"Five, six... five, six, seven, eight!" I sing out to my 7- and 4-year-olds as Lady Gaga starts to sing. This is their cue to start the dance number we've been rehearsing for three days. It's their Papi's (my husband Don's) birthday, and the kids want to do a dance for him. They've chosen Gaga's "Born This Way." That's right. Eliza picked it all by herself. I had nothing to do with the aptly titled song, which features a repetitive, Madonna-like chant: "Don't be a drag, just be a queen!" over and over again. I did, however, have a lot to do with the choreography. Natch.
We start, the three of us, all in a line, our backs facing Papi, who rubs his eyes as he wakes to this shock and awe of visual and auditory stimulation. With jazz hands we pirouette and land on our knees, hands now overhead!
"Papi, you were born today!" we sing out over Gaga's actual lyric. The kids are over the moon.
Next move: "Hands on shoulders!" I shout out, trying to get them to make a train that does a perfect figure-eight in the middle of the floor. But they've gotten sloppy. The arm moves aren't sharp. Their alignment is far from precise. "Arms, people! Come on. Eyes right here!" I hear myself shout. What?! Who am I? "Kick, ball, change!" I shout out to them. They have forgotten what that means. Can you believe that? No child of mine... I think to myself. The rest of the number goes south, and the kids just start jumping up and down, singing (off-key) and waving their arms. Are they having fun? Of course. Is Papi enjoying his birthday "performance"? Absolutely. What does he have to compare it with? But let me just say right here, right now, it was pathetic.
I know. I put the "gay" in "gay dad." My insatiable appetite for musical theater is like a candle flickering, however dimly, a reminder of years of dedication, commitment, and classes at Broadway Dance Center. Why does it matter so much? And why does it matter so much to me and not to, say, any number of the other dads I see on the schoolyard?! Perhaps this is where I find more in common with the moms than with the other dads. That said, with Mother's Day fast approaching, Don and I know that we'll have to pull out our time-worn explanation of how "some people have two mommies, some have two daddies, and others..." No matter how much I have in common with the mommies or the straight daddies, I am neither.
I've been on this kick for a while now, trying to convince the world that there is little difference between straight dads and gay dads. "Parenting is parenting," I like to say, "regardless of sex or gender or orientation." It's even the overwhelming reaction to my forthcoming book, Does This Baby Make Me Look Straight? (in stores June 5); people always tell me, "The stories are so universal!" Even women say, "It's like you're writing about my life!" And my favorite: "A dad is a dad -- even if he's sleeping with, you know, another dad."
Right, OK, that's all well and good, but even I have to admit that there are differences. I joke all the time, "The dirty diaper smells the same, but we look a hell of a lot better changing it!" Or Don will send Eliza back upstairs to swap out the long-sleeved T-shirt she's put under her dress, telling her, "It's a shade of green that just doesn't look good with peach." Wow. There's a comment you won't hear too often from a straight dad.
And right now I'm standing on my tip-toes, a feather boa over my shoulders, leading my kids in a kick-line toward my husband, who looks like he desperately needs a cup of coffee.
I'm not suggesting that there aren't straight dads out there who do a dance number with their kids once in a while, or care what they wear or how they look, nor am I suggesting that there aren't plenty of gay dads who will watch a game with their sons or toss a football around in the backyard. But by and large, this is sort of where the line is, differentiating one kind of dad from the other, even if, by and large, you're going to find the gay dads far less invested in the kids' game than in the precision and artistry of the half-time number!
So this Mother's Day? I'm going to let the kids celebrate their two dads and the "mommyness" each of us has within. And they can wear whatever the hell they want to wear and do any dance they feel like doing, because that's the kind of mom I had as a kid -- and the kind of "mom" I'd like to be.