"I guess I felt more like a mom than a dad," my friend Brad said. I had asked him about how he parents and whether he thought his style was more akin to a stereotypical mother or father.
The two of us were sitting at a café in our neighborhood in San Francisco, debriefing after our stints as stay-at-home gay dads. Both of us were still only weeks out of stay-at-home life, and were trying to make sense of the experience. We were talking about whether we, as gay men and as parents, identified more with our male or female straight counterparts.
"I definitely think I identify more with the women," I said, thinking that how I showed and dealt with my emotions was more akin to how moms express their feelings.
But Brad and I agreed there were limits to just how much we could identify with any of the straight people who surrounded us every day at swim classes, playgrounds and story time. As parents, we gay men have deeply different experiences. Sure, we could bond with any parent over changing diapers, late-night feedings and the agony of sleep deprivation, but I could never fully identify with the sense of eventuality most straight parents presented. My path to parenthood was deliberate and I knew going into it that my choice to have a child would dislocate me from the mainstream gay community.
I was a bit adrift but knew that being a modern parent - gay or straight - meant classes and activities. My inclination was to just take a blanket and hang out at the park with my daughter, but I would need to get out "there" if I wanted to find some connection with others like myself. Parenthood is hard and being a gay dad is especially hard: there are so few of us and we have very few peers or role models.
You might think a gay stay-at-home Dad in San Francisco would be surrounded by others in similar situations - I did. But more often than not I was reminded of how rare a species I was - oftentimes I was the only gay dad anywhere. Sure I would see men out and about with their children on a Tuesday afternoon, but they were most often taking care of their child for the day rather than full-time stay-at-home dads. And they were not gay.
So my lovely husband, eager to help me, joined me in my hunt for other gay dads. Literally. We would be on the street, see two men with a child in a stroller and run over. I made a few good catches this way. My husband and I call it "the new gay cruising." When I was single I would check out a guy's stroll, now I was assessing his stroller. We met plenty of people, but most of these dads were working full-time so my problem of feeling alone during the workweek remained.
I eventually found a few stay-at-home gay dads and they provided me the space to dish about everything from cute dads to dirty sandboxes. We bonded over our paths to parenthood, went to playgroups together and marveled at those mommy breastfeeding circles at parks.
I looked for every opportunity to find other gay stay-at-home dads. After swim classes I would take my daughter into the men's locker room to change her. It was mostly empty, since moms outnumbered us men 10-to-1, but this one time there were two other dads. For a second I hoped that they were gay, that we would bond over our situation. But that never happened. The men started talking about "mommy" and the moment evaporated.
Then it hit me: Being a gay stay-at-home dad was like being gay in the 1990s - accepted but also a novelty. So now that I was a stay-at-home dad, I decided to recline into the role of "gay best friend" I played so many times in the past. I would listen to the moms' problems and give advice, I'd chat to the nannies, or I would spend time alone and really get to know my daughter. That "Alex" felt familiar, I had been him before. And, frankly, it was less effort at a time when my daughter was growing more challenging and I needed a break.
But this wasn't like any other time in my life. I had a daughter watching me and looking to me for socialization cues. I didn't want her to see a dad just fitting in, I wanted her to know others like her with two dads. And I wanted to grow, push myself and expand what it means to be a modern gay man.
At the beginning of my time as a stay-at-home Dad, I was angry that such an amazing journey as parenthood could make me feel so isolated. I planned to take down "mommy only" organizations and write letters to Amazon trying to get them to change the name of "Amazon Mom." I was focused more on trying to fit in and less on being myself.
However, by the end of my 15 months, I realized what an amazing opportunity my husband and I have to create a new component to the gay identity. We are gay dads - not straight dads, not straight moms. There's no word for us, yet, but we are who we are. It's definitely a more conventional identity than what's typically associated with the gay lifestyle. We stay in, go to bed by 9 p.m. and, for the most part, lead conventional lives. But we're not dead: we still eat out, go to bars - albeit way earlier than before we had a child - and cruise cute guys in the Castro. I have embraced being a nontraditional caretaker, i.e. gay dad, in a conventional medium, i.e. parenting.
I've stopped focusing on what's wrong and instead put my attention toward what I can make right. I want my daughter to talk about how great her childhood was rather than how different it was. In essence, I will be the dad I want to be by being myself.