone I’d been dating, she was a stereotypical terrible teenage child. It’s almost laughable how horrendously mean she was to the woman I was dating.
When Dona moved out, I learned more about what I wanted. I repainted every room. We both have come to believe relationships can evolve, our relationship can evolve. We biked down the coast of Oregon as friends. That was the seal of our friendship. Now we basically share meals, one every couple weeks. We were very clear that we wanted to be co-parents.
We were joking that we’re going to have a divorce party. You want to celebrate your relationship, you know?
In Portland, a case of genital herpes resulted in a legal case that was settled for $900,000. Here’s what happened: A woman met a retired dentist on an online dating site, they went on a couple dates, then they decided to have sex.
The woman, who filed the case under a pseudonym, testified that she asked her date to wear a condom and he said OK, but the next thing she knew he wasn’t wearing a condom and it was too late. Afterward, as they were lying in bed and talking about the chemistry between them, she said he broke the news to her: He had herpes. She kicked him out of her house.
Her outbreaks, she said, have been repeated and painful. She took anti-viral medication, but it caused large amounts of her hair to fall out. She suffered from anxiety and depression, and the drugs she took for that caused her weight to balloon by 30 pounds