Please, don’t ask Nathan Tavares if he and his husband want to have kids.
I was the first of my friends to get married. My husband and I quasi-eloped. Only a handful of people knew about our plans. We stopped at Chipotle on the way to our marriage ceremony, which was a five minute exchanging of vows on a beach with a Justice of the Peace. What you find after you get married is that people always ask, “So, how does it feel to be married?” Then, “When are you having kids?”
(The correct answer to the first question is always, “It feels the same as being unmarried.” But eventually, snark will creep into your responses. “It feels great—except now people ask me dumb questions like that all the time. Also, I’ve found that my night vision has increased.”)
The kids question can be a potential minefield for us. Me especially, I suspect. Sure, we’re two men. But that’s not where the hesitancy or conflict stems from. When people ask me when we’re going to have kids, we don’t typically tread into the waters of surrogacy versus adoption. Because I’m usually sputtering excuses. Oh, we travel a lot. We like our freedom. We’re not financially ready. But maybe in 10 years.
This vague, hazy, “maybe in 10 years” line is an easy way out of the conversation. What I don’t want to talk about with a friend,who has just said we’d make better parents than that fun gay couple on Modern Family, is that I don’t think I could handle being a dad.
I love kids. I lived in the same household as my oldest nephew for the first few years of his life. I changed dirty diapers. I watched Finding Nemo more times than I could count. I burst into tears with my sister and my dad when my nephew waved at us from the bus, on his first day of school. All while my nephew’s father looked on, dry-eyed and stone-faced, before asking, “What’s wrong with you people?”
Was my nephew scared? I pictured him in the bus, the green plastic seat sticking to his legs in the heat, nervousness curling in his stomach.
I’ve spoken with many of my female friends about kids, lately. Over lunch in the city that I just moved to. With one of my oldest friends over beer and chicken wings. With a friend of mine not 24 hours into her marriage. With women in their mid-to-late 20s, the reaction was the same. They wanted to have kids before they were 30.
I’m in awe of these women. Sometimes, it seems that just days ago we were doing tequila shots together, and then drunkenly professing our earnest love for each other. They never once mentioned feeling hesitant about becoming a parent because they didn’t think they were emotionally ready to care for another life.
What I think people aren’t allowed to talk about, and men in particular, is how scary it is to think about a child being so dependent on you. They’ll look to you for everything. For guidance. For comfort. I felt weird for days after Lost ended. Maybe I’m not the best point for a trusting, impressionable mind to point their compass to?
I had a warm and supportive home life when I was growing up. But sometimes I think of my early teenage years, a time when kids called me a fag at school, before I even admitted my sexuality to myself. The days where I would go home after school, and sit in my room and stare at the ceiling, quicksand-ing through depression. Long before I discovered better ways to handle my emotions
“Are you ok?” I remember my mother asking one day, after knocking on my door to find me in bed, with my headphones plugged into whatever sad song was repeating on loop in my CD player that day. My back was toward the door. “I’m fine,” I had said. I’d been crying, silently, and was clearly not fine.
But what can a parent do, for a kid who doesn’t want to talk about his problems? Beg them? Pray that they could take on their kid’s pain? That somehow it could float across the space of a small, dark room and land in her own chest?
No. You close the bedroom door because you can’t force your son to talk about things until he is ready. You are strong for him. You carry a small shade of his sadness around with you. You tell him you love him as often as you can.
Parents are heroes, I tell people. I try to joke with my friends about kids. How do you do it? I can barely take care of myself. Going through those years once was enough. How do you watch your kid go through the same struggles—the teasing, the breakups—without it tearing you apart inside?
I recently took an intensive Portuguese class. There’s something humbling about being in a room full of adults speaking in broken sentences. All of us trying to shape our minds around foreign conjugations and beautiful new sounds.
One day, we spoke about the nuclear family. A nuclear family should count only the people in your household, our instructor said. We broke off into small groups and asked each other, our words stilted, how many people are in our families.
Just two of us, I said.
I didn’t have the words to explain, in so many different ways, why we had no kids. We’d been learning how to construct sentences like, Where is the library? Did Fernando go to the party? How could I unleash on my fellow students, with my limited vocabulary, “Well, yeah. We’re not ready for kids yet. It’s a big responsibility, and I worry about being the emotional anchor in a kid’s life.”
“No,” I said, in my badly-accented Portuguese. But maybe in 10 years.
—Photo Jon Olav/Flickr