“I think when I’m a father I’m going to be the cool dad.” And then ten seconds later, he passes his phone to his coworker: “This is the guy I was talking to you about!” Oh, to have a crush! But the bigger reaction comes from merging the two utterances. Same person, almost in the same breath. A young barista with dreams.
Yes, how far we’ve come. There have always been gay boys pining for love. (How many truly want it, I’ve always questioned.) But it’s the casual mention of being a dad that I find remarkable. Like it’s in the cards if he wants it to be. And why shouldn’t it?
At least once a day, I marvel at the progress. At 53, I’ve become one of the old-timers, someone who can remember when what so many younger gay men take for granted was unimaginable.
I wanted to be a dad. But I knew marrying a woman so I could have kids was both dishonest and selfish. Even when I was closeted, I wasn’t so delusional to think maybe, with a little effort and a lot of denial, I could live a straight life—wife, two kids, a dog and one of those dreaded Disney family cruises. (All those little girls running around as Belle and Mulan would just make me Grumpy.) I was messed up and I didn’t want to mess up anyone else.
Had I had the chance, I wouldn’t have always been the cool dad. I’d have been positively fuddy-duddy at times. No princess costume till you put away your Tonka trucks. No Pokemon anything—I don’t ever want to understand that world. (“Dad! No! That’s Digimon.” Ugh.) And no becoming a teenager. Ever.
Fuddy-duddiness notwithstanding, I’d have been a decent dad. A great one even. I’ve worked with kids my whole life. We connect. I can easily get in the head of a child—or even an adolescent—and understand and appreciate what he or she is thinking even if it is expressed in a problematic manner. Kids relax with me because they learn quickly that I get them. I listen, I commiserate, I do my best to help coach them to their own way out of a problem. It’s a process that takes more time than spouting directives and a string of should’ves, but I see it as a wise investment in someone’s future. I’m proud of the fact that, even in the most difficult and shocking situations, I’ve made sure the younger person’s dignity has remained intact.
To be sure, as a dad, I would have had to grow thicker skin. No matter how hard I’d try, I’d still get my share—and then some—of eye rolls, moody mumbles and all-out shutdowns. Because, despite how hard I’d work to understand, my child(ren) would find it easier at times to pretend I just don’t get it. Yep, the teenage years would come against my orders. Dang it.
But being a dad would have still been worth it.
Alas. It wasn’t to be. Wrong time. It’s a missing piece I’ve done a respectable job pretending I don’t miss.
I’ve made it through the Facebook posting years whereby my old college friends share photos and videos of piano recitals, horseback riding lessons and soccer trophies. I’ve duly pressed the Like button and acknowledged their proud parenting while cynically wondering about the moments that would never be Facebooked.
I’d like to think I’d have shielded my child(ren)’s images from Facebook. Sure, emailing the grandparents and aunts and uncles may be practically prehistoric, but I know I wouldn’t have wanted my parents posting photos of me to their high school buddies now living in Iowa. I hope I’d have been more selective in channeling my pride instead of using my kids for Likes. But, who knows, it’s easy to speculate when I’ve never been on that hamster treadmill known as parenthood. Maybe I’d have needed that external validation of my carefully curated family life.
Before I was twenty, I thought of adopting. There were a couple of teenagers with developmental disabilities who’d been given up by or taken away from their parents. Two or three years younger than me. Impractical. The heart was there, but I knew my noble intentions would have led to failure.
In my thirties, my partner at the time would often raise the issue of parenting and I would skilfully bat the idea away or change the subject. Thank god, he had a short attention span. In truth, I was stuck in an abusive relationship. It was too much for me, even as I couldn’t seem to find the emergency exit. Still, I had enough sense and inner strength to know that I would never bring a child into that dynamic.
Free again in my forties, I felt the clock ticking and stalled nonetheless. Technically, where I lived, it was possible to adopt as a single gay man, but I think all those years of society screaming no had seeped into my psyche. How could I be good enough? What if my desire to be a dad shortchanged my child of a second parent? What if parenting was still a selfish act?
And so the time ticked on. I hit fifty and had enough sense to know that the age gap was too great. I didn’t want my son to be asked about his “grandfather” holding the handmade, purple painted “Seth #1!” sign at the high school swim meet. (The fact that I wanted a child named Seth—or Timothy—may have abruptly ended adoption proceedings anyway.)
How cool or uncool would I have been as a dad? I’ll never know.