At the end of July, Kelly and I will celebrate our 22nd anniversary. Twenty-two years is a long time for any couple to be together, but for gay men it’s like being married 168 years! Our relationship has survived a lot over the past two decades: grad school, five major moves, a lot of new jobs, way too many deaths to count and two kids.
I’ve heard a ton of people — mostly straight people — say that their partner “completes” them. Maybe it’s all those years of reading The Missing Piece and the Big O, but I never felt like I was waiting for anybody to complete me. Now, of course, Kelly complements me. He’s the ying to my yang. The peanut butter to my jelly. The Sonny to my Cher.
He’s also the reason I’m a dad. Adopting kids was entirely Kelly’s idea.
Don’t get me wrong. If I hadn’t wholeheartedly wanted to adopt the boys, we wouldn’t have. I was a more than willing participant, and I’m glad we became parents. But adding the kids to the relationship mix was a little like adding lighter fuel to a campfire: It could be pretty explosive.
For example, as I write this anniversary column, Kelly and I are fighting. The source of the disagreement? Whether I overreacted to Gus’ refusal to clean up the mess he’d made in the living room. It’s not like I beat the crap out of the kid (or even laid a finger on him for that matter … nor would I ever). No, my reaction was to raise my voice. You see, for a pretty small-built guy, I can have a rather intimidating voice — and I know how to use it.
So to make myself clear about the mess, I used that voice. Kelly was — rightly — furious with me. His response was to use his own intimidating voice with me — something reserved almost exclusively for me, as a matter of fact. I ended up sequestering myself in my office for the remainder of the evening to write this column. I gave myself a time out.
I think our disagreements about the boys can become more volatile than our average garden variety spats precisely because they deal with what we both love and want to protect more than anything else in the world: our children. When the smoke has cleared after one of these arguments, we like to joke that most people stay together for the children; we stay together in spite of them.
What no parenting book or class can teach you, what no well-intentioned family member or friend can convey to you is how your priorities change when you become a parent. Kelly is no longer the one person I love more than anyone else on the planet. Nor am I that person for him any longer. There are two little boys we both love more. But make no mistake, our love for one another runs deep. In fact, I’d argue we love each so much that we are free to love our children even more than we love one another.
That’s how we’ve lasted for 22 years. That’s why I’d bet dollars to donuts we’re going to last another 22 years. And, heck, 22 years more after that. (OK, that’s rather unlikely; in another 44 years I’ll be kissing 100 and Kelly will be, well, dead.)
But the point is, we’ve grown stronger with each passing year. And the boys, in a rather strange way, have helped us to realize that.
Is our relationship perfect? Hell, no! Can it be dysfunctional at times? Definitely. But the basis for our relationship remains steadfastly unwavering: We love one another. And we’re learning from one another: how to be the type of men we want to be; how to become the type of fathers we know we can be.
And I think the boys recognize that, too. Gus came into my office on his way to bed to apologize for not listening and to hug me. I have a sneaking suspicion it was Kelly’s suggestion. For the record, I apologized to Gus as well, and I really am working on keeping my “mean dad” voice in check.
What’s really important, I think, is that the boys are beginning to recognize that not only do their parents love them unconditionally, but we also love each another so deeply that our relationship will be secure even while we fight.
So, happy anniversary, Kelly. Here’s to 22 more years together, and another 22 after that — even if I’ll be 100 and you’ll be, well, dead. I’ll still love you.