A year ago, I went to a dad blogger conference in New Orleans. As an executive coach, I was excited to write about the intersection of fatherhood and work. Gen X dads were the first to consider putting fatherhood on par with career, but I credit millennial dads with challenging the assumption that men have to choose career or fatherhood as a lead. They want both, and they’re helping realize this for themselves, and for the rest of us.
As I checked into my hotel, it hit me that this was the first time I had been at a predominantly male event where the unifying theme wasn’t related to being gay. I was worried about how I’d be received, but my anxiousness quickly subsided as I struck up conversations at panels, roundtables, and booths. Though I met just one other gay father, I felt completely welcome and understood.
At the conference were dads (and a few moms) from across the country and in all types of work: corporate leaders, startup employees, solo entrepreneurs, and stay-at-home parents. They were diverse in age, ethnicity, and faith. But to all of us, parenting was what mattered most. I left the weekend with a handful of new friends. More importantly, I returned home with an appreciation that what we had in common outweighed what differentiated us. The joys and challenges of raising children, navigating relationships, and managing work are the same regardless of sexual orientation.
In both my work as a coach and my day-to-day life in Los Angeles, I’ve been fortunate to connect with a diverse group of dads. And yet I realize some straight dads might not know how to reach out to gay dads, or why it’s important. So, with perspectives from some other gay dads — of course, I can’t speak for all of us — I’ve pulled together this list of seven things I want straight dads to know. I share it in the spirit of creating safety and community.
We Want to Be Treated Like Any Other Dads
While we may be just as comfortable hanging out with your wife as we are with you, we do notice if you head off to do your own thing when we’re around. We appreciate an invitation to dads’ night out, an offer to grab a beer while our kids play in the backyard, and acknowledgment on Father’s Day.
We Might Relate to Your Wife
Obviously, gay men who are married understand what it’s like to be married to a man! If you wonder what your wife is thinking or why something you said or did triggered a baffling response, we might have a perspective that can bridge the gap between Mars and Venus.
You Can Ask Us Questions
We realize we might be the first gay dad(s) you’ve met. It’s natural to be curious, and that’s okay. In fact, asking about our husbands or partners shows us that you are interested in really getting to know us and that you are someone we can consider an ally.
Worried about saying the wrong thing? A good rule of thumb: If your question feels too awkward to ask a straight parent, it might be too awkward to ask a gay parent. Instead of asking “Did you go through surrogacy or adopt?” you could say “What are you comfortable sharing about how you built your family?” Also, please don’t ask “What happened to the mother?” And definitely don’t ask “Which one of you is the mother?” We are all fathers.
We Understand Mental Load
There is an invisible workload to parenting — all of the project management that often, among straight parents, falls on the mom. Gay families can struggle with this imbalance, too. As the dad in my house with more work flexibility, I get it and I feel it. Single dads especially get it. These tasks aren’t just women’s work. Gay fathers must accept this reality, and I encourage you to embrace it, too.
Our Kids Are Watching (And Learning)
Chances are, our kids will grow up to be straight. We want to expose them to positive straight male role models. They learn from how you treat other men, women, children, and people who are different. Whether it’s on the field, in the classroom, or in your home, treat our kids like any other kids. We expect them to be respectful and kind to adults, friends, and teammates. When (not if!) they slip up, you can help them grow and learn from the experience.
Your Kids Are Watching (And Learning)
The relationships you build with families like ours send a signal to your kids about acceptance. Explaining our family to them in an open and supportive way normalizes it and lays the foundation for an appreciation of diversity throughout their lives.
Also, if you have school-age children, keep in mind that it’s too early to know for certain if any of them will grow up to be gay. If you talk to almost any LGBTQ adult, they can share an insensitive comment from childhood that gave them pause when deciding to come out. Building connection with families that don’t look like yours establishes a sense of safety for your kids and signals to them that it’s okay to be themselves with you.
Nurture Has No Gender
In the days leading up to the birth of my first son, I felt some sadness that he would not grow up with a mother. My mom is one of the most important people in my life, and I can’t imagine my childhood without her.
My therapist asked me some powerful questions during this time. What was it my mother did for me that was so special? Was there anything she did for me that I wouldn’t be able to do for my son? The answer: no. So, whether you’re single or married, trust that you are capable of providing anything you want for your kids.
Gay dads and straight dads need each other. I cherish my friendships with other gay fathers, but I need more; my family needs more. I believe gay fathers have something to offer straight dads and their families, too. Building relationships between straight dads and gay dads can make all families stronger and happier. Collectively, we can be the village that raises our children, ultimately helping every child grow up in a safer, more inclusive world.
Peter Gandolfo is a certified executive coach and career coach who works with leaders at all levels to build awareness and make progress towards their goals. He’s passionate about working with fathers who want to continue to achieve in their careers while also being present for their children. He lives in Los Angeles with his husband and their two young boys.