Thursday, November 24, 2016

Rules for Dating My Daughter by Mike Dawson

I'm lucky, personally: I have only sons. So I can sit on the sidelines of the feminist-parenting debate, and pretend that I would have all of the perfect answers if things had gone otherwise. What are the rules for dating my sons? Well, first you have to like one of them, and want to date them -- I'm assuming that will happen at some point, though it hasn't yet. I'll work out any other rules at that point, I guess. (Probably won't need to.)

Mike Dawson, on the other hand, has a young daughter. And the title story of this collection of short comics is about the wonders and terrors of parenting a daughter as a 21st century man. (There are plenty of men out there who are still stuck in prior centuries -- a majority of them just elected a President.) He's seen the usual fake-redneck rules, and reacted strongly against them -- he's modern enough to realize the goal there is the control of women's sexuality, and not want to buy into that. And he's seen a feminist version -- "her body, her rules," that kind of thing -- which is also uneasy-making, because it still implies he gets to make rules, and, also, his particular daughter is young enough that he doesn't want to think about it. So "Rules for Dating My Daughter" ends up not having any; he's not the one who will make those rules, and she's too young to think about it.

But what about the rest of Rules for Dating My Daughter? The book contains more stories than the title track. The remainder, though, aren't there to provide  guidance for young people in 2025 looking to woo Miss Dawson. (Which is definitely a good thing: 2025 will come soon enough, so we don't have to hurry it.) But all of the stories are political in the way the title story is -- maybe more the-personal-is-political, but that certainly counts -- worries about role models and masculinity and which lives matter and climate change and violence and apocalypse.

Many of them are about that daughter, directly or as part of the family, but I think I can say that all of them are about the fears that come with having a child. Suddenly, you're not looking just at your own life, just at the next day or year -- you wonder what the world will be like after you're gone, what kind of a society you're bringing a new life into. Dawson isn't thrilled by the world and society we have, but, like so many of us, doesn't know exactly what to do.

He shows us that uncertainty and thought process, in the short comics collected here. Dawson uses captions a lot more than the mainstream standard now -- maybe because he's an '80s kid like me, maybe because it really does illuminate his stream of consciousness really well, to tease out nuances and doubts and the back-and-forth of internal debate. Rules is not a book to tell us what Mike Dawson thinks the answers are: it's a book of his questions and worries and thoughts as he tries to figure out for himself what an answer might look like. That's vastly more honest and appealing than a I-know-best style, and Dawson is thoughtful and interesting as he works through these concerns and ideas.

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