Last week I wrote about being a single gay dad and how my son was denied a playdate because certain parents did not agree with my 'lifestyle' choice. First things first, it's not a lifestyle choice; I was born this way. Second, thanks for the supportive messages recognising that I am a parent first, and that being gay has nothing to do with my ability to be an amazing parent.
Someone did, however, describe my family as 'dysfunctional' simply because it did not consist of one male plus one female and one or more children. That surely can't be right.
Psychologists and psychiatrists describe dysfunctional families as ridden with conflict, (alcohol, drug, gambling) addictions, and possibly child neglect or abuse. Dysfunctional families are those where kids were unplanned and are unwanted and where parents remind their children of that. Dysfunctional families are those where parents put their own needs before the needs of their children. Dysfunctional families are those where children's needs are not met.
I'm probably over-sensitive to my son's needs. I probably spoil him. I probably give him more cuddles, more love and show more public displays of affection than most other parents I see. Every morning when he wakes and every night as I tuck him into bed, I make sure to tell him how grateful I am to be his dad, how lucky I am to have him in my life and how much I love him. Do you know why that is? The answer is simple.
Being gay means it's harder to have a family. Basic biology works against me. I can't have an amazing date on a Friday night with one too many drinks and end up accidentally pregnant. In the case of LGBT adoption, it is not legally possible in about 80% of the world's countries. Adopting my son meant spending hundreds of hours talking with social workers, attending child courses, volunteering with children, researching local play groups and nurseries, and having my home evaluated for suitability; all for a hypothetical child that wasn't mine. With the exception of straight couples who face difficulties conceiving naturally, it is likely safe to say that few parents-to-be have to prove their worth or ability to be a parent like I did.
I am not challenging the adoption process. What I want to highlight is that when people who cannot conceive naturally want to become parents, we are put through numerous extra hurdles to show our commitment, ability and devotion to parenting. I will leave the challenges of IVF, IUI and surrogacy for another time.
I love my son. I want my son. And I try to do the best by him. Most importantly, I am present and engaged. So, calling my family dysfunctional is laughable.
It also made me think of the importance of teaching my son to never judge people. He may not always like everyone or what they think, and that's OK. But, I teach him to always show respect. That's the polite and open minded thing to do.
I suppose it comes down to a question of attitudes and values. I'm not asking anyone to condone what I do in the bedroom. I'm asking to respect that I strive to be the best dad that I can be; to respect that I've fought hard to be able to parent; to respect that my family is filled with love; to respect and accept that my sexuality is not an inhibitor of being a (functioning) family.
Neither, for that matter, is being a single parent. Single parents successfully love, foster and nurture children. For those who believe that it takes one man and one woman to raise a child, you must consider half of the world's families to be dysfunctional given 42% of marriages in the UK end in divorce and American sociologists continue to believe there is a 50/50 chance a marriage will fail.
A child will tell you that love, care, cuddles, laughter, communication and fun form the foundations of a family. A happy, functioning family has nothing to do with a parents' sex, sexuality or the number of parents.
I accept that some people still don't understand LGBT parenting as a concept, and may question its validity. Once you meet a gay parent, you quickly realise we are just as tired, run down and always questioning if we are getting it right, just as any other parent.
My son said this weekend "Papa, you're the best dad in the whole world." In his eyes, I am just his dad, and isn't that all that matters? The gay bit has nothing to do with it.
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