There are many things that my son will have to overcome in his life. He will have to find his place in a world where that is not as simple as it used to be. As an African-American male he will have to deal with the racism that is inherent in our society. He will have to come to terms with the loss and grief connected to his adoption. He may also have to deal with medical or psychological issues associated with his early life. Finally, he will have to live with the fact that his family is unlike most others because he has two Dads. If it all seems a little hopeless it isn’t really. He will have loving, supportive and hopeful parents who will always seek out the good in the world in spite of the bad.
Practically, there are some things that we feel able to help him with, but one in particular seems especially difficult for me. I have always been hyper-sensitive to the idea of exposing my child, adopted or not, to the ugly homophobia in our society. By adopting, I am bringing him into a situation where some of the same difficulties that I have faced throughout my life will fall upon him. Though the odds are high that our son will be heterosexual, he may frequently be in the position of having to admit to the “sin” of having two Dads. His coming out each and every time will be for my sake, for our sake. At some point in his classroom, there he’ll be with the question, “how come you don’t have a Mommy?” And the answer is: I am adopted and I don’t live with my mother; I live with my two Dads. You can imagine the rest–confusion, laughter, ridicule, children who say their parents won’t let them play with him–though it may not happen all of the time, just enough of the time. There is no way for me to shield my son from these kinds of things, just as there is no way for me to shield him from the way people will respond to the color of his skin. In previous posts I talked about our little family being outed in the grocery store line scenario–“Oh, he’s crying, where’s his Mother?” We could always attempt to evade the question, but that would seem a bit like being in the closet again. It isn’t something either of us intends to do and certainly this is not the message that we would want to give our son. We are not ashamed of who we are as individuals, as a couple or as a family. We would never want to teach our son any differently. It’s just that he has enough to deal with. I would never wish what I’ve been through as a gay man on anyone else, especially my child.
It is true that gay men are more visible, more tolerated, if not accepted, and generally have become too much a part of the fabric of society to be considered an oddity. But as two gay men venturing into parenthood, I believe we would still be considered pioneers. We most certainly are not in the mainstream and if fact we would not even be considered mainstream within the gay community. The problem with being among those seeking out the new frontier of same-sex parented families is that new and different is not something that society can easily accommodate. I imagine a wide spectrum of reactions to the three of us in a public place–supportive to dumbfounded to downright rude. Like the African-American child who travels to that place–rural, conservative, southern, whatever–and hears for the very first time the “n” word, it is inevitable that the two people he has grown to love and trust as his parents will be called the “f” word. Most likely it will be just him and the offender–with his Daddies no where to be found. It could spawn anger, shame, hurt and maybe a fist fight or two. How do I prevent that from happening? How do I keep my child from harm when it comes to his two Dads?
How easy it would be for me to feel responsible for all of this. I am sure that there is more than one conservative political view that would help pile it on. However, before I let that happen, I remember some of the ideals behind the Civil Rights Movement. Just because society holds onto some belief or tradition, that doesn’t make it right. Movements like that helped to push through difficult often institutional change. It seems that the kinds of change we see in society nowadays with respect to gay people are incremental. Too many people know someone or are related to someone who is gay. We are in your neighborhoods and grocery stores; we are here living our lives, quietly just like everyone else. Occasionally, there is some initiative that gets signed, some law that rises up to restrict or reduce our rights as citizens, as Americans. Some laws stay, most get struck down, but the movement forward continues incrementally. As those changes occur, my son’s life will be easier. But he will nevertheless have to deal with a sick society. It will not be completely well anytime soon. But I cannot assume responsibility for the illness or validate societal views by choosing not to be a parent or by taking on the guilt of a society.
So what can I do to minimize the effects of this on my son? As with discussing his adoption, the surest way to help him is to be straight forward, open and honest. When the time is right he will have to understand that not only is our family different but some people don’t like us simply because we are different. Even writing about this is difficult–the notion that I have to explain to my little kid why Billy’s parents don’t want him to come over to our house. We will have plenty of opportunities while he is young to expose him to people who are unconcerned that he has two Dads either because they like us, are a same-sex parented family or it just doesn’t matter to them. There are communities of gays and lesbians with children in our area who frequently have gatherings that are as much for the kids as they are for the parents. There are ways to be able to live our lives and not have to face the problems that other people might have with us. We have already taken a step to minimize any negativity associated with our sexual orientation. We’ve surrounded ourselves in a community that for the most part is uninterested in what type of family you have and more interested in being neighborly. Having lived in our home for a few years now, the color of the home and our dedication to maintaining the thick canopy of trees in our yard seem to be much more important than our sexual orientation.
In addition, my son will be in a day care and attend elementary school where there will be other kids like him with parents that are either two moms or two dads. He will not be the only one and therefore not subject to the same level of ridicule. But it will be there, at some point and we will just need to be prepared to talk to him about these issues as they come up. One of the most important things that we can do for our son is to provide him with the environment where he feels safe; is loved and cared for and can handle whatever life out there hits him with. It is no different then what every parent can do for their child. It is all the more important in our home given the challenges that we, but mostly he will face. To borrow a phrase from a friend, my hope is that we are his launching pad–we will be his foundation, his support, his base from which he can figure out who he is and what he will do with his life. And there will always be two crazy fathers cheering him on in the background.