Uh, Papa, we have big news … we’re straight
I do my most important parenting in the car — often not by choice. Living in Los Angeles, the car is simply the best place to talk.
The snack-covered leather seats of my black Honda Civic have been the scenes of multiple conversations with my twin children that I’ll remember forever. Like when my daughter, Juliette, then age 3, announced to my brother, as we picked him up from the airport, that she recently made a poo poo on the potty and demanded some sort of payment — or at least recognition from her uncle.
Or a year later, when that same daughter decided she wanted to convert and announced that she would like to be Christian because they celebrate “Eastern” and “Eastern” has better candy than Passover! I still remember her words ringing in my ears: “Eastern is better than Passover!” I tried my hardest to defend my position, but when it comes to candy … “Eastern” sort of wins.
And that was the easy stuff. These sun-scorched seats also witnessed some tougher conversations, like when Juliette asked, through tears: “Why does our teacher keep saying that we are adopted when we are not? I tell her every day I’m not adopted! I have two dads and they had a surrogate in order to bring me and my brother into this world.”
Never in my wildest dreams, though, did I imagine that it would be in this same car that my children — both of them — would come out to me! We were on Olympic Boulevard on the way to the Fish Grill, and they were 9 or 10 at the time.
How can this be happening, I thought? It took me until I was 21 to have enough courage to come out to my parents. I planned and rehearsed it for years. I was already a college graduate, and yet my kids are doing it before middle school (and on the way to the Fish Grill).
Truth be told, I never dreamed that this conversation would happen in the first place. As a gay dad, I was not prepared. Sitting behind the steering wheel, I started to understand how my parents must have felt. No one teaches you how to be a good audience when your kids give you life-changing news.
Plus, what are the chances that two kids with gay dads would feel the need to come out to their parents? I always swore that I would never let my son and daughter go through what I did: the secrets, the fear, the confusion, the feeling of letting down the rest of the family. I came out before “Will & Grace,” and doing that in the Reagan years was not easy or fun.
So you can imagine how fast my heart began beating after Juliette, speaking for both herself and her brother, Harrison, apologized for their sexual orientation. In the backseat of our Honda Civic. On the way to Fish Grill. At age 9.
“Papa, you know Harry and me are straight … right?”
I tried not to crash the car. Looking back in the rearview mirror, I tried to see her eyes. Could this really be happening? My thoughts were going a mile a minute: How does she even know? She’s so young. Why is her brother not saying anything?
Neither of them could look at me. I could see they felt bad, like they let us down. As parents, we could not care less, but the more I told them that it was OK, the sadder they seemed and the more they felt they needed to explain.
Finally, I said the words that every child wants to hear, the ones that I’ve learned are so important to hear any day and every day. (I heard similar words when I came out at 21.)
“Daddy and Papa love you guys no matter what.”
This is sort of the Golden Rule of fatherhood, right? All the rest is commentary.
We continued: “We never assumed you would be gay just because we are. Nor do we care. We just want you to be happy.”
Just make sure your Auntie Vera in Boca doesn’t find out that you’re straight!
Martin Finkelstein is executive director of advertising at the Jewish Journal and the father of two teenagers, Juliette and Harrison.