“Where are the reindeer?”
This was the kitchen greeting from my son Jason, 2. It was my birthday morning and he knew there would be cake. But he had confused the two holidays.
“Sweetie, it’s just Daddy’s birthday,” I said, picking him up.
“It’s not Christmas, Jason,” said my son, Keith, who at 5 years old needs to have all the answers at all times. “Christmas is in December.”
Jason put both hands on my cheeks to draw our faces together, a new trick he has to make me look him in the eye when he really wants something.
“Presents?” he asked, in his sweetest voice. “Presents?”
We have Christmas fever here already, which means we are again reading “A Charlie Brown Christmas." It’s a roller coaster for me. I cringe at Charlie’s cockeyed optimism about that little tree, and the utter defeat in his very shoulders when Lucy demands, “Can’t you even tell a good tree from a poor tree?”
I soldier on in the reading, though, the only catch in my voice coming when Linus wraps his precious security blanket around the tree’s base. I read Linus’ words to the boys and widening my eyes in my patented you-are-the-freaking-grown-up-do-not-cry manner. “It’s not bad at all, really,” Linus says. “It just needs a little love.”
Who among us hasn’t needed a little love? As gay dads, we mostly grew up being told that we are the poor tree. Recent years have made me feel cozy, a national recognition of my marriage cradling me in Linus’ warm blanket. “You’re not bad at all, really,” said my government. And now we face the uncertainty of this new president-elect, flanked by a vice president who said that being gay is a choice. Vice President-elect Mike Pence has even placed the world’s ills at our feet, saying, “societal collapse was always brought about following an advent of the deterioration of marriage and family.”
When I came out to my dad, this is what he feared. I told him on July 4, 1995, while I was home from sophomore year of college. When I started the conversation, Dad was sorting through a kitchen junk drawer. Small tasks like these, bringing order to chaos, mattered to him.
He asked repeatedly if I was sure, and told me I was choosing a difficult life. He was not the 1990s version of a Pence guy by any means, but at that point he did see a choice, even if it was simply choosing to live openly and to commit to a gay identity. Dad died in 2000, proud of me but still fearing that my life would be difficult.
I thought about Dad when I woke up at dawn and checked my phone for election results. For me, the world was again the scary one he envisioned all those years ago, and I worried about the parents of gay and trans kids out there. The ones who want to encourage their kids to be themselves, but feel the fear about them drawing too much attention to themselves. I thought of my friends raising black children. The parents who, white or black, struggle with the pyrotechnic acrobatics of telling their kids to be subservient in order to survive police encounters while also saying they are as just good as anyone else.
But life calls, and that Wednesday morning we had a parent-teacher conference for our 2-year-old. It is a good school, but the owner is the type who spends the appointment explaining how great she is. As the meeting wrapped up, she went off her script.
“I want to tell you that you are doing a great job,” she started to say.
Now, my husband and I have heard this since we started out as parents. It’s always phrased as such: “A great job.” It’s not about us, it’s about us being two dudes and the low expectations for fathers. It’s said in a condescending way, but there are worse things to hear so we always nod and smile.
But this was different.
“Because you didn’t have to do this,” she continued. “I know you could be out there, you know, having a party.” And reader, she raised two fists to her shoulders and shimmied, a parody of how she imagined gay men naturally spend their time. Dancing, and, as she said, partying.
My husband and I cocked our heads at her, likely looking like two dogs who couldn’t possibly comprehend this foolish human.
“And instead you took in these boys…”
“THANKYOUFORYOURTIME,” I said, getting up to go.
My husband and I talked about it on the corner. We decided it was just idiocy, but it felt all of a piece. Our hopes about a Democrat winning lay in ruins, and here’s our son’s teacher telling us she knows our natural tendency is not to be nurturing. This is the deal: You say whatever comes to mind or heart, the consequences of how it make people feel be damned. Whatever, we decided, not a fight worth having.
I felt the eyes of passersby as I quickly kissed my husband goodbye. He was off to the office in his work as an adoption and surrogacy lawyer. His first worried call from a potential client came at 9:30 on the dot. It was a lesbian mom asking how to protect her relationship with their child during a Trump administration. Hers was the first of many calls and emails that my husband received that week from concerned parents. What can I do, each asked him in one way or another, to protect my kid?
The judging Lucy Van Pelts are everywhere, leaving us to just have to work harder to be the Linuses of the world, providing each other with comfort and solutions. I wish I could wrap an America-sized security blanket around you and your family today.