Name any book about kids with gay parents, and it’s sitting, well-read and well-loved, on my four-year-old’s bookshelf. Daddy, Papa and Me? Of course. And Tango Makes Three? Who do you think you’re talking to? The Christmas Truck? I can recite it.
Keith and his younger brother Jason, 20 months, gravitate to the few stories where they can see reflections of their family. They’re not perfect fits, but the books at least present a closer picture of who they are.
And then there’s Curious George.
Last night I was reading Jason The Surprise Gift, one of a ton of George books we have after my older son became obsessed with the PBS Kids show. Jason is just getting the hang of language and on every page he points at that curious little monkey and says “George.” But last night he pointed to the Man with the Yellow Hat. “Daddy.”
I didn’t get it. My husband was working late and this was part one of the two-part saga that is putting my boys to bed. “Well, that’s the Man.” I said. “He’s the Man with the Ye…”
“Daddy,” he said. And, turning the page, “Daddy.”
He’s right, as most 20-month-olds are about things that don’t involve catapulting off of couches. Curious George and the Man are the closest models we have of our daily lives. George tests limits, exploring the furthest reaches of their New York apartment. They meet interesting people and are constantly going to new places. The Man has a girl friend who is not a girlfriend. He sometimes gets distracted with his work — whatever that is — affording George the freedom and opportunity to totally wreck the joint.
Or disappear. That’s when the Man most shows his paternal instincts — looking petrified as George rushes off on a subway or locks himself in a rocket. “That’s my monkey,” the Man invariably yells, always out of George’s earshot. “I need to get my monkey.”
The Man in the Yellow Hat is totally a gay dad.
Nowhere is this more evident than in my older son’s favorite Curious George, A Halloween Boo Fest. The whole thing takes place at the Man’s tastefully decorated but still rustic country house. Ahem. And at the end, George surprises the Man by dressing as him in a costume contest. When the Man realizes George has chosen him to emulate, he is every proud gay dad out there. “You could have been any monster or ghoul, and you chose me,” he marvels as George shyly smiles. “I’m truly honored.” The Man lifts George up into his arms in a dad-sized hug. The narrator chimes in on the family moment: “George realized he didn’t need to win the contest, he’d made the Man happy. And that was better than anything.”
The feeling is mutual—I live to make my kids happy. As gay dads, we are exempt from a lot of the competition that I see between parents. We’re winging it, writing our own how-to. We have the joy of using our experience to teach our kids kindness and openness. We let them be spontaneous and leave no sprinkler or slide behind. We get to tell them to be proud of themselves and to know that integrity can have a cost but it’s always worth it.
But Google “hate” and “Curious George” and you’ll see the show confounds some self-styled mom bloggers. They don’t understand the freedom the Man gives George to explore and learn from his mistakes. To get himself out of jams. Cue the blog This is Motherhood: “It's gotten to the point now that I hate that goddamn monkey!”
Lady, if you were my child we would have a discussion about language. But fortunately you’re not my child. Instead, I have two awesome, curious boys and we’re on a wonderful adventure with two dads. As George’s theme song goes: “Get curious and that's marvelous! / And that's your reward. You’re never bored.” Never.