Masculinity is such a strange beast when you see it up close. A few weeks ago, Lynx gift packs and Triple M-branded rock compilations spawned on supermarket shelves, bracketed by novelty mugs and socks emblazoned with black-and-yellow DANGER print. Bunnings, at a time of year that must be like a second Christmas, is suggesting everything from barbecue tongs to air compressors as the gifts Dad would love. More and more with every passing year, Father’s Day presents an image of masculinity that must have seemed dated back when my dad was a new parent. It’s still a long way from the aggressively regressive kitchenware nightmare that is Mother’s Day, but it still feels like a mutually-agreed-upon time warp.
You don’t need to be non-binary to feel uncomfortable about Father’s Day, but it helps.
As the parent of an especially wonderful, challenging, funny toddler, I’m a prime target for Father’s Day marketing. They still call me Dad, for now, and we love each other furiously. But the blunt hammers-and-ties message of the holiday was an awkward fit for me even before I had a kid, or opted out of the gender binary. The monolithic version of masculinity that the day is built on, all footy jerseys, meat pies, wrenches and fake-boob barbecue aprons, is such an absurd extreme that it leaves out most of my cis dad friends, let alone me. It operates on a stereotype too ludicrous to have ever existed. It has nothing to do with real parents, but some hyper-masculine Jungian archetype: celebrate the Ur-Dad this Father’s Day with a sacrifice of meat burned upon a charcoal flame!
I grappled with these notions of masculinity before I had the language to understand what they were. I, as a seven year old, wondered what the boy equivalent of a tomboy was, and if I could be that. And in some ways, being non-binary is a release from those weird, contradictory, exhausting demands: I’ll never be the kind of parent who delights in a drill set or a Super Cheap Auto gift card, and I don’t have to be.
I think my kid is smart enough to know that, and with any luck, they’ll be laughing at the ridiculous Father’s Day (and Mother’s Day!) ads right beside me once they’re old enough to see through the marketing shorthand and lazy writing. I won’t need to explain to them that I’m not the type for power-sanders or meat trays. But they’ve only ever known me as ‘Dad’ in their time on earth. They’ll bring home gifts from child care that say ‘Happy Father’s Day’, even though they have no idea what it says and probably won’t even realise they were making a present for me. Sometimes I regret that—not having the wisdom or self-knowledge to push back against the heteronormative and gendered labels earlier, before bringing a kid into the world. I didn’t know what my gender was when they were born, and in my uncertainty, I let myself be called Dad.
And I don’t hate it; of all the gendered terms I have to deal with in day-to-day life, ‘Dad’ doesn’t worry me in the slightest. How could I hate anything that my child cries with such glee when they see me; the name they call out in the night when they need comfort? We already talk about what kinds of people can be parents, as my partner and I try to undermine ideas of a rigid gender binary before it can take root in their fertile mind—dads can be strong, or gentle, or both; dads can wear nail polish and boots, dresses or jeans, just like mums can.
One day, though, when they’re a little older, we’ll have a talk. We’ll talk about names, and how I’ll never stop being their dad, and how happy it would make me for them to call me Ginger from now on. And if I’m lucky, they’ll look me deep in the eyes and say, ‘Whatever. Have we got any chips left?’, and that will be the end of that.
Ginger Valentine writes and podcasts about pop music, gender and politics from the comfort of their Melbourne home. Follow them on Twitter (@gingerBFG) for critical analyses of whatever movie their kid is obsessed with today.