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Gay Parenting: My gay dad taught me volumes about life, love and family


I remember the first time my mother brought up the topic of my father's sexuality with me. It was 1977, and I was five years old. My parents both worked in publishing and we always had a wonderful library at home with a big variety of children's books.

Those children's books always included literature on non-traditional families, one of which was called Lucy Has Two Dads.

I remember my mother explicitly asking me whom we knew who was gay. I replied, "Diane and Debbie are gay, and I think Joe and Jim are gay". And she said: "who else is gay?" There was a long pause and I said, "Daddy and Leo?" to which my mother replied, "that's right, they are".

It was pretty much the last time we had that conversation, or needed to.

My parents had been married in 1969, and divorced in 1974 when I was two years old. I think they divorced because of the stress on the marriage as my father struggled with his sexuality. Prior to the final divorce, he was relocated by his company from Manhattan, where we lived, to Toronto. Shortly after, he met his partner Leo, and they remained together in Toronto for 37 years until they died three years ago, a few months apart.

As a child I had visitation with my dad; I would fly up to Toronto every other weekend, and spend alternate Thanksgivings and Christmases at their house. For a good chunk of my childhood, my dad and Leo were posted back to New York, so I lived with them or took my summer vacations with them.

Staying with my gay dad and his partner was no different than any other household I lived in. I often describe it as my father taught me everything a girl needed to know about buying great shoes, and Leo tied them. Leo made my lunch; he left notes and drawings in my lunch box, and I got the best lunches there.

When you're lucky enough to have two parents in the household, it often happens that one party will take responsibility for some stuff, and the other will take over the rest. Leo did loads of stuff that made childhood really fun. He was a brilliant playmate for me as a kid. It was really hard to lose both of them the same year; my father died of cancer and Leo of Alzheimer's disease.

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But my giant family of gay gets better. When my father left for Canada, my godfather, Joe, stepped up to the plate back in New York because my mother was left a single parent with a full-time job. In 1974, he met his boyfriend Jim, and they have been together for 40 years.

Joe did things like teach me to cycle a bike and take me to swimming lessons. He worked as a television producer, and when I was little I spent many afternoons sitting under an editing desk in the film studio where he worked. Joe and Jim took my sisters and me on all of our winter holidays, skiing and scuba-diving, and we spent big parts of our summer vacations with them.

I always say I was raised by six parents. My mother met my stepfather in 1975, and they have been together since. My mother and father were the poster children for amicable divorce. They continued to like and admire each other enormously.

One of the benefits of coming from the family I came from is that I had a clear understanding of the fact that sexuality was an act of random assignment at birth, and I knew there was a chance I would be gay. I was always open to that possibility and knew if that were the case my family would be at the very least supportive and in some flanks absolutely delighted, but I turned out to be boringly, irritatingly straight and got married 10 years ago to an Irish man. I run my own business, and we live in Cork.

My family is a wonderful argument against the fear of same-sex marriage, same-sex adoption and of same-sex family legal rights on the basis of this suspicious "gay lifestyle". Their partnerships are the longest and most stable of anybody in my peer group. Joseph and Jim got married as soon as gay marriage was legal in Massachusetts. They still live in Manhattan.

My dad and Leo never wed because there was never a need to. Canada recognises same-sex marriage, and common law marriage for same-sex partners. Also, Leo was a practising Catholic and didn't want to get married outside of the Church, but wasn't able to marry inside it.



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Mothers and Babies iMagazin

The reality is regardless of whether you have a parent who is gay, you are going to have happier children if you have happier parents. Children do best in loving and stable homes, and different combinations and, indeed, single parents can provide just that. It's important to recognise that cultural norms shift. We already have children in homes with same-sex parents; if we don't give the non-biological parent the legal right for access to their own family, then we have removed the element of stability. If the biological parent dies, their family is in peril.

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