Exposing the Hilarity of Gay Parenting
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, we recently met Lisa Dolan. She is a fashion designer and the owner of a plus-size clothing store who starred in TLC's reality program "Big Brooklyn Style." Now, she's going to tell us about the music that gets her creative juices flowing. It's our Inner Ear segment and it's coming up.
But, first, they say it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe you just need a few moms and dads in your corner. Every week, we check in with a diverse group of parents for their common sense and savvy parenting advice. And, as we mentioned earlier, June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month and we've talked to gay and lesbian parents on this program before about the challenges and joys that they confront.
But many gay parents agree that having children can be challenging. Many also say parenthood is profound and sometimes hilarious, like the gay dads, Mitch and Cameron, on ABC's hit show, "Modern Family."
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MODERN FAMILY")
JESSE TYLER FERGUSON: (as Mitchell Pritchett) That mother from Calexico. She picked us.
ERIC STONESTREET: (as Cameron Tucker) She did?
FERGUSON: (as Mitchell Pritchett) Uh-huh. She went into early labor. She's having the baby today.
STONESTREET: (as Cameron Tucker) She is?
FERGUSON: (as Mitchell Pritchett) Uh-huh. We have to go to Calexico right now.
STONESTREET: (as Cameron Tucker) We do?
FERGUSON: (as Mitchell Pritchett) Just assume everything I say is the truth.
MARTIN: We wanted to hear more about the good, the bad and the funny of being an LGBT parent, so today, we've called upon Dan Bucatinsky. He and his husband are the dads of two, a seven-year-old daughter and a four-year-old son. His new book is "Does This Baby Make Me Look Straight? Confessions of a Gay Dad." He's also written and produced shows for HBO, Showtime and NBC.
We're also joined today by Marcus Mabry. You probably know that name if you are a regular reader of the New York Times. He is editor-at-large for the New York Times based in London and he and his partner are the dads of two-year-old twins.
Welcome to you both. Happy belated Father's Day to you both, by the way.
DAN BUCATINSKY: Thank you.
MARCUS MABRY: Thank you so much.
MARTIN: Dan Bucatinsky, let me ask you to start by telling me why you wanted to write this book.
BUCATINSKY: Well, you know, I started a performance series here in Los Angeles called "Afterbirth," where a bunch of writers, comedians, performers would start writing about the truth about how our lives change after becoming parents and how we're all basically, you know, the same in the ways which we're screwing up our kids. And it was really a very cathartic way of telling the truth and telling funny stories about what we all experience as parents.
And what I experienced was that so many of us had similar stories regardless of the kind of makeup of our family or how we went about becoming parents. At the end of the day, you know, I joke that the diaper smells the same. We just may look a little nicer while we're changing it.
But the truth of the matter was I...
MARTIN: Speak for yourself.
BUCATINSKY: I know. Right? We all look good while we're changing them. No. I really enjoyed the process of sort of talking honestly, a first person account of what my experience was as a dad, the good, bad, the funny and the touching. And so, after putting together a few of these essays, I really wanted to write more and tell more of that story.
MARTIN: Marcus Mabry, you wrote a very poignant piece for the New York Times Motherlode blog titled "The Gift of Being Gay and a Dad" and, in it, you write that you feel that growing up gay actually made you a better parent and person. I know that a lot of us, you know, straights are probably throwing pens at you at the moment, but tell us. Tell us more about why you feel that way.
MABRY: Well, you know, Michel, I think, in the same way, you know, I also grew up poor and African-American and I also think, you know, growing up, at first, by the time I became I aware I was poor - and it wasn't until I was a teenager because, before that, I had no idea we were poor because we had everything we needed.
At first, I thought, well, this must be some kind of disadvantage, once I was aware of it, but what came out was being black and being poor and, in my case, being gay, in the end, you learn a lot of stuff being an outsider. You learn a lot of stuff about compassion. You learn a lot of stuff about caring. You learn a lot of stuff about judgments. And so, if you can bring all that together, I think, as a dad or a mom, I think it probably does make you better. It may make you worse in all kinds of ways that I'm not yet aware of because my boys are only two and a half, so that may be the case, too.
MARTIN: You say - you wrote in the piece - I just want to share a little bit of it. You said, every time I look at them, I understand that, far from being cursed, being a little gay boy was a blessing. It taught me compassion. It taught me how to rise above fear and self-hatred. It made me stronger. Today, I feel well and truly blessed.
But, you know, Marcus, I have to ask you, at 3:00 a.m. when they won't go to bed, don't you feel a little cursed?
MABRY: Well, the worst part is that now, at two and a half, our boys are - you know, we just took them out of the cribs and put them into the big boy toddler beds and, basically, for the first - you know, it's been two months now. They basically spent, you know, the hours from when they go to bed at seven o'clock until usually nine o'clock when they finally fall asleep, tearing the place apart, ripping down curtains, you know. And it's - you know, it's - yeah. So there, it's harder to feel truly blessed then, but luckily, everything is relative.
And so, growing up, of course, we had - Dan and I - you know, we had no examples of, you know, positive gay parenthood like the kids growing up today. They can see Cam and they can see "Modern Family." We had, you know, Paul Lynde. We had people who were in the closet - and, sometimes, hilarious in the closet - but it was kind of an inside joke and most of America - most of America didn't even know Ellen was gay when she came out, so you can imagine kind of the difference in today's world and the one we grew up in.
So, relative to all that, kind of, feeling of not being free and wanting so badly to be a dad since I was a little boy, and also even as a Christian, today I feel all this is totally doable to me. This all feels totally, you know, within God's plans, which is something, growing up, where I could not have imagined.
MARTIN: Dan, let's get to the funny. You describe - and well, let me just ask you this though, Dan, while I was - Marcus just said that he always wanted to be a dad. Did you?
BUCATINSKY: You know, deep down I did. I had a part of me that always wanted to be a nurturer but I think I learned to push it away because I had to overcome something. I have to concur with him, that one of the things I loved discovering in the process of writing the book that there's something that happens to you when you come out as a person who has to one day utter those two words, which are, like, nuclear - when you say, I'm gay, that the notion - what it takes in terms of the courage and self-knowledge and the ability to face sort of adversity. It is something that you bring to parenthood and that you hope that the kids you raise, you know, benefit from parents who had to overcome something like that. But at the end of the day, when your kid's coming at you with his fingers and he says smell my fingers, I'll tell you, there's it's a level playing field.
MARTIN: Trust me on that, you know, that is one of those sections that we were debating whether we could talk about it...
BUCATINSKY: Well, I won't...
MARTIN: ...'cause it is so funny. But I don't think we can.
BUCATINSKY: No, we won't.
MARTIN: So I think we'll skip right on past that one and...
MARTIN: ...see if we can pick another - well, there's another funny scene. The book is like laugh-out-loud funny.
MARTIN: And I think in some cases it might be a balm for people who are afraid, you know, of being a parent.
MARTIN: I think that that might be one of the things that people who are either gay or straight might enjoy. But there's one scene where you and your husband Don are debating how to deal with your perspective birth mother's smoking habit.
MARTIN: You want to talk about that?
BUCATINSKY: Yeah. Well, you know, one of the things about open adoption is that you're fortunate enough to have a birth mom who is going to choose you - much like in that clip from "Modern Family"- you are excite to get that phone call. You're not really thinking about all the levels that you would like to control - their nutrition and their exercise habits and their prenatal care. So when we met our birth mom, and we saw that she was a two-pack a day smoker and Cinnabon eater and Mountain Dew Slurpee drinker...
BUCATINSKY: ...we, you know, suddenly I became interested in trying to help teach her about health and very encouraging of her to quit smoking. And she guaranteed me she absolutely was going to quit smoking as soon as the babies were born. So I was, oh good. Yes. Excellent. And, you know, maybe...
MARTIN: Maybe a little sooner?
BUCATINSKY: Maybe a tiny bit sooner. But yeah, that was one of those battles we had to, you know, you have to pick your battles and that wasn't one we were going to win.
MARTIN: In this week's parenting conversation it's Pride Month and we are joined by two gay dads who are sharing their experiences. Dan Bucatinsky is a dad of two. He is the author of the new book "Does This Baby Make Me Look Straight?" Also with us, Marcus Mabry. He's also a dad of two and editor-at-large for The New York Times.
Now Marcus, you, we talked about the fact that you grew up, you know, in a certain way, not having a lot. Now what's your biggest concern? Is it that your kids won't appreciate what they have? What is your biggest concern as a dad?
MABRY: Well, it is funny. I mean as Dan was saying, you know, so much of this is, you know, it doesn't matter whether you're a gay parent or a straight parent, a black parent, white parent, in some ways even - even, I'm not going to overstress it - a poor parent or a well-off parent, you know, the issues are the same.
And Michel, it's really funny, your last guest, she talked about how, you know, that kind of, the biggest kind of strides that made the LGBT Liberation Movement was when people could no longer say oh, you all are all just crazy and we can make the argument that we are just like you. There's nothing stronger to me than parenthood because, you know, we're all standing around talking about our kids, we really are. I mean it's so obvious how much LGBT people are just like straight people when it comes to kind of who we are and the issues we face.
I now forgot what your question was but...
MARTIN: No. I was wondering what your biggest concern is now...
MABRY: Oh, yeah, well, it's very funny. Yeah, we...
MARTIN: ...'cause I mean presumably it's not that people coming up to you and denying your legitimacy as a parent. I mean or is it - or is it that you're worried that someday people will say well, actually that's not your kid or you're not really supposed to be raising that kid, or you're hurting your kid by being two gay dads.
MABRY: It's funny because actually, as you said, we live in London and so I wrote another post for the Motherlode blog on the nytimes.com about living in London. And the fact is, you know, as, you know, my partner and I are, you know, I'm black, he's white and so our kids are biracial and so we are, you know, interracial, LGBT family of, you know, multiracial two dads and the funny thing is, you know, in our neighborhood in Hell's Kitchen in New York, which is where we lived before we moved to London, you can't swing a dead cow without hitting, you know, somebody who's LGBT, and probably and LGBT parent. And we're just so it's not exactly commonplace yet but it's a little bit cliche almost in places like New York and LA, where Dan is.
But in London it's not. And so in London we really do, if the British were more honest and less kind of, you know, stiff upper lip and more direct, they would actually say well, what are y'all doing together? But they don't because they're polite. That's the way their culture is, they're a little cold about that kind of stuff, they don't talk about it. But here it is not the same comfort level we have back in the states, which is somewhat ironic, because oftentimes in Europe is more progressive on these issues. But when it comes to this issue of parenting there are a lot more of us back in New York, than here.
And it's funny. I guess my biggest concern though, is as you were saying, that the boys don't feel too spoiled. I mean I'm really so thankful I can give them a life that is materially so much richer, materially, than what I had growing up, although I hope I can give them a life that's spiritually as rich as what I had growing up. Because again, in that way being poor was an advantage, you know, we had a lot of love. But I hope the boys won't be, as my mom said, it's going to be hard for the boys, you know, they speak French, Mandarin and English, it's going to be hard for the boys not to be snotty growing up.
MABRY: And she's right. And snotty in all the bad ways.
MARTIN: There are two, Marcus. Excuse me. I mean what do you think...
MABRY: I know. They can't be snotty and one way.
MABRY: But they also have this little British accent. It's kind of snotty.
MARTIN: It is?
MABRY: (Mimicking British Accent) No, not that way, they always say, you know.
MARTIN: Oh, OK. Well, we'll help you with that, you know, when you come back.
MABRY: Thank you. Thank you. They'll need it.
MARTIN: Dan, before we let you go, what's your biggest concern? One of the things that I thought was really funny is you wrote about parent rivalry in your house. That for some reason your husband Don, you know, can do no wrong...
MARTIN: And, you know, the kids always want him to read a story and all this other stuff. So my prediction is this will change later on, but I'm just giving you that.
BUCATINSKY: I'm sure.
MARTIN: But what's your biggest concern with about the minute that we have left?
BUCATINSKY: Well, no, I've got several of them. And I also feel very lucky to be able to be concerned about a lot of the panics that most parents have, you know, like making sure that my kids wind up staying off the pipe and the pole. And making, you know, praying to God they don't wind up doing porn and all the things that other parents freak out about are the things that I also am lucky enough to be concerned about, rather than whether or not we fit in.
But I also am often concern about this notion that in my household, regardless of the fact that I'm making the lunches and breakfasts and getting them dressed and putting on the Band-Aids and doing a lot of the heavy lifting, but Poppy's the favorite. And there's something about driving around in his car as opposed to driving around in my car that is really, really enticing to those kids, I'm...
MARTIN: Dude, welcome to my world.
BUCATINSKY: I'm convinced that he's got - I'm convinced he's got puppies in there. I know he's got iPods and candy but there's got to be puppies too.
MARTIN: Well, keep us posted, will you both, on how it's going.
MARTIN: You're out there in the trenches, keep us posted.
BUCATINSKY: Thank you for having...
MABRY: Well, we'll need money for therapy, yeah.
MARTIN: That's right.
BUCATINSKY: For sure.
MARTIN: Dan Bucatinsky is a dad of two and the author of the new book "Does This Baby Make Me Look Straight?" He was with us from NPR West in Culver City, California. Marcus Mabry is a dad of two and editor-at-large of The New York Times. He was with us from Paris, where he is the dad, along with his partner, of two-year-old twins. We happen to catch up with him on his travels there where he's actually getting a good night's sleep. Thank you both.
MABRY: Yes. Thank you.
BUCATINSKY: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.