Friday, June 15, 2007

Happy Father's Day! Gay Dads Celebrate

This feature I wrote for EDGE this week is one of the more enjoyable stories I have written over the last few months. I always enjoy listening to parents talk about their children. The stories and experiences they share with their sons and daughters are precious. The thing I took from this story is gay parents have the same concerns as the vast majority of parents in this country have. They want to protect their children. They want their children to attend good schools. They want to create an environment in which their children can thrive. Sometimes this fact gets lost in pro-gay and ant-gay rhetoric.

As parents and their children prepare to celebrate Father’s Day on Sunday, Steve Sokoll beams with pride each time he talks about his 10-year-old son Max and 6-year-old daughter Rosie. Sokoll and his partner, Ira Sheres, live with their children in suburban Philadelphia. The child psychiatrist is quick to joke about how much of a doting parent he is. Max and Rosie have spent much of their young lives at Walt Disney World, Provincetown and other vacation hot spots.

"They have a wonderful indulgent life--as all children should have," Sokoll said.

Gay parents continue to become more visible in cities and towns across the country. The 2000 U.S. Census estimated that 22 percent of gay couples have at least one child under 18 in their home.

Chevy Chase, Md., resident Terrance Heath and partner Richard Imirowicz adopted their son, Parker, four days after he was born. Heath said he never expected he would become a father,but quickly added that his son’s adoption remains a defining moment in his life. "When I was growing up, I thought it would never be a possibility for me," Heath said. "To be a parent is an amazing thing for me."

Heath said Parker’s first steps, first words and other early milestones are the things he enjoys the most as a parent. A particularly memorable moment came as Parker called his parents Daddy and Papa for the first time.

"The relationship we have is so different than I had with my own father," Heath said. "One of the things I swore when I became a parent is my kid will never have to worry for a minute about whether he has my love or my acceptance."

Mark (he asked EDGE not use his last name) lives with his partner Joe and their 10-year-old daughter Emma live in Manhattan and have a house in the Hamptons. He laughed as he fondly recalled a recent visit to a clock store with his daughter. The fourth grader wanted to buy a clock she liked for Father’s Day. Emma lamented the $1,000 price tag one night as her father tucked her into bed. "There is no way I can afford it," Emma said. "I really would love to get that for you for Father’s Day dad."

Mark added this moment with his daughter highlights the importance of Father’s Day. "In a household with two fathers, it’s an important day for us," he said. "We try to make Father’s Day a great day. We try to make it a special time."

Sokoll agreed. "It’s completely corny because everyday’s Father’s Day," he said. "I spent time with two of my favorite people in the world."

LGBT organizations have increasingly used gay parents to lobby legislators in support of marriage for same-sex couples and other issues in recent years on the state, national and local levels. The birth of Mary Cheney’s son Samuel late last month has brought same-sex families to the forefront. So has former New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevey’s contentious custody dispute with his estranged wife. The governor is now living with a male partner and has asked to share custody. His wife maintains that their house is not suitable, citing a picture of a man as part of the evidence. The very public battle has highlighted some of the issues that can arise in even the most apparently enlightened households when one of the partners comes out.

Family Founder James C. Dobson sparked outrage among gay activists late last year after he used Cheney’s pregnancy to criticize gay and lesbian parents in an op-ed in Time magazine. Concerned Women for America Policy Director for Cultural Issues J. Matt Barber and other anti-gay leaders and commentators made similar criticisms shortly after she gave birth.

"In order to create the artificial scenario under which homosexuals can have a child, the natural reproductive process must still occur, but it... always excludes at least one of the ’partner,’" he wrote. "The process must take place under very artificial circumstances well outside the bounds of God’s clearly ordained family construct."

The Child Welfare League of America, the American Psychological Association and other social and psychological organizations vigorously dispute these claims.

Mark scathes at any accusation he and his partner are bad parents because of their sexual orientation. "It is very insulting to every single parent and to everyone who doesn’t have a traditional family," he said. "The majority of children raised in this country are not being raised by biological parents or with both parents in the household. It’s insulting when these groups take a swipe at gays being able parents."

Heath echoed Mark’s sentiments. "My son has two parents who love him, who wanted him very much and who planned for him and who are actively involved and engaged in his live," he said.

Sokoll said he and his partner work hard to protect their children from anti-gay rhetoric. Sokoll added his family functions like any other family. "We don’t want our kids to be hurt," Sokoll said. "We want our kids treated fairly and with respect."

Heath noted he sometimes feels as though other parents watch how he interacts with his son. He, like Sokoll, said he feels like any other parent who raises their child. "I have to learn how to say, ’Screw ’em and let them think what they want to think,’" Heath said. "A kid is going to be a kid. A parent is going to be a parent."

The children themselves usually intuitively understand the relationship and, unlike too many grown-ups, have no problems with it.

Mark pointed to a supermarket clerk on the East End of Long Island, where he maintains a second home, who questioned his daughter’s explanation that she had two dads after she scanned a cake with Joe’s name. Emma politely but firmly told the clerk about her family arrangement again as Mark stood nearby.

"It was completely over this woman’s head," he said. "I was so proud of her [Emma’s] sense of self and who she is."

No comments: