Parenting

What I Want My Kids To Be

Sally Kohn, a CNN pundit and lesbian mother of a six year old daughter that she is raising with her partner, gained greater notoriety lately when she declared that she wants her daughter to be gay, and is ‘disappointed’ that she’s already boy-crazy. She claims that she’s not unhappy being gay, has never had a desire to ‘change it’ even if she could, that she thinks it’s perfectly normal for a parent to want their child to follow in their footsteps. Her quoted statement is as follows:

“More often than not, we define happiness as some variation on our own lives, or at least the lives of our expectations. If we went to college, we want our kids to go to college. If we like sports, we want our kids to like sports. If we vote Democrat, of course we want our kids to vote Democrat,” 

This declaration has given me much to reflect upon as a gay parent to two boys. I have long outgrown any desire to change who I am in terms of being a gay man and wishing I were heterosexual. I, in younger days, certainly wished I were not gay when I was being harassed for it as a teen. I remember my first real ‘encounter’ with another male and how, no matter what the physical act felt like, it ended with me standing in a shower stall sobbing as quietly as I could because no matter how hard I had tried to deny it to myself and to others, I was, in truth, exactly what other people were calling me and telling me was so wrong and so bad and so terrible. I used to think that I wouldn’t wish being gay upon anyone. At some point in my life I realized that it wasn’t being gay that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone…it was being the target of hatred and intolerance that I, and many others, experienced surrounding it. No one should have to endure it, no matter what they are being targeted for. In this respect I can agree with Sally Kohn, the lesbian mother quoted above, that I wouldn’t change it even if I had the opportunity.

Where I find myself beginning to disagree with her is in her desire to have her child follow in her footsteps. I don’t wish to impose my opinion and my beliefs on others and say that it’s wrong for them to want this, but I disagree with this idea completely. I want my children to have as easy a life as possible, and as many opportunities as they can. I want my children to be happy. I can, in fact, tell them over and over again that I want this for them. I cannot, however, tell them what it is that will make them happy – that is something they will have to learn and decide for themselves. One of the boys likes sports – the other is indifferent to them. One loves to read (as I do), the other says he hates it. I have no liking of video games; both boys love them. I’m happy spending time by myself, they both seem to be more comfortable in the company of another person. What makes them happy is not always what makes me happy. What they choose to do with their lives and how they vote and what kind of music they listen to isn’t something I can decide for them. That isn’t my job as a parent. My job is to love them, no matter what they decide for themselves, and hope they are happy with those decisions.

As for their orientation, that is also something I can’t wish for them or decide for them. Several months ago my youngest boy asked me what makes a person gay. The conversation went like this:

‘Daddy, what makes a person gay?’

‘Well, they are either born that way or they’re not born that way. Just like you were born with brown hair and brown eyes and some people have blonde hair and blue eyes because they are born that way….some people are born gay.’

‘Do you think I’ll be gay?’

‘I don’t know….that’s something only you will know.’

‘Which do you want me to be…gay or not gay?’

‘I want you to be happy…..’

‘But do you want me to be gay or not gay?’

‘What I want, honey….is for you to be you….whoever that is….and no matter who that is….I will love you.’

For me, this is the beginning, middle, and end of the story – I want the boys to be whoever they are, and I will love them no matter what. I cannot imagine ‘wanting them to be’ anything other than exactly what and who they are. Gay, straight, athletic, reflective, ambitious, content,…..I want them to be them and be happy with it. Nothing more, nothing less.

The Sally Kohn article that I read concludes with her saying ultimately she will support her daughter’s ‘choices’. I find this to be a very disappointing word choice that has, via the accompanying comments of others who read the article, simply fueled the age-old argument that being gay is a choice one makes.

I know it’s not a choice. I didn’t choose it for myself, and have no desire to want to ‘choose’ it for another human being. I am grateful that I am loved irrespective of it. Whether my kids are gay or straight is up to them. I only hope that no matter what they ‘are’ – they find the love and support that I’ve found in my life.

They already have my love, and always will.

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Miscellaneous

I’m a Virgo, with OCD rising….

Last weekend I made a trip to my mother’s house, the house I grew up in, to obtain some paperwork in order to sell her car now that she’s no longer driving. The house will be the next item sold, once I can get it fully cleared out.

A lot of the furniture moved with Mom, so the living room looks a bit ‘bare’ now, and there’s little to attract focus…to draw the eye.

Except for…..that wall.

That

One

Wall

The wall I speak of is one of the room’s end walls. It has a brick fireplace with a wooden mantle, same as it has been since the house was built. A large mirror hangs above it which reflects back upon the room and, with a subtle eye trick, makes it appear more spacious. Mom was Feng Shui before it was cool, apparently.

The wall is also the only one in the room (which has, incidentally, four walls) that has wallpaper on it.

Wallpaper.

On one wall.

Out of four.

This was no accident. It was planned this way. In 1987 Mom had paid off the house (after 21 years) and had decided to make some ‘modifications to it. The single car garage space doubled. The wall separating the kitchen and the living room (a non-wallpapered wall) had a huge ‘pass through’ cut in it to further open up the space. Something Mom had always wanted to do. The exterior of the house was painted, a deck was put on the front of the house, and the entire interior was either painted or papered.

But all the other rooms had all four walls either papered or painted. Not a mixture of both. Not a combination of paper and paint. It was one or the other. A complete job. As it should be.

Except the living room. That has paint on three walls. And paper on one wall.

Just

One

Wall

I hope in reading this you’ve come to realize this fact, this one wall being papered has been a source of great anxiety for me for years. Since 1987. I stared at it then. I stare at it now. To this day my mind cannot possibly make order of papering just one wall in a room. It seems incomplete…it seems unnatural….it seems AGAINST GOD’S PLAN!!!

Okay, well maybe not God, but at least Martha Stewart. Maybe Rachel Ray? Paula Deen? Flo The Progressive Girl? SOMEONE HAS TO BE AGAINST THIS! IT CAN’T JUST BE ME???!!!!!

I offer this up as proof positive of how my Virgo mind operates. Virgos are known for being perfectionists. I’m not a perfectionist. I’m not a neat freak (being a parent to two boys it’s helpful that I’m not a neat freak). I’m not the best cook, the best decorator, the best organizer, etc., etc., etc. I’m not perfect in anything, and don’t really strive to be. I don’t spend my entire day straightening things out and scrubbing out everything and sanitizing my roofing shingles and such other things. That’s not me at all. I just try to live my life in as orderly and rational a way as I can. I look at a chore ahead of me and figure out how to do it in the least time consuming and energy expending way. But I’m far from a perfectionist.

It’s just that some things, when they seem ‘off’ to me, or seem like a completely convoluted way of going about something, or seem disordered, drive me bonkers. I used to think (worry) that perhaps I had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. When you get right down to it, most Virgos are at least a little OCD. We thrive on order. We look for ways to do things more easily, more logically, more efficiently. We are methodical. We are consistent and analytical and reliable and precise. We make good, steadfast friends and solve problems logically and rationally. We organize ourselves from the inside out, starting with our minds and then spilling over into our surroundings. We don’t usually act upon impulses. We aren’t rash. We aren’t given to snap decisions.

And we MOST CERTAINLY DO NOT PUT WALLPAPER ON JUST ONE WALL IN A ROOM!

It makes no sense! It has no balance to it! It’s ‘off’…..it would be easier to accept two walls of four papered, because at least that number would be even. But one? Just one wall? No. Just….no.

Earlier tonight my cousin Michelle posted a photo to Facebook of a kitchen countertop made of a slickly varnished slab of wood. It’s a great look. Very natural, very earthy, very simple. I love it.

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But I could never have it in my house. Not as it is pictured here, anyway.

Why?

Because the edges are not a straight line. I’d stare at it. I’d spend an hour or more each day staring at it because it seems ‘off’. And then I’d finally be forced by my own mind to take a saw to it and cut off the parts that stick out and then sand it down until it was a straight, even line…and then varnish it. Only then could I have it in my house and NOT stare at it and be compelled to ‘fix it’.

Like that one wall in the living room in Mom’s house. The one wall out of four that has wallpaper.

Just

One

Wall

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Miscellaneous

Nothing Says ‘I Love You’ Like A Package Of Fig Newtons (TM)

Today I visited my dad in the assisted living facility he has resided in since 2006. He was in good spirits, and it was nice to spend some time with him as I’ve not been able to with snow/snow days for the kids/being available for my mother.

The time we spend together is usually very pleasant and easy. We speak on a variety of subjects; we joke and laugh about things; and the time passes relatively quickly (to my disappointment). Sometimes Dad repeats stories I already know, which is a byproduct of his dementia, but for the most part the man is a wealth of information about Brownfield, Maine in the 1940’s and 1950’s. To drive Dad to Brownfield now he can navigate the area and direct you to various points of interest as if he was just there the day before. I enjoy the stories about his childhood, and even though he and Mom are long divorced, he even shares stories of their early years of marriage with no bitterness or resentment.

My time with Dad wasn’t always this easy. I chose not to have him in my life for many years; fifteen to be exact. I had no contact with him whatsoever for a long time. I was angry with him, and hurt by him, for his lack of understanding and tolerance in having a gay son. Truthfully he never outright rejected me. He never told me I wasn’t welcome in his home, or tried to ‘beat it out of me’ as I’ve known some fathers to do with gay sons. The hurt I felt came from him asking me, when I came out to him, what he did ‘wrong’….which translated, to me, as my father’s belief that there was something wrong with me…and it felt like my father, who was at the least ‘absentee’ as a parent during my childhood and following my parents’ separation, didn’t love me unconditionally. In fact it reinforced something I’d felt for many years – that my father just didn’t care about me.

I know this isn’t the truth. It took me many years to realize it, but my father has apologized for his choice of words when I came out, for being so distant in my childhood, and acting like, in his words, a ‘damned fool’. It healed so much for me, and was worth more than I can ever express to him. I apologized to him, in turn, for not trying to resolve it sooner – and for letting my wounded feelings keep us absent from one another for so long. I enjoy the rapport we have nowadays, as my dad is 83 now. It’s not as if we have decades left to us.

Every time I speak on the phone with him or see him in person, I always say ‘I love you’ to my Dad as I hug him goodbye. Sometimes he says it back; others he says, ‘Yup, okay, Dad will see you soon.’ It always feels good to have him say he loves me in return, but he doesn’t have to, really. I know he does. I know it in the way his eyes light up when I walk into his ward at the facility. I know it in the way he sits and looks at me as we visit. I know it in the way he hugs me with no reserve. I know it in the way that every time I visit he sends home a bag of crackers and candy and little toys he collects from parties in the facility and tells me to take them to the boys. But in truth the bag usually contains, in greater abundance than anything else, packages of Fig Newtons. They are my favorite cookie, and have been since childhood. I told him a couple of years ago how much I like them, and ever since then he’s never forgotten and stores them up in between visits from me.

I’ve learned to understand, via the repair and eventual enjoyment of my relationship with my dad, that there are people who are not fluent in their emotions – people who favor gestures over words – and people who you might think don’t give a damn who, if you look deeper, into their gestures, show you an abundance of love and caring in ways you just might not have noticed because it wasn’t the way you wanted it to be shown to you. Not everyone can be gifted with words. For some people the love itself is the gift they have for you, and you just have to learn to recognize it as it is given.

I know, without a doubt, that my dad loves me. I know that despite never having experienced a gay friend or (knowingly) a gay relative before me, he’s transcended that inexperience and anything he might have felt about it was long ago eradicated by the simple fact that I am his son, gay or straight, and that not being in my life was worse than being in my life, irrespective of what he felt about my life as I lead it.

I know that he cares, because my dad, who has almost nothing to give me now that he has ‘lost’ his home, his (second) wife, and his independence and shares a 10 x 12 room with another gentleman, an elderly Asian man whom dad refers to as ‘The Chinaman’ (and whom he likes more than past roommates), pays attention to the things I say and remembers well enough what my favorite cookie is, and makes an effort to supply me with plenty of them every time I see him.  Every package of them he gives me is an expression of his love, and I accept them as just that. For my dad, who does say the actual words every now and again, nothing says he loves me like a package of Fig Newtons.

This visit to dad also garnered the usual crackers and candy and small party favor toys for the boys. As I emptied the handled paper shopping bag of what I always call the ‘contraband’ Dad sends home with me, I came across what has to be (aside from the Fig Newtons) the absolute BEST thing he’s ever sent home to me. I don’t know if he was actually ‘given’ the item or just sort of found himself in possession of it by whatever means; but it gave me one of the best laughs I’ve had in a long time when I saw it. I am assuming it belongs or belonged to ‘The Chinaman’ (as Dad calls him). I’ll return it of course the next time I visit, as I can’t imagine someone parting with it. The picture is below.

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Thanks, Dad, for twenty individual packages of yellow foil wrapped fig filled love…and for the laugh about the probably stolen mug. You can’t imagine how they both brightened my day.

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Reading

What I’m Reading Now – The Kept, by James Scott

08BOOK-blog427 A couple of months ago, on my birthday to be exact, I stopped into a used book store and this one caught my eye. I often buy books that I then shelve for months, or even years, as the idea and premise intrigues me, but I am always in the midst of reading something, and therefore it goes into the ‘future reads’ category. I am roughly half-way through the book, and really can’t discuss the story thus far without giving away far too much of the novel to anyone who might read it and wants to be spoiler free. I can say that what starts off as a tragedy that unfolds into a revenge tale offers far more than just those two things. Set just before the turn of the 20th century, what initially sparked my interest in the book was the idea of ‘tracking’ someone without the high-tech methods we have in this day and age. Fast-paced and filled with lyrical prose, this book, even the first half, has me wanting more from the same author as soon as he can write them.

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