Active Abolition: Birthday Party
The purpose of this series is to write out possible situations, communications or events that deviate from the norms in our society and are more centered on abolition. The intent of these short stories is not to perfectly convey abolition, nor to write perfect stories. Abolition and perfection do not belong together. Abolition is not just about police/prisons and actually, through my vantage point, has far less to do with that, and as Dr. Davis says, less so to do with the “dismantling of” and more so to do with the “building anew”. My stories are my own interpretation of my own studying. I am open to critique, positive feedback, and ideas. Not all abolition concepts may be apparent, especially in those, like me, that are newer into the area of study. I am a gay, cisgender, white, U.S. born Sicilian-American who grew up “upper-lower” class. I provide that information so you can account for that lenses in my writing — you are encouraged to imagine these characters to be any way you want them to be.
CW (which may ‘spoil’ story): parental loss, child abuse, violent heterosexism. Note CWs are not intended, or able, to cover all possible traumatic content you may encounter. Please evaluate your emotional tolerance before reading and step away if you feel emotional distress if you so need to.
Saturday’s were long. Stefano was tired, admittedly, but I guess that’s adult life these days. Being a single parent isn’t easy for anybody, but Carlo’s 11th birthday was coming up in just about a month — so it was time to get ready. Stefano loved celebrating Carlo’s birthdays — probably more than Carlo does.
Walking in the door, Carlo is right where Stefano expected him to be! He’s on the couch, playing in his phone. Stefano hears an audible voice but he doesn’t recognize the words.
“Are you doing Duolingo again, Carlo?”
“Padre!” Carlo lights up. “Yeah, I am. It’s something to do, y’know?” Carlo smiles.
“What language again?”
“Oh, that’s a tough language!” Stefano laughs. “Well, it’s too bad the local school doesn’t have Greek, son. But…we might be able to find a tutor?”
“Eh, it’s not that serious, I just do it for fun. I don’t really think this app could teach you a whole language anyway. How was work today?”
Stefano smiled because he can remember being curious about his parents days at work, but they always told him they didn’t want to talk about it. In fact, Stefano wasn’t sure his parents knew how to say anything but “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Eh, it was a slow day, kinda boring, to be honest. Hey Carlo! May I have your full focus for just a sec?”
Carlo nods and puts down his phone as Stefano puts away his wallet and keys.
“So — we’re a month away from the big double one! I guess you’re too old for a clown at the party, huh?” He says as he takes a seat on the couch next to Carlo.
“So, you’re not going to be there, Padre?” Carlo smirks with a long giggle.
“Hah!” Stefano heartily chuckles. “You got me. You definitely get your sense of humor from Daddy.”
Carlo’s giggle dissipates. Stefano clears his throat and moves to pat Carlo’s shoulder for comfort, before stopping.
“Can I pat your shoulder son?”
Carlo nods. “Anyway,” Stefano lovingly pats Carlo’s shoulder. “About your big one-one. I was thinking we could have Grandma and Grandpa cook, and we could invite as many of your friends from school as you want, and we could do party games — maybe a slip and slide? What do you think?”
“That sounds nice, Padre, but really, I want to go to the Science Museum downtown.” Carlo lights up, with excitement. “The day before my birthday they’re introducing that new exhibit about Pluto, and that’s my favorite planet!”
Stefano stands up as his tone adjusts, sounding a bit frustrated. “Carlo, it’s your birthday! You want to go that stuffy museum? I mean, don’t you want to play games with the other kids?”
Carlo lets out a sigh and leans on his arm, holding his face up, tone also adjusting to an aggravated tone. “Fine, Padre, we can do that — we can have a party here with my friends, if that’s what you want.”
Stefano sighs and looks at his son. “Carlo — Carlo, son…” He sits down. “I shouldn’t have reacted like that. Son, what I just did wasn’t okay. I put down your interests. And that’s something I said I wasn’t going to do. I’m truly sorry, son. There is nothing wrong with a museum. I want to commit to you, that I’m going to keep working on this — my judgements. I’m going to keep trying. And I think — no, I know we should do the museum because that’s what you want to do.”
Carlo nods a bit, with a slight smile.
“Do you need me to give you a minute?” Stefano starts to stand up.
“No, Padre, no. Thank you for apologizing. Besides, I think you’ll like it too! It will be a lot like that time that you, me and Da — uh. Nevermind.”
Stefano smiles. “Do you want to finish that sentence or are you afraid of it hurting me? Or is it hurting you?”
“I think — I think both. But I do kind of want to finish the sentence — we don’t talk about him.”
We don’t talk about him. We don’t talk. That stung. It reminded Stefano of his parents and their tight-lipped way of raising him.
“Son…I want — I want you to finish that sentence, if you feel like you can.”
“I can, Padre, I talk about Daddy all the time!”
“You do?” Stefano seems puzzled, but in a good way.
“Yeah! My science teacher, Mr. Henry, he went to the same university as Daddy, he has all the mascot things or whatever, I don’t know, and ever since then he lets me tell stories.”
Stefano nods. “Wow! Okay — so you telling me about the museum and it was like some time ago, what was it?”
“Daddy, you, me and Grandma, when I was 6, we went to the Children’s Museum. Remember?”
“I do, but I didn’t think you did! You know you fell asleep right?”
Carlo laughs. “Yes, I know, but Daddy carried me and I wasn’t really sleeping. I just got tired of walking — I think he might have known, because he was narrating the different exhibits and I heard all of it.”
“You faked us out so you didn’t have to walk?!” Stefano laughs somewhat annoyed. “Honestly, brilliant. Brilliant!”
“Yeah, and this museum is the one next door — so in a way, I mean it’s a different subject, but in a way, it would be kind of like that — just, without him.”
There’s a moment of awkward silence.
“Earlier, you brought him up and then it got uncomfortable. Why — why don’t we talk about him?”
There’s another moment of silence and Stefano shows some visible distress.
“Oh — Padre.” Carlo says, comforting. “I’m sorry — “
“No…no, Carlo, no, there’s nothing to apologize for!” Stefano lets out a huge sigh. “I don’t — I don’t exactly know how to explain this, son, but I — I miss your Daddy so much that I — I feel really, really deep sorrow when I talk about him because he’s not here — and sometimes — and this isn’t really a good thing — but sometimes I don’t talk about things when I don’t like how they feel.”
“Isn’t that really silly, though, Padre?”
Stefano laughs. “Yes, it is, but you know…I love your Grandma and Grandpa — my parents — I do. I’m not saying anything bad about them, but when I was your age and throughout my life, my parents didn’t really talk about anything serious. They were very emotionally distant when I was a kid.”
“I can see that for Grandpa,” Carlo says earnestly. “But Grandma is so happy and joyful, like, always.”
“Oh, she was then too!” Stefano chuckles. “She used to wake us up singing — it was — cute and then a little annoying, to be honest. She was always joyful, at least on the outside, but son, no one is always happy. Sometimes she would really be feeling angry, or scared, or sad, or confused — but she would hide it.”
“Why did she hide it, Padre? I don’t get it. You always tell me to tell you exactly what I feel.”
“And boy, you took that lesson to heart! But I’m glad. Grandma grew up in a different time, in a different place. Did I ever tell you about Lucinda?”
“That sounds familiar…”
“Lucinda was Grandma’s mom. Son, what I’m going to tell you will be a little upsetting, are you up for it?”
“Okay, so Lucinda, she wasn’t a nice mom. Her husband had passed just after my mom — your grandma — was born. And Lucinda did very bad things to Grandma. Very mean things, very cruel things when she was just a little girl.” Stefano checks out Carlo’s expression. “Are you okay with what I’m saying to you?”
“I don’t like it — but I think I’m okay…”
“Well, I’ll keep going, but what are you feeling inside?”
“I feel, a little sad, you know? Like Grandma was just a little kid, why would her mom be mean to her?” Carlo inquires.
Stefano ponders for a bit. “You know, I don’t have that answer. And I wish Grandma would open to you about it, but I’m afraid she might never.”
“How come you know?”
“Lucinda — my grandmother — was still alive until I was 12. When she passed, that was the only time my mother ever told the story. She wasn’t telling it to me, but I overheard it. That was really the only time she ever expressed serious emotions that I ever saw, we had an unspoken rule at home, we didn’t talk about things that made us sad, uncomfortable, scared…”
“Was Grandpa’s parents mean to him?”
“Well, Grandpa…he…do you know how sometimes you’re told boys have to be one way and girls have to be another, and that there’s only two genders, and we all have to fit into neat little boxes?”
Carlo nods. “Yeah, it’s nonsense. But yeah, kids at school have said that to me. And you know, that guy that is running for office says that.”
“Right! So Grandpa had really kind hearted parents, but they didn’t really know those rules were nonsense, like you said. They subscribed to them and since Grandpa was a boy, he was not allowed to cry, or have emotions, or be anything but tough. When he would cry, his Dad would spank him until he stopped. And his Dad thought he was doing a good thing, but he wasn’t.”
Carlo seemed appalled. “Spank? Did Grandma and Grandpa spank you?”
Stefano looks to his son, who seems so concerned. “I don’t want you to have bad feelings about Grandma and Grandpa, son, I just want to…I want you to know where I came from, so you can know why sometimes I don’t always do what I say I should do, like talk to you about these things, like why I have a hard time, I guess I should say. Because — I mean — I should be talking to you….”
“I mean, unless you told me they murdered like 50 children, I don’t think I could ever stop loving them. You can tell me, I’m literally almost 11!”
“Grandpa did spank me, a lot. I think, like his Dad, he thought he was doing a good thing. And when he found out that I was attracted to other boys and not girls, he — are you cool, son, with what I’m about to say to you?”
Carlo nods. “I’ll tell you when I’m not feeling cool, ok?”
“Yeah! Cool, thank you. So, Grandpa really got angry — and when I was 15, Grandpa made me leave the house.”
Carlo looks absolutely shocked. “But — where did you go?”
“Shelters. I couched surf. I remember I once spent an entire August day on the public bus just to stay out of the heat. That only lasted a couple months and then my mother pushed for me to come back. He finally gave in — but our relationship, it was never the same, and we never talked about that again. As soon as I turned 18, I got a job and left.”
“I didn’t know that Padre. Wow, so do you — do you hate Grandpa?”
Stefano smiles. “No. I did, not going to lie to you, I did. But no, I don’t. We will never be really close, like you and me are and I like I hope we always will be, but we get along. I — I made peace with it.”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t think I could make peace with something like that!”
“Hey,” Stefano nods. “That would be your right — you know, some kids in my situation, they don’t ever make peace with it. But — I’m happy with my decision. It’s complicated, sometimes.”
“Wow, this planning my 11th birthday got dark fast!” Carlo laughs. “But — I’m really glad you told me. I want to hear more, I do, and I want to hear more about Daddy. I want to talk about him, like, more. It’s been a year and half…and I don’t know, I’m…forgetting things. But — can we go back to planning the birthday?”
“Yeah, son! Okay — so the Pluto museum, it’s a Saturday — I think they open at 11, you want to go then?” He asks as Carlo nods. “Okay, and who are we inviting? It’s whoever you want, I’ll keep my opinions to myself!”
“Grandma and Grandpa…if — if you’re okay with it. If not, then screw ‘em!”
Stefano cackles. “Oh my God, definitely my child! Yes, I told you son, I’m okay with it — are you?!”
“Hah, yeah! I am!”
“Okay, so I’ll tell them, and who else?”
“Definitely Uncle G. Oh, my friends Tomy and Alex.”
“Uhm….also Alyssa Myers…uhm, that’s it.”
Stefano gives Carlo an inquisitive look. “Oh, we’re Team Alyssa again?”
“Yes, Padre, oh my God, you know I’ve had a crush on her forever! We had a silly fight over a TikTok — it was — it doesn’t matter, Padre, it was nothing. But she’s such a good friend and she might know more about Pluto than me, but we’ll see.”
“Well, son, you invite your friends, I’ll get my parents and Uncle G — is that cool with you? I’m sure Alyssa, Tomy and — what’s your other friend — I’m sure their parents will want to talk to me, they have my number, I think.”
“The other friend is Alex. But yeah, they do. Awesome! I’m so excited!”
“Cool! I’m glad — I’m glad we talked today son.”
“Yeah, me too. I love you, Padre…but can I go back to my Greek, I don’t want to forget and lose my chance for a 40 day streak.”
Stefano begins to stand up, but sits back down for a second. “I love you too Carlo, can I give you a hug?” Carlo smiles with a nod, and they hug before Stefano runs into his room — and within minutes, falls asleep. Saturday’s are long days.
What does this have to do with abolition?
In the average American home, it is common for children to have no participation in their own lives and their opinions and feelings are seldom considered. Parents do not often do this because they are bad parents, but because of the adultism we are taught from an early age — many parents, with great intentions, neglect to understand their children have certain levels of autonomy and consent capabilities. In this story, Stefano is intended to be depicted as a very loving father — clearly a single parent — but he isn’t intended to be depicted as perfect. He puts his son down, instead trying to decide for his 10 year old what would be best for a party — even though a 10 year old is perfectly capable of expressing their own ideas of fun in most cases. Stefano recognizes he does this and attempts to use the four parts of accountability in his apology. In his apology, he acknowledges this is not his first time causing this harm — he also reflects that he is going to try to do better about reserving his judgements — but he doesn’t promise perfection. The conversation changes course as they start talking about Carlo’s other dad, who is implied to have passed away, and apparently — it’s been a subject that has been mainly avoided. Stefano goes down a path that provides clarity on how he was raised, but tries not to make Carlo his emotional relief — constantly checking in on Carlo’s emotional state as he tells the story. When Carlo indicates he is OK, Stefano believes him and continues the story — and this communication, although dark, creates a bonding experience. In the way it was written, it was intended as though Stefano was providing Carlo for the reason why he has a hard time talking through things, while not providing excuses for it. During the story, Stefano also asks for consent before touching Carlo in loving ways — although initially he was about to do it, but stops himself. This was intended to show that this might be a newer behavior that Stefano hasn’t fully mastered. Stefano also gave Carlo an out, after Carlo’s feelings were hurt by Stefano’s judgement, Stefano offers to give space — but Carlo rejects that offer. Once Carlo s finally done talking about the dark stuff, Carlo is able to redirect the conversation on the birthday and yet again, Carlo has an opportunity to ask to reclaim his space, and return to Duolingo, of which Stefano does not object. I should also mention that Stefano asks for consent to have Carlo’s full attention, instead of demanding that Carlo put his phone down.
I’m not saying that parents/guardians will always be able to make that space, there may be situations where the child may need to give attention, such as emergencies, but Stefano is attempting to understand his son’s autonomy and capacity to consent to certain things — while also being a parent. The judgement is ultimately yours — how did you feel about the story? Does it apply the principles of ending adultism (even if imperfectly)? Does it lead toward a healthy trust between them or does it fail to do these things? I’m open to all honest arguments in good faith — critique and disagreement does not have to mean cancel.
Want to write one? Link me to your story or if you don’t have a place to post it, I’m happy to publish it.