For years I covered celebrity news for Us Weekly. Many people thought it was a glamorous job, but honestly it was like being on Yearbook committee in high school. You write about dances and proms, but you’re never really in with the popular kids. But now, thanks to my children, I have a new sympathy for celebrities. Everywhere stars go, people stare and sometimes whip out phones to capture the sighting.
The same thing happens to me when I am out with my husband Brian and two sons, Keith, 4, and Jason, 21 months. If you’re a gay dad who leaves the house, chances are your family is the most interesting thing that someone sees that day. This weekend we were on the Q train heading to Grand Central. We could have been juggling and spinning plates — that’s how much of a show we were to our fellow passengers. Some kept glancing, while others just sat there, eyes glued to us.
We get different types of stares. My personal favorite is from another gay guy. I want to wave my hands like Vanna White and say, “Behold! All this can be yours! Trade your Grindr ‘dates’ for Target runs — if you dare.” Then one of my sons drops whatever he is snacking on — because my boys are always eating — and the spell is broken.
The “Math problem” face is the most common one. People gaze at us quizzically, trying to work out what the heck is going on with this crew. I get it. My husband and oldest are blonds, while my youngest and I have brown hair. (I sometimes describe my kids as Luke and Han.) These people watch us, taking our every movement as a potential clue. Then it happens: Maybe I’ll adjust Keith’s coat as Brian gets him a snack. BOOM. The looks on their faces says “Eureka! They’re both the dad!”
We also get a taste of the life of stars stalked by paparazzi. I am very popular among teens and tourists, who take pictures as if we are the Gay Family exhibit at Madame Tussauds. I wonder what they hash tagged us: #lovewins? #lovelookstired?
But it’s not always so sweet. One time we were on a subway and I thought I saw a flash but dismissed it. At the next stop, a girl in her late teens came up to me. “I just want you to know that man has been taking pictures of you guys,” she said. I kind of lost it on this late middle-aged, lumbering weirdo, marching over and doing my best Donald Duck. I demanded that he erase the pictures and called him “a creep,” the worst non-swear word I could think of at the time.
Lastly, there are the looks of disapproval. Yes, even in the most diverse city in the world we got them. With cold stares, these inconsequential people let our family know they don’t approve. They talk to each other, then continue to stare with lips curled.
I describe these various looks to straight people and they sometimes say, “It’s all in your head.” But we will meet people in the neighborhood who will tell us, “I used to see you on the B train every morning,” or “I always saw you guys at the park.” It’s the gay-parent equivalent of telling Channing Tatum “I have been following your work since ‘Step Up.'” They mean it in a sweet way, but sometimes it’s still alarming to realize how much we stand out.
But something else makes gay dads unique, and I didn’t realize it until a winter night in Au Bon Pain. It was when I was still working at Us, schlepping Keith to a Rockefeller Center daycare every day. To make the 45-minute commute home to Brooklyn more bearable for a 2-year-old, every night I let him get a croissant from the Au Bon Pain in the subway station. Keith, one of the most gregarious kids on earth, had a routine with each worker. One night, when I felt particularly down at the prospect of the long trip home, my favorite cashier was near tears. “I just love you guys,” she said. “Growing up, I never saw fathers and children together. It’s really nice to see.”
I didn’t know what to say. I am Irish, so I just hugged her. And I realized that sometimes we gay dads don’t just stand out because we’re objects of curiosity or hate. We shine, and people can always spot real love.