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A Place for Fathers at the Mother Bear Project
By Stephanie Wittmer

As a result of my chance encounter with Amy, founder of the Mother Bear Project, at the Fair Trade Fair in south Minneapolis this past December, my father joined the ranks of a long line of male Wittmer knitters.  Well, okay, he’s only the second in this ancestral tradition, but as far as the male knitting tradition goes, two is pretty impressive. 

Several years ago, my grandfather made all of his grandchildren knitted slippers for Christmas.  It was a hobby he had picked up very late in life, soon after he’d moved from his house into an assisted living facility.  I think my father has a newfound appreciation for his father’s talent. 

I knew I was taking a big chance in December as I wrapped up five Mother Bear kits and stuck them under the Christmas tree at my parent’s house: one for each of my parents, my two sisters, and my brother-in-law.  Yet, I figured that if my brother-in-law did not disown me for such a crafty gift, we’d all come away from this Christmas with a lot more than knitted teddy bears.  All six of us would also have a new hobby, a day of knitting together at my parent’s house by the crackling fire, and warm-fuzzies from knowing that instead of receiving another gift card for Christmas, we’d each created something for a child who had far less than what we each tore through during one Christmas Eve celebration. 

Our family knitting day came and went quite successfully.  We all learned the basic knitting stitch.  There were no injuries and only a few mumbled profanities.  Two bears are finished.  The others are in various stages of completion.  My father is a determined man.  What he lacks in natural knitting talent, he makes up for in his dedication and persistence.  He will finish his bear.  We’re still cheering him on as he plods along through the first leg.

Perhaps the biggest success story, and the inspiration for all you lady knitters to encourage the men in your life to pick up some #7 needles, is my brother-in-law.  Everything about Pablo shouts, “I do not knit teddy bears for children”.  I am one of three daughters in my family.  That’s right.  No brother to carry on the male Wittmer tradition of knitting.  Lucky for us, Pablo has stepped up and become the honorary next Wittmer in the knitting tradition.   Though his eyes widened with panic when he saw the balls of yarn and needles through half torn Christmas wrap, he was the first to pick up his needles and begin the arduous task of casting on.  The squeaks of his yarn against the wooden needles could be heard throughout my parent’s house.  I think he had blisters within his first hour of knitting, yet two days after Christmas it was Pablo, along with my sister, who was spending his evenings knitting in his own living room, emailing proud photos of his bear’s completed scarf to the rest of us jealous amateurs.  In fact, Pablo’s bear was half finished before the family knitting day even arrived in January.  Pablo’s glory came around 11pm, after we’d all spent 12 hours knitting together.  The face was sewn.  The scarf, attached.  He signed his name on the Mother Bear tag, and in what he’d never admit was one of his proudest moments, he held his bear high and grinned for a photo.  Though he would emphatically deny such an accusation, I’m pretty sure there were even a few brief moments of ‘warm-fuzzies’ as he handed his bear over to be shipped off to the lucky recipient of his hand-made, blue jeans-clad teddy bear. 

Any warm-fuzzies that existed in that moment were short-lived.  Without reservation or hesitation, Pablo quickly handed me his needles and bear pattern and in a voice filled with exhaustion and finality he said, “you can return these to the project, as I will never use them again in my life.”  And I gladly took them back, knowing what a miracle it was that I’d gotten this guy to pick them up in the first place.  He was a good sport. 

So, to all you Mother Bear knitters out there who’ve only spread word of this project to female family members and friends, I think it’s time to recruit the men!  Men whom you’d never expect to be the knitting type may surprise you as my dad and Pablo did!  You now have examples of two men who’ve proved that we’ve got another whole market of knitters to target! 


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