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.
The sweatshirt sounds more like Michigan than Connecticut. but the lady…she really was a lady by the end of the story.
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She needed that hot dog for sure!
Dealing with social assumptions and ignorance (in the TRUE sense of the term without the negative “baggage” that has come to be attached to it) one person at a time … and so it goes.