What I Learned as a Manny for a Gay Family

Manny

I like to consider myself a very masculine man in the traditional sense of the word. I lift weights; I watch college football; I sport a solid patch of chest hair that I flaunt as if it’s going out of style; I order steak and chicken in my Chipotle bowls; and I enjoy reading about men’s men like Teddy Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Ernest Hemingway. I wish I could say my job is the pinnacle of my manly exploits, but it’s not.

I’m a "manny" — a male nanny. Yes, seriously. As I'm a budding filmmaker, I like that it offers me a flexible schedule in between film projects, and between us, the pay ain’t half bad either. It’s also given me a lot of new perspective.

I take care of two adopted boys, Angel, 5, and Nico, 7. Their father, Calvin, adopted them this past June by way of the foster adoption process. Calvin runs his own PR consultancy, and from what I’ve gathered, he works on diverse projects such as helping Nissan at LGBT events and assisting Los Angeles County with its HIV prevention outreach. In other words, he’s busy. And being a single parent, he needed help.

I accepted this opportunity because I knew it was going to be different and challenging. Not only that, but I would have a chance to help out kids in need.

After a year with a high-net-worth family in Beverly Hills, I was ready for a different family. And somehow I found them — Calvin (or “Papi,” as the kids call him) is a biracial (half Mexican and half white) single gay dad; the boys are also Latino. In our time spent together, I’ve learned that Modern Family has nothing on us. 

You may think to label me a homophobe or antigay, but working for a single gay man made me nervous at first. I didn’t know how I was going to handle myself. Coming from a suburban Catholic family, attending private Catholic schools, thereafter attending the University of Michigan, I had always thought myself open-minded. I had gay friends; gay guys hit on me with relative frequency (to be perfectly honest, it’s quite flattering); and I have always believed people should love whom they love.

I must admit, my life was and to a slight extent still is like a James Franco–Seth Rogen movie, filled with gay jokes and raunchy humor, but hey, that’s kind of how you’re bred when you attend an all-boys high school, where the primary joke is, “Dude, don’t be gay, show me your dick.”

As I sat in my interview with Calvin, I knew that this was going to be an opportunity for me to grow as a person because of the preconceived notions I had about this situation. I had never handled foster kids. I thought that these kids were going to be messed up, with all types of problems, just like in every movie and TV show. I asked myself, How are they going to grow up well-balanced with a single gay dad and a straight male nanny, with no feminine presence to speak of? What type of parent would this guy be, seeing as he learned from parenting classes that the county made him take?

This opportunity was out of my comfort zone and also something I knew deep down I needed.

I don’t believe there has been a more rewarding moment in my time with this family than the day the boys and Calvin became a “forever family” — adoption day.

The ceremony lasted no more than 10 minutes. Calvin’s friends, family, business acquaintances, and pretty much anybody else who had met the boys in their time with him flooded the spectator area. As the judge went through her final proceedings with Calvin, the boys colored a picture — not quite understanding the magnitude of what was happening. Calvin sat there holding back his emotions as he signed the final paperwork. With a final stroke of the pen, there they were, a forever family, sealed with a kiss on the cheek that was met with resistance just as every other kiss from Papi had been before.

There was something so powerful in this moment. Everything I had known about a family — a married mom and dad who were my biological parents, who gave me so much unconditional love — was suddenly so incredibly apparent in this little family of three.

As my time has carried on with the boys, my sense of this being a true family has been confirmed. I don’t think I’ve ever even questioned if this was different from the traditional nuclear family. Calvin is a dedicated, loving father, and Angel and Nico are hilarious, mischievous little boys.

We are a family. Nothing more. Nothing less. And I am so grateful that they have let me be a part of it.  

Since I started with this family back in April, I’ve seen a change in myself. I wanted to help these kids out, just as I have with all of the past nanny jobs I had applied for, but this one felt special to me. This one I believed would present new challenges. I thought I was going to have to find ways to get them to speak or have a “Paul on the road to Damascus” moment in which they would open up all of their emotional wounds to me, leading them to the light and turning them into these incredible people. A Lifetime movie at its finest. None of that has taken place.

I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to be someone special to them. I can look at myself and know that I can check those off my ego list. What I’ve become is a guy who watches kids for a dad who is running his own business. One day, I plan on having a family of my own, just like my parents and just like Calvin. Knowing that I provided support and guidance to the foster adoption process is a bonus and something I would encourage everyone to do, whether it is through volunteering or fostering. Family is family, no matter what ways they are formed. The love that is there is the only thing that matters.

There has not been a job that’s been more aggravating, more soul-crushing, or more rewarding than this job I’ve had with these two wonderful little dudes. Sometimes when I come home, I wonder if this is what I should be doing, if the constant battles at every turn throughout the day are worth it. Then I realize, this is how normal life with kids functions. Day after day, rain or shine, whether they love me that day or not, I’m there for them because that’s what you do when you’re part of a family. That’s a lesson in manliness no other job can teach you.

Author
TONY ESTRADA is a filmmaker whose most recent work was Bridesman, starring Danny Trejo.

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