Many gays with kids face the same challenges of straights with kids. How do you teach children morals? How do you get gum out of the dog’s hair? How do you teach children manners? How do you get your son or daughter into Harvard, Notre Dame, the Olympics or NBA Basketball?
But a few of the challenges arise only in that particular environment of the gay man or men raising one or more straight sons. Boys grow up, and sometime between the period of cute adolescence and mature adulthood, there is that time when a son is a rebellious teenager. It begins with the moment when the son realizes he can defeat his father.
Part of that rebellion is the need the son feels to differentiate himself from his dad. And that is something we all did. There is for every child, straight or gay, a moment when he or she stops believing that his/her parent is omniscient. For me, the moment came in the fourth grade. I was sitting at the kitchen table, studying for an American history test, while my mother, Nurse Vivian, was making meatloaf.
Reading a question from the textbook out loud, I said, “Who discovered Florida?”
“Polka Derry Long,” replied Nurse Vivian, happily crushing stale bread into bread crumbs.
Yes, there in black-and-white in the textbook was the correct answer Ponce de León, but Nurse Vivian insisted it was Polka Derry Long.
For the first time ever I realized that I knew something that she did not. It would not be for many, many more years that I would realize that my very wise mother may not have been very smart.
And just like a million other kids facing the teen years, my sons Zane and Aidan are beginning to question my infinite knowledge. But one of the differences in gays with kids is that when a child grows up in any other minority family, he or she is at least comforted by the fact that the parents usually belong to same ethnic minority group: Jews, African-Americans, Latinos, Asians. Zane’s background status has a different checkbox than mine.
And so, one afternoon, as I was making meatloaf, Zane was sitting at the kitchen table. As I crushed breadcrumbs, I told him that he needed to do his social studies homework before he played on the iPad.
He muttered, “Thanks a lot, faggot.”
What do you do when your son calls you a faggot?
I’m not sure if I got this right, but the first thing I did not do was flinch. The second thing I did not do was ignore it. No, flinching would mean that I was scared of him, and ignoring it would mean that I was afraid to react. I said calmly, “That’s one.”
“What do you mean, one?”
“No arguments. One. As in when I get to three you lose the iPad for the week.”
“You’re just mad that I called you a faggot.”
“Yes, I am mad,” I replied. “But that’s not why you got a one.”
I cracked exactly one egg into the mixture of breadcrumbs and ground turkey, and then added in parsley and dill. “The Fisher-Paulsons are like bumblebees. Physicists and aerodynamic engineers have proven conclusively that a bumblebee has too much mass for its wings to generate sufficient lift. In other words, they have calculated that a bumblebee cannot fly. And yet the California lilac in front of our home hosts an entourage of bumblebees, flying from one purple blossom to another.”
Zane’s brows drew together. “I don’t get it.”
“That’s the thing. The bumblebee cannot fly, but the bumblebee doesn’t know it. The Fisher-Paulsons survive as a family, despite the fact that these two queens, these two at-risk boys and these four rescue dogs make an impossible combination. But we survive. We thrive. Because we love on another. And we don’t let anybody marginalize us. Not even a Fisher-Paulson.”
This kitchen table that we sit around is sacred ground. It’s where this impossible bumblebee family eats meals, does homework, and argues about the use of the iPad. I’m not sure if I did the exact right thing when my son called me a faggot, but I do know that my job, just like Nurse Vivian’s, was to continue loving my sons, whether or not there ever was a Polka Derry Long.