About ten years ago, I finally admitted defeat and said it aloud, “I’m gay.” Hearing the words come out of my mouth was startling. I mean, I was a twice-divorced “straight” father of four. It was almost nauseating to hear it because once I actually put those words out into the world, there was no turning back.
It wasn’t a revelation on my part. I had crushes on the same sex since elementary school. But that was as far as that went. There was never a sordid affair with the same sex or some type of scandalous act that revealed the hidden truth that is so common in the news. (Particularly focused on law-making homophobic conservative politicians and religious leaders.)
But for years, the pure fear of what being gay meant was paralyzing. As a Stranger Things kid of the 80s, there was nothing more screwed up than thinking that love equaled death. It was drilled into your head that the pure act of kissing a boy may give you AIDS.
It screamed, “Veer from the literal straight and narrow and your life will suck big time.”
Worse, it meant no kids. But like my internal understanding of my gayness, I also always knew that I wanted to be a father. I knew I was built to be a dad.
Being a gay teen in the 80s meant that I had to make a CHOICE between these two internal dialogues ― paths ― neither of which would directly lead to my Emerald City, but they were the only paths I could see. There was the path of being gay and never being a father or the path of burying my sexuality and buying a home with a white picket fence. I chose the white picket fence. It seemed right. Of course, I was just an 18-year old college student, so who knows what was going through my head. I mean, I dated girls in high school. Women weren’t that bad. They had boobs and boobs seemed cool. They also understood me.
Ultimately, over a 15 year period, I tried that path twice. The first marriage was, in a nutshell, a disaster of epic proportions. Eleven years of a bad relationship that was destined to fail (and probably why I went into it in the first place). But we had three of my four kids and I was (and am) devoted to them. The second marriage was to a close friend. Being the antithesis of my first relationship, I really didn’t know if a healthier marriage was the answer to my dilemma. She and I lasted a couple years, had our son, decided marriage wasn’t for us and have been friends ever since. I came out shortly after. A gay father of four with all the baggage of a reality TV show.
Coming out in my later 30s seemed impossible to even fathom. There were so many people to come out to. People who thought I was straight. People who knew. (Like my dad, who told me that he asked my mom when I was six years old if she thought I was gay. I asked, “How did you know?” His answer, “I could see that you looked at boys the way that I looked at girls.” Such a simple and real answer). Loved ones who may not love me as much anymore. Kids who may be embarrassed by me.
I can only say that I realized that being gay gave me the tools to be the best father to them."
But eventually, I felt the strength to come out to everyone. The kids did what they could and went through various levels of support, with a couple needing some time to process. One went full-force and invited every gay person she knew to our house. The youngest was completely oblivious, as most kids are. But time has a way of helping and, today, the questions of “will they love me” are no longer in my head. I often think about what I did to prepare them for this journey.
Taking these paths, as with all of us, is part of life. I can’t say I’m a better father than my straight counterparts. I can only say that I realized that being gay gave me the tools to be the best father to them.
Let fear make you stronger
I learned that fear is a powerful beast. It is such a burden that there is a point where accepting the fear is more important than the feeling. It grew so large that I could no longer move or carry it. I was able to teach my children that it’s okay to be afraid. That you cannot live with fear indefinitely. You need to call it out. You need to say your fear aloud. “I’m gay and I’m afraid of hurting worse than I already have.” I tell my kids to just go for it and let the fear make them stronger because… I know it will.
Allow empathy to make you wiser
I learned that you must empathize to be effective. You can’t be a good boss if you don’t give a crap about your employee. It’s the same with kids. You need to get down to their level. Look around. Put yourself in their place. Empathy is critical to being a good parent and a good person. Being gay put me in a place where I understood that not everything I saw was true. That the outer persona may be hiding an even better version of themselves on the inside… like me.
Trust others with your emotions
Obviously, abuse and bullying don’t exist inside of our walls. Instead, I encourage communication. We sit together at the dinner table as a family and talk and express feelings. There is no burying of feelings or vague emotional connections in this gay family. We lay it all out there because the very last thing we want is any closets… skeletons or not.
Be a part of your community
Of course, there are other perks of being gay. The love of musicals, reality TV, Comic-Con, cosplay, horror films and a well-timed ABBA song… all of the stereotypical gay staples of life. Our community is strong and present and it preaches true love of self. We accept others for who they are… no judgment. We believe it’s totally okay to look, or sound, or walk different. My being gay gave my children a true sense of community.
I don’t claim to be a better parent than others. In reality, I don’t know what type of parent I would have been if I were born straight. Maybe this was always going to be me… A fierce and loving dad who was able to go down the roughest paths in life alongside a bunch of kids (and an amazing husband) who made it all worth it.