I knew I liked boys by the time I was 11 years old. I can tell you the exact date I acknowledged it to myself, as I entered it in my diary -- and then immediately scratched it out. I never truly intended to document that moment, but to leave footsteps that I could retrace years later. It was a lonely trail I blazed back then. I guess in my heart I knew things would get better, I just didn't know when.
Fast forward: My bar mitzvah, college, coming out, finding love, getting married, buying a house, having a kid, getting divorced, becoming a single dad. Living the dream.
That's right, a gay, single dad living the dream... And I have never been happier. I always wanted to be a father, from a very young age. I had great role models in my parents and I yearned to share their kind of unconditional love and acceptance with my own child.
My son, Sammy was born in the spring of 2007. He came to me and my former husband through an arduous adoption process. From the moment I saw him in the delivery room, I knew he would be the most important thing in my life. He is an amazing little guy whose wisdom transcends the limitations of his chronological age. A good friend referred to him as "seven going on seventy" -- it was a compliment.
Sammy is friendly, social, creative, and loving. He's game for almost anything, at anytime. Anyone who knows us would vouch that there is not only an unbreakable father/son bond but also a special chemistry between us. Simply put, we get each other.
As extraordinary as our relationship is, our lives are really quite ordinary. We live in a working class community outside of San Francisco. Sammy goes to first grade at a public school down the block. He plays in little league, takes swimming and piano lessons, and has participated in soccer, football, basketball, and theater classes. In addition, year round he is exposed to his Jewish heritage through Hebrew school and a Jewish day camp in the summer.
From the moment he was born (or maybe it was on his eighth day of life), he has been learning what it means to be Jewish; to be a part of a great culture and community, and a minority. We have the tooth fairy and we trick-or-treat, but there are neither visits from Santa Claus, nor any Easter egg hunts. He does see us as different from many of his peers, but not for the obvious reason.
The obvious is that he is a kid with two dads. As his primary caretaker, my job is to do my best to rear a well-adjusted young man; someone who knows right from wrong and can thrive in the world we are leaving for him. Of course, homophobia is a topic that is often top of mind for me. Discussing discrimination, in general, is not very difficult. His school values diversity and helps facilitate discussions like:
"All people should be treated equal."
"Nelson Mandela was a great man because he fought an unfair system."
"Rosa Parks stood up for what she believed in."
"Don't judge someone based on the color of their skin, or their religion, but rather who he or she is, as a person."
These are all great and easily understood messages for a seven-year-old. They are all, for the most part, supported by shows on TV, and in movies and books.
The discussion about why I won't be getting married to a woman, or why some people don't like people like me is entirely different. Mostly because it's me -- Daddy. Why in the world would someone not like Daddy? Or why would they not like me because of Daddy?
I don't work at being gay. It's a part of who I am but it does not define who I am. Right now my top priority is being Sammy's dad. And that has more to do with setting up play dates than being an advocate or educator. Of course those are not mutually exclusive, but as a single parent, there simply aren't enough hours in the day. I am never done and I am never doing enough.
This all came to a head last June when I took Sammy to the Castro district in San Francisco to celebrate the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to uphold same-sex marriage. Emotionally charged, hundreds of gay marriage supporters took to the streets in celebration. It was history in the making and I was so happy to be there and have Sammy a part of it. But in the moment, I couldn't find the right words to explain what the celebration was really all about. I tried my best: "Gay people can now get married (probably) here in California! Of course not everywhere in the United States, just some places..."
It's not an easy concept to explain to a six-year-old. I was ill-prepared to have a productive conversation with him about this subject. Even though we have many gay friends, he hasn't been exposed to the gay culture the way I was, years ago. He doesn't see or understand the depths of it, the struggle behind it, or the importance of it. He didn't know how much it mattered to so many people.
I felt at that moment on Castro Street that it needed to matter: Sammy had to be better informed and needed to be a part of a community I treasure. I felt that me being gay simply wasn't gay enough -- I needed to be doing more. Thus, my continuing challenge is to impart to Sammy the same understanding, community feeling, historical background, and cultural enrichment that he gets from being Jewish to being in a family with two dads. He needs that appreciation.
I know that, even as a year has passed, I need to do better. Although we live in the epicenter of liberalism and spitting distance from the Gay Mecca, I need to expose Sammy to more experiences that will expand the very world in which he lives. I am not doing all I can do. I need to leave my ordinary, safe, comfort zone that I have painstakingly built so well and do some heavy lifting. Find similar families, make new connections and start tackling the hard question that will be coming from a very young, inquisitive boy. In essence, "come out" again -- this time, for my son.