On Being Straight (A Thought Experiment)

I must have been born straight. For as long as I can remember, I have been attracted to the opposite sex. I can’t explain why this is. It is visceral, a part of me. I could no more convince myself to stop being straight than I could will my lungs into gills.

Still, many people these days think being straight is unnatural.

Gay friends have tried to “help” me with my “problem.” And I know they mean well. Sometimes they quote the words of holy people who have said that heterosexuality is wrong. “Man was made for man and woman for woman,” they recite from books written thousands of years ago, calling it a perennial truth. But back then, all men were treated like property, and people lived brutal, tribal lives. We select and interpret constantly from the past. I’d like to think that what’s everlasting, even spiritual, is based more on love than condemnation.

People sometimes insinuate that my two dads were unsuitable role models, not gay enough to be “real” men. Or they suspect some woman must have come along and “corrupted” me in my youth. Some people think being straight is a club you can be “recruited” into (and therefore leave). It is not just about sex, or shock value. I am not rebelling against anything or anyone. I am trying, in fact, to be most fully who I already am.
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A Father’s Farewell

My dad and me with our new train set on Christmas day

On Friday, I got up before dawn, as I often do. This time, however, it was not to write, but to listen. I walked two blocks to the clubhouse of a retirement home, where the local chapter of Toastmasters was in session. My father has asked very little of me in the six years we have lived across town from each other in the sleepy hamlet of Ojai, California. Today he wanted me to come hear him give a speech.

I came away both moved and proud, reflecting on our thirty-two years together. At my request, my father has posted the text of the speech, as well as an audio recording of him reading it, on his own website. In the speech, he mentions my losing a son, his almost losing me, and how our experience of the fragility of life has shaped us, and our relationship.

Needless to say, I will miss him when we leave.


Photo: Per H. Olsen

When I created the “Fatherhood” category on my website nearly five years ago, I knew that becoming a dad marked a rite of passage. It never occurred to me that our son James might only live three days, or how having and losing him in such short succession would change me. No man accurately anticipates the full impact of fatherhood. And as much as I knew the birth of our son would better me, I never expected that by his departure I would also gain in courage, compassion, and strength. Truly, it is a remarkable being, who both by his coming and going can have touched my life so profoundly.

I crossed both the equator and the International Date Line this week to meet another remarkable being — my new nephew. He is my wife’s sister’s child, and, like James, he seems to have inherited his lip line from that side of the family. But unlike our James, his eyes are open, and everything about him is inquisitive and alive. It feels both precious and surprisingly natural to spend time with him — hoisting him up to get a better look at the tropical fish at the aquarium, feeding him spoonfuls of mush, and pushing him through the rainy streets in his waterproof pram in search of great fish and chips.

And so, I embrace a new rite of passage, into unclehood. Continue reading…

What Marriage Means to Me

The best man at my wedding was, and is, gay. We met several years before I met my wife. We were both fresh out of college, finding our way in relationships. We would take turns, over espresso drinks, listening to one another’s hopeless crushes, dating mishaps, and heartbreaks. With each new relationship we learned a little more about what we each wanted in a partner, and encouraged each other that we would, one day, find The One — his patient, kind, domestic-minded guy; my smart, quirky, artistic girl. For both of us, finding a partner who wanted kids was important.

As soon as Val and I got married, we started referring to ourselves as a family. After the death of our infant son, my understanding of what marriage and family means changed dramatically. The commitment we made in our wedding ceremony — to love one another unconditionally, as best we can — was held to the fire. Grieving our hopes and dreams as parents tested the definition of “family” as a unit of support. Certainly, we were stronger together than apart — but some days we found ourselves both simply unable to give any more. It was in these times that the greater family — including relatives and friends — buoyed us up. Our commitment to love each other, and to support each other in learning and growing in the midst of adversity, became a new, refined definition of what it means to be married, and to be a family.

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