The mysterious, magical art of being a household

On Being a Gay Parent

by Brett Webb-Mitchell    
Published: October 1, 2011 in On Being a Gay Parent

My young adult children are slowly coming to understand that their childhood was unique and pretty-darn good. Granted, like most young children, they weren’t sure of what was going on or who had the most power among the three adults who were “parental units” (my daughter’s term). My partner was slow to embrace his role and function as a parental unit since he came into the process of raising my children after they were born and well on their way in life. Like many LGBTQ people who decided they did not want to have children and later find themselves in relationship with those who already have children, it is a serious life-changing adjustment. This is because the presence of the one entering a significant relationship with another adult will not only leave his or her mark on the other adult, but will be either a significant or fleeting memory in the lives of a parent’s child or children. Because my partner resisted being the other “dad” in the relationship (at first), my children had great fun finding him a name: “uncle” did not work for him, so they settled on “the gay nanny” or simply “Dean.” But make no mistake, he has been fully “Dad” to them in the many expected and unexpected ways we who are biological parents try to be “moms” and “dads” with children we love and who love us.

North Carolina state Sen. Jim Forrester recently raised the problem he has with the way an increasing number of children are being raised around the world during the floor debate on the constitutional amendment banning marriage equality: “Two dads don’t make a mom. Two moms don’t make a dad. Children need both a father and a mother.” In other words, two dads or two moms is “new,” “weird” or maybe even “unbiblical” (thus sinful). What Forrester fails to understand or appreciate is that he is promoting a liberal, contemporary understanding of the American family, dubbed the “nuclear family” in the 1950s, which is equated wrongly as “the traditional family.” Time and again we need to be reminded that the “nuclear family” of “a father and a mother” is not the “traditional family” system prior to the 1950s. Instead, the traditional family pattern of raising children, before this time, was bringing up children in a household, where a child had more than a mom and a dad. Instead, there were many moms, dads and other parental units (godparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, a faith community, close friends) who raised children in multi-generational households, a pattern well-established throughout time around the world. In other words, my family system is more of a household, in which we are hearkening back to a more conservative, traditional way of raising our children rather than the sterile, unhealthy, contemporary, liberal position of Forrester.

For example, my father grew up in a house in Brooklyn, N.Y., in the 1920s, with his parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. They lived together in a four-story house where each family had their own floor to call their own, but my dad was raised by the generations of his extended family system, like most other children his age. In 19th century rural American farming communities, households raised children and grandchildren, a practice that was largely killed off by people moving into a city as they partook in the contemporary rise of the Industrial Revolution. Biblically, in both ancient Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament, the word “family” is not to be found. The Apostle Paul writes about “households” in his Epistles, in which generations of family members lived with one another in a single abode, farm or village. Jesus was raised in a household, since that was the common Jewish practice in his days. And, don’t get me going on King Solomon and his 700 wives, 300 concubines and kids, for a discussion of unbiblical biblical family practices.

As for me and my household, we live in a more traditional, conservative way of being household for and with one another, with two dads, a mom, two young adult children, two dogs, two homes, constant communication, care, compassion, worry and joy. My children are ever so fortunate that we chose the more old-fashioned traditional messy household way, because they have had three sets of adult, parental eyes, watching their every move with love, concern and a spirit of celebration, come what may. After all, it takes more than “a father and a mother” to raise children these days, and always has. : :