The hardest part of being a gay dad has nothing to do with raising your children. Sure, at 2 years old, my twins are already curious as to what a Mommy is and why we don’t have one. But explaining it to them is easy. My kids are smart, open-minded and I’m reasonably sure they’re not homophobic. It’s explaining my family to other people that gets tricky.
There are a lot of questions that can lead there. “Where’s your wife?” “Where’s their mommy?” “I wish my husband would take the kids to the park sometimes.” Or, when I’m out with my partner, the one we get is, “Which one of you is the dad?”
We could lie, but what kind of message would that send to our kids? That there’s something wrong with our family and we have to keep it secret? A much better message for them to get is that strangers can be clueless sometimes, and that it’s our job to educate them.
“We’re both the dad,” we say. And then … we wait. The next move is theirs.
Before I became a gay dad, I worried a lot about where such a simple statement might lead. But now that I’ve been at it for two years, I realize people are fairly predictable. In all that time, I’ve only gotten a few different responses when I’ve outed our family. Everyone we’ve met, without exception, has fallen into one of five categories.
These are the 5 people you meet as a gay dad …
1. Your New BFF. Reaction: Unbridled enthusiasm
Within five seconds of knowing me and my partner, Drew, these people want to hug us, add us on Facebook, tweet @ us, invite us over for Thanksgiving dinner and beat the crap out of any homophobes who get in our way. They think it’s SOOOOO cool and our kids are SOOOO lucky, and they want to point us out to their own children. “Look, Caden! This is their dad, and this is their other dad! Isn’t that great?”
You can see their minds working. “Oh my God, I saw that report on World News Tonight, but I didn’t think we’d ever meet one of these families ourselves. We better hang on to these guys. Who knows when the next ones will come along.”
Or more likely, they’re just assuming that we get discriminated against or judged constantly because of who we are, so they want to make up for it by being as over-the-top pleasant as possible.
I’ll take all the New BFFs I can get. In most cases, we’re just as enthusiastic back to them. We tell them our whole story. We had a surrogate. She’s like an aunt now. Our egg donor is also an aunt, but then again, she would’ve been anyway because she’s Drew’s sister, Susie. (And if they need it spelled out, yes, I donated the sperm.)
New BFFs are by far the most common people we meet, which is one of the reasons I’m glad I live in Los Angeles.
2. Jaded Allies. Reaction: Feigned indifference.
These people are cool with us, too — just maybe a little too cool. They’re very quick to let us know that they’re familiar with other gay dads – tons of them They’ll say something like, “Oh, right. There’s this couple at our kids’ school with two dads. Matthew and Alan.” Or, “Yeah, my daughter’s best friend has two moms. They came to our house last month.”
Jaded Allies are less worried about making us feel comfortable with them and more concerned with how they come across to us. They don’t want to be seen as square or even the tiniest bit surprised, so they treat us like we’re no big deal.
They’re thinking, “Yeah, I saw that report on World News Tonight. These won’t be the last gay parents I meet. Better play it cool.”
Maybe they really do know a thousand other gay dads, or maybe they just want us to think they do. Sometimes we talk to these people longer and they show a genuine curiosity and kindness toward us. Other times, we just move on.
Jaded Allies are allies, and that’s good enough for us.
3. Closet Homophobes. Reaction: Cordial avoidance.
These people are not OK with us, but at least they’re polite. They’ll say something like, “Oh, how nice. Well, I need to go over here now.” Then they’ll quietly slip away to pray or throw up or something.
They, too, might want us to think they’re cool with who we are. But in their case, we’re not buying it. You can see the exasperated looks on their faces, the ones that say, “This is what I get for asking questions,” or, “Freakin’ Los Angeles! I should’ve known!”
These are the people who fell for the argument that Prop 8 would require elementary schools to swap out math and social studies for courses on the logistics of sodomy. “What they do in their bedroom is their business,” they’re thinking. “But they better not start doing it in front of my kids here at Rite-Aid!”
The worst thing that can happen to a Closet Homophobe is for their kids to start asking questions. “But where’s their Mommy, Mommy?” They’ll stammer or ignore the kid, maybe outright lie. “She’s not here right now.” Anything to keep their kids from being exposed to the gays too young. They may even plead with their eyes, begging us to play along for the sake of the children.
But their kids aren’t stupid, and neither are mine. So whenever the issue comes up, I’m very clear that there is no Mommy in our family, never has been and never will be. I know that’s likely to stir up some more questions in your kids’ impressionable little minds, and frankly I don’t care how you choose to answer them once you’re out of our earshot. But while you’re talking to me, you’re going to hear the pride I take in my family, and my kids are going to know that I’ve got their back.
4. The Head Scratchers. Reaction: Utter confusion
This is the most entertaining reaction, and probably the second most common one we get. No matter how much we explain ourselves, some people are completely baffled by our family, like the Honda salesman we visited when we were shopping for a minivan.
“We’re having twins,” we explained.
“Well, your wife is going to love the Odyssey.”
“No, they’re his twins and my twins.”
“That’s great! So who’s the minivan for?”
“Both of us.”
“Well, it’s the perfect car for you and your brother. There’s plenty of room for you, your kids and your wives.”
I have no idea whether this guy was homophobic, or what he could possibly have been imagining went on in my house, but I know he desperately wanted to make that sale.
Then there was the guy at the Thai restaurant, who saw me and Drew each schlepping a newborn in a car seat to our table, while Drew’s sister strolled casually behind us.
“Are you the mom?” he asked her.
“No, they have two dads,” she answered.
“No two dads!” he insisted.
“Yes,” Drew said. “I’m one dad, and he’s the other dad.”
“No two dads!”
“Yes, two dads. We’re both listed on their birth certificates.”
“No two dads! No two dads! NO TWO DADS!”
I don’t know where that man is right now, but I’m pretty sure he’s still shaking his head adamantly and shouting, “No two dads!” at whoever will listen.
5. The Moral Crusaders. Reaction: Salvation mode
These are the people we dread. They’re not happy just to stay quiet. They want you, their kids and anyone within shouting radius to know that Satan is in their midst. They’re all too happy to point their fingers and condemn you as the reason for the breakdown of the American family, if not of society as a whole.
There’s no need to guess what’s going on in their heads, because they lay it all out. They’ll spew those “men laying with men” Bible verses, they’ll tell you you shouldn’t be in the military, they’ll want to see whatever legal documents you can produce to prove your guardianship or threaten to call Child Protective Services and report you.
They’re every gay dad’s worst nightmare. But here’s the good thing about the Moral Crusaders … they don’t exist.
At least, I haven’t run into any. Not yet.
Maybe they’re out there somewhere. Maybe gay dads in less progressive parts of America have to deal with them all the time. But to me, they’re boogeymen, who might very well just be figments of my imagination.
Before my kids were born, I was convinced I would face them all the time. But rather than let that scare me off from parenthood altogether, I did the alternative. I prepared for the worst.
I’ve been working on some great little speeches to defend my family against the kooks out there. Whenever I meet someone new, before I find out which of these five categories they’re going to fall into, I’ve always got my comebacks ready to go, just in case I’m about to be faced with my first Moral Crusader. Who knows what they look like? They can take many forms.
I don’t want to speak for all gay families, but if you see my partner and me out with our twins, by all means, come say hello. We really do like meeting people and sharing our story, and it makes our kids think we’re celebrities.
As for which of the five categories you fall into, it really doesn’t matter to me. Whatever your reaction is, I’ll be ready.