Father’s Day is a time for celebrating our fathers; the men that have devoted their lives to giving us the best shot at a happy and healthy life of our own. While every day should be an opportunity to honor our fathers, this occasion is a nice reminder that we shouldn’t take our dads for granted.
At VoiceWaves, we wanted to commemorate Fathers Day by celebrating three non-traditional fathers in Long Beach.
Camerine Ponn took on the role of ‘dad’ when his best friend was shot just minutes after leaving him from work. “We’ve been together since we were in kindergarten…and [at] his funeral I swore that I would take care of his daughter and his family.”
His god-daughter is two years old and he insists that he’ll take care of her as well as her mother for as long as they need. His support and love is an extension of his friendship.
Ponn has seen much tragedy in his life. At the age of four, he witnessed his cousin shot and killed in front of a liquor store in Long Beach and recently, the death of a best friend. Now 22, Ponn is currently very focused on school, his community, and his extended family now more than ever. He says he lives for the moment and expects hardship, which is why he has so skillfully and seamlessly transitioned from best friend to guardian.
Ponn may be the atypical father figure but through his example, the idea of fatherhood can potentially be expanded to devoted community members and friends.
Vicente Castaneda’s parenting style is not out of the ordinary, but as an individual Castaneda is truly unique. He identifies as “gender non-conforming.”
For Castaneda, gender non-conformity is about rejecting gender norms that are bestowed onto us unwittingly. For him, gender is the act of portraying male or female gender roles, and is not indelibly tied to our biological sex.
Castaneda says he challenges the traditional notion of fatherhood by not being the stereotypical aloof, stoic father figure.
“I like to be called a parent, above all else.” Castaneda says that the moment labels are attached expectations follow. “Men are supposed to be ‘strong’, they aren’t allowed to cry and have to ‘stay true to their word’…just because we’re men? These values should be universal.”
It’s mainly a form of expression; something that his eight-year-old son understands completely. “I overheard him explaining to a kid at school that pink wasn’t a girls color or a boys color…it’s a concept that he understands.”
Vicente Castaneda grew up wrestling with unfair gender biases and is now giving his son the freedom to express himself organically. The result he hopes, is that his son will grow into being an empathetic and open minded young man; which in turn make him genuinely strong.
At 42, Vincent Carbaugh wasn’t opposed to becoming a parent, but as a single gay man, his vision of fatherhood was admittedly fuzzy.
When two friends of his (a couple), asked him if he would help them start a family by becoming a donor, he was open to the idea.
Now Carbaugh is the father of two girls, ages 6 and one. He successfully raises his two daughters along with their two moms in a harmonious blended family. “I think a lot of people need all control or they just don’t want to do it.”
Fortunately for Carbaugh, the dynamic is firmly grounded in trust and love. “The alternative was to say no, and have no children. And that’s not what I wanted to do.”
Many donors are content with staying obscure or relatively on the sidelines. Carbaugh is a rarity in that he plays an active part in his daughter’s lives.
Carbaugh states that the girls’ moms felt it important the children grew up knowing their father as their dad and not a secondary parental influence. “I’ve had quite a few people say; oh you’re like the uncle’ and I say ‘no I’m like the dad.”
Vincent Carbaugh is an example of how rewarding becoming a donor or surrogate can be. Part of that experience is credited to the the support and open mindedness found in Long Beach.
“It’s pretty common here,” he said. “She might have been three and she would tell people ‘I have two mommies and a dad’ this one kid said ‘oh my best friends has two dads.’”
In the end Vincent Carbaugh enjoys life as a dad especially considering he wasn’t sure it could happen but the entire experience is providing a wellspring of family support for his two girls.