Who's Your Daddy

I identify as a dad

Recently, Kelly and I were in the garden section of a large home improvement store, looking for plants and arguing about roses, when I spotted our former neighbors. Being the extrovert of the couple, I dragged my husband over to where they stood looking at wall-mounted garden hose holders.

When I said hello, it became clear that they recognized our faces but couldn’t place us. I wasn’t offended: he’s older and not in the greatest health; it’s been a handful of years since they moved away from our street; and it’s not like we hung out together when we did live four doors away.

To help jog their memories, I dropped the name of the woman from whom we bought our house 14 years ago. And then I mentioned that we had two little boys. That did the trick – they both remembered us.

It’s weird to me to have my identity so tightly associated to just one aspect of what makes me who I am. I mean, I suppose I could’ve said, “I’m the guy that flies the Greek flag,” or “We used to talk about University of Utah football,” but I don’t think that would have provided the same recognition as being the two gay men with kids.

There are a plethora of articles about men losing their identities when they become dads. I think a big part of this loss stems from a shift in priorities. Once you become a father, your priorities have to change. That’s true for all parents – gay or straight, dads and moms.

But this change in perspective isn’t always bad. For me, it’s led to some positive personal growth. For example, a decade or so ago, I decided to see a therapist. My goal was to be a better dad – I didn’t want my sons to have memories of me always barking at them. Those sessions helped me work through a lot of anger issues I hadn’t dealt with. I like that change in my identity.

And frankly, I’m proud that people associate me as my sons’ dad. In fact, the first time it really happened was adorable. When our youngest was in pre-school, they had a requirement: a parent had to volunteer in the school. For whatever reason, I was the parent that went to school with him. And not surprisingly, I was usually the only dad.

One little girl took a shining to me and called me “Niko’s Dad.” She hugged me every time she saw me. She even drew a picture for me that we hung on our fridge. One day, we took a trip to the zoo as a family. Unbeknownst to us, that little girl and her family were also there. All of a sudden, I saw this kid come running up to me and throw herself at my legs in a hug. It took me a minute to register that it was my son’s classmate. From the look on her father’s face, he was appalled. That’s when I said, “I’m Niko’s Dad” – like that was my name, which for all intents and purposes it was — and he burst out laughing. He’d heard about me.

Personally, as a gay man, I love the fact that, first and foremost, people identify me as a father. I think it breaks down stereotypes and allows families like mine to be viewed as just another part of the community. I embrace that as my identity.

The brief reunion with our former neighbors was nice right until they asked us how old the boys are now. Yeah, I’m not too sure I like identifying as the father of adults.

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