Twenty-year-old Brian Mariano finds the normal life overrated as he explores gay fatherhood with his 2-year-old son Aison. Mariano became a father with then-girlfriend Kelly when he was still in high school, and the two are negotiating all the struggles of young parenthood – plus a few extra.
As a father, Brian Mariano feels lucky to have close family and friends who support him. But the gay dad (the youngest American gay dad we know of) from Newton, Massachusetts, admits that sometimes some people just don't get him.
“Everybody in my life is really supportive of me," he said. “If it's someone new and a friend mentions I'm a dad, they will stop. 'Wait, what? How are you a dad? You're gay.' It's like that 'Mean Girls' quote sometimes. You know – 'if you're from Africa, why are you white?'"
Still, Mariano knows that from the outside looking in, his story is anything but typical. The young man was a junior in high school when his girlfriend, Kelly, became pregnant. They had been dating for a year.
Brian and Kelly with Aison
“I like to refer to myself as a 'Kellysexual,' which may sound really weird," he said. “I'm gay, but there's Kelly. Everybody kind of knew that I was gay. I didn't really have to say it. People will come along and ask if our relationship was a cover-up. And I say, well, I got her pregnant, so I don't think that's the case."
Kelly gave birth to Aison Mariano-Nichols, who will be turning 3 years old in March. The two stayed together for the first two years of Aison's life before they eventually split.
Brian with Aison
“It was very stressful and really rocky," he said. “We made it work the best we could. We still loved each other and for his sake we tried to stay together. But we're not together now."
The couple faced the same challenges any two young parents face – plus a few more.
“Her parents took care of our apartment in Boston," he said, “but we basically had everything else. We had to get him to day care in the morning, then we both had to go to school and we both worked. Everything was really hard."
Now, Kelly is a junior at the University of Massachusetts studying biology while Brian works, waiting to start his first semester at community college in the fall. Despite their history, the two have come together to give Aison parents and a family he can rely on.
“He lives with her most of the time. She has full custody, and she has been so good letting me see him," he said. “I'm definitely his father, and that's something that's not going to change."
When the two see each other, father and son bond at Brian's family's home on the Cape, on trips to Boston or apple-picking in the fall. In fact, young Aison may end up in the family business.
“My father owns a landscaping company, and it's the cutest thing: Aison has a baby lawnmower and he'll tell us he's going to work and walk around the front yard pushing the baby lawnmower," Mariano said. “We got him a ride-on dump truck so he can put his lawnmower in the back. He drives to one part of the yard, does that, then drives to the next part. He could literally do that all day."
Thankfully, terrible twos haven't struck in the Mariano household so far.
“He's really good," Mariano said. “He's a very well-behaved little boy. He definitely has his moments, but I couldn't have asked for a better baby."
Mariano confessed how hesitant he was to come out as a gay father when dating. In fact, he told his boyfriend about his son with a quick Snapchat: “Oh by the way, I have a son."
“I was kind of shocked at first," boyfriend Chris said. “He seemed too young to have a kid. And then I was like, Wait, you're gay, why do you have a kid?"
It's a question Mariano has gotten used to hearing – but it can still catch him off guard.
“Sometimes, if I'm in a bad mood and someone asks me a question like that, I'm like, Do you want me to explain to you how I became a dad? Because I will. It's obvious. I get annoyed because it's a stupid question. But most of the time I say I was with a girl for a while, I really loved her and it didn't work out."
As the two young parents discover their own futures while raising their son, Mariano worries how his son will grow up with a gay dad and how he will accept his family as he grows older.
“I hope I never really have to explain it to him. I hope he just understands that Mommy can have a husband and Daddy can have a husband," he said. “I'm really worried about it though. I've talked to some older gay dads, and they've told me that kids can be very understanding and if they are raised in that kind of environment, they won't be homophobic or something crazy. I just worry that he's not going to be as understanding as I think he's going to be. Or that he's bullied for it and that makes him angry with me."
Resentment isn't just something he fears from his son. Mariano also feared it from himself.
“At first, I was afraid I wasn't going to be who I am because of him, that he was going to be a roadblock," he said. “When my relationship with Kelly ended, I was wondering what I had to do – if I still needed to be straight for him. But I knew that would only lead me to resenting him. So I had to deal with the fact that I am going to do this and be who I am.
“It feels good to have him, to have someone I get to love unconditionally and loves me unconditionally and also be who I am."
That unconditional love has given Mariano the confidence to live his life – and a wisdom way beyond his years.
“He is not holding me back from being who I am, at all, whatsoever," he said. “If anything, he's given me the motivation to be who I am today. I'm already not the stereotypical person: I'm gay, I have a baby, I barely graduated high school. There's no reason for me to start being normal now."