06/15/2012 05:56 pm ET Updated Aug 15, 2012

What I Know About Fatherhood Now That I'm One of Two Dads

When our daughter clears her own dishes from the table without being reminded but has to leap over the abandoned Hello Kitty backpack in the middle of the kitchen floor to do so, I have to bite my tongue so that I don't fall into the trap of criticizing the latter while she is still doing the former. In a moment like that, which any parent can relate to, it is easy to forget that some folks consider it unusual that I'm a parent at all. Yet I have to accept that because there are two dads in our house, there will always be people who see our lives -- for good and ill -- largely through the prism of their own politics, biases or faith. Here are few of the lessons we've learned from those people.

Someone out there hates us. (Too bad for them.)

We live in Massachusetts, where gay marrieds and gay-parented families are comparatively so commonplace that we rarely pause to think about whether we'll be accepted. But there are exceptions: Once, in my daughter's presence, a young woman cornered me on the bus with an expletive-filled tirade against gay marriage (her value system apparently not prohibiting swearing in front of children). And as North Carolina and some of this year's Presidential candidates have reminded us, we're not yet welcome everywhere. But we have the advantage nonetheless: We're already here, our numbers are growing and polls show that each succeeding generation is more comfortable with us. When even the religious kids are rolling their eyes at their elders for homophobia, you know history is on our side. So crazy bus ladies and frothy politicians are left to do what people in their position often do: lash out desperately as they lose.

Tolerance is lovely, except for how exhausting it is.

Tolerance is far nicer than animosity, but it's not fully acceptance. Acceptance is seeing same-sex parents with children and thinking "family"; tolerance is seeing that family and thinking "homosexual trailblazers with a diaper bag." I cannot count the number of times complete strangers have gone out of their way to make sure that we understood how much they approve of us, flashing extra big smiles or making you-go-girl nods, sometimes even approaching us to blurt out how "lucky" our daughter is. The intended message is "I want you to know that I have no problem with you and it just makes me so happy to have proof of my liberal beliefs in the flesh." One particularly gushy stranger was falling all over herself trying to explain why she'd stopped us and I almost blurted out, "I get it: we complete you." The activist in me wants to reward these kind-hearted people, but the dad in me wishes these strangers could realize that they're inadvertently suggesting to my daughter that we're exotic creatures in the Great Liberal Petting Zoo.

The birds & the bees do their own recruiting.

One of the canards often used against same-sex parenting is that our children will grow up gay. Though I would be perfectly content if my child did just that, the truth is that I have no say in this matter at all. It's not only the scientific studies which have convinced me of this; it's my own eyes. My daughter, it is perfectly clear, is boy-crazy. From as early as age 5, it was obvious that she responds to the right boy -- preferably a dark-haired older boy who tells jokes -- with behaviors and emotions that no girl ever elicits. Let me tell you, if her two dads could steer her away from crushing out on the class clown, we would. But her body, in its very chemistry, is already doing its own thing, and having gay dads won't change that a bit.

Blood is not thicker than juice boxes.

Though my mother is devoutly religious, when my daughter was born, Mom loved becoming Grammy, and begged for visits and photos. I really believed that our family was helping her re-think her position on homosexuality -- until she went ahead and voted to ban gay marriage in her home state anyway. It felt like a crushing blow when she told me. But I didn't have time to nurse my grief: that same day, a bunch of my daughter's friends and their parents filled our backyard for a party. Like my mom, all those parents were straight, but, unlike her, they just saw us as peers in the trenches of family life: handing out slices of pizza and juice boxes, running games and wiping noses. As we basked in the warmth and unquestioning support of our community, we were reminded of something gay people have known for a long time: it does indeed "take a village," but you don't need biology to build one.

Normal is next to Narnia.

It's not just us gay dads who learn to accept their difference within the larger context of raising children in this country. From secular Muslims to devout Seventh-day Adventists, I know many parents who quietly maintain their own values and practice traditions not mirrored by the majority of their fellow Americans. Lily's friends include Norwegian-Chinese siblings who are the only blonde Asians in town, an Autistic boy she's known since both were in diapers and children of immigrants from China, Turkey, Poland, Morocco and Brazil. Which is to say that there is no one family which meaningfully represents what all families are and should be.

When I joke that Normal is next to Narnia, the implication is not that I can find either by going into the closet, but that both exist only in the realm of fantasy. On the other hand, I can assure you that my family is quite real indeed.

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