It has taken me roughly twenty years to publicly say this out loud … I am a gay father. Correction, it’s taken me twenty years to say it out loud without fear of losing my children or compromising my job.
I guess you could say I’ve come a long way, although when saying it out loud I still fear retribution.
And I live in Manhattan! Will that fear ever go away, even in our most “accepting” of environments?
I was a divorced, single, gay, active father back at a time when none of that was discussed, accepted, or embraced. I was raising my two children feeling quite alone in the world, with no role models or support groups to help guide me through the landmines of not only just being a parent, but also being gay. A gay parent. There weren’t very many of us back in the day, and certainly very few of us that were “out.” It all remained unspoken.
For the most part, I kept my mouth shut and kept my head down, plowing my way through life as best I could. I balanced work and family, just like everyone else, but I was unlike anyone else. I changed diapers, made school lunches, and ran my kids around to their activities like the best of them. I tried to be the best dad I could be.
Back then most dads weren’t so active in raising their children. In fact I was generally the only father around those parent-teacher conferences, class field trips, lunchroom duties, and fundraising events. I was the only dad around in a sea of moms…yet the school wouldn’t allow the bus to pick my kids up at my home and I couldn’t get report cards sent to my address. The other parents politely acknowledged me with a head nod, only because they couldn’t deny that I was doing my best as a father. Most of the teachers embraced me, but we were in a school system that couldn’t or wouldn’t. Yet, I was the primary caregiver doing it all, including homework and trips to the dentist.
You see moms were the ones back then that took care of the kids. Dads worked and mowed the lawn. I was an anomaly to that all, and perhaps even a threat. And I was gay on top of it all.
I kept a journal at the time to chronicle those daily events. My lawyer advised me to prove that I was the active caregiver, in case I was ever “threatened.” The fact that I had to prove my worth as a dad still irks me today, but I did what I had to do at the time. I’ve since turned that journal into a personal memoir called Out and About Dad: My Journey as a Father with all its Twists, Turns, and a Few Twirls. My new book follows my path to parenting from pre-birth of my two children all the way to eighteen. Eighteen is when I felt safe again.
So now that my kids are in their twenties, safely out of the scorn of peer pressure and public opinion (I hope), and safely out of the threat of being taken away from me because I’m gay (for sure)…why am I speaking up now?
Because I have to speak up…I only wish someone had done so in my time.
Times have certainly changed. Fathers are now recognized for being active parents who take pretty darn good care of their kids, thank you very much. We’re not just babysitters anymore. Some of us are stay-at-home-dads, some of us are single dads, and yes some of us are gay dads. We have a common love for our children and an undying quest to raise them well.
Gay fathers also now have the right and the ability to have children, to get married, and to lead open and honest lives. Just like moms, just like straight dads, just like everyone else.
I want to share my story to help inspire dads of all forms and flavors to be the best fathers they can be. I want to encourage men to have children on their terms, on their own timetables, in their own unique ways. I want to serve as a role model for those going through the struggles of parenting and gay parenting in particular to prove that you can in fact make it through, happily. If I made it through, then so can you. My family stands proudly in testament to that.
And truthfully, while times have changed, we still suffer. We all still suffer from prejudice and bigotry that threaten our happiness and our way of life. It happens on a daily basis all over the world, and all over our social feeds.
Just take a look at the 2016 US Election. Threats are sent out daily that seek to take us backward. I was there when it was backward, and I don’t want to go back.
I’ve now been with my husband for 18 years, but only legally married for one year thanks to The Supreme Court. I don’t want to go back. We now benefit from being full citizens of the United States, which has not always been the case.
I don’t want to go back.
I don’t want to go back to a time when people perceived fathers as being bumbly fumbly fools who couldn’t be trusted alone with their kids. Change a diaper?
Me, I learned how to do it with one hand! Now there are support groups where experienced dads teach new ones how to run the gamut of caring for their newborns…from diapers to naps to formula.
I don’t want to go back.
I don’t want to go back to a time when we had to stay quiet for fear of being bullied and pushed around. I don’t want to go back to a time when you were afraid to put a picture up in your office for fear of losing a promotion. I don’t want to go back to a time when I worried that my kids would suffer because their dad is gay.
I definitely don’t want to go back to that.
So we all have to speak up, and we all have to do our part.
Share your story too, just like I’ve shared mine, to inspire others to live their lives in a way that brings them happiness. Who could be prejudiced against that? Share your story to help others get rid of the barriers that prevent their happiness. Share your story to let others know that we are out there, because knowledge can bring understanding that can break down walls.
Share your story to prevent us from going back.
That’s why I’m sharing mine, because there is no way that I want to go back.
But none are more important than the daily badge he wears with the most pride – Dad.
Jim Joseph is the proud father of two children. He has spent the last twenty-plus years raising them, looking after their physical and emotional well-being, and building their confidence to navigate their own lives.
While he’s written a trilogy of marketing books and is a regular contributor to Entrepreneur and Huffington Post, it’s his newest book and blog posts on fatherhood that represent what’s most important to him: being an Out and About Dad.
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