Personal Essays by Gay Dads

Serving Work-Life Balance Realness: How To Be a More Present Father

They say that when it comes to parenting, showing up is half the battle. But how can we show up and be present?

When I was in college, I remember watching an episode of Jerry Springer. The theme was deadbeat dads. And one of the baggy-pant-donning guests stood up and arrogantly shouted "I take care of my kids" to thunderous applause, all because he agreed to pay off his owed child support. I remember thinking to myself… um… isn't that, like, your job? I learned then and there that not all dads take their responsibility seriously. I also learned that the studio audience on Jerry Springer has the moral compass of, well, a studio audience on Jerry Springer.

Here's the thing: when it comes to parenting, they say that showing up is half the battle. I disagree. I show up. But I'm not always there… not always present. There, I said it. Now I can stop privately beating myself up over it and finally do something to fix it. That something had me asking lots of other parents for advice and reading lots of articles on ways Dads can be more present in their children's life. I've narrowed it down to ten tips that I've already begun to implement. Have I completely turned things around? In the words of Whitney: hell to the naw. But at least I've acknowledged that Houston, we have a problem. And that's always the first step.

I'll start with the most obvious problem — our devices (duh).


1. We Must Put Down Our Freaking Phones

I know it's much harder than it sounds. What is it about our phones that is so addicting? Why must we check it obsessively, and respond to work messages in real time? When I started in advertising twenty years ago (yes, I started when I was eight), there were no cell phones. And somehow we managed to wait until morning to put out fires. Work problems should not trump family time. We can't allow ourselves to become complicit in this. We owe it to our families to create boundaries. For the first time, when I was playing on the floor with Max last week, he shouted for me to "put down your phone and pay attention to me" — and that one sentence broke my heart. It's the last time he'll ever have to say that to me. Because if it gets to the point where your kid verbally calls you out on it, it's clearly a problem. For starters, now when I play with Max, I make sure my phone is out of sight so he knows he's my number one priority. If our children see us always on our phone, they'll grow up to be attached to their smartphones. We can tell them not to do something a thousand times, but we are their example. As much as I want to be Max's role model, device-addiction isn't the thing I'd like to teach him about. Pop songs from the nineties? Now that's a different story.

2. Attend as Many School Events as Possible

When I was growing up moms were usually the ones who came to school events while dads worked. No shade to the fathers of the late 80s. It was the way of the times... the yuppie years. Well, things are different these days. Families look different now. So it's time to put an end to the archaic idea of moms being the primary parent — those rules no longer apply. We fail fathers when we promote old stereotypes rather than questioning them. That means we have to do our part to change those perceptions. We don't have to step down from our job to devote our lives to being at home, but, at the very least, we should make it a priority to attend school events a handful of times a year. Yes, I know it's inconvenient. But kids deserve to see their dads in the front row cheering them on, even while singing the world's worst rendition of "Jingle Bell Rock" (except you, Max, you always nail it).

3. Schedule Play-Time and Follow Through

It's not rocket science. Find the things your kids love to do and make time to do them. And by the way, you don't always have to act your age. Let loose and just be in the moment. Even if it's only 15 minutes a day. It could be the 15-minutes they look forward to most. I don't always make it home in time to give Max a bath, but I always make it home in time to put him to bed. That's my thing. He knows that no matter how crazy things are at work, he can always count on me to tuck him in and enjoy some "goodnight huggy time." And even when I'm away traveling for work, we do "goodnight huggy time" over Facetime. It's a ritual. And those are the things kids remember… like the first time they heard you say 'f**k' when you stepped on one of their Lego figures.

4. Make Weekends Unabashed Family Time

Most of us have to work. It's just one of those grown up realities, like paying bills and not having sex. And so if, like me, you've got a stressful, time-consuming job that demands a lot of late nights, maybe it's time to draw the line when it comes to weekend work. And reallocate that time back to your family. That's what I've done and it helps to assuage the guilt I feel for being "absent" a few nights during the week. And then when the weekend comes, I try to be extra present, available and ready to focus on the two most important men in my life. Sorry, Sean Mendes, you've been bumped. That said, your Calvin game is on point.

5. Wake Up Before Your Kids

Lots to do. Not enough time to do it all. I get it. So here's a thought: try waking up earlier. I know it sounds tedious and annoying. But imagine an hour inside a quiet house. A time to relax by yourself, workout or get things done that you can never get done once the brood wakes. My husband, Alex, does this and he feels so productive by the time Max wakes up. He's ready for anything… even Max's "where's my Pop Tart" six a.m. demands. That quiet time to stay centered before you're launched into the madness will work wonders. Don't take my word for it, take Alex's — 'cause my ass will still be asleep.

Have Daily One-On-One Time

Work consumes my life lately. And I'm not proud of it. One thing that eases some of my guilt is the 30-minute commitment I make to Max every morning. As soon as I wake up. He's got my undivided attention for 30-minutes before I drop him off at school. Sometimes he likes to watch me shave. Sometimes he wants me to watch funny Instagram videos (Girls Getting Hurt is our favorite) and sometimes he just wants to cuddle on the sofa while telling me that my belly makes a great soft pillow. #GroundedForLife

7. Adjust Your Expectations

Stop trying to be the perfect Daddy. It doesn't exist (aside from Josh Duhamel, but that's a whole different article). Point is, if you're a working dad, you've got to alter your expectations of what can achievably get done in a day. Those who say they can balance it all are lying through the artificially whitened-teeth. You won't get frustrated if you accept that it's not all going to get done. And be okay with that. Redefine what a productive day looks like for you… and make sure quality time with your kid(s) is at the top of that list… even if it's just for 15-minutes. When you're making your to-do list, only put on the things that HAVE to get done. Not the things you know aren't going to get done… because then you won't feel like a failure when they inevitably remain un-crossed out.

8. Don't Bring Work Energy Home

This one is hard for me. I take my job very seriously. Perhaps too seriously for my own good. The truth is, I should be taking my other job more seriously. You know that one I'm going to have for the rest of my life (the father role, for those not following along). Oftentimes I come home from work and my family can instantly feel my stress and anxiety. And that shit ain't fair. They didn't sign up for this madness, so why should they have to experience the negative energy? They don't. Well, not anymore. Now when I get home from a long day at the office, I'm going to put my phone away, at least until after Max goes to sleep. Then I'm good to continue ignoring my husband for the rest of the night. Can't have it all. Sorry boo, I'll be up to watch House Hunters Renovation with you by 11. I promise. (Update: Al was sound asleep by the time I made it upstairs… at 1am).

9. Stay True to Your Word

One thing you have control over is your word. Don't intentionally lie to your kids about when you're going to be home. Because that would be giving them false hope. Instead, give them a broad range of times, a best/worst case scenario so their expectations can be managed. This means there's less of a chance they'll get/stay mad at you for coming home late. Sometimes, I tell Max I'll be home in about an hour… when I'm just pulling into the driveway because I love seeing the smile of surprise when I walk through the door. Okay, fine, that's a little selfish of me. But everyone's happier in the end. #HappyMaxHappyLife

10. Accept That You Will Make Mistakes

For God's sake, cut yourself some slack. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, shit happens. Cars break down. The office keeps calling. The supermarket is out of Hot Wheels. Everything can't always go according to plan and your kid will eventually get over it. When this inevitably makes you feel like a failure, just channel that guilt into newfound determination to be on time the next day. Oh, and if you walk through the door with two Hot Wheels in hand, consider yourself forgiven. Works almost every time (whatever you do, don't get him one he already has — let's just say the teeth marks haven't healed).

***

So there you have it. 10-tips on how we can be more present with our kids. I know it's a lot easier to write this stuff than actually live it, but with enough commitment, dedication and consistency, we've totally got this. Following some of these might just give your child the affirmation they're looking for… while you no longer have to go to bed wondering if you're doing enough. And that's a win-win for everyone.

If nothing else, remember how much work it took to get you into this position in the first place (the whole having a kid process). You've had good intentions from the very beginning. You are a loving father, but no one can be everything to everyone at every minute. And that's okay.

P.S. I practice saying those last two sentences in the mirror every morning. Perhaps soon I'll start to believe it.

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Personal Essays by Gay Dads

As a Gay Dad, What's the Impact of Letting My Son Perform Drag?

Michael Duncan was excited when his 10-year-old son asked if he could perform in drag for charity — but he also felt fear and anxiety.

As LGBT parents, we have all lived through some sort of trauma in our lives. For many it is the rejection of our family, being bullied, or abuse. We learn to be vigilant of our surroundings and often are very cautious of who we trust. As adults, we start to become watchful of how much we share and we look for "red flags" around every corner.

So, what effect does this have on our children? Does it unintentionally cause us to be more jaded with our interactions involving others? For some the answer may be a resounding "no." But as we look deeper into the situation, we often find that through survival our interactions with others have changed and we may not even realize exactly how much we are projecting on those around us.

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Personal Essays by Gay Dads

Things I've Learned in the Decade Since Celebrating My First Father's Day

This year will be John Hart's 10th year celebrating Father's Day as a dad. Here's 15 things he's learned in that decade.

I celebrated my first Father's Day as a new father a decade ago. And while some sleepless nights, whining phases or the Gangnam Style-era seemed endless at the time, the years have gone by quickly.

Here are some of the things that I've learned about since 2009:

#1. Learning is Constant

I have discovered so much more about hockey, hip hop and slime than I ever knew before. And just because I love musicals, singing and Tiana (my favourite Disney princess), doesn't mean my kids have to enjoy the same. Plus my kids tell me that just because I can do the Floss and Orange Justice, doesn't mean I should, especially in public.

#2. When it's quiet...

Just because it's quiet doesn't mean everything is ok. I've let the two kids play on when it was quiet, only to realize later they were playing with postage stamps as if they were stickers or were unrolling condoms onto their fingers ("these balloons are kinda slimy...."). On the other hand, just because it's quiet doesn't mean everything is wrong: I once checked on them in the other room to find them counting each others' toes and in the car I turned around to see them looking out their own windows but holding hands in the middle.

#3. Speak Out When Necessary

I have advocated – sometimes wisely, sometimes passionately (read angrily) for my kids while trying to navigate the education, health, social services and adoption systems. I am much more outspoken on their behalf than mine. I will go all daddy bear on you if I must.

#4. New Perspectives

I have looked at life anew through my children's eyes, especially Christmas, theme parks and board games. Also, however, sexism, racism and homophobia – while I want to protect their innocence and curiosity as much as possible, I need to prepare them for the real world. I feel they need to know what might happen, how to respond and how irrational it all will be.

#5. Old Perspectives

There are times when "when I was a kid..." stories are fascinating to the two kids – landlines? Antenna tv? VHS? And there are times when "when I was a kid..." is just not relevant to how they live their lives today.

#6. Curiosity 

The kids have questions – so many questions – but they're not looking for overly complicated answers, simply something they understand and hopefully an analogy to their own experience or to a character they know.

#7. An Extensive Family

We have grown our family by multitudes with our children, their blood siblings and their blood siblings' adoptive families. It is amazing to celebrate special bonds with them all and have so many people we now consider family.

#8. Love and Pain


I find ways to let my children know that they're wanted and loved every day, while also acknowledging the trauma of the separation from their birth families. Sometimes my love isn't enough because they have questions I can't always answer. We talk to them about their adoption stories, and to ensure their sense of permanency, I had tattoos of their initials inked onto my arms.

#9. Learning From Mistakes

I try every day to provide the structure, security and safety my kids need, but also room to grow and to express themselves. They need to discover who they are, explore the world and make their own mistakes.

#10. Learning From Mistakes (Daddy Edition)

I have found myself failing as a father, yet I have never given up completely. These kids are mine and I'm responsible. I need to learn from my mistakes and do better. I also need to admit my mistakes, apologize and show that we can persist, forgive and move forward.

#11. The Importance of Saying Less

There are times when "you're having a hard day, let me give you a hug" is all I need to say and all they want to hear.

#12. Creating Community 

We have met and bonded with many gay dads, sharing similar experiences of adoption, confused or inquiring looks, and times we need to out ourselves yet again. We have also met and bonded with many parents of whatever sex and orientation as we share the same experiences of trying to do the best for our children (and retain some sense of sanity), trying to register for programs with waitlists and swap helpful hints of how to get the kids to sit down and eat their dinner.

#13. Sharing Our Story 

I've spoken with dozens of gay men, both individually and while on panels, about becoming parents, offering advice, wisdom and encouragement. There are usually so many questions – How? How long? How did you...? When did you...? But also sharing our photos and stories that show the results and rewards of pursuing parenthood.

#14. An Online Community 

I've written for Gays With Kids for five years, offering insights and a personal perspective. I enjoy hearing from other families too and seeing photos from around the world. It is so wonderful to find a small but growing international community to encourage, support and inspire each other.

#15. Pride for All

It is important for our family of four to attend Pride together. Sure they've seen some things that make them giggle or prompt conversation later, but they need to partake as well. They need to see others like them – and others not like them – and be seen; they need to feel that they belong; and that they are equally deserving to stand tall and proud too. They're part of the community too.

Gay Dad Life

Most Fathers Experience "Dad Shaming," Says Study

52% of dads with kids ages 0-13 say they experience some form of criticism from their partners, family, friends and even complete strangers

Just in time for Father's Day, The T.C. Mott Children's Hospital in Michigan released a new national poll of 713 fathers that found a majority experience some form of criticisms as new parents. While we have long known new mothers are subjected to criticism, less studies have focused on the experiences of dads.

About half of fathers (52%) say they have been criticized about their parenting style or choices. The common source of criticism is the child's other parent (44%), though the report didn't explore if this finding was equally true for LGBTQ couples. Grandparents (24%) and the father's own friends (9%) were also common sources of criticism. Dads even reported receiving criticism about their parenting from strangers in public places or online (10%), as well as professionals like teachers or health care providers (5%).

Among some of the findings:

  • 67% of dads say they were criticized for how they discipline their child
  • 43% are criticized for their children's diet and nutrition
  • 32% are criticized for not paying attention to their children
  • 32% are criticized for being too rough with their kids

"Over one quarter of fathers in this Mott Poll noted that criticism made them feel less confident in their parenting, and 1 in 5 fathers said that criticism made them want to be less involved as a parent," the report says. "In short, too much disparagement can cause fathers to be demoralized about their parental role. This is unfortunate for both father and child, and those tempted to criticize fathers should be wary of this potential consequence."

Read the whole report here.

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Indiana Court Says Couples Using Sperm Donors​ Can Both Be Listed on Birth Certificate — But Ruling Excludes Male Couples

The 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in the case, a major victory for LGBTQ parents — but the Attorney General may appeal to the Supreme Court.

On Friday, a US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling from a lower court that said that both parents in a same-sex relationship are entitled to be listed on the birth certificate — previously, the state of Indiana had required the non-biological parent within a same-sex relationship using assisted reproductive technologies to adopt their child after the birth in order to get her or his name listed on the birth certificate, a lengthy and expensive process not required of straight couples in the same situation.

It's a double standard LGBTQ parents have long been subjected to in many states across the country. So this represent a major win. As reported by CNN, this ruling "takes a lot of weight off" the shoulders of LGBTQ parents, said Karen Celestino-Horseman, a lawyer representing one of the couples in the case. "They've been living as families and wondering if this was going to tear them apart."

The 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals deliberated the case, according to CNN, for more than two and a half years, which is one of the longest in the court's history.

However, because all the plaintiffs in the case involved female same-sex couples using sperm donors, the ruling left open the similar question of parenting rights with respect to male couples. Indiana's Attorney General, moreover, may also appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

We'll be following the case closely and be sure to keep you up to date. For more on this recent decision, read CNN's article here.

Diary of a Newly Out Gay Dad

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After Cameron Call, a chiropractor, came out to his family this past year, he knew he had one more step to take — he had to come out to his patients

Fear is an interesting thing. It motivates when it shouldn't, shows at inconvenient times, and is the author of stories that do nothing but hold us back. I would argue though, too, that fear has some good qualities. I believe it helps us to feel. And I think it can be a great teacher as we learn to recognize and face it.

For years fear prevented me from embracing my truth and accepting a large part of who I am. I know I am not alone in that regard. But for so long my fear convinced me that I was. Fear is what kept me from ever telling my parents or anyone growing up that I am gay. Fear mingled with strong religious teachings, embraced at a young age, which led me to believe that I could cure myself of my attractions to the same gender. And fear is a part of what kept me in my marriage to a woman for over ten years.

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Fatherhood, the gay way

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