I’ll never forget the day my son and I watched our first Super Bowl game together. It was a few years back, but I remember like it was yesterday. Not because the Seahawks obliterated the Broncos, and certainly not because of Bruno Mars’ mediocre halftime show. It was what happened when Max watched a Coca-Cola commercial that included a quick shot of two dads and their child.
I was in the kitchen and I heard him shout “Look, two daddies like us.” He then asked me to rewind it. He watched it again, and again. Six times to be exact. Right then and there I knew something needed to change. Seeing families that look like ours could no longer be a rare thing.
Ever since Max started kindergarten, people ask me if I worry about him feeling different from the other kids at school. The question assumes that anything other than a “traditional family unit” (e.g., mom and dad) will cause a child to feel isolated.
It’s not an unfair question. Because honestly, it was something that concerned us too. We worried that having two dads would make Max feel like an outsider, becoming the odd one out at school events, at birthday parties and at the park. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not exactly dads from The Birdcage — but two men walking their son to school still draws some attention. And in a world where it’s already so hard being a kid, we feared our situation would make it even harder for him.
After that Super Bowl commercial, I realized the best way for Max to feel like everyone else was to expose him to everyone else … especially more families that look like ours.
The first thing we did was research gay-friendly vacations. We looked into gay days at Disneyland, gay family cruises, and even considered visiting P-town’s family week —these were all viable options to expose Max to other kids with two dads. But after much reflection, we decided we didn’t want to expose Max to families that look like ours once or twice a year. We wanted to expose him to families that look like ours every week. That way, it wouldn’t feel like a special event. It would feel, well, normal.
But as we all know, two dad families make up a very small percentage of the American population. How would we find them?
Turns out, we suddenly developed a great sense of gay-dad-dar because we were able to spot them a mile away. Everywhere we went, we’d see families that look like ours. Or maybe we were just hypersensitive to them and subconsciously seeking them out. And we weren’t shy. Often times we took the initiative to introduce ourselves to local families that look like ours. And that outgoingness has lead to really wonderful friendships for us and for Max.
These days, from what we can tell, Max doesn’t see a difference between him and the other kids because he spends equal amounts of time with kids who have a mom and a dad, kids that have two dads, kids that have two moms and kids raised by a single parent. We’ve learned the best way to protect Max from feeling different is to keep exposing him to all kinds of families, which is something I wish all parents did for their children.
Not long ago I read a great article on Gays With Kids that really resonated with me. In the article, a gay father’s very wise teenage son, Jonathan, penned a letter to all the gay dads out there. He was both sincere and blunt discussing his reality of growing up with gay parents. To paraphrase, he said that our families are different from other families and went on to explain that we can’t force people to like gays. He stated that our kids, at some point, will get made fun of. However, the very people that make fun of our kids are the ones who will eventually learn acceptance by seeing our families under regular circumstances.
Which brings me back to the original question: Do I worry about Max feeling different from the other kids at school? Perhaps the question should be redirected. Perhaps I should be asking these straight parents if they’ve taught their children about different types of families. Perhaps we should be asking them to talk to their children about understanding, appreciating and respecting our differences so no child has to go to school feeling “different.” Perhaps I’d have less reason to worry if all parents did their part.
Max will be 6 this year. He’s at an age where he’s starting to form ideas about himself and it’s very important for us to help him recognize and accept differences and see similarities beyond the surface. My hope is that all parents start to reinforce these lessons so all children will learn to appreciate, rather than fear, our differences.
It all comes down to parenting. It’s up to us to remove the stigma associated with the word different. The exposure to families that may not be like our own, in particular, encourages compassion and acceptance because they see that everyone’s family is unique.
That’s why it’s important to be around families that look like yours … and why it’s even more important to be around families that don’t.
I know in most of the country, same-sex parents aren’t as accessible as they are to us in Southern California. And so for those who don’t live in progressive areas or metropolitan cities, here are some local communities that offer meet-up events for same-sex families:
A Southern California social community of gay dads building families through fostering, adoption, co-parenting, and surrogacy. Through peer support and community involvement, they provide the greater community with positive images of gay parenting.
City Dads Group brings together a diverse community of fathers, with and without their children, for social interaction and support.
Rainbow Families DC is a volunteer led, non-profit organization dedicated to serving the needs of all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) parents, their children, and those considering parenthood in the DC Metropolitan region.
The Minnesota-based group’s mission is to help gay and bi men who are husbands and fathers develop positive, supportive and rewarding relationships with other men who share similar backgrounds and experiences.
A social networking group for gay dads (and gay men thinking/wanting to become a dad) in and around San Francisco. Whether your kids are toddlers or teens, infants or young adults, our goal is to connect all the gay dads and their kids to create a special place in our community that nurtures, nourishes and empowers each of us on our journey as pioneering parents.
This is a networking and meet-up group of gay fathers and father-to-be in the Austin, TX area. They provide a relaxed and casual environment to meet other gay dads for friendship and support.
Find local events by region. If you don’t see any events close to where you live, you can contact their Regional Manager assigned to cover your state and help them plan something (the contacts are listed in the above list.)
To help find your path to fatherhood through gay adoption, surrogacy or foster care check out the GWK Academy.