“And stretch one more time, finding your edge and pushing a little bit more, even if it is just an inch or a micro-inch,” Elijah says to his enthusiastic crowd of 25 aging yoga participants at our local YMCA. Downward dog, looking like my Labrador retrievers as they wander into our bedroom with their morning yawn and stretch, I put my head down, push back on my heels, hips up toward the sky, legs and hands outstretched. Then we glide into upward dog, reversing the arc of the back. Amid squats, bends, warrior poses, leg and groin stretches, cross-legged and breathing exercises, we make our way through poses that cannot help but add flexibility to our not-so-limber bodies, minds and spirits. What is most mystifying and satisfying is that yoga has also made me more flexible as a father.
I came to yoga through my daughter Adrianne’s invitation one summer’s day. She took up yoga at college and soon my partner, and then I, followed her to a yoga class. At first, it was a daddy-daughter thing in which I was enjoying the camaraderie of the moment. Though my body ached as I learned how inflexible my limbs were, I looked at the clock, trying to figure out, “How much longer must I do this?” But, with time, persistence and willingness to learn to take it slowly, my body became more lithesome. Along with my daughter, my son works out with me at the YMCA. He and I tend to focus on running and lifting weights. Needless to say, between both children, my entire being is getting a daily work-out, keeping me young(er), limber(er) and healthier. In a fun way, we are engaged in a practice that my father started with me when I was a young child, taking me to Saturday morning gym activities like Dodgeball or to little league practice. There is something special about physical activities that draw children and parents together in incredible ways.
What I’ve appreciated about learning yoga is how easily the practices have generalized to parenting as a gay dad. For example, consider flexibility. In yoga, arms, legs and torso, down to legs and fingers, can start to stiffen when not fully used. This is why it is helpful to bend and flex body parts slowly, methodically, not too quickly, but without undue waiting, massaging our bones and sinews back to fuller usage. Likewise, in life as a parent who is LGBTQ, because we parent in a world largely defined by straight parents, we need to flex or use the specialness of our love of being a parent whose family may face oppression overtly or covertly. We will be challenged to love our partners and children genuinely and smartly, careful so as not to humiliate anyone, but proclaiming the love without apology.
As we learn to be flexible in yoga, we also learn to stretch. What I love is the challenge to stretch a toe, finger, arm, legs and the curve of a back, a headstand or torso just a little further each and every time we engage in a yoga practice. Sometimes the stretch can be counted in inches and some times in micro-inches, only known by the practitioner. It is learning the balance of being comfortable in our bodies, but also knowing where our “edge” is and challenging ourselves to pull or push a little bit more. In parenting, we are stretched. Growing up with a narrative of being a straight parent, I’m constantly adjusting and re-adjusting my expectations and strategies in parenting around the reality that I’m a gay dad. That means I have to be sensitive to and aware of how my being out, published, speaking to groups, affects not only me, but my children and partner as well. It is a privilege, honor and responsibility that straight parents do not have to consider.
Finally, Elijah has often reminded his class that yoga is 10 percent book knowledge or theory and 90 percent practice. So, is parenting: it is 10 percent book knowledge, whether reading this article or my book on this subject or that of other fine resources and 90 percent practice. Gay parenting is not rocket science: it is more complicated and beautiful than that. It is an honor, duty, joy and takes more love than we thought we had within us (but, discover we do), in a world in which relationships change and in which control over our circumstances are tenuous at best. But, it is in the stretching and flexibility, that we learn to love just a little bit more, come what may. And, this is where I delight in being a yoga daddy. : :