Fathers in the Mennoland

fathers in mennolandThis post was first published in the lead-in to Fathers’ Day, 2015. It’s pretty much still relevant. I haven’t changed much – just added a new link for your amusement.

We’re coming up to Father’s Day and that means it is time for a post about all the Mennonite fathers out there or, as I like to call them, The Anabapdads. Technically, this would then include the Hutterite and Amish Dads and maybe even those non-denominational dads out there calling themselves Neo-Anabaptists (I guess they could call themselves The NeoAnabapdads if they like). But my experience is with Anabapdads of the Mennonite variety so someone else can write about the non-Menno Anabapdads.

There’s a certain stereotype that’s at least a generation old. It’s summed up in the joke of the kid who comes home from school and announces that he’ll be playing the father in the class play; the kid’s mother shakes her head and says,

“you should have asked for a speaking part.”

Mennonite fathers are known to be taciturn at home, reluctant to express themselves in words. They would, of course, speak at Church, where male speaking was right and proper, and perhaps in the workplace if it was necessary, but in the company of their wives and children, speech was sparse and measured.

Mind, that’s just a stereotype and it’s equally true for a lot of North American families from Northern European extraction. There’s some truth in it but it doesn’t get to the heart of what it means to be an Anabapdad. It’s also old; fatherhood, in Mennoland and elsewhere, isn’t what it used to be.

There’s some indication that early Anabaptist dads questioned the whole patriarchal family of the 16th-c German lands, some of them even having their kids refer to them as “Brother So-and-So” instead of Father.  It’s hard to imagine what this looked like in daily living and whether the revocation of paternal authority was ever more than words. It doesn’t really matter; the practice died out and it’s fairly clear that neither Menno Simons nor the Anabaptists who followed him were keen on dismantling the whole apparatus of the patriarchy. The early Mennonite dads were clearly “involved fathers” by 16th-century standards but that had more to do with switches and Bible reading than changing diapers and picking up junior from soccer practice.

Four centuries pass with the blinking of a Mennonite historian’s eye and here we sit in the 21st century and once again our new-fangled Anabapdads are busy reconsidering patriarchy — this time working at combining current ideals of the involved father with the theology of our forefathers. And the variations are dizzying. The more conservative hold to a patriarchal ideal of the father as the head of the household, ceding responsibility for daily events to the SuperMennoMom while modeling a life of faith and maintaining authority when it matters. They might, like fundamentalist Protestants, hold that fathering is essentially different from mothering. The less conservative say pish-posh to paternal authority and the parents work as much as non-gendered equal partners as they can imagine. Occasionally, an Anabapdad will eschew paid employment and stay at home with the kids. This is pretty rare but it’s not unheard of or scorned. Whatever’s needed to keep the kids on the road to faith formation.

Anabapdads carry a lot of the same burden as SuperMennoMoms — assuring that kids are raised to know the faith and to prioritize the Church community, ferrying them back and forth from music lessons etc. etc. It’s true they don’t need to bake cookies or cook for an endless stream of potlucks, but they should also be there for clean-up.  They may not face quite the pressure as Moms to take time off work when the kids are sick or on school trips but it sure would be nice if  they had no business trips or other plans that conflicted with the children’s programming at Church. They should be on call, recognizing that they are role models to all the boys in the congregation (we tend to assume that children need same sex role models; dismantling that bit of the patriarchy will take a bit longer).

These expectations might not seem all that different from a generation ago but if we scratch beneath the surface we can see a bit of change. An Anabapdad is both nurturing and strong, principled and flexible, protective and nonviolent.  No more the stoic Mennoman of old, today’s Anabapdad is not afraid to let his children see his passion; assuming his passion is for the work of the Church, justice and the elimination of systems of oppression. He still doesn’t really cry a lot, or laugh loudly, or curse within earshot of his children. But apart from that, he’s much more emotional now than his father and grandfather before him. Really. He can nurture now. Nurture’s an emotion, right? Ok, maybe not. Still, fathering is faith in action and so we see today’s Anabapdads changing the world by taking the time to be present, listen and guide their children, having the gentle kindness to accept when their children reject their guidance and the grace to forgive. Is it as subversive as that 16th-century declaration that all in the family are as brothers and sisters? Perhaps not. But it’s something.

To celebrate all those Menno Dads who are doing their bit to subvert the patriarchal family, we have a subversive cocktail for Father’s Day (those Menno men who are just fine with patriarchy should just go ahead and make themselves up a “manly” cocktail). In the cocktail world, sweet, fruity drinks are feminized and herbaceous drinks or ones where the flavour of the hard liquor dominates are masculinized, as are “classics” because for some reason men apparently like tradition more than women. We’re mixing that up a bit today with the Bananabapdad, a drink that blends a sweet banana liqueur with dark rum and just a titch of rye whiskey as a nod to that most “masculine” booze of all. This is a drink for a man who knows how to nurture and isn’t afraid to show it. It’s also almost as much fun to say as the SuperMennoMomdom drink and, guys, I thought I owed you that much.


The BananabapdadBanabapdad (2)

1 oz banana liqueur
1/2 oz dark rum
1/4 oz rye whiskey
soda water (about 2 oz)

  1. Mix banana liqueur, dark rum and whiskey in a short glass.
  2. Add ice.
  3. Fill glass with soda water.
  4. Sip in between changing diapers and fixing the barbecue, content in the knowledge that your fathering challenges the oppression of patriarchy while also being true to your heritage as an Anabapdad.
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3 thoughts on “Fathers in the Mennoland

  1. So you’re telling me that that I get “Christine” as often as I get “Mommy” is Anabaptist tradition? Hmmmm….

      1. That may well explain her energy levels. Although not her fairly complete refusal to walk.

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