The Party Dads
By Steve Weinstein
David Strah, who divides his time between Manhattan and East Hampton with his partner and two children, wrote the seminal book Gay Dads on the subject back in 2003. In it he quotes partner Barry Miguel ruefully observing that one child might be fun for gay friends, but two is too many: 'When one kid is running around and a baby is screaming, the novelty has worn off -- at least where others are concerned.'
Maybe so, but once they're older, dad and dad may start to step out again, something gay party promoter (and father) Hilton Wolman has noticed. 'Quite a few drop out of the scene for a few years and stay home,' he says. 'But as the kids start spending time with friends, their parents are coming back -- not as the party animals they were, but [they go] to some events.'
So maybe there's no day care at the White Party -- yet. But there are more dads like Jonathan Wallach, the father of two teenagers from a previous marriage. He and partner Don Bux live on Manhattan's Upper West Side. They're both very hands-on in his kids' upbringing, but the two heavily muscled men certainly don't resemble a gay version of Ward and June Cleaver.
After Wallach separated from his wife, he and Bux starting living together in 2002. That same year they experienced their first Black Party; this year marked their seventh. They attended Montreal's massive Black and Blue event in 2003 as a honeymoon after getting married in Toronto. They've done Gay Days in Orlando, Blue Ball, Alegria, and EuroPride in Madrid.
Wallach not only continues to enjoy the gay party scene but also wants his kids to see how much fun it is. When they return to Madrid this year, they'll be bringing Wallach's parents and the kids, whom he plans to take to the big street party. 'Even though a lot of gay men try to have it all,' he says, 'they still have very traditional beliefs about what their children should or should not be exposed to. Don and I have none of those rules.'
Of course, some things remain off-limits. 'If I was on Manhunt and my daughter wants to use the computer, I'd say, 'Hold on a second, you can't see that,'' Wallach says, adding that his daughter would simply reply, 'I don't want to see what you're doing.'
Bux considers the ability to integrate parties into his life as a dad as an advantage in dealing with difficult problems and choices all teens face today. 'We've had long discussions about drugs,' he says. 'They know we like to go out dancing, and they just think it's funny.'
If dads like Bux and Wallach stay very much in the scene, some gay dads are now running the scene.
David Knapp, one of the best-known and most established gay DJs, he has built a reputation for his sexy beats and hard-driving compilation CDs. He's also the official DJ for R Family Vacations. Nearly every weekend, he can be seen in a DJ booth, looking down on a sea of hot, sweaty men. But no matter how late he stayed up all weekend or how far away he was, at 7 a.m. on Monday he's getting Ryan and Kira, his son and daughter, dressed and ready for school.
Knapp considers the stable family life in Atlanta that he shares with partner Scott Bellknapp a counterbalance to his love of music and nightlife. The same holds true, he says, for more and more of the men dancing below him. For example, on a Saturday at Town Danceboutique in Washington, D.C., where he's resident DJ twice a month, a couple came up to the booth and told him they had a 12-year-old daughter.
'All of us are determined not to let parenthood take away from who we've become,' says Knapp. 'All of us -- I'm speaking for the dads I know -- are part of the gay lifestyle, the gay community. We're not circuit boys, but when we go out we appreciate it so much. You can get jaded doing it all the time. It gives us a new perspective.'
As one of the biggest club promoters in south Florida, Wolman is a major player on the gay party scene. If Larson and the other gay dads are redefining what 'family' means, Wolman has reimagined it. He lives with his beloved wife, to whom he came out 12 years ago, and his eldest son, who happens to be gay.
When Wolman started taking his wife to parties, she wasn't comfortable. Now she enjoys them nearly as much as he does. 'She's become far more secure,' he says, 'and far more accepting that monogamy isn't an imperative in every relationship.'
His son Myron, 24, jokes about some of the 'interesting stories' that have arisen from being at a circuit party or on a gay cruise with Mom and Dad. 'Five days after I came out,' he recalls, 'my parents said, 'OK, we're all going to Gay Days!''
Still, he admits, 'Sometimes it's weird on the dance floor to look over and there's my dad -- and not only a gay dad but a dad so in the scene. He knows everybody. He knows exactly what goes on -- so that opens up the conversation about safe sex and drug use. It's allowed for us to talk about absolutely everything.'
Like the gay dads interviewed for this article, Myron is self-conscious about being part of a quiet revolution that is smashing the outdated Ward and June Cleaver image of parenting. 'It's showing that family bonds aren't just in the storybooks,' he says, 'with the white picket fence, golden retriever, and a mommy and a daddy. It's nice to see we're making steps toward reinventing the modern American family.'