Dear Gabe, Let Me Tell You About Your Papa
There is so much I want to tell you, so many stories that I want to introduce to you, so many places I want to take you, and so many experiences I want to watch unfurl themselves in front of you. But today, this day, I have one job that is mine alone to do, and it is the most important job I could have.
I want to tell you about your Papa.
You see, we’ve written so much about you so far, before you’ve even turned one. You are a star in the world, not just in our eyes, and people from all over that wonderfully small, small world helped us to bring you home. To say that you are loved, my son, does not use words the way words are meant to be used; I couldn’t go far enough.
But none of this ever would have happened without your Papa. And that’s the story I want to tell you today.
I met your Papa when I was just 21 years old. I’m not going to embarrass you and tell you how handsome I thought your Papa was, or how wonderfully imaginative and playful I found his eyes, or even make your cheeks red by describing the electricity that would flit its way down the back of my neck when our hands would touch.
What I will tell you, is that your Papa was the first man that I ever fell in love with. I have loved boys for about as long as I can remember, and even as a 21-year old, I was very much in love with a boy, as I too was just a boy. But when I met your Papa one day in a bookstore, I realized that I was jealous of him. He was three years older than me, and he had his own car, his own apartment. I could see the way his family respected him, listened when he spoke, asked him for opinions that counted.
Your Papa had just come back home to New Jersey, after living with a girl who broke his heart, something that will one day happen to you. He came back to start over, to move forward, to begin again. When I met your Papa, he was a man who didn’t know that he could be great, wonderful even, and didn’t trust that he could give love away anymore. That’s what happens sometimes, Gabe. And it’s easy to flip the switch and yell “No more!” at the big blue sky above your head. But I was determined not to let that happen to your Papa, he was too good for that.
We became best friends, very quickly. We laughed at the same jokes, we both loved superheroes, comics, French fries. He taught me how to like cats, and did you know that at one point your Papa even had pet rats? You can ask your Papa to tell you sometime about the night, after a few too many of his mojitos, that I let your Papa’s rat Gogo kiss me on my face. Or about the time that I accidentally set his cat on fire.
Gabe, the reason I’m telling you these things is because I want you to know that your Papa had a life before. And he has so many amazing stories to share with you.
Did you realize that your Papa pretended to like hockey, for like….eight years? Yea, I know, it seems crazy. But when we became best friends, your Papa wanted to hang out with me, and I wanted to hang out with him. So every weekend, I would drag all of my goalie gear with me into New York City, with your Papa in tow, and he would help me get all my gear to the rink on time. And sometimes I would lose my game, and he would tell me that it was okay, not to be sad or angry, and that it was just important that I had had fun. Meanwhile, Papa was bringing schoolwork to grade with him at the rink, because being a teacher is important to him. I don’t think he realized, or maybe even realizes, just how much teaching he’s done with me.
Papa also traveled with me, when I was doing public speaking. I was going to different schools around the country, and speaking about my lawsuit against Seton Hall University, to stick up for kids like me who were born with a different kind of love in our hearts. Your Papa would take the administration and teachers out of the room at the end of my presentation, and he would talk to them about the need for inclusive programming, and the power of storytelling.
I don’t think either one of us realized how close we had become. I mentioned earlier that someday you will have your heart broken, and someday it will be you who breaks someone else’s heart. But you will have a responsibility to be honest and kind, even when both of those are competing in your heart. When I broke up with a boy I had been dating and living with for almost four years, I asked Papa if I could stay with him for a bit, if I could figure things out. Your Papa is wonderful, my love, and so I moved in with him.
And we were honest with each other about what we had been feeling inside, for longer than we ever knew. And we both knew that it was true, Papa was in love with his first boy, and Daddy was in love with his first man. And it made all the sense in the world.
Papa has been giving away tiny pieces of himself for as long as I have known him, to his family, to his friends, to his students, his co-workers, to people he passes in the supermarket that share a smile. His happiness, his hopefulness, his love come from a place that seems to be limitless; he makes me work harder every day to find that place inside of myself, and to dip into it whenever I can.
Your Papa taught me how to grow up, how to be a grown-up, how to grow. He is the reason I stood in the muck and mire on the streets of Manhattan, in the swelter of a June in D.C. for the Human Rights Campaign, and in the boil of a Boston July, working to build support for marriage equality. Because I finally knew why marriage was so important, Gabe. Because it meant that I could be with your Papa forever.
Being a Dad is not a job for boys, Gabe. It is a job for men. Your Papa is constantly amazing me with his brain, with how smart he is, and how easy it is for him to understand things that take me twice and sometimes three times as long to understand. Papa challenges me to defend positions on issues, helps me make my arguments stronger, helps me know myself better and more fully.
We could never have built the life for ourselves without your Papa’s bravery, determination, strength, perseverance, love, light, and guidance. You are here, in this world, and ours, because Papa was brave. Whenever I would have doubts that we’d find you, he would be there to hold my hand. Whenever I would find myself taking an inventory of all we could have, he’d rub my head and make a list of all the things we did have.
It’s easy for us to just be your Dads now, just the two dorks who put food on the table and drive you around in the car. But I have heard your Papa singing to you every night, sitting downstairs and listening on the baby monitor. I have listened outside your nursery door as Papa tells you stories about hungry caterpillars and exercising hippopotamuses. I have seen his mouth open and shut silently as he feeds you, unknowingly mimicking the behavior he is inadvertently teaching you to repeat. I have sat on the couch exhausted after a day just as long as the one your Papa has had, while he steams and purees your food for the week, makes our lunches.
And because your Papa gives and gives and gives, I want you to take and take and take, Gabriel. I want you to take everything you learn from this amazing man you call Papa, and I want you to keep it inside of your heart. Because Papa isn’t just teaching you how to read, or walk, or eat. He is teaching you how to be a man, he is challenging you to rise up as tall as you can grow, and be the best you imaginable.
I have written and read thousands of stories, Gabe. But your Papa? He will always be my favorite story of them all.
Happy Father’s Day, Little Man. Daddy and Papa love you.