My Surprising Father’s Day Gift

gaydadcard.JPG

Unless you’re a straight white male or Bill Cosby, it’s been a pretty crummy year so far. Well, it’s not much, but for me, there’s been a small bright side, and it’s that card pictured above. It may not seem like a big deal to you, especially if you’re a straight white male. But that is the card I got my husband for Father’s Day this year, and it felt pretty awesome to do it.

Anyone who’s gay can relate to the challenge of finding greeting cards for special occasions. Whether it’s Valentine’s Day or anniversaries, there just aren’t a lot of options for us, at least not in the usual venues. Sure, there have long been some great out-of-the-way stores and underpromoted websites geared for folks like us, and I highly recommend giving them your business. But not everyone can trek to the gay part of town for a greeting card or wait to have a gift shipped to them.

As someone who’s LGBTQ, that leaves you with a few options: buy a blank card, make your own card, find a card so generic that it’s not gender-specific or buy a card that says “To my husband” and cross out all the references to “wife” and/or cartoons of the girl squirrel holding the boy squirrel’s hand (or vice-versa). (Special props to my brother-in-law, who bought two identical wedding cards when Drew and I tied the knot. He snipped out the grooms and put them both on the same card, to make a homemade gay wedding card.)

As hard as gay relationship cards are to find, gay parent cards are even more of a challenge. So when I went to Rite Aid to get a Father’s Day card for my husband Drew, I was planning to do some creative thinking, as usual, to turn a card for someone else into a card for us.

Then I saw something I hadn’t expected to see – a label in the Father’s Day section that said “Two Dads.” There was only one card there, and it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to say. (I would’ve gone with “the two luckiest guys” instead of “two of the luckiest.”) But it felt so good to be acknowledged.

In a Rite Aid.

With a card from American Greetings.

This was unthinkable when we started dating 14 years ago… and when our kids were born 7 years ago… and even when we got married 3 years ago. But there it was, with all the other cards, just no big deal. When I took it up to the register and bought it, the cashier said, “Happy Father’s Day,” and almost before those words were out of her mouth, she yelled, “Next!” and waved me away.

Sure, this one greeting card doesn’t do anything to help Muslims, women, African-Americans, Jews or any of the other people who’ve been having a tough time since this new administration took over (and since long before that), and it barely does anything for LGBTQ people. But for me, it was a reminder that you can’t stop progress, even in an otherwise rotten time for progress. And even while we’re fighting for our rights, there are appropriate moments to stop and reflect on how far we’ve come.

It may have been noteworthy to my husband and me, but of course, our kids had no idea why this greeting card was different from any other one.

And that’s probably the best part of all.

Happy Father’s Day to all the gay dads out there — and to you straight ones, too!

* * * * *

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted, but that’s because I’ve been busy with my kids’ books! My series MY ROTTEN STEPBROTHER RUINED FAIRY TALES comes out August 1, 2017 from Capstone, and you can preorder them nowpreorder them now! Also, check out my new website for my middle grade and young adult writing, jerrymahoneybooks.com. [End of shameless plug.] 🙂

It’s OK If You Don’t Want Your Kids To Be Gay

bigglassesOne of the things I’m proudest of with this blog is the response I’ve received to my post How to Talk to Your Kids About Gay People, By a Gay Person. It’s received exactly the kind of praise (overwhelming) and condemnation (from a few random kooks) I would’ve hoped. I’ve also reached a number of people in the middle, which is where I would suspect most parents are these days, still trying to make sense of our increasingly gay-friendly world and where their kids fit into it.

I’d like to share one particularly intriguing comment I got on the post, which espouses a viewpoint I imagine is increasingly common among parents these days (edited version below; original can be found on the original post):

My husband and I are both tolerant, live and let live kind of people. I am a Christian, [but] I don’t think homosexuality is sinful. What is in the bible is taken way out of context.

 We have a two mom couple [in our neighborhood]. [My kids] never noticed, so we don’t bring it up. Then one day, my 5 year old said that a man can’t marry a man, that is just silly. My husband agreed with him. My husband and I talked later and I told him not to say that, because our son has girls with two moms in his class and he may tell them that it is silly or wrong. My husband said that, in truth, two men can’t legally get married and he doesn’t want the kids thinking it is OK. Well that is when I realized that we aren’t as cool with it as I thought.

I don’t think seeing gay couples will make our sons gay, but my husband seems to think that if we just say it is fine and OK and natural, then they will experiment with both genders. While I would love and accept my son no matter what and so would my husband, I don’t want him to be gay. So how do I tell them that it is OK for other people, but not OK for us. Is that ignorant of me. Am I way overthinking it. I don’t feel like these couples are going to make my children gay, but for some reason, I have this problem with telling them that it is perfectly OK and normal for them to like [other boys]. How should I explain it? I would be mortified if he told his five year old friends that their Moms were wrong or weird and made the little girls feel bad.

I’m going to start off by saying something you probably wouldn’t expect me to say:

It’s OK if you don’t want your kids to be gay.

I know, can you believe a gay man just said that? I’ll say it again:

It’s OK if you don’t want your kids to be gay.

You don’t have to feel guilty about it or be conflicted, and it shouldn’t be the cause of a fight with your spouse.

As parents, we have a lot of expectations and desires for our kids, and that’s only natural. Maybe you don’t want them to go into the military, because you’re afraid they’ll be in danger. You don’t want them to be poets, because you’re afraid they’ll always be broke. You don’t want them to be windmill technicians, because you don’t want them moving away to the Netherlands. All understandable.

On top of that, it’s natural to want your children to be people you can relate to. We want them to have the same political views as us. We want them to share our religion, our work ethic, our sense of humor.

So maybe there’s a part of you that wants your kid to share the same sexual orientation as you. It will certainly make your life easier. It’s hard enough teaching your kids about the birds and the bees, without also having to explain the bees and the bees or the birds and the birds. Fair enough.

It may even make your kid’s life easier if they’re straight, because he or she won’t have to deal with homophobia and the difficulty gay people face when trying to have a family. Maybe that’s why you don’t want your kid to be gay, and that’s OK, too.

It doesn’t make you a bad parent, it doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t even necessarily make you a homophobe.

Here’s the catch, though: You have to be willing to accept your kids even if they’re not what you wanted them to be.

He wasn't what they expected, but these hippies loved their Republican son.

He wasn’t what they expected, but these hippies loved their Republican son.

You would still love your daughter if she joined the military or your son if he became a poet, and if either of them became a windmill technician, you’d be a little sad, but you’d buy a Dutch phrase book and move on with life. It’s the same if your kid ends up being gay, so prepare yourself for that now. Ideally, you may not want it to happen, but it could happen.

And I’m sorry, but there’s no way to convey the notion of “It’s OK for them but not for us” without it coming across as hypocritical or dishonest. Your kid is looking at how you treat your neighbors not just to see how he should treat his neighbors, but to see how you might treat him as well.

What I’m hearing in your comment sounds to me like, “I want to teach my son to be nice to people who are different from us, because I’m terrified those people might learn how we really feel.” You can’t have it both ways. If you’d accept a stranger for being who they are, you can’t discourage it in your own child.

Kids have a tendency of defying their parents’ expectations. Ultimately, as a parent, you should be striving to make your kids happy, and nothing will make them happier than if they’re allowed to be themselves and to know that they have the unconditional love of their parents to support them.

You might really, really prefer that your kid be straight, and maybe you’ll get your wish. But maybe not. And it’s how you handle the “maybe not” that demonstrates what kind of parent you are.

Here’s the other catch: you can’t wait until your kids grow up to tell them you’re OK with who they are. You have to plant the seeds of acceptance before they even figure themselves out.

If your son tells you he wants to be a professional wrestler when he grows up, you can say you’d be very worried that he’d get hurt, but the bigger point you should make is that you’d always root for him.

If your daughter tells you she wants to be a roller disco queen, you can gently suggest that she might need a backup career plan, but only after you tell her to get down with her bad self.

And if your kids say they want to marry someone of the same sex someday, you might be inclined to share what your religion says about homosexuality, but your focus should really be on how proud you’ll be to walk them down the aisle.

Five-year-olds don’t usually have much sense of where they’ll be in 20 years. If we could really trust the predictions preschoolers make, the world would have a lot more firemen and princesses in it. But if there’s one thing kids that age are very good at, it’s testing their parents. When they make assertions about their identity, it’s a safe bet that they’re studying your reaction very closely.

Young adults have been known to experiment with homosexuality if they feel it’ll piss off their parents. But no one has actually ever become gay just because their parents told them they’d be cool with it. I promise.

As for the fact that marriage still isn’t legal wherever you happen to live, it’s only a matter of years if not months before it will be. Marriage equality is almost a certainty by the time your five-year-old reaches adulthood, so don’t cling to the technicality while it lasts.

If you want to know how to discuss the lesbian parents in your neighborhood with your kids, you can show them your acceptance without turning it into a Bi g Discussion on homosexuality. Just say, “Those women are in love, the same way I love your daddy. Someday, you’ll marry the person you love, and I can’t wait to dance at your wedding.”

Then let them go back to playing soccer.

* * * * *

Want more of me? Read my book! Publishers Weekly calls it “uproarious”. The Good Men Project says it’s “hilarious”. Decide who’s right. Buy it here! Or here! Or read more about it here!