You Said It!

I feel very lucky to have been Freshly Pressed again by WordPress.  The traffic here has been astounding, and I’ve loved reading all of your comments.  I regret that I can’t respond to everyone individually, as I usually try to, but I promise I read and appreciate everything.  I just have limited writing time and am eager to put up a new post.

To elaborate further, I’ve added a page on Comment Policy.  It’s not as serious or administrative as it sounds, and I certainly don’t expect or even really want anyone to read it.  Just keep leaving comments.  I’m sure you’re doing it right.  But for anyone who’s curious, there it is.

If it weren’t for the comments, I wouldn’t keep writing this blog.  They encourage me, challenge me and very often inspire me.  You guys have given me so much to think about, like on my recent post, My Son Wants to Wear a Dress.  I’m very grateful for all those comments, which have helped me open my mind a bit on the topic.  Look for a followup to that post soon.

Finally, to all the new readers, welcome!  I’m working on a memoir about how my boyfriend and I created our family through gestational surrogacy.  It should be funny, touching and primed to piss off all the right people.  You can help me get it published by subscribing to this blog, liking it on Facebook (where I’m stuck with the blog’s old title, Where Do Gaybies Come From?), following me on Twitter or, best of all, alerting your dear Aunt Oprah about this cool new writer you’ve discovered.

Thanks.

Public Service Announcement on Crib Tents

I don’t usually do this, but it’s come to my attention that the crib tents I’ve raved about in the past have been recalled due to safety concerns, and the company that makes them has gone out of business.

I’m keeping mine – for now, at least.  Pretty soon, my kids will be moving to toddler beds and won’t need them at all anymore.

But if you’re using these yourself or considering buying one after what I wrote, I think you should be aware of the danger.

My Son Wants To Wear a Dress

If you’re wondering whether gay parents are more likely to raise gay kids, you should know that my 2 1/2 year-old daughter has already announced that she wants to marry a boy when she grows up.  No particular boy, not at this point, just “a boy”.

Where did she get this crazy idea that you can marry, you know, people of the opposite sex?  I blame Disney movies.  Ariel and Eric, Tiana and Naveen, Beauty and the Beast.  Daddy and Daddy just can’t compete with love stories like those, especially without any Menken-penned showtunes of our own for her to dance along to.

I’ve even reminded her that girls can marry girls, at least here in New York.  No thanks, she’s marrying a boy.  And her brother is going to marry a girl.

So she says.

Like most boys his age, Bennett hasn’t shown much interest yet in marrying anyone, of either gender.  But he does want to wear a dress.  Badly.  Lately, he’s been asking me every day.

I read absolutely nothing into this, of course.  It’s not like either of his dads was ever into the drag thing, but he certainly hears about dresses an awful lot.  His twin sister is obsessed with them and gets a lot of attention for them, so I don’t blame him for thinking something magical will happen if he puts one on.  He’d definitely get a lot of attention.

Of course, that’s my fear.  I don’t care if the kid wears a dress, whether or not it ends up being something he wants to do when he gets older.  But I know if he wears a dress to the playground or the zoo, some schmuck kid (or, perhaps more likely, grown-up) will feed him that nonsense that “boys don’t wear dresses”.

If that happens, it might not be a big deal.  He might go, “Oh, really?  They don’t?  Why didn’t you tell me that, Daddy?”  Then again, he might cry.  I’m just not ready for the world to teach my kid shame.  I grew up in the closet myself, albeit a slightly different one, and I don’t want that to happen to him.  For now, I don’t even want him to know there is a closet.

So when he asks me to wear a dress, I don’t say no.  I tell him he can do it “later” (as in when we’re not going outside for a while).

“Later” also means when he’s old enough to understand how other people might react.  And if he wants to wear dresses anyway, then I’ll have his back — plunging, ruffled or otherwise.

I’ll also remind him that he can marry whomever he wants, no matter what society – or his sister – might tell him.

newyorkercover

It’s a Mommy’s World – Exposing Dadscrimination

Nice try, New Yorker cover.  Hey, can you tell me where to find that park where there are so many cool dads that moms feel left out, because I have a feeling you need to live in a cartoon in order to get there.  I’ve been doing the stay-home dad thing for going on three years now, and I still feel like Marisa Tomei at Hillman College, if you know what I mean.

According to the 2010 census, there are 154,000 stay-home dads in the U.S.

154,000?  That’s not even a lot of people in Delaware.  Isn’t that exactly the number of Wayans brothers?  We couldn’t take over Lichtenstein with those numbers.  You really think we’re taking over parks?

Look, I’m not one to cry “oppression”.  I’m a middle-class white male, after all.  My kind have had it pretty good for the last few millennia or so.  Yes, I’m also gay, but let’s put that aside for a minute.  Other than that, I’m fairly demographically charmed.

Still, I’m in a minority group because of what I do for a living, and as a result I face a particular kind of prejudice on a daily basis.

That’s right.  I’m talking about “Dadscrimination”.  There may be more of us than there used to be, but in a lot of ways, the world still doesn’t get us.  We’re second-class parents, a joke or an afterthought.  Yo, it’s hard out here for a Daddy.

From the serious to the semantic, here are just a few of the ways dads get the shaft:

- The Mommification of Everything Parent-Related

You never see “Men at Work” signs anymore.  It’s always “Crew Working In Trees”.  We don’t call them “Policemen” or “Mailmen”, they’re “Officers” and “Postal workers.”  But when it comes to parenting, everything’s “Mommy”.  “Mommy movies”, “Mommy & Me” classes, “Mommy wars”, “Mommy Zumba”.  It’s as if the M-word is synonymous with “parent”.  No matter what barriers we break down in terms of gender inequality, inclusiveness goes out the window once you have kids.

I’ll admit I’ve never been to a Mommy movie, mostly because neither my kids nor I are interested in a film whose title is preceded by the words “Katherine Heigl in…”.

I did take a Mommy & Me class when my kids were young, although I think the kids and I all snuck in through the “Me” loophole.  Some parenting groups won’t even allow men.  I get it.  Ladies want to talk about breastfeeding (and do it) in privacy.  But until there are enough stay-home dads to sustain a decent-sized get-together, we don’t have a lot of places to turn for information.  I’m going to vouch for straight dads, too.  They’re not trying to look at your boobs.  We’re all just doing it for our kids, so please let us crash your party.

- The Boob Tube.

My only role model

If you’ve ever turned on TV between when school starts and the work day ends, you know it’s slim pickins for anyone with a moderate amount of testosterone in their system.  Good thing we have Tivo, On Demand and Netflix Instant or we’d be stuck with nothing but endless infotainment featuring doctors, judges and chattering coffee-sippers sitting on stools.  You know what I’m talking about .  The “The” shows.  “The View”, “The Talk”, “The Chew.”  Yes, there’s really a show called “The Chew”, and if I didn’t love my kids so much, that alone would be reason enough to go back to work and throw them in day care.

And what about choosy dads? I’m all ears, Madison Avenue!

Of course, no one is blinder to the existence of stay-home dads than advertisers.  Check the commercial breaks during those aforementioned shows, and you’ll see what I mean.  Look, I buy the Lemon Pledge in my family.  Would it kill you to show a dude dusting his fine wooden surfaces now and then?

- The Great Potty Disparity.

Nowhere is the disparity between dads and moms more obvious or extreme than in public restrooms.  I’ve already written about one bad experience I had at a children’s play center, but it’s an ongoing concern.  Too many businesses only put changing tables in the women’s bathrooms, which is not just dadscrimination but sexist, too.  Who says wiping poopy tushies is just a woman’s job?  If dads aren’t changing their kids, they should be.

Photo courtesy of JustBathroomSigns.com

There’ve been times I’ve had to wait outside a women’s bathroom until the coast was clear so I could go in and change a diaper.  Other times, I’ve had to lay my kid down on a scummy men’s room floor in the shadow of a urinal or take them back to my car just to get the job done.

Nothing makes me happier than seeing a Family Bathroom, because I know it’s well-equipped and Dad-friendly.  I know a lot of small businesses don’t have the funds or the square footage to add a third bathroom, let alone one with curtain-shielded rocking chairs for discreet feeding.  But at any public establishment that welcomes families, Koala Kares in the men’s room are a must, or personally, I’m going to find somewhere else to pump my kids full of chicken fingers.

- Perv stares at the park.

I don’t hover over my kids at the park, but I’m always watching them closely from afar, for two very important reasons: 1, so they don’t get seriously hurt and 2, so they’re not snatched up by a perv.

We all know public recreation areas are pedophile smorgasbords, but here’s the irony: While I’m standing there by myself, eyes narrowly focused on a child who’s frolicking far off, then turning occasionally in a different direction to eyeball my other kid, what do I look like?  That’s right…

A LOUSY, STINKING PERV.

Ask any dad, and he’ll tell you: In a Mommy’s world, you are assumed creepy until proven otherwise.

Stay-home dads often fit the perv profile — middle-aged guys who look tired and unshaven, wearing yesterday’s Spaghetti-O-stained t-shirt and seeming as if they didn’t have time to take a shower that morning.  We spend a lot of time at playgrounds and toy stores.  And if you catch us in a moment when our kids aren’t eagerly tugging at our pant legs and begging us for some Dora the Explorer fruit snacks, we might look like we’re just there to case the joint.

In researching this piece, I came across this post from Daddy Dialectic, who faced the ultimate indignity.  Someone actually asked him to leave a park because she assumed he was a predator.  He did a survey and found out it was more common than he thought.  Having read that, I consider myself lucky that that’s never happened to me.

When I get a perv stare, I’m always quick to establish contact with my kids, just to prove my credibility.  Of course, that only works when your kids back you up.  One time, while my daughter was throwing a tantrum at Target, she yelled out, “Where’s my Mommy?”  That’s the only time that’s ever happened, but if the wrong person had been listening, I could’ve ended up in a one-on-one with store security.  Thanks, kid.

- Mommy cliquishness.

I thought my days of feeling hopelessly uncool ended with high school, but that was before I tried striking up conversations with stay-home moms.  Anywhere moms gather, dads are outcasts.

At least this is one area where gay dads have an edge.  Once I out myself, moms tend to get friendlier.  Maybe their real fear is that I’ll be some suave male homewrecker like Patrick Wilson in Little Children.

I suspect it’s something deeper and darker.  Most women just don’t respect men who stay home with their kids.  They see other women raising kids and think, sure, she’s a traditionalist or a post-modern feminist proving she doesn’t need a career to be a strong woman.  Go, sister!

When they see a man raising kids, they think he’s lazy.  They can’t help imagining his poor wife busting her ass trying to make partner while he stays home wearing flip-flops and eating Fritos on the couch.

- The presumption of cluelessness. 

When Drew and I were exploring our parenting options, we saw a counselor to help us sort things out.  She was smart, supportive and extremely helpful.  She quickly became one of my favorite people I’ve ever met.

Then, after the kids were born, I lamented how hard it was sometimes to soothe them when they were crying.  Our counselor just shrugged and said, “Well, you’re a dude.”

I was stunned, but I’ve since realized that’s how a lot of people think.  “That poor guy, alone with his kids.  He must be in over his head.”

Thanks, I’m doing fine, and you can spare me your advice, strangers.  I prefer to screw my kids up my way, not yours.

OK, fair enough.  Moms get unsolicited advice, too, and they hate it just as much.  Maybe this is one area where dads are catching up to moms faster than we’d like.

I know dadscrimination isn’t the worst form of bias.  Nobody’s making us sit in the back of any buses or denying us the right to vote.  I won’t be leading any marches on Washington or trying to become daddyhood’s Malcolm X.  Mostly, I just wanted a chance to vent.

Aren’t dads allowed to complain once in a while, too?

OK, gotta go.  My kids are waking up.

Happy Other’s Day!

There are work-arounds to not having a mother in your family.  Our kids drank formula rather than breast milk.  We make adjustments to forms when necessary.  And when our twins are overly cranky, we tell them “Save the drama for President Obama!”  But I’ll admit, Mother’s Day is a tough one.

What are my kids going to do when their classes are making macaroni and glitter cards and milk carton bird feeders every mid-May?  Sit in the corner and do long division because they have no one to give theirs to?  I don’t want them to feel left out, and I would never want a school to cancel Mother’s Day for their benefit.  It’s a great holiday.  I even have a mother myself.

Actually, my problem with Mother’s Day started before the kids were even born.  Three years ago, around this time, our surrogate, Tiffany, was pregnant with the blobs who would eventually become Bennett and Sutton.  She did everything a pregnant woman is supposed to do – ate well, got regular check-ups, stayed off crack.  For her diligence, she was rewarded with non-stop morning sickness, a fetus who kicked the crap out of her uterus, Braxton Hicks contractions and eventually, 24-hour bed rest, all for the sake of someone else’s kids.

For that alone, I’d say she earned a bouquet of flowers once a year, but it doesn’t make her, you know, an m-word.

Then there was Drew’s sister, Susie, who’d gone through the hassle and discomfort of egg donation, who’d injected herself with needles on a daily basis, flown across country about five times – at the risk of losing her job – and forked over her DNA to make a couple of kids who would always call her “Aunt”.  What would Mother’s Day represent for her?  Just another Sunday?  An annual unacknowledged reminder of her sacrifice?

It didn’t seem right.  But using Mother’s Day to honor Tiffany and Susie didn’t seem appropriate either, because we were very clear about our family structure and who was in charge.  Fear not, Right Wing.  I have no desire to redefine motherhood.

After thinking it over for a while, we invented our own holiday, Surrogate and Egg Donor’s Day, which we celebrate on the Saturday before Mother’s Day every year.

The timing is significant, because it keeps our kids from feeling left out of Mother’s Day weekend, and it allows our surrogate and egg donor, both of whom now have kids of their own, to celebrate Mother’s Day with their own families, while still being honored for their contribution to ours.  Because they’re such amazing people, they get a whole weekend of love.

We’re not the only non-traditional family who can use this extra holiday.  Plenty of special women fall outside the definition of the word “mother” but still deserve recognition for their contributions to families.  It could be:

  • Your adopted kid’s birth mother
  • The woman who raised you in your mother’s absence
  • A stepmother
  • Your family’s long-time nanny
  • A trans parent who’s not sure where they fit in on Mother’s/Father’s Day
  • A co-parent
  • A mean green mother from outer space

Mommy?

Or whoever you think deserves a special day to honor her for her role in your family.

The same goes for special men, who you might want to celebrate the day before Father’s Day, rather than, you know, not at all.

In writing this piece, I realized I’m not the first one to use the term “Other’s Day”Some people are even offended by it, which is fair enough.  But the distinction is totally up to you and your family to make.  If someone’s special to you, you can celebrate them on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or Other’s Day.  If Other’s Day sounds off-putting to you, call it Special Women’s Day or Special Men’s Day or even something clumsier, like Surrogate & Egg Donor’s Day.  Every family’s different, so we can all celebrate in different ways, too.

My kids are still a little young to understand the meaning of our special holiday, but I look forward to getting them involved in it as they get older, doing art projects, Skyping, or sending flowers.  It’ll be a great excuse to retell the incredible story of how they were born and to acknowledge what makes our family special.  Maybe it’ll also be a reminder of how corny their dads are, but I’m fine with that, too.

Again, I’m not trying to redefine anything, but I think it’s only fair that non-traditional families have a way to honor the people who matter to them.  I know, the last thing we need is one more holiday on the calendar, but if Hallmark wants to put out a special card with some schmaltzy sentiment aimed at surrogates or egg donors, they’ve got their first customer right here.