Dozens of people proudly call actor Parnell Damone Marcano their mentor, father-figure, or gay uncle, including his nine nieces and nephews, four great-nephews, and great-niece. Parnell is also a parental-figure to his oldest godson, 48-year-old TJ.
“I met TJ when he was 18, and he said I was the first older gay man who offered him guidance without any sexual strings attached,” Parnell explained. “Now he calls me ‘MaPa,’ short for Mama and Papa!”
Parnell also bottle fed, bathed, and cared for Brandon, whose father he worked with as health educators for the Minority AIDS Project nearly three decades ago.
Then there’s the man Parnell calls his son, 21-year-old Elijah.
As Parnell tells it, his relationship with Elijah is truly “multi-faceted.” Elijah grew up in Smyrna, Georgia, and when he was 11 years old, he and his mother moved out to Los Angeles, where young Elijah started his acting career.
In 2010, Elijah and Parnell were both cast in a play called ‘Follow,’ about the struggles of an interracial homosexual couple dealing with adopting a child, and their own personal issues.
“Elijah played my son in that play,” Parnell explained. “And he just took a liking to my husband, Michael and I, and asked his mother, Ra'Chel if we could be his dads. She agreed, and the next thing you know, I'm attending parent/teacher conferences, buying football cleats, lecturing on condom usage, paying for prom, and graduation photos. You know, parental stuff!”
Elijah said Parnell is “a once-in-a-lifetime type of guy.” For the past decade or so, the two have spent lots of quality time together, bonding like father and son. They’re both self-described “comic book geeks,” and they love watching Marvel movies together.
With Elijah, TJ, and all his mentees, Parnell said he’s always felt that his role has been to show them how to live an authentic life.
“[I try to show them] that you don't have to go negative when defending yourself, or those you love. I try to operate from a place of love, and not fear,” Parnell said. “Be willing to accept that others have different views, and that's okay.”
Parnell’s role may have started off as a mentor, but Elijah said as time went on, he undoubtedly became more of a father-figure.
“He’s someone I could talk to, who would give me guidance in life in ways my mother couldn’t,” Elijah said. “I don’t know where I’d be without him. For people trying to find their own mentor figure like him, I’d say take your time. Be patient. You’re never alone in the world.”