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Parenting: Sexual Orientation of Father or Mother Shouldn't Be an Issue
My son, Nathaniel, turned 21 last Month. He is a jock par extraordinaire and is the world's most insufferable Dallas Cowboys fan. He spent a year as an exchange student in Argentina enabling him to become fluent in Spanish. Nathaniel, a college junior, made Dean's List last semester and is a resident assistant in his hall. Last summer he was an intern for a hotel's human resources director. Nathaniel and his wonderful girlfriend have been together for three years. I'll match Nathaniel with any 21-year old for his achievements, self-esteem, family values and sense of right and wrong. Nathaniel is a son that would make any parent smile.
I share my pride in my son, because he grew up in a family that many would find unusual, some distasteful. My 13-year marriage crumbled as Nathaniel celebrated his 12th birthday. As my marriage fell apart, I did a tremendous amount of soul-searching. I admitted first to myself, secondly my wife and then my son that I was gay. My wife and I decided that I was better as our son's full-time custodial parent. Some folks condemned my wife for leaving her son with his gay dad. Perhaps I might recruit him. Nathaniel might be teased by his peers. What kind of role model could I be? In reality, she was a fantastic mom. She remains so to this day. We co-parented as a team and separately. She spoke to Nathaniel daily, he stayed with her regularly and she took time from work to tend him when he was ill.
I became a better parent after coming out. I no longer harbored the internalized feelings of hate, despair and inadequacy that I felt trying to live a doomed role as a straight husband and father. I learned to love myself for the real person that I am. I also nurtured my son to love the self that he was, no matter who that self turned out to be. When Nathaniel had a fever, woke up from a nightmare or had a problem with a friend, my sexual orientation wasn't the issue -- my parenting was.
I share my story because I was moved by the pain shared in the recent front-page article concerning Lisa and David Jenkins' custody battle for their 5-year old triplets. Both are well educated and well meaning, and both love their beautiful daughters. What is so sad is that the children deserve both parents.
It is estimated that upwards of 2 million marriages include a gay spouse. As homosexuality becomes more visible in the media, gay-straight marriages are disintegrating at higher rates. When parents divorce, children still deserve unconditional love and also need both parents to be intricate parts of their lives, regardless of sexual orientation. Denying children access to a parent because of anger, disagreements, prejudice or misunderstandings harms the children.
Keeping one's kids away from the gay parent's life results in keeping kids away from the real parent. Certainly, it is inappropriate for any child to be exposed to a parent's sex life, but that doesn't mean that a child should not grow to know and love a parent's new spouse, straight or gay. Sexual orientation is not contagious. However, secrecy, deceptions and half- truths can cause harm and will send a message to children that the gay parent is evil and that it is OK to hide.
The statistics on the impact of kids being raised by a gay parent are conclusive. Overwhelming evidence points towards gays being just as good at parenting as heterosexuals. Kids suffer no major drawbacks from being raised by gay parents. Some would question a child being raised in a family other than one with two heterosexual parents. However, such families are in the minority with today's high divorce rate, blended families and children born to single parents. All too frequently, unconditional love is even rarer.
Am I the perfect parent? No, I made many mistakes. But I made them as a loving parent who happened to be gay and not because I am gay parent. I like to think that my son turned out to be the warm, loving and considerate young man that he is in part because of the loving relationship that he has shared with both of his parents. It is sad that people get hung up on a parent's sexual orientation rather than focusing on parenting skills, the quality of neighborhood schools, safety in the streets and the intolerably high rate of child abuse. Courts should decide custody issues on parenting capabilities -- nothing more, nothing less!
John R. Selig is a free-lance writer and photographer who lives in Dallas.