“You’re doing such a great job!” she said as I stood up to leave.
“Thanks! He’s my son. I love him!” was my response.
Sounds harmless enough, right? It was the well-meaning comment by the social worker at the IEP meeting. I had decided a couple of years ago that honesty is always going to be the best policy. Keep it honest and direct. After ten years of fielding “well-meaning” questions and comments it has served me well.
My partner (my son’s Papa) and I have often found ourselves having to respond to these kinds of comments, mostly with complete strangers and almost always at inopportune moments. Becoming parents was really the highlight of our lives, and along with the ability to be able to legally marry, it was a dream come true.
When our son was born, we agreed to share parenting so we’d both be able to spend a lot of time with him. This made no sense financially, but neither of us could bear the thought of missing out on any of our little boy’s life. We are both self-employed, so we decided that one of us would be home for three days, then trade off for the next three: a six day work week split down the middle. The one who was “at home” got to get up in the middle of the night and do the diaper change and feeding which was made all the merrier by the merry caravan of dog and cat into the nursery to participate in this new ritual. Those were really happy days; even the sleep deprivation is a fond memory, along with bath times with body massages, CDs of lullabies, and the joys of the one-sided conversations.
Of course on our daily outings there were the usual “Giving mom a break today?” comments at the supermarket, or the uninvited “He looks like he has gas” advice from a complete stranger in a café. But then we’d be together as a family and come to the realization that we were suddenly “outed” by our infant son. That was something we weren’t prepared for.
My partner was a veteran ACTUP activist and was always only a heartbeat away from a protest march so it soon became clear that we needed to come up with a plan. We decided our strategy would be to make these “teachable” moments so we came up with the honest and direct approach, thinking that this would keep it simple and to the point.
In hearing various comments over the ensuing years, it became clear to us that men are generally not perceived to be nurturing. In a lot of cases, the fact that we were two men parenting was irrelevant; the comments revealed a larger problem with men per se. But men are great parents. Being a gay couple just means that we have no set roles to follow. We couldn’t by default just do what our dads did, so for us we mostly just did what we wanted to do, with an occasional negotiation necessary for something that neither of us wanted to do!
A straight male colleague once asked me “Which one of you does your son cry for when he is really upset?”
“You know, I’ve never thought about that,” I told him. After thinking about it for a moment “I don’t think he really has a preference. In fact he started blending our names together early on and just calls for ‘Daddypapa’”
“My daughter always calls for my wife when she’s really upset,” he said.
I believe my son feels equally nurtured by his Papa and his Daddy. He has never expressed a preference. I can’t imagine him having a preference. I think of us as the perfect balance in our parenting skillset. I may be better with writing homework, back rubs and shopping for clothes, but when it comes to love…fierce, unconditional and unyielding…we give in equal measure. We are the Daddypapa.