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Derek Nicoletto Headshot

Being a Single Gay Dad

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I'm trying to figure out how being a "single gay dad" differentiates me from all the other types of dads out there. Like most parents -- particularly the single ones -- I'm too busy actually parenting to ponder the uniqueness of my situation. My marriage -- much like those of countless heterosexuals -- didn't last. That divorce rendered me single, gay and father to a hilarious, precocious little boy. So, what makes me different than all other divorcées?

Frankly, the first thing to come to mind was fashion... specifically, the time I realized that my primary-colored American Apparel underwear bore a striking resemblance to my potty-training toddler's Underoos. It suddenly felt ridiculous for a 40-year-old man to own them and, without ceremony or hesitation the trendy briefs hit the trash. I doubt my straight friend Nick dealt with this quandry after his marital split... but who knows?

Next, I'm left to ponder gay parenting in general -- especially the "overachievement" aspect that appears to be rather prevalent. Here, I did myself a favor from the beginning... I let myself off the hook in the race to be a perfect parent. However, I see it all the time: The gay dads who feel they need to prove to the world that they can parent, an urge that seems to stem from longstanding feelings of inadequacy and a desire to be accepted. For me, I feel no need to emulate the persnickety Modern Family couple Cameron and Mitchell, if I am secure in my parenting and with myself. Being significantly looser in personality than those characters -- and, as logic would dictate, real -- I just try to do my best. Actually, having this child has helped me tremendously in taking myself less seriously. Recently, my son Asher -- with one sentence -- broke down the pretense of days worth of grueling work by a crew of 11 people and the thousands of dollars that went into making the music video for my song "Champion" -- meant to be a dark, gothic, cinematic portrayal of the struggle between my inner demons and myself. After seeing it just once, he giggled, "Why is Papa fighting Batman? I wanna watch Bubble Guppies."

Most straight parents intended to be parents... but not all. Gay dads rarely have accidental children. There's planning, discussion, soul-searching, examination and a major financial burden. At the outset of this journey, I was a father who really wanted to be a father. My ex-partner and I spent loads of money having our son through surrogacy. Then, since Asher is biologically related to my ex, it took me three years worth of home studies, medical reports, letters of recommendation and court appearances to adopt him. February 28th of this year, that process became final and he is now my legal son. If ungrateful, I will quickly remind my son that he is one of the most wanted children on the planet. From egg donor selection to his final adoption date, that child was simultaneously cared for and earned to be kept. I know how to guilt. I learned from the best. Thanks, Mom.

Further, I don't feel I need to wear a suit to be suitable. I'm in rock and roll. I spit chocolate syrup in music videos and make my money by singing at gigs like Brunch at Yotel or (le) poisson rouge. I, too, had a rock and roll dad. My dad played drums in tons of bands, some well-known, some not. It was pretty cool. Music grounds me for fatherhood. Fatherhood grounds me for music. So, I'm not going to watch my every step... I already know how to operate independently, yet concurrently, as an artist and a good father. Moreover, if I had to endure stuff like my super-straight dad toasting, "Here's to swimming with bow-legged women," Asher can put up with his father saying "fuck" on Twitter. None of my father's big-fat-Italian-guy humor is responsible for any of my adult mistakes. If one day, when Asher is, say, 16, and I catch him stealing money out of my wallet to buy hooch with his friends, it will have very little to me having posed under Scooter LaForge's "Teddy Skelly" on the Kind Ghosts album cover. My kid is attended to, disciplined and parented. His actions will warrant consequences that come from his father, not his "single gay dad." In this house, "Single Gay Dad" is not my name... "Papa" is.

Still, in the outside world, the reminder that I'm a single gay dad sometimes hits me unexpectedly. It can actually be somewhat amusing. Example: I'm pushing Asher down the street in his stroller on the way to the park. He's usually dragging his feet because he knows it gets my goat. He's holding a ball. Some totally hot guy walks past and I make eye contact. Now, if I smile, I'm screwed. I'm screwed because in that man's eyes, I'm either a closet-case whose poor wife is home wondering why we never make love anymore, or I'm some yuppie gay who got a kid when he thought it was trendy but still thinks it's cool to cheat on his partner. At this moment I want to scream across the street that I am single... that it's been years since the ex-husband left. That I'm over it and ready to date again. That the kid will be on visitation next weekend and I'm free for dinner. But because I don't want Social Services to appear, I don't shout across the street. So I've decided the best practice is to never make eye contact with anyone. If my first thought is, "Wow, hubba hubba," I'm screwed. So, it's eyes to the trees or to the street or to my son's dragging feet. Now, come on. Do straight parents avert their eyes from the opposite sex whenever their child is present? I'm not totally sure, but I don't think so.

At this point in my dating life, having son is a fantastic filter. As long as I make it clear to my potential dates that I'm not looking for another parent for my child -- which I'm not -- then either you're cool with me and my situation or you're not. However, one does have to be wary of what I call the "Jerry Maguire syndrome." There exist certain guys, usually in their 30's and 40's, who are attracted to the package, not the man. Enamored by the kid, they forget it's me, not my family set-up, that they are supposed to be dating. By now, I can spot these guys a mile away. I'm not going to be some dude's Renee Zellweger, pouty and neglected. That said, there is room for a sane, passionate, interdependent relationship here. A visitation schedule is in place, allowing for date nights before the kid even gets introduced to the mix. If I begin to date someone, he doesn't meet the kid for a while.

As a single gay dad, I don't think I have it so much harder or easier than any other single person hoping for the right kind of love -- or even just hoping to be a good parent. We've all got our luggage. Mine is simply an awesome 4-year-old who just earned his first stripe in karate.