Leading up to and following my son Clark's birth, people were super forthcoming with their questions and advice. In fact, questions almost always led to some piece of advice someone was just dying to share. It was totally annoying. I'd almost rather they had said, "Let me give you some unsolicited advice on how to raise your child." But I guess that might have seemed rude. Go figure. Still, out of all the annoying questions thrown our way, the one I wished someone would have asked was, "How are you going to deal with your child not being perfect?"
Growing up in South Houston, there was no question that I was different from other boys. Overly sensitive? Check. Can't throw a ball? Check. Plays with Barbie dolls? Check. Seriously, add a fashion sense that was just forward enough to stand out and it was like someone was writing "The Spotter's Guide for Little Gay Boys."
When I realized I was "different" and the gay wasn't going away, I developed what we call "a coping mechanism." In order to survive, I became "perfect," a not uncommon phenomenon among my people. I was your typical overachiever, racking up points on some invisible tally sheet to compensate for the one big item I knew was already on there. But I also sought praise. People needed to see I was perfect. It was all-consuming and exhausting. Whenever I was criticized or failed, I fell apart. I was afraid they were seeing the real me. In time, as I began to accept myself, I also began to realize how absurd it all was. I wasn't perfect. What's more, I didn't want to be perfect. I was fake, boring and so-not-fooling-anyone. Besides, I now knew being gay wasn't an imperfection. Apologies to the "hate the sin, love the sinner" lot.
It was after my son was born that perfection came creeping back into my life. The first time I laid eyes on our baby, I thought, "He's perfect." He was not. Yes, he was beautiful (to me) and healthy. And that he was ours was mind-boggling. But he was also scrawny and covered with hair. I mean, on his face. And back. Like a monkey. But still, he was our perfect baby. To keep him that way, I would perfectly follow our pediatrician's every instruction despite our mothers' protests ("Well, I've never heard of such! When you were a baby we would [insert crazy baby-killing thing from the '70s here] and you were just fine"). Clark wasn't going to be "just fine." He was perfect and I would always be attentive, diligent, calm and loving. I was not. I remember those days, sitting in the pediatrician's office, feeling like I was there for an award, not a check-up. I only wanted to hear how perfect Clark was, get my blue ribbon and go. Sure, his growth ratios were off. His motor skills and speech weren't where they should have been. He would grow into it, right? He was still perfect. Most days I convince myself I did my best. Except those days I can't, typically when my son shows me his imperfections in ways I can't ignore.
As Clark gets older, Brian and I recognize he is so much different than we remembered being. He is confident, adventurous, brash and uninhibited. He walks into rooms like he owns them, barely tossing us a glance as he makes his way through new and strange adventures. We marvel at his little swagger and that he's not afraid of the world or what it thinks of him. But we've also noticed that his unbridled confidence and assertiveness rarely turn off. He is constantly moving, seeking, touching, talking, grabbing, pushing -- to the point where now, in school, it's getting in the way of his learning. The casual observer probably can't tell the difference between Clark and his peers. After all, aren't all kids bundles of energy? But we know. When other kids are calming down, it's all our son can do to just sit still, leaving him little energy to focus and complete his assignments.
My son is not perfect and he needs me to see it, not ignore it. As much as I want to say, "He's just being a boy" or "He'll grow out of it," I know that's "perfection" raising its damn dirty head again.
After much consideration, we decided to enroll Clark in occupational therapy and have him repeat kindergarten. No big deal. Except it is. It's a big public acknowledgement that our son is not perfect and I am ashamed I even care. We know so many families (gay dads in particular) raising wonderful children with far more complex and challenging issues. Plus, I know perfection is a ridiculous and unworthy pursuit. As for Clark, he's completely unfazed and couldn't care less about what others think. So why am I still struggling with this? Is it because I feel like we're under more scrutiny as gay dads ("See, we told you two guys can't raise a normal kid")? Is it that I don't want people to stop saying how great Clark is and what a great job we're doing (that is, except when we are both having a bad day, I yell and feel like I'm the worst dad in the whole world)? Or maybe I'm trying to protect him from other people's judgment, just like I was trying to protect myself when I was growing up. The difference is, I was also judging myself. And I never want that for my son.
My son is not perfect. I am not perfect. Nobody is, nor should they aspire to be. We are both doing the best we can. Some days that feels like winning. Some days, not so much. But I will work every day to see him and let him know I love what I see, imperfections and all.