My father's dream was to have children, and for a variety of reasons, we came later in his life. He was 38 when I was born first, and my brother followed 10 months later, and my sister 11 months after that. By 40, he had three kids, and his dream came true. Unfortunately, we only had Dad for 10 more years, but I know how proud he was of his kids.
For this reason, I always wanted kids, but because I fell in love late in life, and 13 years later, now watching my partner go for his dream of being a doctor, the opportunity to be a parent seems to be passing pretty quickly.
A friend of mine said, "You'd be an amazing dad!" To which I replied, "Once Justin finishes his residency, I will be 60, so that's too old to start having kids." To which he replied, "Elton John had kids when he was in his 60s." Yes, he did, but he's also extremely wealthy, so he's got plenty of help.
There's a big debate sparking on social media about the announcement yesterday that U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and his husband Chasten are becoming parents. On Twitter, Secretary Buttigieg made the announcement, saying, "For some time, Chasten and I have wanted to grow our family," he wrote to Twitter. "We're overjoyed to share that we've become parents! The process isn't done yet and we're thankful for the love, support, and respect for our privacy that has been offered to us. We can't wait to share more soon."
How could you not be happy for them? Yet, in this day of social media runaway ruminations, some people took the announcement as an opportunity to hone in on the joys, and not so joyous, experience of being gay parents. Consider the following tweets on both sides of the fence:
"Not being a parent is one of the great joys of my life. Congrats to all the LGBTQ+ people who realize that increased civil rights do not mean we are obliged to shackle ourselves to a heteronormative worldview," gay comedian Guy Branum tweeted.
And that precipitated some opposite sentiment...
"I'm a gay with kids and never felt shackled to heteronormativity. I just wanted to be a mom. Parenting isn't for everyone. I have plenty of hetero friends who chose not to have children," stated a different queer comedian, Judy Gold.
First, it seems a shame that Pete and Chasten's wonderful news had to spur the debate about what it means to be a gay parent, or not. Secondly, it's peculiar that the comments became somewhat argumentative. If you don't want to have children, are you going to be convinced to do so because you were inspired by a 140-character prompt, and vice versa?
Yes, I want to be a parent, and because that seems more and more unlikely with each passing year, it does poke me a little bit when I see others brag about their kids. I'm saying this with lots of love, and no resentment, but there are times when parents seem to talk over, or around, those of us who are not.
Perhaps one of the worst things about Zoom meetings are those stilted conversations at the beginning while you wait for all the participants to log-on. Inevitably, at least to me, nine times out 10, people on the Zoom end up talking about their kids. And that's fine, and there's nothing wrong with that, but I do feel a bit uncomfortable sitting there without anything to say. And, I reason that because I'm gay, no one ever asks me if I have kids. Most of my coworkers and clients are straight, so maybe I'm assuming too much, but do they just assume, "Well, he's gay, so he has no kids. God bless."
It's one of the reasons I don't go on Facebook much anymore, and I say this, again, with the least bit of bitterness; yet, each post seems to be about one of my friends, or family's kids or grandkids. Every other picture encompasses all those amazing milestones their kids have, be it the first day of high school, a wedding, birth of a grandchild, the first driver's license, first sports trophy, college acceptance, and many other occasions designed to mark, and highlight, children's achievements.
When I told one straight friend of mine about trying to avoid Facebook because of all the child content, and I told her in a very humble manner, she told me, "That's too bad. You know, if you were straight, you would have so many kids. You would have been a great father." The ridiculousness of that comment, and the past tense, burns.
But let me be clear, I take great pride in the children of all my friends, including my LGBTQ+ friends who have kids. I love being around all of them, and being around their parents, even if it means dealing with all of the pictures and all of the bragging. I'm grateful that I have so many "kids" in my life, and I'm also appreciative of the fact that I can write, since I have written and edited myriad college applications, essays, letters of recommendation, resumes and cover letters, etc. I never say no, and I never will.
Why would any of us say no to kids, or have any sullenness towards them? If you don't want to have kids, then great for you! There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, and no one should judge you - especially those who have kids and think they are better than you because you don't.
It's really all about attitude and being considerate. If you have kids, don't push it so hard on those of us who don't, because for whatever reason, we may not be able to have kids, conceive them, afford them, or are too old for them. So, I guess it's just being aware of the people you are talking to, and not making it feel like someone without kids is an anomaly - hello Zoom parents.
And if you don't have kids and don't want them, then don't take a snarky attitude and begrudge those who take great pride and joy in their children. I think one of the reasons that I'm overjoyed about Pete and Chasten's news is because I know how proud my dad was of his kids.
Finally, why are we judging each other? Having children is not easy. And not having children is not easy either.
John Casey is editor at large for The Advocate.