Being a Public Family

I think we’ve all probably had those moments – the sideways glance, the double-take over the shoulder or the stare. It’s part of life and at this point, I am almost oblivious to it.

When my husband and I started the adoption process, our social worker used the term "public family." She warned us about the glances, double-takes and stares. We’d have to figure out our own way to deal with them and realize that they are, unfortunately, part of the experience of many families.

My husband and I got it. We were different and when you are different, people are curious. Most of the time it’s harmless and not meant to cause discomfort. As a mixed-race gay couple, we were used to it. When our family expanded to include two mixed-race kids, we knew it would only give people more to think about.

Recently, though, I have noticed something that should have been completely obvious. When I am alone with my kids – running errands, at a restaurant or at the playground – the stares diminish. Yes, I am a very white guy with two kids who are not, but the realm of possibility is there. Alone with my kids, I don’t necessarily broadcast the "gay" part of "gay dad."

But when my hubby comes along, things change drastically! The fact that he's Chinese probably helps a little in upping the ‘noticeable’ aspect of our family, but ya know, my bet would be on the whole dad and dad thing!

A few days ago there was a lady sitting a few booths away from us at a restaurant. She was staring so hard at us that I could feel it. Instinct told me that I should give her a dirty look, but I’ve learned that direct eye contact and an engaging smile goes just as far (if not further) in making people realize that they may be on the other side of the rude line. In this case, it worked and she returned to conversation with her lunch mate.

It’s also very apparent now that we use those huge double shopping carts at the supermarket. I am slightly crazy about bagging and am always in front. If you are familiar with those carts, they are like the opening scene of Star Wars when the Imperial Star Destroyer goes on forever and you think it will never end. I always get a slight chuckle when the cashier is surprised when there’s another dad behind it, ready to pay.

So my questions to the coupled dads out there are: Do you find that your family is more ‘public’ when both dads are out and about with the kids? Are there similar moments for you, when you find your family is noticed more? How do you cope?

Posted by Michael Strouse

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