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Random Wisdom

“People prefer society to do their thinking for them – It is easier. It takes away the need to make moral judgements.” — Albert Schweitzer

Gay Fatherhood

By J.D. Moss

The Texas Triangle 1993
The Texas Observer 1993

             “I get up at six in the morning ’cause I’ve got to get the kids to school. I jump in my car. I fight the traffic. I go to work. I practice medicine all day. I get home in order to get supper on the table. Get their homework done. Get the dishes done. Spend a little time watching TV together. Get them in bed and that leaves me hour or hour and a half of free time.”

            That’s how Phillip Baker describes a typical day with his two children. That doesn’t include the family’s many activities, one of which is Phillip’s involvement with Gay Fathers of Austin

            Phillip is a father of two children: Jesse, age twelve and Caitlin, age nine. Phillip is also gay. They live in a middle class home, in a middle class neighborhood, and there seems to be no difference between them and any other family. So is there a difference?

            “Being a gay parent is no different then being a straight parent.” Phillip states. “If you have children… you have to be prepared to dedicate the rest of your life to their well being… and that means being there… gay or straight.”

            There are a lot of gay fathers, most of whom were married before coming out. When a gay father first comes out he not only has to deal with his homosexuality, he must also deal with the implication it will have on the family and with his relationship with his children.

            That is why Gay Fathers of Austin was formed. To give support and help to fathers who may have nowhere else to turn.  And it appears the support group may work too well. Phillip says the group is not as active as he would like to see it.

            “Everyone got stable.” He says with a smile. “The kids knew, the wife knew, the fights were over.”

            Of the fathers involved with the group when he joined, Phillip says that all either received custody of their children or have regular visitation rights.

            “It’s hard to maintain a support group when everyone’s life is great.”

            Yet the need of such a group is still there. As new gay fathers start coming out and gay couples decide to have childre­n, the legal and emotional needs of these families must be met.

            In Travis County, Phillip says, “There is a gentlemen’s agreement that, basically sexuality is not an issue.” Yet that is not true of most places.

            There are many cases when a parent finds out that a spouse is gay and the gloves come off. Many straight spouses will use the issue to get back at their partners or to gain full custody of the children.

            One gay father had a divorce degree requiring that his daughter not spend the night with him.  Others are not allowed to see their children unsupervised or even at all.

            However, Phillip believes most of these problems can be worked out over time, as was the case of the stiff requirements of the fathers divorce degree. “In time his wife agreed that the restrictions were unfair and they were removed.”

            Generally the best chance a gay parent has in child custody cases depends on how much hostility is involved in the divorce.

            “Most people wait until they’re at each others throats. If they split when they still love each other, still are friends – then there is so much more to work with.” Phillip says and adds that it also makes a big difference if the husband comes out to his wife, rather then being found out.

             And how do the children respond? “To most children being gay is just another piece of information. The most important thing to them is that your dad.”

            It also helps when children are told about a parent’s homosexuality when they are young, rather then when they are in their teen years.

            Jesse was six or seven when his dad told him he was gay and was more interested in getting a Coke to drink. “I wasn’t shocked or anything, but I didn’t understand.”  Jesse adds that things might have been different had his dad waited until now to tell him. “For six years I’ve known not to listen to everybody at school. If I had not known and I started believing all these things they say, it wouldn’t have worked. It would have taken a long time.”

            Caitlin is more interested in her homework, trophies, blueberry muffins and not cleaning out their cat’s litter box, then she is about her father’s sexuality – although, she did talk to her school counselor about her father.

            Phillip recalls he received a somewhat concerned call from the school, yet everything turned out all right. “My experience has been, so far, that people’s reaction depends on weather they know you or not. I’ve found that given a change lots of people are surprisingly tolerant.”

“A lot aren’t.” Jesse injects.

            It is easy to see that all three have different areas of concern, with Jesse dealing with a lot of homophobia in his school.

            “I’m not going to come out and tell somebody because they don’t know anything. They won’t listen to anybody, they’re really close minded about it all, so I just don’t talk about it at school.”

            Jesse has a lot of frustration when it comes to his peers gay prejudice and hateful talk about homosexuals. “It bothers me, but I don’t say anything. I’ve gotten real close to getting in big fights over it.” Jesse looks at his father shyly and adds. “And I probably will before the years over.”

            Phillip believes the reason so many people have such negative images of gays is because they mostly see negative stereotypes. “Most straight people have never thought about gay issues because it didn’t touch their lives, because we were invisible. We kept ourselves invisible. I underst­and why we did that, but the bottom line is we have to take responsibility and come out of the closet.”

            If a positive image is what is needed, you won’t find a better role model then the Baker family. They are no more or less than most families. They believe strongly in the family values you hear so much about. They care about and love one other. Each agrees that their father’s sexuality isn’t an issue to them.

When asked if it makes a difference, Caitlin says “Not at all.”

        Jesse’s advice to other children of gay parents; “Don’t listen to the negative kids. If I’d listened to everybody at school I’d hate him (his father.) but I don’t. I don’t listen because it’s wrong.”

            Philip’s last words are to his daughter, “Cat litter, cat litter, cat litter.”

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