by Amy Lavender
Dads don’t get enough credit. At least, that’s how University of West Georgia professor of English and poet Dr. Gregory Fraser feels. And it’s something he plans to remedy in his new book of poetry, which he is working on while taking a year off from teaching.
That’s right. Fraser gets to spend a whole year doing what most professors dream of: working on his new publication. But he didn’t just get up one day and decide to recoil from the world and avoid all his financial obligations – after all, even poets have to eat. Instead, he submitted a proposal to the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and was awarded a $50,000 fellowship that is allowing him to stay at home and work on his proposed writing project that could open up a new archetype in American poetry.
“The proposal I wrote deals with the fact that in American poetry in the 20th century, there’s a good deal of work done on struggling family dynamics and dysfunction,” Fraser said. “The confessional poets in the ‘50s and ‘60s wrote a good deal about their struggles at home. Then some later poets wrote about their kids, but they tended to be women with kids, so the figure of the father in American poetry is often depicted as a kind of monster or is left out entirely.”
This is something Fraser wanted to address – poetry for a new generation that reflects family life of today – because today’s fathers, as a whole, are very different from the fathers of the past. They don’t work 8-5 and limit their interactions with their children to a pat on the head or an occasional scowl. Today’s fathers are much more involved. They go to doctor’s appointments, they babywear, they carry flower diaper bags and some have even become stay-at-home dads. But the father of today doesn’t get much literary credit.
Indeed, positive male role models in literature are few and far between. Even more rare is parenting from the father’s perspective. In today’s world, dads are welcome in Lamaze and breastfeeding classes. But few publications market to new or expecting dads. Certainty, this dearth of material stands out to a new father who is immersed in the literary world and suddenly finds the voice of his peers failing to corroborate his experience.
At the age of 47, Fraser became a father… to twins. He has become a full-time dad and spends a great deal of one-on-one time with his children since he has a more flexible schedule than his wife, who works 12-hour shifts at a cancer hospital.
“It’s a lot of fun, but it’s a lot of work,” he said. “So I thought I could intervene and talk about what it’s like to be the primary caregiver. We both raise them, but I do a lot of work as a father. And it was completely foreign to me. It was totally terrifying. So I wrote about that, and I think it must have struck a chord with the people who review these applications.”
The Guggenheim Memorial Foundation receives between 3,500 and 4,000 applications each year and awards approximately 200 fellowships. The goal of the foundation is to encourage scholarly and creative development in the most unconstrained conditions possible. And what constrains most people is the need to be gainfully employed. So the foundation awards $50,000 to its fellows.
Fraser is already hard at work on his new book of poetry, which is currently untitled. He plans on addressing and challenging the conventional ideas of masculinity and a father’s role.
“Masculinity is a fluid concept,” he said. “It’s a historical idea – a performance in culture. If you are a father who gets nervous about carrying around a pink diaper bag… that’s just a conditioned response. It’s not a biological response. And these things shift over time. I couldn’t possibly care less what color a diaper bag is. I’m a dad. It’s almost a badge of honor that I can do that because I’m participating in a shift that I see as generally very positive for our culture.”
Fraser says he looks forward to taking this subject in a very real and sometimes bizarre direction with his new publication.
“I wanted to handle the material with almost a comically dark approach rather than sentimentalizing it,” Fraser said. “So there is a lot in my current work about parenting this is deliberately off-color, shocking, disturbing and comically grotesque. Because that’s what parenting is. It’s real, it’s horrifying, but you can laugh about it later.”Posted on