Two things have come to my attention recently. First of all, a bunch of you are having babies and posting photos of some Winston Churchill-looking little ones on Facebook. Second, my recent dating history has exposed a rash of irresponsible, selfish motherfuckers who would fail the Stanford marshmallow experiment in a hot minute. These two things might not seem to be related, but I promise they are.
One of the few things a number of my ex-boyfriends have in common (other than fantastic taste in liking me, of course) is less-than-stellar relationships with their fathers. I don't by any means claim to have a perfect relationship with my family. There's a certain power dynamic to do with kitchens and cooking that on multiple occasions has led to crappy meals and hurt feelings. I've forgotten holidays and birthdays and neglected to visit family when I should have. However, anyone who's spent time with me and my parents or my grandmother will tell you that I'm completely up front and honest with them. I've watched my dad laugh his ass off to Margaret Cho making jokes about eating pussy. I've cried with my mom, feeling absolutely crumpled, when someone ripped my heart out and stomped on it. We've talked about Grindr. We've talked about the engagement I called off. We have and we will talk about everything.
My first exposure to the idea of keeping one gay persona for friends and lovers and a completely separate one for parents and family was with one of my first boyfriends. He was from a conservative family from Dover, DE, and was the first boy I ever dated who wore girls' jeans because he liked the way they fit. He had a separate wardrobe, a different way of speaking, and rehearsed stories about how he "hadn't found the right girl" for when he went home. At some point he came out to his parents, and they refused to continue to pay for college unless he went to a VERY conservative religious school in the South, one where "homosexual acts" were grounds for expulsion and at the very least some pretty serious counseling. I remember sitting on the hood of my car contemplating smoking a cigarette to calm my nerves because this idea that he couldn't be himself and that his parents only loved him conditionally was enough to make an asthmatic singer think about taking a few puffs. It hurt me then, and it continues to haunt me almost 10 years later.
One ex's father was a conservative police officer; another was a military man and devout Catholic; a third was a philanderer with a wife, an ex-wife, and a girlfriend. In each case, my relationship with the son was hindered by walls that he chose to put up and that he justified in terms of "survival." We all do things to protect ourselves; they are the things that keep us safe or happy or successful. They also limit us and prevent us from letting someone else in. Having that constant reminder in your head that someone you love doesn't quite love you affects you as well as everyone else around you, most of all someone you're attempting to build a relationship with. I know men who look forward to going home to family as much as they look forward to going to the dentist. Everyone knows that girl who has daddy issues, but we rarely talk about the gay man who does.
We know the world is changing. Gay marriage is gaining support in households as well as in courts and legislatures, but there's still the fundamental problem that coming out as a gay man puts you in a minority community with majority parents. It's been said that the ONLY requirement of a parent is to take care of a child until he can do it for himself. Everything else is gravy. When I came out, I couldn't take care of myself; I didn't have a clue how. My gay mentors were Will Truman, Jack McFarland, and Nathan Lane's character from The Birdcage. Without the love and support of my parents, I would still be trying to figure it out 12 years later, relying on the assistance of straight female friends, jazz hands, and feather boas.
So parents, new, old, and future: Please, love your kids unconditionally. Teach them how to be supportive of each other and how to reject the idea that there's just one singular acceptable path. Boys can learn to knit, girls can be rappers, gay men can be contractors, and lesbian women can be anything they damn well please. Hopefully we can raise a generation of kids who don't just know that they're special but who know that everyone else is special, too. It might seem minor now, but a future generation -- your sons and their partners in healthy, loving relationships -- will thank you.