The Party Dads

6.2.2008

By Steve Weinstein

Earlier this year Scott Larson and his partner, Kyle, were planning for the annual White Party in Palm Springs, Calif. The couple also snowboarded, barhopped, went out dancing, and sandwiched in gym workouts after work. And they're looking forward to an Atlantis cruise next January.

Just like any other affluent Los Angeles gay couple, right? Well, yes -- except that Scott and Kyle are the doting parents of a baby girl, Johanna, born in November 2007. Her birth mom, Gwyn, lives with them in their rambling home and helps raise her. And their household includes five stray dogs they've adopted.

Meet the new gay dads. 'Whereas older men became fathers first, then gay,' says David Bauman, who created and runs GayFatherhood.com, these guys 'came to terms with their sexuality earlier in life and made a conscious decision to have kids.'

At 40, Bauman is the same age as Larson, but the similarity ends there. Bauman, who lives in a small Pennsylvania town, was influenced by his deeply religious upbringing to get married and start a family, which he did while studying for the ministry. Not long after the youngest of his three sons, now 11, was born, he divorced his wife and went through what he now calls 'my gay adolescence.' He went to New York City's gay pride celebration, where he thought, How do I fit into this?

Soon afterward he met Brian, his partner, who is eight years younger. Bauman has joint custody of his sons with his ex-wife, who lives nearby, and the two men share with her in bringing up the boys. Despite the turmoil in his life, Bauman wouldn't have it any other way. 'I once thought, Why didn't I come to terms with this sooner?' he says. 'But my youngest son came up and hugged me, and I realized, If I'd had, I wouldn't have you.'

Michael Barr, a Chicago psychology professor, belongs to the earlier, pioneering post-Stonewall generation of out gay dads. His son -- also from a previous marriage -- is now 29 but always considered his dad's partner more of a big brother than a second dad when he was growing up; he had to contend with ribbing from friends about having a gay dad'if not outright abuse. His son, Barr's 6-year-old grandson, has no issues and sees his two granddads as perfectly natural.

But there's more that separates people like Larson and Bauman. Along with coming out earlier, the new gay dads 'want to have it all,' says Jeffrey Parsons, a psychology professor at Hunter College in New York and, at age 40, the father of an infant son. 'They have the life and children and adult responsibilities but also keep their connections to the community, sometimes in the party scene.'

Often, these 'disco dads' have sampled the circuit, the beaches, the bars, and the baths, and they're ready to settle down. But whereas that once meant a partner and maybe dogs, increasingly it includes a child, either through surrogacy or adoption.

Anyone looking for a sign of profound changes in our world need go no farther than New York's Fire Island Pines, the resort town considered the world capital of gay hedonism. Last summer it was host to a 'gymboree' for kids 3 and younger.

When he came out, Bauman ran into some people who were unsupportive or derisively called him a 'breeder.' Rob Levy, who lives in Chelsea, Manhattan's well-known gayborhood, remembers bringing son Ethan, now 10, out to Fire Island for the first time and having someone ask him, 'Wouldn't a dog have been easier?'

Today, Ethan is the darling of the house that Levy and partner David Schutte share with other (nonparent) gay couples in Fire Island Pines. Every weekend is filled with beach play dates with the children of gay and straight parents. Now, when guys approach Levy, it's to ask how he went about adopting Ethan. 'We get a lot of twinkies who tell us they want to do it when they grow up,' Levy jokes. 'They talk about kids when they're dating. It's part of their goals -- a big change. We never talked about kids.'

Stephen Kaplan is only 30, but he and his partner, Will Nolan, 36, have been dads for two years already. Kaplan always knew he wanted kids. He dated only guys who felt the same way. Last winter the two men had a trip to Montreal all planned. Kaplan's mom would fly in to babysit. A snowstorm interfered with those plans, but the two men still got to spend a weekend in New York -- a treat since they live just across the Hudson River but don't get out as much these days. 'A lot of our single gay friends enjoy a different lifestyle,' Kaplan says. 'But they're always asking us, 'Can we play with Michael?'' -- the couple's adopted son.

Gay dads are popping up everywhere. Jerry Nadal's and Gene Lubas's day (and night) jobs are with Cirque du Soleil on the Las Vegas Strip, and a lot of international travel is required of them. But they spend as much time as they can with their infant twin sons. 'Our jobs are more than full time,' Lubas says. 'We put in 10- to 12-hour days. A lot of our work is involved with social affairs.' A full-time nanny helps -- as do their showbiz friends, straight and gay, who fight over who gets to babysit when the couple wants to have a date night out on the town.

Part of the reason we are continuing to find new ways of child-rearing is that we have had so few examples. Antonio Brown and partner Stewart Wade are parents to a 14-year-old boy they adopted from Wade's sister when he was 9 (the boy had started living with Wade at age 4). The couple has also made a feature film, Tru Loved, about two gay dads and two lesbian moms raising a teenage girl. Eric Miller, a co'executive producer of the film with his partner in business and life, Eric Borsum -- they're also parents to a teenage son -- says they wanted to make a movie that showed 'people like us, who aren't represented in mainstream entertainment.' That sense of feeling marginalized sometimes extends to the West Hollywood gay scene, Borsum added. Gay dads notice that their interests sometimes don't mesh with childless men.

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