Disney World is a terrible place to realize you’re gay. Admittedly, it’s not like I was standing in the shadow of Cinderella’s castle or Space Mountain when I suddenly went, “I’m gay.” But it was right around when I was starting to accept my sexuality, in my early 20s, that I found myself at the happiest place on Earth, incredibly sad.
Everywhere I turned, there were dads. Dads with moms, dads with kids, dads with Mickey and Donald. All I could think was, “This will never be me.” Being able to take your family to Disney World, I concluded, was a reward you got for being straight, one of the seemingly infinite benefits of heterosexuality which would now be off-limits to me.
I’d never buy my kids a pretzel shaped like Mickey Mouse’s head or hold their hands to comfort them when the Evil Queen pops up on the Snow White ride. No wonder being gay felt like a curse. At the very moment I was accepting the truth of who I was, I was surrounded by glimpses of a future I would never have.
Thankfully, life turned out much differently than I expected. I’ve come a long way in dealing with the gay thing, and so did — well, as it turns out, the entire rest of the world. Yay.
So it felt like a victory when my boyfriend and I took our kids to Sesame Place last week. We had dinner with Elmo and his friends, and it was like the kids were meeting royalty. They shrieked, giggled, conga-ed and cheated their way through their first ever game of musical chairs.
To top it all off, we were there with some good friends of ours, another set of gay dads and their kids. I couldn’t help thinking back to when I was a sad kid at Disney World, and how much better the future turned out than I ever could have imagined.
“My favorite part was when I got to hug Cookie Monster,” Bennett said on the ride home. “He was soft.”
“My favorite part,” Sutton said, “was all of it.”
And five seconds later, she fell asleep.
Of course, by now I know that theme parks and sunny days are just a tiny part of raising kids. In between those perfect moments are fights and meltdowns, sleep training and potty training, and spending hours assembling toys that break five minutes after the kids start playing with them. There are days when I can’t wait for the kids to fall asleep and days when all the clothes come out of the laundry smelling like poop because someone had an accident in his Buzz Lightyear underpants (i.e., yesterday).
But despite all the shit — both metaphorical and distressingly literal — that goes into parenting, it’s worth it. No matter how fleeting and hard-earned the payoffs, nothing compares with the high points of having a family. For other people, it might be that first baseball game or ballet recital, a Communion or Bar Mitzvah. For me, it was watching my kids dance with Grover while I ate one of the worst meals I’ve ever had.
The greatest triumph of my life is that I’ve been able to be myself and still have everything I ever wanted. And that’s why I’m grateful for being a parent. It’s exhausting, infuriating, agonizing, humbling, hilarious and utterly wonderful.