Like Father, Like Son?
By Dan Bucatinsky
It's a feeling I haven't had since I was 11, one that floods back the way a particular sound or smell sends you back in an instant — diesel exhaust, an ambulance in France, lemon Pledge, the sound of my cousin Pearl walking in leather pants, and the smell generated by that hot, taut leather after she's obviously used baby powder as a substitute for bathing. But lately, it's junior high that comes to mind: the strident squeaks of kids' sneakers and slamming lockers. And kids slamming me inside those lockers. It's an anxious feeling -- sadness and insecurity. Memories flood back. Like wrestling in gym. All those guys screaming 'Kill him!' across the mat. Those guys.
They walked with a swagger, one I tried to imitate but never seemed to perfect. A little bowlegged, carrying their books as though they could take them or leave them, like they were doing the books a favor by letting them rest against their thighs. 'Just walk,' I'd tell myself. But then my books would get knocked out of my arms. 'Faggot.' I'd pretend it was what I had intended to do: 'Oh good. Thank you, actually, I was literally about to lay my biology textbook in the mud. So, you saved me the trouble!' How did these kids know? Like police helicopters with their giant spotlights. Precocious in their ability to sniff out a homo.
Why is this haunting me again now? And in my own home? I see him down the hall. He walks toward me -- the bowlegged swagger, the confidence, the mischievous grin.
'Just walk,' I want to tell myself. Then, bam! He throws his arms around my leg as if to tackle me, but instead, looks up'huge grin, eyes twinkling'and says, 'Hi, Daddy!' I scoop him up and kiss his neck. That's right. No name-calling. No need to run. The new bully on the block is Jonah. My 2-year-old son.
Don and I went back and forth about wanting a boy or a girl. We knew what it was like to have a girl -- we already had one. So fun and familiar, and safe. A boy was scary. Unknown. All that energy. And of course, the sports. Don hoped, if we had a boy, he'd be just like him: a kid who's happy to stay indoors, reading Jane Austen, darning socks while composing fan mail to Julie Andrews in his head. But adoption doesn't work that way. You can't really count on any of your own genetic predispositions.
Fast-forward a few months and our birth mom's in L.A. for a structural ultrasound. We'd finally be able to tell the sex of the baby! The doctor scanned her belly and finally said, 'Aha! It's a boy.' Don and I looked at each other. 'Are you positive?' The doctor said, '95% sure. Otherwise it's a girl with an oversized labia.' I bristled. Eww... No. I mean how oversized? And what exactly would that involve? Is there special paneled underwear? It didn't matter to Don. He clung to that 5% chance and told everyone, 'We're having a girl!'
But I knew it was a boy, and I was getting excited about how the new little guy would complete our family. Since we already had Eliza from the same mother, we'd now have one of each. Isn't that what everyone wants? I just never really thought about what it meant to have one of each. To be the father of at least one son. I'm a son. And now a father. So it's the same thing. A boy. Just like me. Or maybe not. If I really thought about it, at some point in his life this boy could discover that he might be, you know, not gay. Obviously, it's a possibility. Just not one I'd ever entertained. Not because I had any prejudice or predisposition against straight guys. I don't. I just don't think about, you know, them that often. Because for me, them is who I avoided while walking in school hallways. Them wanted me dead in wrestling class. And that's how it's always been: There was me and there was them. Right? I don't mean any offense. Some of my best friends are straight. A few are gay, actually, but don't tell their wives.