When Gay Dads Divorce
With gay marriage and partnerships, it was inevitable that gay break-ups would soon occur. It was also inevitable that many of these dissolutions would involve children. Gay men are discovering a new situation, one that has plagued our heterosexual counterparts for ages: raising kids alone. Here we talk with three men who are raising children alone or mostly alone, and who never intended that to be the scenario when they had children. Sound familiar? It’s like half of our parents.
Richard, 50, is a New York freelance photographer who is raising a seven-year-old girl without his ex-partner. The couple adopted the child before gay marriage was legal in New York, but they were registered as domestic partners. Richard’s ex-partner developed a severe drug addiction and the relationship ended. After his ex gave up his legal rights, Richard obtained sole custody of the child.
“It’s not what I expected ten years ago,” he says. “We did everything right; the house in the country, the apartment in the city, the child. I had no idea that my ex had any addictions when we moved in together. He became terrifying and it had to end. And I had to take my girl.”
Richard still has the home and the same apartment, but his life as a parent has changed drastically. “I do everything myself, and I have a high-stress job. I am often shooting from four in the morning till midnight, and there used to be someone else to take care of her when I was busy.”
Richard admits that he’s lucky to have other kinds of help—a couple of baby-sitters and a wonderful mom—but it’s the personal time he misses. “I hate it when I miss seeing my daughter get ready for school. Or being with her at dinner. I’ve done my best to change my schedule and take photography jobs that are in town, but I can’t do that all the time. When I had my partner, I felt like I was always there in spirit. And I knew she had at least one parent with her.”
Then there comes dating and moving on. “I’m on a couple of gay dating sites, which I’m not crazy about, but I do not meet men anywhere else. Some of the guys freak out when I tell them about my girl because I usually only have twenty minutes to meet them before I have to race off to take care of her. I’m not going to sacrifice that time, but I also want a love life again.”
He continues: “I’ve never really been alone, and I’ll admit that I’m a relationship-oriented guy. Ever since I was about my daughter’s age, I knew I wanted to be with someone. Maybe that’s why I was blind to my ex’s addictions. And I want it again; I want to get married. But I don’t know how to find the love of my life when I spend almost every waking moment with my girl. I don’t mean to sound negative; I’m just frustrated.”
James, 49, a graphic designer, separated from his partner five years ago (they were never legally married) and has custody of their adopted son, now 14. The decision about the child’s welfare has been a non-legal agreement between the two men, and both are still legal parents. In his view, fatherhood has strict rules and a clear plan.
“Until my son’s out of high school I do not date, and I rarely socialize except for a few close friends and our relatives,” says James. “He’s in high school and a son is a fulltime job. My ex-partner and I just sold our house, I’ve moved, and now we’re already thinking about things like college.”
James lives in Manhattan Beach, about 20 minutes southwest of L.A., close to his son’s school and away from the temptations of his former home in Los Angeles proper.
“It’s easier to raise a son out here,” he says, adding, “I find that I don’t want to do ‘single’ things like getting into the dating scene. We go to the beach, we cook, we watch TV together; we’re a family. And his other dad lives nearby so he can see him whenever he wants.”
“I don’t know how any man with kids dates,” says James. “Or straight people either. I don’t want to bring a guy home with my son in the house. I’m not going to spend the night away, so what’s the point? And I can’t go out with a guy and tell him I have to be home every night by ten. So dating is off the table until my son’s off to college.”
Like all single parents, gay or straight, the unexpected challenges of raising children alone can be overwhelming at times.
“I thought my husband and I would be together forever,” says James. “I had everything planned out, just like my parents, who were together up until the day my dad died. Then one day I wake up and I realize my ex is no longer in love with me, wants to get away from me, is dating someone else, and doesn’t have a real interest in being a full-time dad. That’s life.”
Bill, 43, lives in New Jersey, and has joint custody of his 12-year-old son with his ex-husband, which is a constant tug of war. “We don’t get along,” says Bill of his ex, “and I’m a child of divorce. The last thing I want is for my son to see us fight or to think badly of either one of us, so we never argue in public, but putting on a happy face all the time can be difficult.”
He won’t go into the details of the break-up, but says he has a lot of guilt over raising a child in a world that isn’t always accepting of his own sexuality, and over the divorce as well.
“This is new to me,” says Bill, who works as an architect. “I knew my son would have to get used to having non-traditional parents, and now he has to get used to having divorced non-traditional parents. He says he’s fine with it, but I worry all the time. And my relationship with his other dad is never going to improve. When we talk and my son’s not around, we only say the bare minimum, like what time he’s picking up my son and what time he’ll be back. Fun stuff.”
“And as much as I hate to admit it, I know my son would like us to get back together. Sometimes he’ll ask if I still love his other dad, and it’s so weird. It reminds me of the things I used to say to my parents.”