Editor’s Note: City Dads Group is proud to occasionally feature writing from members of The Handsome Father, a support community that helps connect, prepare and inspire gay fathers. In this piece, Jim Joseph writes about his desire to be a father.
It’s always struck me funny how we tend to automatically give women credit for having maternal instinct. We grant it automatically; it’s just a part of our culture.
With men, however, it’s been almost the complete opposite. We rarely credit men with paternal instinct, and it’s only after we’ve witnessed a super-human effort from the guy before we acknowledge his ability to care for his kids.
I beg to differ, and thankfully we’ve seen our cultural sentiment around paternal instincts start to change.
Dads are amazing parents, and we are finally seeing our society embrace that fact … whether we are single, whether there’s also a mother, or whether we are part of a same-sex couple. The gender roles of men in the household (and our acceptance of them) have been changing dramatically over the last few years. Paternal instincts exist, too, and parenting is now less about our sexuality, and more about our caregiving.
But it wasn’t always that way, and I was there back in the day.
Paternal instinct was baked into my DNA. It’s not that I longed to have kids from the day I was born, I just always saw myself as a dad. For me, it was a natural extension of who I am.
It was that paternal instinct that guided so many of my decisions as a young adult, which looking back now totally clouded other aspects of who I am.
By the time I was ready to have children, it was the early 1990s and I’d spent years following a traditional path dictated by societal expectations and driven by peer pressure. All of my friends around me were getting married and having kids pretty quickly. Because I also wanted to have kids, I also got married … to a woman … because I was supposed to. That’s what men did back then, especially if they wanted to have kids at some point.
There were no other role models.
My desire to succeed and my paternal instinct were both so strong that I was willing to do anything and literally everything to make a traditional family work, completely ignoring any other options to the contrary.
I tried to will it to work and I tried to work it to work. But ultimately, it didn’t work. I finally had to really figure out who I am and make the necessary changes to live a happy life with my family.
Years later, with two adult children, I look back upon my journey as a father and don’t really know how I did it. We lived such an unconventional life, and we were very much alone in our existence. I was often the only truly active father, and I was almost always the only gay one. I was an anomaly, by far. And my kids were the only ones with a gay dad.
I don’t know how they did it.
Now, of course, times have changed so dramatically. Men of every size, shape and flavor can embrace their parental instinct to have children. We’ve accepted that men can be caregivers, and good ones at that. And dare I say that, yes, even gay men can make exceptional fathers, right alongside their other male counterparts.
We’ve come a long way, but there’s still a long way to go. There’s still prejudice and it’s still very hard to lead a life that’s labeled as “different.”
So we have to continue to talk about these issues, and share our stories if we really do want to change the world.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jim Joseph has amassed many accolades through his long career in marketing, but not one is more important than the daily badge he wears with the most pride – dad. This New York father of two has written a trilogy of marketing books, has been regular contributor to Entrepreneur and Huffington Post, and in 2015 published the memoir Out and About Dad about his journey as a gay man and a single father at a time when neither was common or all that accepted in society.
A version of this article first appeared on The Handsome Father.