I finally ‘get’ Pride now that I am a gay parent

The phrase ‘you don’t know you’re born’ came to mind as I left the cinema one evening after seeing the brilliant film Pride last year. My partner and his best friend, who are lets just say a ‘couple’ of years older than me, were telling me about what it was like to be a gay man in London in the 80s, how tiny the gay scene was, the challenges that gay people faced and how political it all was. It really hit home how easy I’ve had it and how lucky I am.

I came out in 2002 to a family who accepted me unquestioningly; and I’ve lived my whole life in London, one of the most open and tolerant places in the world. Being gay has never affected my education, career, relationships, friendships or even my chances of becoming a parent. It’s probably for this reason that I’ve never felt particularly connected to or strongly about the various gay political movements.

Of course I sympathised with the plight of people in countries around the world where being gay is illegal. I’ve been horrified by stories places like Saudi Arabia and Jamaica where people are persecuted because of their sexuality. But I suppose I’ve been a bit ignorant about the causes and issues that are important to so many people who still feel disadvantaged or marginalised here in the UK; the people who still feel unable to come out to their families or people at work or the people who grow up in less tolerant towns and villages and face verbal or physical abuse for being themselves.

Even Pride, arguably the biggest gay event of the year, with it’s all it’s political history tended to pass me by. My one and only attendance at Pride was in 2002 when there was a festival in Hackney Marshes. As a newly out bright-eyed twenty-two-year-old Pride was just a great big fabulous excuse for a party. I went with a group of friends and spent the day drinking and dancing, oblivious to the march or any of the issues that Pride gives a voice to.

Now, as a gay adoptive father of two, I finally feel like I have something to get angry about. When articles like this utter tripe are being written about gay adoption; when prominent gay people such as Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana can denounce non-traditional families; and when Republican presidential candidates can call gay parents ‘unconscionable and a destructive’ it makes me realise how much work there is to be done to educate against the ignorance that still exists. Despite research showing that children living in same sex parent families are not negatively impacted, a quick look in places such as the comments section on any same sex parent related article on the Daily Mail will uncover a whole host of backward and bigoted views.

This ignorance could be directed at my children at the school gates or in the playground. This ignorance could prevent a gay person from choosing to adopt out of fear for how they or their child will be accepted. This ignorance might cause a child to be left in care for even just a second longer than is necessary. And this makes me mad.

I feel that the best way to tackle the bigots is to just be ourselves, to be the best parents that we possibly can be. Every child that we raise to be happy, confident and prejudice-free is a kick in the teeth to those who believe it is somehow wrong or unnatural for us to parent children.

So I finally get what Pride is all about. I now see that Pride, with the attention it demands in the media, is the perfect opportunity to proudly show the world that same-sex parent families are here, happy and doing just fine. This weekend, I will be attending for the first time in 13 years and I will be there at the march with my partner and my children to show solidarity, not only with other gay families (those who have already fulfilled their dream of a family and those who are still on their journey) but with every LGBT person affected by discrimination or prejudice. And then I’ll have a drink and a dance. Because, well, it would be rude not to wouldn’t it?

Just one of those days

I type this slumped on the sofa at the end of what feels like a very very long day. The other-half is out at a work leaving do and I have had the girls since 7.30am. It’s now just gone 8pm.

I sent the girls to bed without a story this evening. They’ve been an absolute nightmare today, not listening to a word I say and running wild for most of the afternoon. My youngest has been the worst, throwing food on the floor and over the walls at both lunch and dinner and hitting and biting me on a number of occasions when she didn’t get her own way; including when I was about to put her in the bath. I stopped just before putting her in when I realised I didn’t have the bath mat in and put her back down while I put it in. Well she didn’t like this and proceeded to drag her nails down my leg and then bite it.

Normally, I would try not to react, tell her calmly not to hit/bite/scratch/kick etc and then ignore her. However, today was not one of those days. I lifted her out of the bathroom and told her she was not having a bath. She absolutely loves baths, both girls do so this caused an almighty tantrum. But I was not backing down. I can be a right old stubborn so-and-so when I want to be and I was determined to show this little madam that she couldn’t behave like that. Ridiculous really as she is 16 months old and probably still has no comprehension of her actions or the consequences.

So I basically let her scream at the top of her lungs whilst I bathed her sister, played ducks with her and read her bath time story. I should have been adult about it but I wasn’t. I might have even childishly asked big sister how much she was enjoying her bath, while looking at youngest and smiling. I know, I know not big, nor clever.

It wasn’t surprising that getting youngest changed for bed was then a nightmare too. This was exacerbated by some particularly hyperactive bad-behaviour from big sis, which was probably not helped by the atmosphere resulting from little ones screams. My own fault really.

I couldn’t face doing a story so once they had devoured their milk, I put them to bed. I feel a bit bad now. We’ve worked so hard on giving them a really structured routine and story time is always part of it.

Now I am going to pour myself a nice glass of wine and make dinner. Once I’ve unwound, I’ll probably end up spending the rest of the evening on the internet looking for strategies for how to better deal with this type of situation in future. We live and we learn, as they say!

If you’ve got any tips let me know in the comments.

 

Being a gay dad has turned me into the invisible man

Picture the scene: A good-looking, groomed and well-dressed man sits in a trendy cafe, coffee cup in hand, holding court over a group of yummy mummies, regaling them with stories of his wonderful life as a gay dad and simultaneously tapping play-date invites into his iPhone. All the while his beautiful and exquisitely dressed children play angelically nearby.

Sounds amazing doesn’t it? To good to be true?

I’d like to say I wasn’t so naive to think I’d spend my adoption leave in this way, but I did. I really did. I thought the mums would love me. Every woman loves a gay man don’t they? So what could be better for a bored stay-at-home-mum than having a fabulous gay dad to hang about with? I know I know, too many stereotypes to mention in that little scenario but let’s park those for a moment.

So you can probably imagine, it’s been a pretty big wake-up call to find that not only am I not the centre of attention in the mummy world, most mums barely even notice me, or pretend not to. When they do i’m generally met with wary, suspicious or confused looks. Modern Family and The New Normal have a lot to answer for raising my expectations!

In the seven months I’ve been on adoption leave I’ve seen mums strike up conversations with each other across tables in cafes, talking through me as if I wasn’t there. I’ve had them get up and move when I’ve sat down next to them with my girls. I’ve had them completely ignore me whilst talking to each other about how lovely my children are and i’ve had one word or single sentence answers when i’ve tried to strike up conversations. On numerous occasions. It’s been pretty soul destroying at times. Mum’s are a tough audience to crack!

It’s not that me being gay is the problem. Or at least it doesn’t seem to be. One issue is that when I walk into a soft play cafe or toddler music class most mums don’t automatically assume I’m gay. This surprises me no end as most people are usually able to tell (although I do have a rather bushy beard since being on adoption leave so maybe I look more butch than I give myself credit for). However, it seems that if you stick a push-chair in front of a gay man they will appear straight. And it’s as a ‘straight’ man that I am ignored. I have read countless tales of stay-at-home dads feeling excluded from by the mummy world and I now have first hand experience of my own. I don’t know whether women are worried their husbands won’t approve of them talking to or befriending a man, or whether they worry about breast-feeding in front of us?

So I don’t often even get the chance to casually drop into the conversation that I’ve not just got the day off and that I don’t have a wife/female partner at home ‘having a rest’. I don’t get to talk about my partner or join in the conversations about where the best place for a second birthday party is, how hard it is to find a good nursery place or which toddler music class is the best in the area.

It’s not all bad though, I’ve met a few really nice people along the way, mostly at groups for adoptive parents where you’ve already got something in common and an easy conversation starter. Outside of the adoption groups, whenever i’ve actually managed to slip being gay into the conversation people have been great, seeming genuinely interested in how we became parents. Some of the comments grate a little from time-to-time (‘wow, you’re so brave’ springs to mind) but for most people gay parenthood is new to them and so they have lots of questions, which I’m generally happy to answer.

Maybe I need to start wearing t-shirts with slogans such as ‘Gay Dads Rock’ emblazoned on them in rainbow coloured letters. If nothing else I’d no longer be invisible!

Finally Putting Pen To Paper

I’ve been meaning to start a blog for over two years now, since the very start of my adoption journey with my partner. For one reason or another though it’s taken until now, seven months into parenthood, to pull my finger out and finally get going with it.

Two years ago, in the excitement and anticipation after we’d attended an adoption information session (at the local authority we’d eventually adopt through), I lay awake that night thinking that I’d document our adoption journey in a blog. I had thoughts of being the first gay dad blogger ever. The fame, the fortune; the gay Kardashians!!! However, a quick google search the next morning was all it took to quickly extinguish any such grand thoughts. There were absolutely loads of blogs out there and gay adoption was much more commonplace than I’d thought.

Instead of creating a blog I spent my time reading other people’s experiences as we progressed through the adoption process. Some were great, some were a bit of a bore. I’d abandoned the idea of keeping a diary to publish in a blog at a later date. There were lots of other blogs with stories similar to the one we were experiencing, so there seemed little point.

Then when we were finally matched to our two wonderful girls and my adoption leave was approaching I thought again about starting a blog, encouraged by work colleagues who said they would all read about what I was getting up to. Well if you’ve ever got to the stage where you are about to have a child or children placed with you you’ll realise that it is a pretty hectic time. Everything moves very quickly after matching panel, so we were stressing over whether we were ready and had everything we needed. I was busy trying to tie up loose ends at work and provide a handover and we were trying to fit in last nights-out with friends before our ‘lives changed forever’. So the blogging didn’t happen.

Once we started introductions and then when our girls were placed us, (we had to do this twice in the space of a month – more about that another time), we were so exhausted I couldn’t imagine how anyone had time to write a shopping list let alone a blog post. Plus there was so much to take in, our growing bond with our girls, their growing bond with each other, the new things we and they were experiencing and the very steep learning-curve that new parents are faced with.

So here I am, seven months into adoption leave with my two beautiful, funny, amazing daughters and I’ve decided to wait until now to start this blog. Now feels about right. I still don’t know when I’ll have time to write. I barely have time to stay on top of the washing during the day and I seldom have more energy than what it takes to lift the remote control or a glass of wine in the evenings but I feel I now have something to say, a need to write. The lenses have fallen out of my rose tinted spectacles – the baby music/sensory/yoga/movement/craft classes are starting to grate, the yummy mummies pretty much ignore me and I need to do something to stop my brain from turning to mush!

I’ll be writing about life as a gay dad living in London – the good bits the bad bits and everything in between. The adoption orders are granted so I don’t have to worry about being too PC in case the social worker reads something I write. I can be honest, blunt and sometimes a little bit brutal. I’m not ‘just’ a dad though so I’ll also be writing about the things I love and about my place in this funny old world in general.

I hope you stick around. I really want to hear what you think about the blog, what I write about and your own experiences so please feel free to leave comments, which I’ll always try to respond to.