But that could never happen!

One thing I love about life is that profound experiences happen when we least expect them–like in the bathroom with my two boys doing their nightly bedtime routine (brush, floss, fluoride, pee, wash hands–not necessarily in that order except the last two). Owen is doing one of his usual made up rap songs…”I’m gonna pop some tags, I heard that man say, then they would say hey and they would be gay.” My ears catch the lyric. I say, “What’s gay mean?”  Owen says, “It’s like when two boys grow up and get married–but that could never happen, I know,” he adds, quickly. “Well, it could happen, O. There are gay people in this world and they do get married. Where did you hear about the word gay?” “At school,” he says. I can’t tell the context of the experience and I don’t want to overreact.

The conversation ends suddenly as Hayden runs out of the bathroom and Owen chases after him. “Wow, I wasn’t prepared for that tonight,” I think. A few minutes later, Owen is back in the bathroom (he always has to go number two just as I tuck him in and get ready to read him a story!) I am lying on our bed reading my wife’s most recent People magazine. As I hear him come out of the bathroom, I call him in to our room. “Look at this,” I say, “these two women are gay.” I point to an article featuring news anchors Jenna Wolfe from the Today show, and Stephanie Gosk from NBC News. His eyes widen with surprise. He lays down on the bed with me. “They love each other and are starting a family together.” I flip through the magazine and quickly find another example for him, one that I know will make an impression. It’s of Neal Patrick Harris getting slimed at the Kids Choice Awards. “And look at this guy. The one from The Smurf‘s movie. He’s gay. He’s married to a man and they have children.” He shoots up from the pillow: “A MAN CAN GET PREGNANT??” “NO!” I say. “Good question, though. A man can never get pregnant.” We both seem relieved by that.

“This is confusing, I know.” I search for a way to help him understand how okay this all is. “You know how you’ve read stories about Martin Luther King, Jr?” “HE WAS GAY?” he shoots up again. “No. No. No. But you know how he was hated by others because of the color of his skin? Because he was different?” “Yeah.” “Well, throughout history, people have hated others because they were different. But what we’ve come to find is that everyone is different in some way; it’s okay to be different. Differences are good. It’s important to accept people for who they are.” Pam comes in and I inform her about the topic of our conversation. Without prompting her, she shares the same type of message that I have been giving him.

A few minutes later, we are in Owen’s bed reading an Encyclopedia Brown detective story. As we finish, I think ahead to the times to come when Owen and Hayden will hear this word. When they might be called it, or worse, use it as a name to call others. I try to preempt his next encounter with the word. “You know, the next time you hear the word gay, all you need to say is ‘it’s okay to be different; everybody’s different.'” “Okay,” he says. And I believe him. I believe he will say that when he hears someone using that word in a cruel or ignorant way. But right now, he’s tired. It’s the last night of spring break. And as I look into his innocent brown eyes, I’m so thankful that he is living in a time when we are one step closer to ALL men and women being created and treated equally. I am reminded of how much this topic has permeated the media, political and judicial realms as of late. And I am proud to look at my son when he says “but that could never happen” and think about how far we’ve come as a nation, not only in conversation, but in action, and say to him with all sincerity, “Oh, yes it can. Oh, yes it can!”

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28 comments

  1. I loved this post coming from a dad that has two sons. Way to go. Love has no color or gender and your boys will help to make that easier. This is one of the reasons I admire you so much,teaching your kids to be tolerant is so important and I hope other parents take your lead. My daughter is a Kdg teacher and she has gay and straight families in her classroom. She tells me parents like you are such a blessing because she has people on the other side of this subject. If we can teach kids when they are little we are doing the world a favor. Blessings and thank you for being a good dad.

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    1. You are the best, Liz. I’m sure your daughter is a wonderful, accepting teacher because she had such a wise woman raising her. I know there are many on the other side of this subject, but when one sees how all people want to do is love, it’s a no brainer for me. Free to be! I also love how you point out how having sons helps make that easier for me. It does! You are so right. I see boys in a whole new light–and they give me a window into what I was like as a boy, and now as a man. Blessings to you and yours too. Take good care!

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      1. Brooke is a much better teacher than I could ever be. She has patience that I sometimes lack. Believe me when I tell you I hate intolerance.My sister Lori was born with a cleft palate and was teased unmercifully as a kid and I know it isn’t the same as someones sexuality but her feelings were damaged just the same. My sisters and I would fight for her all of our young lives. You make me realize how far the world has come and how far we have to go but it gives me hope. Thank you for being such a good dad to those precious boys. You will be blessed for it.

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  2. I really love this post. One of my best friends is gay – he lives in France and I live in Australia. I met him at school in France. I went home after a few months but he waited a further four years until he saw me in person to tell me he was gay. I was like “ok cool. So, what time is it? Aren’t we supposed to be somewhere?” I think he was so relieved that I, quite frankly, didn’t give a rats arse about his sexual orientation. I have gay friends and straight friends, and, while it’s nice to know whether it’s the barman or the bargirl they are eyeing up, it’s truly not my business. I think it’s great that you are teaching your kids about equality. Heck, many years ago marriage between black and white people was illegal and now I couldn’t even imagine it not happening. One day love will conquer all and gays will be allowed to marry and people will be accepting of it all. (p.s. humans are the only creature on this planet that suffer homophobia…)

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    1. I love your reaction to his coming out. It is important to look at the past and see how far we’ve come. And I agree with you wholeheartedly: One day love will conquer all. Thanks for the comment.

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  3. “It’s ok to be different; everybody’s different” – love that. It’s age appropriate, clear, but not Inflammatory – I’ll be encouraging my kids to use that one also. Thanks Michael.

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  4. Great post!
    My daughter’s best friend has two mums. Another close school friend is being raised by two mums. My daughter’s godmother is a lesbian, and she has a son with her female partner.
    It is all very normal and ordinary to my children. I feel fortunate that this is the case.
    We often have discussions about the way that gay and lesbian people are unjustly treated, particularly in relation to marriage equality. I think it is important to talk about these issues with children. Love is love.

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    1. You are so right, Ally: LOVE IS LOVE. Your daughter is lucky to be surrounded by so many different kinds of role models. It was a cool conversation to have. I’m sure there will be many more to come:0

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