I'm a dad. I am also gay man. Or, as society has labeled me, a "gay dad."
I find it incredibly amusing how the simple placement of one word in front of another word has the power to enhance it or degrade it -- especially, in this case, with such duality of perception. It either evokes a sense of pride when used among a certain group, or used to convey a sense shame when used in disgust among others. Fascinating, isn't it, that being referred to as a "gay dad" has the ability to enhance the connection I have with other parents -- gay or straight -- or the ability to completely disregard my parenting skills based solely on the false ideology that homosexuality is wrong. The assumption of the latter group is that I make poor decisions in life because I'm gay -- like, how could I possibly raise children? But at the end of the day, I am a parent to three amazing children whom I love with all my heart, and in return they love me back, because I am the only father they know.
My sexual orientation has no bearing on how I care for my children. The fact that I am gay does not mean that I am any less able to feed, water, or clothe them each day, or, most importantly, to make sure they are unconditionally loved. Now, to be clear, there are obvious differences in being a gay dad and being a straight, "conventional" dad, beyond being more excited than your children for the latest episode of Glee. Nonetheless, I try to do my part to raise healthy, happy, productive members of society that will one day, hopefully, reinvent the wheel by having their own family and finding their own happiness, however they choose to define it for themselves. I want nothing more for them than to lead happy, fulfilled lives, and I feel we often get caught up in the negative aspects of this society, which hinders our ability to find our own comfort. My kids are young, but already they are proud to have a gay dad. They're old enough to know that it's not the social norm, but with support from my ex-wife and my best friend Kristin, I try to give them the best tools to defend themselves against social ridicule. My children will not be bullied for who I am, because I encourage them and give them the strength to be themselves, as I think every parent should do for their own children.
Being a gay dad with biological children is definitely a double-edged sword when I talk about being gay with my oldest child. My daughter Jalyn is very accepting of the fact that "Daddy likes men." But she doesn't understand why I hid this for so long. She doesn't understand how Daddy could be afraid of anything. Being Daddy to her means you are strong, brave, and the protector of the family; it's impossible for her to fathom me being weak. I speak open and honestly with my children now. But for the first year of coming out and dissolving my marriage, I kept both lives very separate. There was "Gay Peter" and "Dad Peter." "Gay Peter" went to bars and dated men and tried to figure out what it's like being openly gay. "Dad Peter" made sure homework was done and children went to bed with a bedtime story. There were a lot of reasons I didn't want to come out to my kids at first. I was still pretty ashamed of who I was and ashamed that I ruined a family over keeping it a secret. I was afraid my children were going to hate me because I left their mother and was gay. I felt they would resent me and that that would create a closed mind on their part in the way of homosexuality. I feared that my children would become homophobic because their father ruined their lives and decided to find his own happiness, and that they would think I was selfish for doing so. But instead, it brought my family closer together. I was fortunate to have an amazing wife, who is now my supportive ex-wife, and who was prouder than I was that I was being who I was rather than hiding it. We have more respect and love for each other now than we ever had while being married. She is also a divorce paralegal and calls me every day and thanks me for making our divorce so easy, and I in turn thank her for not making my life a living hell by calling me a faggot to my children.
But the question that chokes me up the most came when my daughter asked me if I regret not always being gay. I don't think she understands the paradox of that question, because that would eliminate her from my life. I'm obviously not a gold-star gay, because I have slept with women. But I try to instill the idea that everything in life happens for a reason, and she and her brothers being in my life was very instrumental in making me the man I have grown up to be. I try to explain to her that I had her very young. I was 18, her mother was 16, and I loved her enough to be a man and take care of my children. I put my sexuality on a shelf because I valued family more, and I would never say it blew up in my face. I would sum it up by saying my ex-wife sacrificed her picture-perfect American family so that I could be who I am, and I will always have so much admiration for her because of it. In counseling we looked at each other, and I so badly wanted to live that lie for the rest of my life, and she knew in her heart that if she set me free, I would be a better man for it. I hate to admit it, but she's always been right, and I feel that a major weight has been lifted because I am now openly gay.
My daughter was asked at school the other day, "Isn't your dad gay?" to which she proudly exclaimed, "Yes!" The girl then said, "Isn't that bad?" My daughter replied, "It was for my mom, but she's cool with it now, and they seem happier." My children quickly figured out that they'd rather have two happy parents who love them than two parents pretending to make something work. My relationship with their mom is so much better than it was when we were married. We go to dinner with the children once a week and have family time. The children see us laughing and loving life, but they also see two parents who are setting an example of how even if you're not right for each other, you can still have a healthy friendship. However, it does always make me laugh when Kristin joins us for dinner, because my ex-wife absolutely loves her to death. But I wonder: if I were a straight man and Kristin were my new wife, would they have the same relationship? Kristin was at my son's birthday party recently. When Kristin got there, she and my ex hugged each other and showed genuine respect for each other, while the other parents looked on and made their assumptions, thinking, "I can't believe he brought his new hussy to the party!"