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Dean and I are in the kitchen making our Monday night dinner of Dad's famous tacos, one of us browning the ground turkey meat while the other prepares the toppings: cutting lettuce, slicing tomatoes, shredding cheese, and microwaving the tortillas. By chance, Dean and I bump against each other in the small kitchen, turn, smile, draw closer. Our eyes have a sultry look as we embrace, our hands reaching out for the other person's hands until we are stroking each other's back, preparing for a soft, tender kiss on the lips when "Get a room, you two! Sheesh!" in half-shout, half-laugh comes out of my 15-year-old son's mouth from the living room sofa. There is a moment of stunned silence -- quickly followed by guffaws of laughter from all of us.
Dean, Brett, Adrianne, and Parker
In many ways our lives have become an unscripted sitcom that would make Everwood and Gilmore Girls look tame. As gay parents of two children (I was married for 21 years and share custody with their mother), my partner and I have watched carefully the joys and quandaries of our children entering their middle- and high-school years of dating. We listen carefully to how they explain our relationship to their friends, dates to the homecoming dance, and long-term steadies: "Well, you see, my dad is gay and lives with his partner, Dean." Even in the liberal bubble of Chapel Hill, N.C., the reactions are priceless, ranging from stunned silence to a retraction of the date's invitation to a low-key but "wow" reaction of "Really? That's cool!"
For both children, teenage dating meant going through their own coming-out process, but this time coming out "straight" to us. As weird as it seems, "coming out" is now part of the script for most families with any combination of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or straight members. My daughter, Adrianne, put it this way: "Dad, Dean, I have something to tell you. I'm straight. I didn't know how else to say it, and I don't want to upset you, but I cannot hide it."
When she came out to us in this awkwardly bifurcated world of "gays and straights" -- though there are many more possibilities besides these two -- Adrianne was 14 years old and in middle school. It was not a huge shock to us; it was fairly obvious she was straight from the way she eyed young men. After she told us I simply smiled and said, "That's good to know. Thanks. Now, how about helping me out with making dinner?" which is more interesting, given she is the lone vegetarian in a household of carnivores.
A few years later our son, Parker, handed us the same news. "I hate to disappoint you both, but I'm straight," he said. "I knew I had to tell you sometime, though I know it will be a letdown for both of you...sorry." The family's wannabe stand-up comedian, he delivered all this with a twinkle in his eye and a smirk on his face -- particularly the "letdown" line -- which soon turned into rolling laughter that caught us all in its swell. This is the same son who, chastised at school if he says "That's so gay," knows that the very same phrase is a compliment at home -- a fact that also makes him laugh.
Our response to his confession? "Well, thanks for letting us know," as we kept doing what we were doing, smiling the entire time. We had leaped over one of the hurdles of being a family drawn closer by honesty, infused with a love that accepts each of us just as we are, without destructive games.
Since "coming out," Adrianne and Parker have fallen into the rhythm of the American dating scene. Adrianne is in a relationship with a young man, who seems to find us "weird," more from our family dynamic than because Dean and I are a gay couple. Parker, with his cell phone and online messaging keeping him on the computer late into the evening, has found plenty of young women his age to keep him occupied in the eternal dance of dating.
Our many ways of loving and being in relationships were captured one afternoon at my former wife's house. She was there with her African gentleman friend and his two small children from a previous marriage running around the room; my daughter and her boyfriend were seated on a sofa hugging; Dean and I were standing by a doorway as Parker sat on an ottoman in the middle of the room, surveying a scene that defines the term diversity.
This is our family today. We all kiss, hug, and tell each other "I love you." Sometimes these moments are interrupted by hard and challenging times in which we struggle to understand each other, but we come back to live together and be embraced by love.