By Jill Twiss. Leaving aside the fact that John Oliver’s joyful and touching book was meant as a parody mocking Karen Pence’s “A Day in the Life of the Vice-President”, Marlon Bundo is a rollicking book about a rabbit, his love for another bunny, and their struggle to overcome the crabby man with whom they live. It’s not about sex, it’s about love. And justice.
by Justin Richardson, Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole One of the pioneering children’s books about gay love based on the true story of two male penguins at New York’s Central Park Zoo who nested together, tried to hatch a rock, and were given an egg to foster (which they did successfully.) Seen as an excellent introduction for children to learn who families differ and love is love.
Brook Pessin-Wedbee & Naomi Bardoff. Not a fiction book, but an interesting sociological study and beautifully illustrated book for children to analyze all the different ways they might identify, helping lay out the difference between sexuality and gender. (Possibly an excellent primer for confused parents, as well.)
By adapting classic nursery rhymes and melding them with true children’s accounts of their non-conforming identities, this book allows little boys and girls know that convention is passe and there’s lots of ways to be themselves.
By Linda deHaan and Stern Nijland This fractured fairy tale takes readers on a journey down the wedding aisle of a prince and prince. A predictable fractured fairy tale that turns convention upside down. The illustrations are often confusing, but it adds another queer protagonist to your kid’s collection.
A parable celebrating a friendhsip (that borders on love) and celebrating diversity in many forms – be it race, interests, backgrounds, and socioeconomics. It’s an ambiguous book that doesn’t smack readers over the head with messaging, leaving lots to young imaginations.
This graphic novel by an award-winning authro is for emerging readers. It breaks gender norms, embraces same-sex love, takes readers on fractured fairy tale adventures, and is thrillingly unconventional. Even the stereotoypes of the prissy princess and the tom boy are manipulated.
Almost anything by Todd Parr is going to empower children to be who they are, love who they want, and celebrate differences. With simple, beautiful illustrations and simple, beautiful messages, Parr shows us all the most profound lessons are easy for children to understand.
A few years ago I was reminded of the unexpected realization that Mother’s Day for two dads is always kind of an issue. I was at the playground with my kid when he found a toy and wanted to take it home. It was a broken robot I’d wager was abandoned. I told him he needed to ask around to see if it belonged to any other children and, if not, he could take it home.
This was, btw, a total ploy to make him comfortable speaking with approaching strangers. #integratededucation
He approached a nanny a few feet away.
“Is this yours?”
“No,” she responded. “You should go ask your mom.”
As he turned away from her he said, “No I don’t have a mommy. I have a daddy.” He took a step, turned back, and finished, “No. I have two daddies. I have Daddy and I have Tatty.”
Then he ran onto the next guardian at the playground to continue his canvassing to figure out the owner of the toy.
The nanny smiled at me. That was the first I’d ever heard my son reference our family make-up.
It was awesome.
Often, we gay dads get a little defensive about conventional assumptions there’s a lady in our lives.
Mother’s Day for two dads, as I see on social media, often creates animosity. Lots of new gay dads will get a little huffy about being asked, “is it Mom’s day off?” or “Ahhhh, you giving Mom a break?” And we often get defensive and angry.
But we can all let that go. Societal convention is hard to break down.
My partner and I didn’t specifically discuss Mother’s Day during our months of debate over having a child. We did, however, discuss the significance of not having a mother in the household. He postulated, “But really – what if our kid’s missing something?”
I knew how I felt about the lack of a mother figure in our household: they wouldn’t be missing anything. We would love our kids as much as anyone else could and that was what mattered.
With several bottles of wine and hours of discussion, one could argue that my children might miss something by not having a biological mother in the household. What that might be is subject to animated debate.
But wasn’t I “missing” something when my father passed away when I was 8 years old? Aren’t innumerable kids “missing” something when they’ve lost a parent, or their favorite grandparent passes, or they lose both parents in a tragic accident?
The “what if’s” are endless.
But what my kids might theoretically lack (according to conventional definition) is over-shadowed by what they have: a loving family unit that will unconditionally love, support, educate, entertain, and enrich them.
So…my partner and I do not identify as mothers.
How do we “deal” with Mother’s Day for two dads?
It annoys me when people joke, “Happy Mother’s Day to you! Wait. Are you the mother? Or should we say it to your partner?”
Yeah, it’s happened a lot.
Listen, I know two dads is still (sort of) a novelty. But neither of us magically sprouted two X chromosomes when we became fathers. We’re two dads, not a dad and a pseudo-mom. We fill all the roles of child-rearing, whatever stereotypical gender rules have existed in the past. So…really – you don’t need to wish us a happy day. It’s not our day. You can simply wish us both a “Happy Father’s Day” in about six weeks.
In preschool a few years ago, our teacher gave us a heads-up: “There’s going to be a Mother’s Day project. We hope you don’t mind.”
Of course not. How can we be offended? Our kids know that some (nay, most) other kids have mothers. In each case, though, we’ve said, “Hopefully you’ll just discuss different types of families. Not everyone has a mother.”
(Funny enough, last year my son came home with an adorable clay planting pot he’d painted. Attached was a pre-printed letter wishing us, “Happy Mother’s Day.” I was mildly annoyed by that. The teacher didn’t need to include the letter. But whatever.)
I wouldn’t be opposed to “Parent’s Day.” Why do parental holidays need to be separated?- except stores might not as easily spread out the mass consumption of cards, flowers, spa treatments, ties and barbecues. But why couldn’t we combine these days into the celebration of “people who love their children”?
Just to be clear: I’m not offended by Mother’s Day or even wishes of Happy Mother’s Day. I know it comes from people who want to include me in everything that is the beauty of parenting. I just don’t think the Hallmark holiday really applies to me. So why not Parent’s Day?
Just a thought.
For me, Mother’s Day for two dads is a day when I think about the mother I lost at far too young an age.
I appreciate the increasing number of Facebook posts I see stating, “Here’s to those who’ve lost their mother and feel loss on this day.” Heck, I’m the one feeling loss, not my kids.
So my kids aren’t missing anything. Instead, they have something equally full and rich and beautiful as any other family with two parents, a sibling, a dog and piles of dirty laundry.
In a few years, we will probably have more in-depth conversations about it. Perhaps jerks will make them think they’re missing something. Or maybe they’ll grow up identifying one of us as the “mother”…and then I promise to write about a change in my own perspective.
Regardless, we will roll with the changes. Embracing our family reality will hopefully be the least of my sons’ worries.
At least that’s how I intend for it to be.
Most important: to everyone who is a mother or identifies as a mother, thank you for loving us: your children. Happy Mother’s Day. And for those who feel loss and just a tinge of sadness as they remember their wonderful mothers: you’re not alone.
When I first became a dad, I didn’t expect to be forced to out myself as gay, but since everyone assumes you’re straight (understandably) because when you’re on your own with the baby, people ask, “Oh, is it Mom’s night off?”
(Funny how society also uses the phrase, “Dad’s babysitting because it’s mom’s night off.” All woke dads chant: #dadsnotbabysitters #dadsnotbabysitters.)
When my first child was seven weeks old, a friend invited my partner and me to an antique auction in Nowheresville, Connecticut. My first auction. I’m always game for “firsts”.
There were hilarious (shocking) items for sale. Of note was a box of lawn boy/mammy figurines, including a 7-inch Aunt Jemima iron doorstop. Not all of Connecticut is Martha Stewartville.
But I digress.
At the time of serious bidding, when the room hushed and you could cut the tension with a knife, the kiddo got fussy. Of course.
So I walked with my baby bjorn into an adjacent room where a woman sold hot dogs, coffee and cookies.
She had a mullet half way down her back. On her sweatshirt was an airbrushed wolf howling at the moon. It was awesome.
(Not that I’m furthering rural stereotypes, but across the street was a drag racing track.)
She ooh’d and ahh’d over my 7-week-old and marveled at keeping baby quiet. We made small talk about regular baby things: birth weight, sleeping, etc.
Then she asked, “So is this Mom’s night off?”
I kept bouncing, but my eyes went dead. “Um…”
“Or is she just watching the auction?”
Rage boiled within me and I looked at her pointedly. “Mom’s, just…well, she’s just fine.”
Wait, what? “Mom’s just fine”? That was a worse response than Baby’s “I carried a watermelon,” in Dirty Dancing. It lacked any logic, least of all in my emotional response.
I walked away, trying to hide my huff.
Aaaaand…I quickly realized my irrationality.
She had made a reasonable assumption. Of COURSE she’d assume there was a mom nearby. How often do you see gay fathers with newborns? Not very often. And in rural Connecticut? Even less often.
This is something that happens to a lot of gay fathers. I’ve noticed a lot of sleep-deprived fathers already stressed about the pressure of keeping a newborn alive, who’ve gone on Facebook tirades about the assumptions made by others. I think it might be a gay dad rite-of-passage.
But surprisingly for me, I just hadn’t realized being a father would often force me out of the closet to strangers.
Not that I’m closeted, but straight people don’t have to walk around declaring they sleep with the opposite sex. Why must I walk around outing myself all the time?
Also, a lifetime “proving” my straightness to people makes me jittery about being perceived as gay. I know. It’s my own issue. More on that in another blog. Or not.
I needed to chill out and realize that if she went on some tirade about me being a fag-besmirching-Jesus, so be it. To be a good dad, I need to deal with close-mindedness productively, anyway.
I returned to the kitchen area. She was wary.
I said, “I’m really sorry. I haven’t been asked questions about my son’s mom, yet, and it’s bound to happen. Fact is, my partner and I are raising this little boy and he’s watching the auction, right now. And unfortunately he’s buying a useless phonograph that will undoubtedly collect dust and take up space in our already-cramped house.”
Before I could finish my awkward apology, she reached for my hand and nodded warmly.
“I got it. I got it. Before you said anything, I got it. And that’s wonderful. I’m so happy for you. That’s a wonderful thing you’re doing.”
I bought a hot dog from her. It wasn’t Mom’s night off, but it was a very good night for me.
Feeding my kids happiness is one of my highest parenting priorities. Usually that means foods that make me happy. Sometimes it’s theirs. If there was any doubt, let me shuffle-ball-change out of the closet loud and proud: I’m a food snob. I wholeheartedly embrace Michael Pollan’s “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly vegetables.”
When I was the perfect parent (meaning: before kids), I knew fast food would never touch the lips of my precious snowflakes.
Admittedly, it’s easy to avoid fast food living in New York City. You’re never in a car, the kids haven’t fallen asleep in the back, and all food is fast.
But I understand that fast food drive-thrus are a godsend…in desperate situations…international pandemics, zombie armageddon, and heavy thunderstorms. Oh, and when Daddy flirts with jail time during a road trip due to a desperate yearning for “friesandashake” and considers* leaving the kids asleep in the backseat cuz who’s gonna know and you’ll be really fast and besides the dog’s in there with them.
But we all know (don’t we???) that feeding my kids happiness through fast food contributes to the destruction of now-infertile fields from Fargo to Fresno, the dumbing-down of our collective national gastronomic taste for all things over-salted and over-sweetened, trillions of gallons of fertilizer run-off that’s caused the vast oceanic dead-zone known as the Gulf of Mexico, the inhumane treatment of cattle and fowl (and probably fish), the brain-washing of our youth to crave/demand/consume calories exceeding adult dietary needs, and the lowest-common-denominatorization of “family” time.
Anyway, I read Fast Food Nation. I know that there’s shit in our fast food meat. And by “shit”, we mean literal poop.
I saw Super Size Me. (And after seeing it, I craved McD’s fries.)
Having spewed in-eloquently for 300 words, allow me to expose my personal hypocrisy:
Me lovey some fried goodly-goodness.
Caveat being: never in quotidian life, frequently on road trips, and always at the airport. Because according to the Onion Newspaper in some issue that I KNOW I read 87 years ago and still rings true:
“McDonald’s doesn’t count at the airport.” **
So once upon a time I chose to feed my kids happiness in a suburban McDonald’s with a play place and all the features. (In what felt like a small victory in my masochistic love affair with Ronald McD, they don’t know it’s actual name, they just call it “The Happy Meal place”.)
I have no idea how to reconcile my train of thought in the above tangential/parentheticals, let alone my contradictory love for this scion of global dining degradation. My sodium levels are still elevated after feeding my kids happiness at the happy meal place.
My oldest kid opens the Happy Meal and actually says, “What’s in my Happy Meal? Oooooh! A napkin!”
Seriously. She squealed about a fucking napkin.
And my eyes welled.
My two children were so goddamn happy to be at the “Happy Meal place”. They pulled out five items, all gastronomically inedible, from their special boxes with increasing delight. (That there are no less than five “things” to discover – six including a napkin – is all the more thrilling.) Some of the “things” were food, some were toys, all were comprised of a majority plastic ingredients. (Excepting the twice-referenced napkin…perhaps the healthiest option in the box.)
There I was: SuperDad with two beaming children at America’s most hegemonic export. I felt like Tim McGraw and WalMart and Venti lattes all wrapped up in a big Made-in-China-American-flag; a new face of ‘murrica nestled in a plastic booth of sensory overload.
I took a sip of my 32 liter iced coffee containing 483 calories of god-knows-what, to cover the cry-quiver in my chin. Then I removed the bottom bun of my buttermilk-fried-mystery because removing one of the buns makes me feel a teensy bit less guilty, okay? And I took a pre-orgasmic bite.
It was underwhelming. I should’ve just gone for the Quarter Pounder; but somehow chicken seems minutely less naughty. But let’s face it: life is short.
If you’re going to eat at Transfatty McCancer, just super size that shit and get what you want, not what you think might be “better”.
There is no “better” for you in this shack.
Again: I digress. (It must be the insane amount of caffeine still coursing through my engorged belly.)
Feeding my kids happiness at the happy meal place made them insanely full of joy. I completely forgot about the fact that a mere 20 minutes previous, they’d been whining about who had the matchbox car first, one was kicking the back of my seat, and the other would not stop asking me about which princess was my favorite princess.
Seriously: I wanted to leave both of them at an orphanage at 12:45. But by 12:51, everything was good, again.
All thanks to the happy meal place. (Lower case letters intended.) I didn’t want it to end. Except for the fact that I was composing this post in my head, checking my email and might have scrolled HuffPo twice (cuz a lot could happen during a 12-minute degustation), I was completely in the moment. I didn’t even take pictures to document. I just was.
(Also, my phone had died. So.)
But it was a magical family moment. And in that time, I appreciated McDonald’s for more than just a delectable airport French fry. I loved it for creating something that over-principled foodie snobs can’t appreciate: the delight in breaking bread with children…with delicious bread that can actually kill them.
I didn’t want those 12 (actually, I think it was 9) minutes of familial, convivial, quality time to end.
But then my asshole oldest child just couldn’t get enough. See? Therein lies the problem with this mega-corporation preying on our human addiction to salt and sugar. We just want more, more, more.
Yep, that older child had seen the well-placed pictures of milkshakes and ice cream that exploits illiterate 4 (and 44)-year-olds.
“Daddy? I want ice cream for dessert!”
You hear that? No appreciation for the magic I’d already created. She had yet to take one bite of his shit-filled “cheese” “burger”. Just: more, more, more.
(Disclaimer: I totes wanted a shake; and I kinda wanted to buy my daughter’s love via ice cream. Sadly, I justified these hankerings to myself – per usual – by recalling a completely not-science-based report I read in a 2001 edition of GQ stating that McDonald’s vanilla ice cream is “surprisingly good for you”…which is not the same thing AT ALL as saying it’s actually good for you.)***
(Once again…I’ve lost my own train of thought in the midst of my
steroidal use of parentheses. Probably from the crack that they sprinkle
on those fries cuz: DAMN!)
My kid demands ice cream.
I responded, “No, buddy, I’m sorry. This is enough treats for today.”
She whined and almost turned on her freakishly over-active water-works.
But then she had a moment of reflection. Perhaps it was the gratitude washing over her as her insides were lubed by peanut oil? Perhaps the musak playing Katy Perry hits reminded her of her first crush: Rosie, the pink train from the Island of Sodor? Whatever it was, she stopped whining. And McD’s climbed an inconceivably higher rung in my estimation.
She looked at me and said, calmly. “Well, Daddy. You said ‘No.’ And that’s mean. And ‘mean’ is what Donald Trump is.”
Wiping away a tear of pride for the political insights my 4yo shared (quite possibly thanks to the modicum of nourishment she received from her Happy Meal apple slices that had been picked, peeled, packaged and preserved but most definitely thanks to the quick discussion we shared in the McD’s parking lot where I saw a Trump bumper sticker on a car at which I scoffed and swore and my son said “What?” and I mumbled to myself “Seriously? In Connecticut? I mean…people are actually supporting that bigoted, inexperienced blow-hard?”), I desperately suppressed the guffaw in my throat, enjoyed another couple of fries, and watched my sons become exponentially uncontrollable as they over-dosed on 10,000 calories of wonderful, delicious crap.
Thank you, McDonald’s. See you, soon when I want to again be feeding my kids happiness.
All too soon.
* I said “considered” not “actually did.” I would “never” do “that”.
** Though I can’t find this in a quick Google search. It must have
been a statement on the Onion faux newscast. Clearly, it stuck with me.
*** I can’t cite this because seriously: how could anyone actually cite an article in GQ that justifies eating McDonald’s ice cream? Perhaps their “how to give her a 2-hour orgasm” is citable. Even dating back to 2001. But not some “study” of what you should actually eat, nestled between an ad for the first iPod and a salacious spread of Jennifer Lopez flaunting her rocks, pre-imploring us not to be fooled by them.
Hilarious, no? It’s not morbid, though in these trying times, jokes about death might be misinterpreted. But this isn’t about mortality, it’s about fatherly advice…from a worrywart.
Yesterday, I read a section about success and happiness where he recounts flipping through TV channels and heard a teaser for Dateline NBC in which they’d explain one of life’s conundrums: “Why are some people lucky and some people unlucky?”
Mark delights the reader describing the mental shenanigans of deciding he would in fact stick with Dateline to learn this secret to life.
He then went on to dole some more attitude advice to his daughter highlighting Charles Darwin’s “facial feedback hypothesis” saying facial movement can influence emotional experience. Rather than smiling just being a result of our emotion, smiles actually make us feel better.
Mark’s book reminds me of another friend going through what must be a living nightmare. Her husband has been in an induced coma for 19 days due to an extreme case of COVID-19. He’s 42yo and in vibrant health. She dropped him off at the hospital with seeming pneumonia, and because of the pandemic, she wasn’t allowed in. He was immediately intubated and he’s had massive complications and a surgery to amputate his leg in order to save his struggling body.
During this time, my friend hasn’t been able to see him (except for the occasional video call thanks to a generous nurse taking the time to hold the phone up to his comatose ear.)
And oh, yeah – they just moved from one coast to the other and are renovating a house.
Despite this, she has displayed nothing but positivity and grace. She is living a nightmare that would consume the rest of us in bitterness. Delving into darkness would be totally understandable, but she’s choosing not to do so.
She chooses a positive attitude and spreads light across her social posts and updates about her day, her exercise regimen (she’s a trainer) and her husband. Sometimes she’s fighting back tears; sometimes they flow. But she continues living to the best of her abilities for her 10-month old baby, her own sanity, and for her husband.
Our positivity in the time of COVID can be greatly influenced by attitude.
I often get caught up in envy of the creativity of people all across social media. Keeping up with the Joneses, feeling like I’m not applying my creativity, becoming unjustifiably angry with the brilliance of people like Chris Mann.
Another friend of mine recently asked “How’s it goin, Daddy?”
He caught me in a time of annoyance at the end of a homeschooling day. I responded, “Shitty. And you?”
He gave me a virtual hug. Chatting some more, he let me know he’s feeling inspired and creative. Admittedly, he doesn’t have children. But I’ve a feeling even with kids, he’d see the good side. This friend writes “choose joy’ in his email signature. He regularly reminds me that even though I feel saddled with my kids at this time, I can always choose joy and focus on the positive.
I saw on TikTok a high school senior who (rather darkly…so in contrast to my friend with the positive energy) shared pictures of “seniors in 1918” and “seniors in 1941” and “seniors in 1968” with pictures of 18yo boys shipping off to war.
Good reality check, eh? It sucks to be a senior in high school missing out on prom and graduation.
But the fact is we are asked to stay home to save lives, not shipping off to end them.
I hate this pandemic. I’m concerned about the future health of my friends an family. I’m terrified about my future financial stability.
But I’m reminded time and again that I definitely am in charge of my own attitude in a world that’s so totally out of control.
Thank you, Mark, Amanda & James (and Chris Mann?) for reminding me joy is often a choice and we can find positivity in the time of Covid.