by Fred Dickey June 17, 2012
Father’s Day is to honor good men everywhere who faithfully tend the vineyards of family duty.
It’s also a theme-for-a-day meant to romance the idyllic and caress our mythology. Even in first grade, many of us learned to read with pictures of Father driving home after work to his cozy bungalow. There to greet him were Mother in her frilly apron alongside Dick, Jane, Sally, and panting Spot jumping up for a pat. All eager to welcome home their lion of domesticity.
Myths are important, but reality trumps, because the nagging truth for too many of us is that we didn’t (or don’t) have very good fathers. It’s a fact that can lead to self-pity, anger, or reinforce the importance of the many wonderful dads out there—the ones we didn’t have. So, it’s important to place a high value on great dads, whoever and whatever they might be.
In that pursuit, I found a couple who had to fight hard to be accepted, both as married and as parents, and who seem to live the domesticity that we idealized in our Dick-and-Jane primers.
Ryland Madison and Mark Fisher are two fathers under the same roof raising a small son. That’s right. They’re gay parents.
(Some of you are now saying: “Aw, here comes another kumbaya, bleeding-heart lecture.” But, come on, hear me out.)
Madison, 44, and Fisher, 46, are marketing executives who would fit comfortably into any Rotary Club. I don’t know how they vote, but Mitt Romney would certainly love the looks of them.
Max, their son, is a six-year-old first grader who was adopted at birth. That was before gay marriage was legal in
The Madison-Fisher family lives in an upscale condo in
Max is a strapping boy with a robust but polite manner, bright blue eyes and a blond ‘fro. His birth parents were Polish and Creole, which is a name for
To each man, his mate is a husband. The men married three years ago, as soon as it became legal in this state. They’ve been together for 25 years since sharing a dorm room at UCSD, cemented by a commitment ceremony 13 years ago. They are undecided on adopting more children, although Max says he wants a sister.
Fisher is mellow and soft-spoken, but when he talks about public perceptions, he reveals a bit of edginess. For instance, when a store clerk casually asks Max about his mother, Fisher will correct her and say Max has two fathers. That elicits a red-faced apology, which, of course, results in nothing but a little take-that satisfaction.
The fathers aren’t worried about the difference between their family and others and its effect on Max. “Some people think if you’re gay or straight you act one way or another. But since we happen to socialize mainly with straight families—about 70 percent--he won’t notice a difference socially,”
On the issue of when to tell Max he was adopted, the fathers are not quite ready to move forward on that.
“We tell him he was brought to us by an angel,” Fisher says. When Max tells him that some kids wonder why there is no mother in his house,
But when Max is asked what he says to kids who wonder about his not having a mother, he says, “I tell them I’m not adopted.”
That takes the fathers aback. “We’re getting to that point,”
The fathers also have to deal with being of different religions, a common thing in marriages of today.
“He [Max] may end up being a Buddhist,”
“What’s a Buddhist?” Max asks.
Their attitude toward discipline is a model of modern parenting.
Max interrupts: “Sometimes you yell at me.”
Max has had no bad experiences in school, although you wouldn’t expect it in first grade. That’s more typical of junior high barbarity.
As to the long-term effect on children raised in a gay household,
Other than my hope of retiring forever that hideous “significant other” label, gay marriage and parenthood are not passionate issues for me either way. However, I’m something of a traditionalist, so I have to be pleased to see a child in a happy, secure home who might otherwise be psychologically crippled in a dysfunctional family trap or shuttled between a succession of foster parents.
As a society, we have to work through our disputes over radical changes in our culture’s rules and values. Those debates are how democracy works. They can be loud and messy, but over time they generally iron things out. So, tomorrow, let’s resume the argument, but today let’s have a time-out and celebrate that Max is in a loving and happy home.
And for that, I say Happy Father’s Day to Ryland and Mark.
Fred Dickey of Cardiff is a novelist and award-winning magazine writer who believes every life is an adventure. He welcomes column ideas and other suggestions; contact him at [email protected].
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