On the Model of Parents

Idon’t often talk or write about my personal life, but a recent question of social media hit a nerve. The question was, “What if it turns out we’re all wrong about gay parenting, and it is indeed harmful to kids?

Now, why would this touch a nerve with me, a straight, white middle-class man with all the benefits of a mid-twentieth century American upbringing? Because…

 

My parents were straight…out of hell.

Once, when I was nine, I watched my daddy throw my mom down the stairs.

When I was ten, he grabbed a bottle of whisky and stood in the driveway yelling at her before peeling out in the Mustang he had bought himself (for her birthday) as the neighbors watched in horror.

Month’s latter–during the divorce–I watched from his workshop as he stood in an open trailer, yelling at her, threatening to come back and burn the house down. He didn’t mean it. He was just angry, but…

Oh, and on numerous occasions, he beat the crap out of me–bordering on abuse even by the standards of the time–and even then I knew it was because he was mad at her.

And the sad thing is, I felt sorry for them both. I still do. They were trapped in the myth of the perfect American family in which the man runs the house and the wife supports him. My dad was, in most respects, a fine person. He taught me to build, taught me to think, and fought for our country in Cold War battles we could scarcely understand.

But he found himself a woman his equal, and it destroyed them both. They couldn’t communicate, couldn’t negotiate, and could never say, “I’m sorry, I love you, but…”

Recently, a writer friend hosted a workshop at a bungalow near his home. One night after we finished up, he invited us to walk over to his place for drinks with his husband. The two of them are rather funny. One is a doctor who writes, the other an artist who doesn’t work. They don’t have kids, but they travel and collect art. As I watched them together, teasing and harassing one another with obvious affection but the normal amount of friction always present between two cohabitating sentient beings, all I could think was—this is what my folks should have been.

My parents broke up when I was ten. After a couple of years, my dad moved away, remarried, divorced, begged to be taken back after being diagnosed with degenerative lung disease, and we buried him in an impossibly big, Air Force blue box, with soldiers playing Taps behind us.

I found my own way, picking and choosing from his example and from those of a dozen other men (and women) in my life and in the culture around me. And when I grew up, I found a woman who fit me, and I made her my partner, my best friend, and my wife. That was twenty five years ago, and I think we’ve just about got this marriage thing sorted.

It’s startling to me that the person who posted this question–supposedly a gay woman–could still be wondering about gender role patterning in this day and age. But then, ages don’t pass quite as fast as they seem to.

I’ll tell you true, as a man who’s as straight as they come: Being around gay people doesn’t make you gay., but being around hate, makes you hurt.

I turned out fine with no dad at all. I’d have been fine with two dads–or two moms. But I do wish my parents had been happier. That they weren’t what they might have been hurts–more than anything they did or didn’t do, to me or too each other.

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