Back in 2006 I started a new job with a new employer after taking several months off when my nephew moved in with my husband and I. We had gotten married the prior September, after Massachusetts became the first state to recognize marriage equality. I had been informed that the job I held at the time was being ‘relocated’ to rural Pennsylvania, and not having any intention of following it there, I took the layoff payout being offered. I also took in a five month old baby, and took on the best job I’ll ever have…that of being a parent.
I had not ever been ‘voluntarily’ unemployed before. I had no insurance coverage, whereas at the time the Federal Government would have viewed my being covered under my husband’s health insurance policy as ‘income’ that I would need to report at tax time, since they did not recognize us as a legally married couple. Thankfully that has changed as I found myself, earlier this year, laid off again and needing coverage for myself and our kids.
It was not without a lot of soul-searching that I engaged in ‘raising’ a baby. My only experience with children was caring for my older nephew and niece when they were babies for a night or two at a time. I’d not ever been responsible for any life other than my own 24/7. I asked myself over and over again if this were the right thing to do for a variety of reasons. Not the least of which being “what do two men know about raising kids?”
Many people feel that children are ‘better off’ with both a mother and a father in the home. I suppose I believe that the ‘ideal’ is for children to be raised by the people who created them, for the reason that if you’ve chosen to bring a life into the world, there is a degree of responsibility there to be able to care for them and raise them. But that’s really just a pipe dream for many. Adoption opened my eyes to the reality that there are a variety of reasons why parents do not/cannot raise their biological children. Addiction…mental illness…financial circumstances…..’parents’ who are really just children themselves and find themselves completely unprepared to take care of a baby…..and with no one else in their family able or willing to step in and raise the child….
I am a biological child. I was raised with two older adopted siblings. My parents were not able to conceive on their own for the first thirteen years of their marriage, and therefore adopted….twice…before I came along. I’ll never know what it feels like to be adopted. I’ll never question who my biological parents are, or if there are other siblings out there that I don’t know about; or perhaps grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc. I never had to consider if some person I just met and am interested in romantically could possibly be related to me. I don’t ever have to consider why someone would not be able or willing to raise me. I just don’t wonder where I come from. I know where I come from.
After spending a summer at home with an infant, learning all the ins and outs of childcare, I developed a brand new sense of respect for people raising children. Stay at home parents do not have it easy. You have to plan nearly every single aspect of your day right down to when you might take a shower in relation to if the baby is awake or sleeping if you don’t have someone in the home with you at the time. At that time I was home with the baby, but my husband was working full-time. I re-evaluated my bed time in relation to potential 2am feedings and very early wake ups whereas I am not a person who can easily fall asleep during the day and ‘nap’ when a baby is napping while a monitor would alert me to their waking up and wake me in the process. Getting out and getting some ‘adult company’ (beyond my spouse) was something I had to coordinate and work at as I didn’t really know any other stay at home parents at the time. No longer could I just pick up and go to the movies at 2 in the afternoon any day of the week, or run out to the store if I got a craving for some potato chips. It became a long, laborious process of dress the baby, make sure I had a diaper and some wipes handy, load them into their car seat, unload them to take them into the store with me, and then re-load them in their car seat again and take them home. It all revolved around the baby’s nap time and if they were feeling well or not. It became a fifty two point decision to make just to think about grabbing fast food for lunch or not. It takes a lot of work to take care of children.
I did not grow up knowing any same-sex couples, specifically gay couples…and especially those with kids. In my little row of houses in an area called Tallwood Terrace in Gorham, Maine there were only traditional families of Mom, Dad, and kids – or older neighbors whose kids had grown and moved away, and one single lady who lived a couple of doors down from me in a house that was almost exactly like ours, both having been built by my uncle. This was what I was raised seeing…traditional families. Some had stay at home moms…none had stay at home dads. The way life ‘looked’ to me at the time was primarily that Dad went to work and Mom stayed at home and took care of the kids and did the cooking and the cleaning. That’s the way I think most people my age and older grew up and what they saw.
There were no gay role models on television at the time. The closest you came was seeing Paul Lynde crack wise on Hollywood Squares with lots of double entendre comments and sly looks and covert laughter from other celebrities who were in the know. Mainstream films that included gay characters were rare, and those characters were, to my mind, simply one ‘type’ of gay man. There wasn’t a whole lot of diversity in the ‘gay neighbor’ role. Gay men were the funny, pithy neighbors and over the top campy florists and hairdressers. Even Steven Carrington on Dynasty continually hovered between the gay and straight worlds with his relationships, and was a confused, bitter, tormented man. That’s what you saw portrayed for gay men. They were not community leaders and heroes and athletes. And they certainly were not parents. Not together anyway. They were gay men who followed what society thought they should do and become and had married and produced offspring and hid who they were and what they really wanted in an effort to be part of ‘normal’ society. They didn’t pair up and set up house and bring in babies by whatever means and stand up to the naysayers and declare their fitness as parents. After all: What do two men know about raising kids?
I know too many wonderful, wonderful moms to ever say a child, female OR male, doesn’t need a woman’s influence in their life. Women are/have been, traditionally, the ‘nurturers’ in child-rearing. That’s not to say I don’t know some amazing hands-on Dads, because I do. I know men, heterosexual men, who will lift their crying child and soothe their tears and stroke their hair and comfort them and hug them and say ‘I love you, it’s okay.’ I know men who will bare their souls to their children if they think it will benefit them or teach them something positive that they can carry with them in life. My dad wasn’t that kind of dad. He didn’t ever tell me to ‘hide my emotions’ or that ‘boys don’t cry’ or anything like that, but I also have no memories of him holding me close and whispering words of comfort when I did cry or show emotion. He talks a little more freely now about feelings, and regrets, but not when I was younger. Back then he was what so many other dads were, in my mind – he went to work…came home…ate his dinner…read his paper, and went to bed. There wasn’t a lot of conversation…he was, at the time, a very quiet man.
To become a parent (by the method I chose) I had to answer a lot of questions and undergo a lot of scrutiny. There were many hours of ‘interviews’ and some very personal questions asked. I had to have regular checkups to prove myself in good health. I had to provide references from friends and co-workers attesting to my character as a person and what kind of parent they ‘thought’ I would be in order for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to allow me to become a parent. I had to talk about some very personal and very painful experiences in my life and how I felt they had influenced me and what potential impact I thought it might have on my raising a child. I had to question what I thought my abilities really were in what ‘kind’ of child I thought myself capable of caring for and loving in terms of disabilities or special needs, as well as color of skin, age, family of origin background, etc. I cannot speak for any of my friends who have biological children, but I can say that none of them have informed me if they asked themselves all these questions before they became parents.
Several of the questions asked of us at the time related to being two men raising a child, and how we’d ‘handle’ potential issues that arose of bias in our community. We did provide answers at the time, of course, but in the ensuing years we’ve not once really run into any bias about it. We’ve met other parents who we have become friendly with and even spoken to other same sex couples about becoming parents via the same method we did. We joke with people we know about this, but in reality…neither of us is the ‘mom’ or the ‘dad’….we both take on both roles now and again, based upon the need or the child. One of the kids gravitates toward me in times of need, and the other to my husband. It’s not a competition, and both of us ‘nurture’ when we need to.
There is no handbook to raising a happy child, no matter what your family construct is. Mom and Dad…two moms…two dads….there’s certainly a different set of ‘issues’ that come along with same-sex parenting, but when it comes down to it children need the same things no matter what type of home they are in. They need love and stability. They need someone to pick them up when they fall and set them back on their feet again. They need to know that you are going to be there for them, no matter where they come from or where they’ve been. They need your attention and your support. They need you…no matter what body parts you possess.
What do two men know about raising kids? If they know how to love, they know all they need to know. The rest can all be figured out as you go along.