I couldn’t sleep. My son, George, lost his flag football game earlier in the night and, as one of team’s coaches, I felt like I let him down. I was also dealing with some acute anger. The coach’s son on the other team was taunting me most of the game and it felt terrible. Early in the game, he broke a long run for a touchdown. Our whole team seemed to have a shot at pulling his flags but somehow everyone whiffed. At some point during his touchdown dance I noticed he didn’t have any flags on his belt. I pointed this out to the ref, saying, “excuse me, Ref, how are my guys supposed to tackle him when he doesn’t have any flags on his belt?” He rolled his eyes at me and lined them up for the extra point. It didn’t seem quite fair.
Anyway, the whole rest of the game this little eight year-old dickhead would finish every big offensive play (he was really good) by walking by me and going, “That OK? You gonna complain about that?” So, now, lying in bed, I was thinking of all the things I should’ve said back to him. One of the things I thought of was: “Come here you little shit,” and then chased him down and punched him in the face.
While heating up some bags of frozen Trader Joe’s food for dinner earlier that same night, I read over a new blog post I’d written over the course of that week. Maybe I was just in a bad mood but it didn’t seem very good all of a sudden. It wasn’t terribly funny and the tone didn’t really fit well with the rest of the blog. But I hadn’t written anything in a long time and the blog was once good to me; was one of few things in my life that seemed to be working. Kate had her glamorous and fulfilling (a great combo) job in the city, eating dinner at cool restaurants with famous people most nights while chalking it up to helping children eat better. I had a blog. Not that glamorous but it was an outlet nonetheless. And lately, I just had…I wasn’t sure what I had. Kids?
So that’s the set-up. In short, I was angry and depressed. I directed most of my anger at that kid on the other team but I suspect I was angry about other things too. I got out of bed and went downstairs and with a silent, slow motion movie of Kate, holding a cocktail, throwing her head back, laughing at something Hugh Jackman just said playing in my head, I hit the “publish” button on the blog post titled, “My Gay Burden.” I came back up to bed and tossed and turned and sighed loudly until Kate woke up.
“What’s up?” She asked.
“I can’t sleep. I hate this kid on the team we just played so much”
“He just an asshole. Taunting me… I also just put out the first blog post I’ve written in months and I’m worried it’s not that good.”
“What’s it about?”
“It’s about raising gay kids.”
She let out a grunty noise that sounded disapproving.
“It’s done in a Colbert-like way where I’m a dumb homophobic dad. It’s not real.”
“But it’s about our kids? And your life and all that?”
“Hm. Did you post that video of Theo putting the balloons in his shirt?”
I had showed Kate this video when she got home from “work” a few nights earlier. I thought she’d really love it but she didn’t. She just said, “don’t put that in your blog.”
“Honey….UGH, I asked you not to!”
I rolled over to give her my back and mumbled something like, “I don’t have anything and you have so much.”
“Nothing. What’s so bad about it? It’s just Theo stuffing balloons in his shirt.”
“There are weird people out there.”
Ugh. I hate these sort of statements. “Why would I care if some seriously perverted dude finds a two year-old stuffing balloons in his shirt a turn-on? How do you guard against that? Why do you need to?
“The idea just creeps me out. Just take it down, OK?”
Suddenly, I was fighting for the dignity of censored artists everywhere.
“These are our kids, Ben. Do you really think it’s fair to put them out there like this?”
The argument is bogus but she succeeds in planting the guilt seed. I am, in essence, going behind my kids’ backs to create jokes at their (sort-of) expense. That’s not the kind of dad I want to be.
“So I should take the whole thing down then.” I even feel like a 12 year-old girl.
“Maybe,” Kate says, “It’s…not that funny anyway.”
That’s Kate’s dagger through the heart. She saves that for when she knows I’m vulnerable to the deathblow. God it hurts. I can tell her it’s not that funny but she can’t say it’s not that funny.
I can’t talk to her. I try to give her more of my back but I can’t figure out how. I’m already turned to the wall on the edge of the bed. I want to run, just get up and run to the nearest mall and buy some black goth clothes and sit on the curb out front smoking a cigarette as I let everyone know with my glare and bad posture that they don’t understand me at all.
“Well, it’s not really your kind of humor,” I say. When she doesn’t like a piece of my writing I try to give her the sense that it goes over her head in some way.
“Well, I don’t want my friends to read it,” she says. The argument devolves from here. We turn into smaller versions of ourselves and I say “it IS funny”, and “I don’t CARE if your friends don’t like it”. She says I should care because they’re my friends too, etc. etc.
Finally…”What about Tom?” She asks. Tom is one of Kate’s best friends. He’s gay. Tom isn’t his real name (but I’m not hiding his identity because he’s gay, it’s a courtesy I give to some straight people too).
“What about him? You don’t think he’d like it?”
“No. Not at all.”
“What?! I’m on his team here. I’m making fun of homophobes.”
“I didn’t get that…”
That’s when I went downstairs and gave the blog another read. Could a person really think I was being serious here? Could they really not see that this person, though looking and sounding like me, and writing in my blog, isn’t me but a new persona I’ve created in order to poke fun at homophobes as well as our society’s rigid views of masculinity? Could they really not get that?
Shortly after that little conversation with myself, I hit the ‘delete’ button on the post.
A few days later I got an email from my mother in law, Linda (not her real name, trying to respect her privacy), whom I had sent a copy of the post because she was curious what all the fuss was about. She wrote a very sweet, loving and totally wrong response to the piece. She wrote something along the lines of, “I wouldn’t worry, Ben. I don’t think you can turn a kid gay, they either are or they aren’t. You’re a wonderful, loving dad and that’s all that matters.”
I couldn’t blame her. The jokes weren’t very clear and, as mentioned, the whole premise of a “guest” Colbert-like writer on the blog was absurd. She may be somewhat old (love you, Judy! Linda!) but she’s smart and if she didn’t get it, then… it’s good I took it down.
So then I’m left with a blog post that I neglected my kid and stayed up late several nights to write and it’s just sitting here in my WordPress trashbox. But that’s where it has to stay because, unfortunately, you can’t annotate a humor piece and explain every little joke, what you were thinking as the writer and why the reader should find it funny. It kills it immediately. But IF you could, mine would look something like this:
Red type = annotations
My Gay Burden
Prior to yesterday I hadn’t cried in about 18 years. I don’t remember that last time particularly well but I know it had something to do with my college girlfriend turning into a lesbian she did but this is a ; a person doesn’t really turn into anything. It was a hard time for me but I never lashed out and I never held that much of a grudge . In fact, this little cry I had yesterday shows how far I’ve come and how progressive I’m not progressive here…you have to come back to this after I assure, derogatorily (but still J) that I didn’t cry in a “gay” way, I am about such hot-button topics J this isn’t really a “hot-button” topic (strange joke though) because the cry –not a like a big, gay , weeping kind of cry, just a few tears that slid down my cheeks– was about a boy turning into a gay. What I’m hoping to establish here is that this is a character I’ve created. He is a dumbass. Not that I’m not a dumbass but this is a dumbass of a different sort. The literary device at play here, I believe, is called “dramatic irony”; the reader knows something that the writer/character does not, namely, that he’s a homophobic dumbass who’s trying to appear sensitive}
The internet posts these stories from time to time and I try to read most of them the internet doesn’t post anything, people do. And I don’t read many of these. It’s not that funny because the reader wouldn’t know this and even if they did, it’s just not very funny. It’s more absurdist. But, overall, this is a failed , a . This one showed a letter a dad wrote to his son. (http://www.elephantjournal.com/2013/11/dads-letter-to-gay-teen-son-goes-viral/)
If you don’t feel like reading that, it went like this: The dad overheard his son telling a friend that he was planning to “come out” to his parents and the dad, in a letter left for his son the next day, told him to go out and get OJ and bread after school Here, I’m poking a little fun at the dad for his semi-lame joke –the only “coming out” he needs to do is “going out” to get more bread and OJ. But it was this part Of course it was this part. The part about the OJ and bread was, again, a semi-lame joke that I’m poking more fun at that made me cry (tear up I –this character writing this– includes this to assure the reader that he’s not so effeminate as to actually “cry”): “I’ve known you were gay since you were six. I’ve loved you since you were born”. Ugh. I feel emotions emotions are clearly unchartered territory for this guy just writing that.
Then there was a story about a North Carolina pastor who said he would actually be ok with one (probably not two ) of his kids becoming gay. In a post that rocked the blogosphere, this guy laid out four steps to loving…loving I’m making fun of this guy; of course he loves him/her, he/she’s his kid... his kid should he/she turn out like the kid who had to go buy OJ after school this is a recall of the fun-poking of the previous semi-lame joke. Sometimes an effective way of making fun of something is to keep returning to it in a needling sort of way. They went like this:
1. He wouldn’t keep his kid a secret.
2. He’d pray for it. I use “it”, again, to make fun of this dad who seems to not really be thinking of his potentially gay kid as a human. He didn’t use “it” though so maybe it’s unfair.
3. He’d love it. use of “it” again.
4. He’d consider the fact that the kid didn’t become gay but was actually gay all along.
He rocked it. he didn’t rock it. He wrote four things that any human with half a heart would feel about their own child. 2,500 adoring comments on his now-famous blog. more bitter sarcasm.
I only hope I can summon the courage sarcasm that this man did should one of my three kids need to pick up OJ after school bad joke recall; needling. The truth is, my kids are 7, 6 and 2 and I’m a little concerned this character is concerned about them. I’m not really concerned about my kids, but it’s confusing because this character and I share the same kids. This is the fatal flaw of the piece; I’ve made it too hard to sort out what’s real and what’s not. about all of them.
Since I’m the stay-at-home parent it’s up to me to do all the laundry, nagging, and sex avoiding Am I this character still? Feels like I could be me making a straight-forward, SAHD Life sort of joke. Thus, joke fails in context . And lately I’ve been concerned that the gender role reversal is affecting my kids. again, tricky. Joke mostly fails because, again, some of this is true (there is a gender role reversal in our house). What kind of male role model am I? What kind of house am I raising my kids in? A gay one? I just liked the sound of this. A baby who would normally develop an attachment to his mother’s bosom, in our house has to rub his face against my hairy man-breasts all day. further muddying the intended satire here…this is real. A mom recently commented, as I stood holding my two year-old boy at school pickup, that she’d never seen a kid do the “hand down the shirt” thing with a dad before. “I thought you needed to have boobs,” she said. I didn’t know what to say. I just looked down at Theo’s hand down the collar of my stretched-out shirt and felt sad. I liked the imagery here but that’s about it. Again, it belongs in a different, non-satirical blog post.
I kept thinking about it the rest of the day. Is Theo going to grow up with a fondness for running his hand through a hairy man’s chest rather than the supple fleshy loveliness of a woman’s breast? When I kiss George goodnight and he pulls me closer and holds me there for way too long, as he does, is he developing a connection between intimacy and the scratchiness of a man’s face? These are real thoughts but not real concerns. The line between these is hard to see.
Or what if the pastor is right and he doesn’t turn gay but is already gay? Of course people don’t turn gay Theo, 2, is more nature than nurture at this point. He loves balls but that could really go either way J Balls and dogs, that’s really it for Theo. The other day we were walking along and approached a giant Rottweiler from behind and discovered, to our astonishment, that he was not neutered. Right there at eye level for Theo. I thought he was going to have a heart attack. His two favorite things all wrapped up in one. But that’s really just a gratuitous story about dogs’ balls. I couldn’t help including this. A more disciplined writer would cut it, knowing that it doesn’t fit the tone of the piece.
Anyway, a friend sent me an article a little while ago that brought some clarity. Titled “Dads who do dishes raise ambitious daughters”, it was one of those internet articles you don’t really need to read because it says mostly what you need to know in the title. A potentially funny line depending on the reader’s appreciation of not-that-funny, absurdist lines. But I read it anyway because I’m a real reader Sometimes I poke fun at people who call themselves “real” or “big” readers. But how would you know that? . It said that daughters of parents who shared “domestic duties” were more likely to say they wanted to be things like “police officers, doctors or accountants”. It went on to say that dads who were responsible for more than 80% of the domestic duties had daughters who grew up to become rugby players or food coop workers in Brooklyn*. :) A straight-up joke. Thus, tonally, it doesn’t fit with the voice
No, I don’t think all women police officers, doctors (is there a female word for ‘doctor’? Doctress? ) and accountesses are lesbians. Some obviously marry men and have perfectly happy families (and even have non-gay children) “This guy” is clearly struggling to believe this himself. And I’ve clearly proven that not all ‘domestic dads’ are gay. “I” haven’t proven this at all.
*I made that last part up but you get the point.
But what about the sons of “domestic dads”? What do they want to grow up to be? From ages 3 to 6, George said he wanted to be a “dolphin saver”. this is true. Again, we’re veering back into real territory so it’s hard to know how to read this . I made sure to tell him that caring about animals doesn’t necessarily J make you gay but gently steered him towards bears or mountain lions.
Now, at 7, George says he wants to be a stay-at-home dad. Frankly, I don’t know what to do with this. Cry? Feel pride? true. Thus, more muddying of satirical waters But then he says…”Or a football player.” Maybe this is what happens when the dad stays home –the kids just toil away in a state of total confusion. kids aren’t confused by such things…’this guy’ is.
But back to the girl again. If the stubbly face-affection connection results in gayness for my sons, what does it mean for my daughter? She should at least stand to benefit from the stubbly kisses, right? Make the right affection connections and get a good stubbly-faced man for herself, right? logic is reasonable (in relation to earlier setup) but the whole premise that such an experience would really shape someone’s sexuality is absurd. The answer, surprisingly, is no. presenting bizarre (and wrong) theories with total confidence can sometimes be funny. Girls crave what they don’t have. And what they don’t have, normally, is a dad that’s around all the time. Girls learn to crave the attention of their mostly absent, work-a-day dads so they can later try to fill their emotional void with commitment-phobic men. But in the house of the ‘domestic dad’, the mom creates the void. The void creates mystique and the mystique creates lust. Thus, Louisa has lesbian lust for her mom. It’s creepy and, yes, as my wife’s lover, it concerns me. This is just a weird, disturbing thought all around.
Then there’s the fact that Louisa is tough. I know, I know, straight women can be tough but it’s never the women who are really tough that are really straight.
The other day Louisa came down the stairs hopping on one foot, saying her foot was bleeding. She pointed to her foot and on the top of it there was a mosquito bite she’d scratched down to a smear of blood. I told her she was fine. She said, “OK”, and marched off. The screen door swung shut and I looked up to find a trail of little red footprints. ”Whoa, hold up, Weeze.” She was outside, hopping again, heading for the swing. “Let me see your foot,” I yelled. She hopped back and lifted her foot for me. Embedded right in the middle of her lesbian foot was an inch-long sliver of glass. I liked the idea of describing a foot as “lesbian”, and I liked that “this guy” has really already decided she’s a lesbian even as he’s presenting his argument.
The case against George is a bit trickier. George loves sports but he also loves light fingertip tickles all over his body. the joke here is partly, who doesn’t enjoy light tickles all over their bodies? and also that tickles could contrast with enjoying sports. He’s also very loving towards his little brother. suggests that to be nurturing is to be feminine or effeminate, which some people believe. I’m trying to make fun of those people here. One of these on it’s own and it probably wouldn’t raise a flag. side note: I considered titling this piece: “Raising A White Fag”, but then reconsidered as it is potentially quite offensive. Also, when I took the post down, the title remained for a while and this would’ve looked even worse than “My Gay Burden”, which looked, taken down as it was, like I just chickened out of a big ‘coming out’ moment. But both? When George started trading chores for foot tickles, Kate told me not to panic. It’s just a phase, she said. , it went on like this for some time. Then my dad came to visit one weekend. George tried coaxing my dad into a foot tickle. I quickly shouted, “foot pickle! He wants a foot-long pickle. Do you have one?’ this is pretty dumb. But it probably appeals to a certain kind of person and I generally like those kinds of people. who My dad didn’t buy it though. He just chuckled and called George a ‘chip off the old block’.
“Did you go through a gay phase too, dad?” I asked.
“No, I’m talking about you.”
Say what now? Then it all came back to me. Thursday nights at my dad’s house I’d crawl into bed and pull up my shirt. My dad would take a deep breath at the edge of the bed then look away as he rubbed his nail-bitten finger nubs into my back. I’d stop him.
“No, do it real light, like little tickles.”
He’d let out more sad noises and lift his nubs off my back slightly and keep going. I’d long for the fingernails of my mom or sister but it was Thursday night, I’d take what I could get. Eventually, I’d roll over and happily await light tickles on my stomach, at which point my dad would pat my chest and say, “night night, sonny”.
In retrospect, I wish I had saved this dad-manly-backscratch bit for a real blog post. It doesn’t fit here and I liked it as a more personal story.
The memory was healing for me. So healing in fact, I asked my dad to work those old nubs on my feet right there in front of my son. He did and soon enough three generations of Brashares boys were pulling a foot tickle-train right there in my living room. It was wonderful. So much healing! Then Louisa walked in and asked what the fuck we were doing. This was my favorite line in the piece. I don’t know why exactly. But I really patted myself on the back for this one.
As for my own heroic blog post , I don’t have four promises to my gay/future gay children. Instead, I just have one apology.
Dear Louisa, George, and Theo,
I’m sorry I made you gay. And I’m sorry I named you after the acronym for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender coalition. For the record, I had no idea our lizard, Bruiser, was bisexual. I’ve never seen him with another lizard so there really was no way for me to tell. To think I thought I was naming you after 80′s TV shows about black people (George and Weezie Jefferson; Theo Huxstable). How wrong I was!
Anyway, sorry about that. We’re out of bread and OJ.
The above letter is all just a big joke. I have no idea if our lizard is gay. Our ferret is gay for sure (his name’s “Vito”, super gay) and I’m pretty sure our dog, Angie, is a lesbian. Except with my leg. Our kids do have those names but the connection to the TV shows was only discovered after the fact, to my delight. And the LGBT thing…just another delightful coincidence.
Now, here’s a gallery of photos/evidence. I hope they shed light on my heroism just poking fun at the Pastor again, which, after all this, may not be so fair. I’m told that in this world of priests and pastors it actually is a pretty big deal to come out as a gay acceptor and he really does deserve some props, being their father and dealing with gayness and all:
Here’s Theo rubbing his face against my hairy man-breasts:
Theo loves footballs…but he loves them even more when their neatly arranged like pastel flower petals:
Kate asked me not to share this but I feel that if I’m going to write a tear-jerking blog post about my heroic acceptance of my LGBT family I couldn’t keep any secrets.
Anyway, here’s Theo putting the T in LGBT:
And again here (note: this is pretty standard ‘older-daughter-dresses-younger-brother-up-in-dress’ stuff but in conjunction with the above and the fact that he wouldn’t take it off… it might be worth including here. Still proud of him for holding onto that football though really tough to tell if I’m in character here or not
A study on the internet showed that 8 out of 10 straight six year-old girls wouldn’t touch a worm I really thought the complete absurdity of this one would sway anyone who was on the “is this real” fence.
Here’s George. (Sigh) poor Georgie. He’d be horrified to know that I did this to him. He’s so private and so careful to represent himself the right way. When Kate was laying on the guilt, this is the photo I was thinking about.
And, finally…some more of this:
this is just straight-up cute. Do what you gotta do, old freaky pervert guy. Just keep it in that basement of your mom’s house, please.