What are the fights worth having when you’re battling for credibility as a father just because you happen to be gay? Rob Watson, one of GMP’s lead editors asserts it is all of them.
Rob Watson is a proud gay father of two beautiful boys. He counts himself lucky to live in a region of California that is mostly progressive, yet he has struggled during interactions with his children’s school despite his residence. Because he has gone the mile and faced situations some gay dads might find intimidating, he wanted to share how he has handled his dealings with people who are more conservative, more religious and those who use contrived postures to create rifts where none would otherwise exist.
Throughout his boys’ lives, Rob has determined to remain an in-touch parent. Often taking the post of “room dad”, he has also served on the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and been involved in fundraising and planning events.
His run-ins with adversely-thinking people have been few, but those he has encountered have left an impression. You may be surprised to learn some parents have become his vehement supporters. Of course, not everyone has been so receptive. And it’s not always an obvious sign he has to confront; the defenses he has seen are subtler in nature, cage-rattling, if you will. If you are not self-aware they can throw you off your game. The game that involves expressing a desire to contribute to the betterment of his sons’ educations.
Some troubling conflicts appeared before he had even selected his kids’ school, when he was in the process of interviewing administrators. Rob and his family are Christians and simply wish to be free to worship without judgment. So he asked how he and his family would be received, would be viewed by the school, and inquired of the administrator of a school he was considering, how he felt God would react. The administrator did his best to assure Rob, “Oh yes,” he and his boys would be welcome and his lifestyle wasn’t an issue at all, but it must be understood that through no fault of their own, the school didn’t believe the dynamics of Rob’s family had been included in “God’s plan.” This would be taught to all the children, including Rob’s. So Rob realized while it may feel uncomfortable to walk out of such a disappointing meeting, it had to be done. Through his struggles to place his children (both of whom have learning disorders) in the best schools, he has excused himself from appointments going nowhere, where it became apparent the education his children would receive would be grounded in prejudice.
An encounter such as Rob’s can leave you feeling shocked, may make you angry, but Rob urges you to maintain your focus on your target…getting your kids into a great school. One can be found even through coarse confrontations. Keep walking until you get to a school you feel good selecting. If you are Christian, or religious, depart after hearing ridiculous and dated notions of love the sinner, hate the sin. You are not accomplishing anything sticking around, trying to be persuasive, attempting to reach people who will never break through to the real truth.
As you proceed through the steps of finding the right school, or smoothing the ripples of misconception, it does feel very personal, but you must persist, Rob states, because your fear and discomfort cannot become bigger than your need to ensure your child has the best education.
He advises, it’s the smaller, less obvious signs you have to look for in fearful people. He recounts a teacher who, stymied at what to do for a Mother’s Day with two fathers, instructed his boys to make art projects for Rob’s mother and his sister, relatives his family sees only occasionally. He became uneasy and felt concerned at the potential confusion his sons might experience. The message seemed to be “If you want the kind of love a mother can assure, you have to look to your aunt.” Clearly, this is the not the case in his childrens’ lives, as Rob and his partner adore their children and make every effort to reassure them of that fact. Yet all around his boys, children were constructing gifts for the important care nurturer in their lives–and this is California, his mind kept screaming, unable to put to rest the lunacy of it all. If the same dilemma may loom, consider speaking to the teacher when the school year first begins. Introduce your family and explain how you would like similar situations managed so you don’t have to feel like an outcast later in the year. Not sure what to say? Try, “If you’re making projects with your class this year, I would like my children to make crafts for me and my partner/husband/significant other.”
People who meet your children, may inadvertently utter words they feel are helpful, but they may actually confuse your child. Rob tells of one family who told his adopted, striking Mexican child (whose genetic traits can seem Asian in nature) that his real Mexican family was out there somewhere. You can appreciate how upsetting this would be for a child, which is why it’s important to prepare your child for those who may say things, which could threaten their feeling of security.
Talk to your child about your family and why you are special. Explain there are all kinds of families and not one is right, or wrong. Each family is unique. Maybe you have already had the chat and if that’s true—wonderful! You are a step ahead, but you must also prepare your child to deal with oblivious people, who say whatever comes into their minds, regardless of the effect on your kid. They are out there. Give your kiddo some responses to repeat back to the person causing the confusion. If necessary, role play, or take your little one to a counselor so they will know they are solid in their role in your family and in handling unwanted comments. You recall rude comments at some point in your life, and you are aware how hard it is to field them; it’s vital your child learn to disregard these remarks, and that they never ever begin to doubt their own worth. You can’t prevent people from speaking, but you can arm your child to the best of your ability.
Rob reassures me he can hold his own, and likely you can, too, but when people take cracks at the foundation you have carefully and lovingly built, it is very hard to stomach. Some parents can take offense at artistic material concerning two dads, or two moms, for example, and it is here where Rob notes your voice must be the strongest. You will always be charged with trying to change the opinion of the world and it is exhausting and disheartening at times, but you must speak up each and every time to push programs about alternative lifestyles, etc. because this benefits your children. And whatever action you can take to make circumstances easier for your kids, you should take.
He talks about what makes the fight worth it, whether it is coming head-to-head with a narrow-minded member of the PTA, or the school board, or taking the responsibility to communicate clearly with his sons’ teachers. He advises: get close to what your children are going through and to their worlds. You want to be there for them as they grow and learn and when you stay nearby, you are ready to intercept some of the challenges they may experience. It helps them to know you are taking on the big fights so they can focus on being a kid. This way they know you’re making sure they’ll be okay, and that goes a long way toward making them feel better.
Rob goes on to make an observation, directed at those men who may not be out yet, “One of the advantages of being out is that all gossip stops. You are no longer a salacious subject.”
The impression he leaves with me, when you are out and proud, when you embrace your lifestyle and all your loves, is it’s one less issue to worry about. Being so forthright means you can deal with the more important implications than tongues wagging: ensuring your children are safe and educated, that they feel loved and accepted in their school.
Incidentally, his boys got the message of what Mother’s Day was about on their own. One year, without prompting, they surprised Rob with breakfast in bed, having decided he deserved it as much as their friends’ mothers.
Original article appeared at The Good Men Project. Reprinted with permission.