My Surprising Father’s Day Gift

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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!

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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.] ūüôā

Why I Put My Family on Display

I’m ashamed to admit that I wasn’t familiar with the story of Ruby Bridges until my son brought a picture book about her home from school. For those of you who are also uninformed, here’s the TL;DR version:

In 1960, schools in New Orleans were still segregated by race. A judge ordered that a 6-year-old girl named Ruby Bridges be allowed to attend a school that was, until then, all-white. When she showed up on the first day, she was met with scores of furious, shouting protestors trying to scare her away. She went inside anyway and sat in a classroom with the one teacher who’d agree to teach her. Unwilling to attend an integrated school or simply intimidated by the mob, EVERY SINGLE WHITE STUDENT stayed home.

Yes, every one.

Ruby was the only kid in school, but she kept coming back, day after day, until the protests finally subsided and the white kids started returning.

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Ruby Bridges at school (with U.S. Marshals)

When I first read about this little girl’s amazing life, I had several thoughts, including:

  • Ruby Bridges is a hero.
  • Ruby Bridges was braver at six years old than I will ever be.
  • Shame on those horrible people who tried to intimidate a little girl to keep her from going to school.

And lastly…

  • What were Ruby Bridges’ parents thinking?!

It’s hard as a parent not to have that last thought. Surely, the world is a better place because Ruby Bridges’ parents allowed and encouraged her to go through something no 6-year-old should ever have to endure (but which, sadly, at the time, was fairly commonplace). How many of us, though, would put our own children in such a vulnerable spot, knowing the harm that could come to them, just for the benefit of the greater good?

Lately, people have been asking that same question about blogger Kristen Howerton.

Here’s the TL;DR version of her story:

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via Rage Against the Minivan, with permission

Kristen has a beautiful family consisting of her, her husband, their two biological daughters and their two adopted sons. As you can see from the picture, not everybody in the family is the same race. Kristen writes thoughtful, moving pieces about race and adoption, as well as thoughtful, moving pieces that are not about race and adoption. She posts pictures of her family and uses their real names on her blog Rage Against the Minivan.

 

Recently, a white supremacist group targeted Kristen with a campaign of hate, stealing and altering photos of her kids, tweeting racial epithets and other jackassery. Kristen’s followers rallied to her support and helped shut down the haters, but many other people thought Kristen was at fault for putting her family on display in the first place. You can read more here¬†and here.

I was lucky enough to share a stage with Kristen several years ago at a Listen To Your Mother reading in Los Angeles. I was inspired by her family and felt a kind of connection to her as a gay dad. People give our family funny looks, too, and much of the world is built around a concept of family that doesn’t include a family like mine. I loved the fact that she wrote about it so openly, and I’ve tried to do the same with this¬†blog. I’ve talked about being a gay dad, and I’ve shared pictures of my family, like this one:

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There have been times that I’ve stopped and wondered if what I was doing was wise. What if some homophobes used my pictures in an anti-gay ad or on some hate site? There are prominent figures who’ve suggested that their followers¬†should kidnap children who have¬†gay parents. The danger from these people is real.

So what am I thinking?

Now, I’m in no way trying to equate myself with Kristen Howerton and the wonderful things she does on her blog, nor am I trying to equate myself or Kristen with Ruby Bridges or her parents.

But every time I’ve wondered if I should stop doing what I’m doing, I end up even more determined to keep doing it. I know that will lead a lot of people to judge me and even to question my parenting. I know that if anything like what happened to Kristen ever happens to me, there will be people who will say I deserved it for putting my family on display.

You want to know why I still do this? Let me do my best to list the reasons.

It does more good than harm.

I get messages all the time from people who appreciate what I do. I hear from gay parents who are glad to see other families like theirs. I hear from young gay people who are inspired to see that a happy family life is possible for them. And I hear from plenty of straight people who thank me for helping them to understand something that’s foreign to them, or to say how much they can relate for one reason or another.

Do I sometimes get hate mail? Of course. But it doesn’t really bother me much because it’s far, far outnumbered by the positive responses I get.

I dread the thought of my kids being the targets of anyone’s hate. But if my husband and I didn’t put them out there, they wouldn’t see all the love the world has to show us, too.

We’re on display anyway.

You think you get a lot of attention for writing blog posts about your non-traditional family online? Try just leaving your house.

Everything we do together as a family invites scrutiny — getting groceries, going to school, playing at the playground, taking our kids to Disney World or doing a million other things. Every time we go out in public we open ourselves and our children¬†up to the possibility of critical glares and even outright hostility. It’s not posting online that makes us potential targets of the hatemongers. It’s just existing.

But you know what? Hardly anything bad ever happens. For the most part, the reactions we get are amazing. People embrace us, show curiosity, compliment us. Last year, a few weeks before the Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage, a complete stranger who’d been sitting near us in a restaurant¬†approached us with tears in her eyes and said, “You have a beautiful family! I hope the Supreme Court does the right thing!”

The bullies don’t get to set the debate.

Plenty of people¬†believe¬†they¬†have some good points to make about why two men shouldn’t have kids together. (Or why white families shouldn’t adopt black kids.¬†Or why little girls should get shouted down for trying to go to school. Or [insert some¬†very important opinion here].) OK, if that’s you, you’re entitled to speak your mind.¬†But don’t expect to espouse views that I find offensive and dangerous without hearing from me in return.

You can be vile¬†and¬†bigoted, you can harrass me and level death threats from behind the veil of relative anonymity the internet provides you. I’ll continue to¬†defend myself¬†openly,¬†with logic, reason and probably sarcasm just for fun.

Just get this straight: I’m not going away.

And I refuse to teach my kids that we need to hide from the world in order to keep from upsetting crazy people.

I don’t know if I’d have had the guts to¬†make the decisions Ruby Bridges’ parents did, but I’m glad they did.

That being said…

I believe people are generally good.

I know there’s a chance the wrong people will find my blog and twist it around in some horrible ways. I’m sure if that happened, I would be terrified¬†and furious and do everything I could to protect my kids. But I know something else:

People would rally to my defense. My readers, my friends and my family would support me, as they always do, and whatever dribble of hate got spewed my way would be washed away by a tsunami of love. I’d end up more convinced than ever that the world has my back.

I hate seeing what’s happened to Kristen Howerton, but it makes me think of the Mr. Rogers quote everyone always posts after a tragedy:

mr-rogers

via everyone’s Facebook page, ever

So I’m not going to focus on the bad people who were nasty to Kristen Howerton and her family. I’m going to focus on all the people who came to her defense, and I’m going to add my voice to theirs.

Lastly…

My kids think it’s awesome.

My husband and I have warned our kids that homophobia exists, but I don’t think they believe us. They believe in Santa and the Tooth Fairy, but the notion that people would be mean to someone just because they’re gay sounds completely absurd to them.

It’s not something they’ve ever witnessed.

A couple of nights ago, my husband and I were anxious to start story time so we could get the kids to bed. Our daughter was taking her time coming in, and we were getting really frustrated. We were too tired to get out of bed and round her up, so we shouted downstairs. “What are you doing?”

“Hold on! I’m making something!”

Our daughter is always making things. It’s what she loves to do. So we rolled our eyes and waited.

A minute later, she came running upstairs, with a big smile on her face. She had three post-it notes, and she handed one to me, one to my husband and one to her brother. This is what they said:

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I love my family. It came out of nowhere. Just something she was thinking about and which was important enough to delay story time for. I have piles of notes like that, a million little ways my kids show me that they love me and they love our family.

I know most parents have stuff like that. I’m not saying my family is any more special than anyone else’s or that I¬†expect¬†special treatment or whatever some wacko online might want to turn this around into.

All I’m saying is, I ‚̧ my family.

And I don’t care who knows it.

Video

My First Video: What to Expect When You’re Expecting… And Gay!

I was very honored to be asked to contribute to a recent surrogacy conference in Australia, held by the group Families Through Surrogacy, who also invited¬†me to¬†their San Francisco conference back in March. I’ll be speaking again at their upcoming event in Alexandria, Virginia on September 13, 2014, so if that’s in your neighborhood, come on down!

If you don’t live near any of those places, you’re still in luck, because I’m posting¬†a video of my presentation here for you. This is my first attempt at producing a YouTube video, so don’t expect any technical wizardry, but if you’re looking for information on surrogacy or becoming a gay dad or just a glimpse of yours truly¬†yakking away, then this is for you!