The Sun Sets All Ways in the West

The sun sets all ways in the west as the

shadows grow indigo follows the red

as darkness scratches around the garden,

the lilacs close, the calallilies led


to scent.  You sit upon the lawn, wonder

why the clover still stays still, warm and sweet

but underneath the dew whispers,

the petals of the angel’s trumpet sweet


against a crescent rising.

You wait upon the evening star.

An owl hoots, his feathers silent.

A cricket chirps from here to far.


You breathe your wish in one long sigh

to know that in east the sun runs nigh.

Syringa Vulgaris

In the backyard of our home in Yaphank,

a single lilac grew between the scrub pines,

gray branches hidden in blue spruce and snow

until late April’s deep purple glory.


A single lilac grew between the scrub pines,

for just one morn a fragrance in the wood

until late April’s deep purple glory.

On that first light, the trumpeter swans,


for just one morn a fragrance in the wood-

always a couplet, gathered their cygnets-

on that short light the trumpeters swans

arced across the Carmans River,


always a couplet, gathered their cygnets,

golden bills against white feathers

arced across the Carmans River,

great wings scraping the lake, but not the sky,


golden bill against white feathers

scattering the pale pink water lilies,

great wings scraping the lake, but not the sky

but as day grew wide, the violet faded.

Shoelaces Untied

My husband’s mother, who the boys called Nana, was a pragmatic and calm nurse from Maine. But even the most sedate of persons have little peculiarities. Nana read a lot of books, including Jane Austen, detective novels and Harlequin romances. But with every book she read, she always turned to the final chapter, read the very last page, and then returned to the beginning. She started every book knowing for certain that the butler did it.

But there are some mysteries for which we are not meant to find answers: Where does the other sock go in the dryer? How did your favorite pen move from the bottom of your backpack to the pocket of your winter jacket? I call this place the “Ballpoint Zone,” that mystery spot where what we know to be true no longer matters.

How is it that on most days your shoelaces will remain tied, but on some days your shoe laces choose to be untied, that no matter how many times you bend down and re-tie them, they will come untied, just as you are in the crosswalk of a busy street?

Raising any children, but specifically raising children with mental illnesses, is another mystery. There is no guidebook for which I can turn to the last page. Neither Doctor Spock nor the Super Nanny have ever experienced what it is like to be a gay man and his husband navigating the whodunit of raising at-risk children.

Brian and I have two sons, Zane and Aidan, and on many days, they seem like normal boys. But then there are the days that the mental shoelaces go untied.

Zane suffers from a mood disorder, and mixed in with that is oppositional defiance disorder, hyperactivity and depression. Aidan suffers from a conduct disorder, mixed in with attention deficit disorder and sensory integration disorder.

Like I wrote, some nights are normal. Some nights we eat chicken and broccoli for dinner, and watch Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Some nights, we lie quietly in our beds after brushing our teeth and putting on our pajamas, and we tell stories where Zane is a ninja and Aidan is a Jedi. And some nights, both of our boys sleep.

But then, for reasons we cannot predict, the shoelaces get untied. Zane gets mad at Aidan and runs away. Not down the block, but to the next town. Aidan gets mad at Zane and lights a bonfire in the bathroom sink. The struggle is that we never know when those shoelaces are going to unravel. We never know when Zane will throw a punch at the teaching assistant or Aidan will give away his great-grandmother’s wedding ring.

When the veterinarian suggested that Krypto suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder, I almost lost it. In this crazy world of inscrutabilities, what I longed for was a week’s worth of normal. But all we got was crazy.

But the good thing about crazy is that no one expects you to be able to deal with it. So we get psychiatrists and social workers and psychologists and education coaches and music therapy and family counsellors. They throw everything at you, hoping that some scrap of sanity will stick to the wall.

Here is what I learned: We are all of us living in chaos. The natural order of the universe is for those two shoelaces to go flying apart. We can either spend the rest of our lives complaining about it, or instead learn to live with it, grabbing the moments of joy that we can. Even in chaos, a crystal can grow, order being a tiny part of every disorder.

There are some nights that are special, when all the mental shoelaces remain tied. And on those nights, we get two exuberant boys who finish off their pizza, put on pajamas with capes that don’t match and sit down for an episode of The FlashAnd that is when I know that the mysteries may not have an answer, but I can learn to enjoy the questions.

In the Weeds

I’m thinking that maybe my blog should be entitled “The Seamy Underside of Gays with Kids.”  Sometimes I really do feel guilty when I read the other blogs with young and hopeful dads raising the equivalent of Donna Reed or the Waltons. But there is a purpose to what I write, even if it is a cautionary tale about how NOT to parent. Sweet little babies become toddlers who become adolescents, who become pre-teens who have to make adult decisions. Brian and I don’t have older gay mentors, so we pretty much stumble through all of this, occasionally stubbing our toes on the right answer.

This morning as the dogs were barking and the boys were arguing about who had not brushed their teeth and who had fed pancakes to the dogs, Aidan sniped, “Oh, yeah? Why don’t you just tell Daddy that you smoked weed yesterday?”

The kitchen went quiet.

After an excruciating silence I asked, “What does that mean?”

“What could it mean, Dad?” Zane said sheepishly, “This kid named Momo had weed, and we smoked it yesterday, in the stairwell where people make out.”

I am not a very bright gay with kids, but I did figure out pretty quickly that this was a one-on-one conversation. I was hit pretty much unawares by the birds-and-bees conversation, as well as the adopted-but-chosen conversation as well as the why-am-I-black-and-you-white conversation, but for each of those, I figured out that the other son is just a spectator, and the best way of cutting the odds is one-on-one.

The boys put on their shoes, picked up their backpacks and got into the car.

It was raining as we drove to school. We dropped Aidan off first, and then Zane and I went and got hot chocolate for him and a green tea latte for me. We stopped a block away from the Middle School. I parked the car, and turned it off. The rain made satisfying pings against the roof.

I sighed, “First of all, thank you for telling me. I’m not going to be a hypocrite here, but I didn’t try it till I was in college. Now, I know I am old-fashioned, but it gets down to this: Twelve years old is not old enough to make this choice.”

“Yes, Dad.” No argument.  No eye rolling.

“Did you like it?”

“To be honest, yes, I did.”

“Well, here’s the thing, Zane. You know you were born addicted to crack. And it’s a hard thing to understand, but that is just what the body does. Sometimes a body likes a substance so much that the body uses too much of it, and gets hurt in the process.”

“Like Papa smoking?”

“Yes, like Papa smoking. And it took thirty years for him to quit.”

“Dad, I won’t do it again.” I did not tell Zane that this was probably not true. I just let him be. Each of the decisions we make are for just one moment of time. We cannot make promises for the future. We can only make decisions for the NOW, but twelve years old was too young to understand this. But Zane had told me the truth, and on the morning that I first learned that my son had used drugs, that victory had to be enough.

The rain picked up a little, and underneath those pings of rain against the car roof, there was the sound of the drops lightly plopping against the glass. “Which sound do you like better, Zane?  The drops falling against the roof, or the drops falling on the windshield?”

“The roof, Daddy.”

“Why is that?”

“If you think about it, that drop of water is part of a big cloud, and then part of a big rain, and after it falls, just a part of the river heading to the big ocean. But for just one moment, it makes its own drumbeat and you and I are the only ones who ever heard it.”

Stairway to the Stars

The firefighter said, "You're remarkably calm for a man whose son just got his head stuck in a concrete staircase."


I sat there, my son Aidan on my lap -- well, at least the part that was not stuck in a concrete staircase -- and smiled. I wanted the firefighter to think I was one of those stoic dads who handles any pressure, but the truth was this just wasn't unusual. Maybe it was 11 years of parenting but by the third time I'd changed a colostomy bag, the world lost its horror.

Maybe it's the fact that all the children we have fostered were born drug-exposed. Maybe not. But sometime after Zane and Aidan threw all the pencils into the microwave, or set off the fire alarm in church, or told off the chief of police, or shut down the baseball stadium, I lost the ability to be shocked.

I have no idea how the parents of normal children spend their evenings. I only know that my nights are spent getting gum out of the dog's fur and chocolate syrup off of the sofa cushions.

Two years ago, a woman offered me a free dog. The boys had seen him in the pet shop where we bought dog food. Turned out the dog was born with a bone defect. The woman said, "If you and your husband can care for these two ADHD boys and those three dogs, then adding in a crippled puppy won't really make a difference." On the Island of Lost Boys, all are welcome.

As Aidan and I sat in the cool evening air, waiting for the Jaws of Life, I said, "Aidan, I'm gonna press your ears in, and with my arm I'm gonna push up on the rebar.  When I say 'Go', you slide back to me, and if this works, you can have ice cream for dinner."  Five minutes later, we were on our way to Mitchell's.

We all get stuck on the staircase sometimes, and all we need is a little help to step up.

Lives Matter

My son Zane is Black.  His life matters.  My son Aidan is of indeterminate race.  His life matters.

I am a white gay man.  So is my husband, Brian.  And our lives matter.

There is a part of me that will always feel guilty, that will always question my cultural competence when it comes to raising a black son.  We celebrate Kwanzaa.  We watch Sidney Poitier films (although boy boys greatly prefer Samuel L. Johnson as Nick Fury). We listen to rap. This month, for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, my ringtone is the “I have a dream” speech.  But I will always know that this is not enough.   I will always know that I don’t understand the marginalization of persons with different skin colors.

I did a radio interview about a year ago where I felt ambushed.  The interviewer kept asking me what right I had to foster a black son, calling this a “plantation adoption.”  He did not ask me about my cultural competence.  He denied that it was possible for me to have any cultural competence that, in essence, because I grew up white, I could never understand growing up black.

That is probably so.

But it got down to this:  Zane was a crack baby, and a difficult baby at that.  There weren’t any other foster parents, black/white, straight/gay, thin/thick who wanted him.  The social worker said that he would probably end up in a group home.  And Brian and I are the kind of persons who take the long odds: boys with colostomies, and crippled dogs and unadoptable babies.  And, ultimately, Brian and I were the only two persons who chose to treat Zane as someone whose life matters.

Now, I grew up different from my parents, in a day and age when a boy had to hide the fact that he would not be heterosexual like his parents.  Zane will also grow up different from his parents.

There is a double burden on me because I am not a black man, and I am raising a black man.  It is my responsibility because I have chosen.  I did not choose to be white.  I did not choose to be gay.  But I did choose to be a father.

Zane earns an allowance, as does Aidan.  He gets $12 a week just for being Zane, but if he does anything special during the week, he gets a little extra.  If he does anything especially bad, he loses a little something.  So most Saturday mornings, I say something along the lines of: “Well, you started out with twelve dollars, but you socked your brother at dinner on Wednesday.  On the other hand, you did do your homework every night without drama, so this week’s total is $14.”

Zane can spend that money any way that he wants.  It is why we call it an allowance: he is allowed to choose the way he spends it.  So last month, in December, Zane earned an unprecedented $17.  That Sunday, while my husband was performing in the Nutcracker, Zane, Aidan and I walked into Cliff’s Hardware store, my favorite catch-all store in the Castro, the kind of store where I could buy washers for the sink and a marabou feather boa all at the same time.   As I looked through Christmas decorations and needlepoint accessories (Yes, I am that gay), Zane and Aidan wandered off into the toy section.

Zane came back with a white and orange plastic Nerf gun.  Despite the fact that I work as a deputy sheriff, I do not purchase toy guns for my sons.  I don’t believe in glorifying gun violence.  Just me.  If we had girls, I would probably not buy Barbie dolls because I don’t believe in an 18” waist either.  But this was Zane’s allowance, and I thought that by the rules we had made about it, I could not deny him the purchase.

Neither Brian nor I checked his backpack the next morning.  Neither Brian nor I thought that parents should be snooping in their son’s backpack.  And Zane went to school, and during study hall, he pulled out the new toy he bought and waved it around.

The teacher freaked out, went home sick.  When she returned three days later, Zane was charged with terrorist threats and expelled from the school.

Yes, I work as a peace officer, and, yes, I am aware of gun safety.  Yes, I have discussed with Zane more than a dozen times that twelve year old boys with darker skin colors who held toy guns have gotten shot by police officers with lighter skin colors.

This is a place where cultural competences collide.  I have friends who are teachers, and when I have told them this story, they shook their heads and said, “This is sad, but that is what the school district needed to do.” I have friends who are peace officers and they shook their heads and said, “This is crazy.”  I have friends who are Black and they shook their heads and said, “This is an overreaction.”

Truth of the matter is that the majority of persons who shoot people in schools are not twelve year old black males.  Truth of the matter is that a twelve year old black male who carries anything looking remotely like a firearm are suspect in America.

Zane’s is a twelve year old black boy with learning challenges being raised by gays in the wild.  His life matters. I do what I can to let Zane know that, yes, Black lives matter.

I have friends, well, associates really, who say to me that “Black Lives Matters” as a movement is wrong because all lives matter.  And I understand their perspective.  But I also understand, as a father who fiercely loves his son, that too often in this world there are people who don’t treat my sons, and other black sons, like their lives matter.  So I need to underscore this, that when the school abandons him, and he gets kicked out of basketball camp:

Zane’s life matters.

There's Gonna Be a Resolution

For more than 50 years, someone has asked me, or rather sung to me, "Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?" and then, right after, "What is your New Year's Resolution?"


Now, the great thing about being raised Catholic was that I could treat the New Year's resolution as a test drive for Lent, so if I gave up cotton candy or sky-diving, I would just see how hard it is for the first three days of the year, just to see if I could spend six weeks without that particular vice.


And it's not just me.  For 30 New Year's Eves my husband has given up smoking, and given it up again on Ash Wednesday, and some year it's going to stick.


I don't like New Year's Eve. In law enforcement, we call it amateur night. It's all those people drinking and smoking and eating like heck because they all face the prospect of waking up to their hangover the next day, knowing that they promised to face the next 365 days without bacon or vodka.


And there is something sad about daybreak on January 1st, seeing the neighbors in a rush to tear down their Christmas trees and Kwanzaa candles, rushing back to the gym and giving up.


This year, I'm not giving up.  I'm not giving in. I'm giving forward.


Instead of losing those 20 pounds that I will never lose, this year I'm going to start small:  my resolution is one act of kindness a day, whether that be contributing money to a charity, or calling an old friend to check to see how he is doing, or volunteering as a coach at the school.  And even if I am the worst basketball coach in the history of CYO, at least my boys will know that rather than spend my time fixating on the ice cream that I gave up, I am willing to learn the difference between a zone defense and a man-to-man defense, just to spend a little more quality time.


Should old acquaintances be forgot?  No, but make a few new acquaintances in the meantime.

Hard Candy Christmas

This was turning out to be the kind of holiday that Dolly Parton would have called "a hard candy Christmas."


Dickens got it right when he wrote A Christmas Carol.  Ghosts do not haunt us at Halloween nearly as much as they do at Christmas.   Every Christmas, we are haunted by Tim, who stole a dozen dinosaur ornaments from the Museum of Natural History so that we would have a Christmas present.  Every Christmas, we are haunted by Nurse Vivian, who may have given me that recipe for apple pie, but never did tell me the trick for getting the cream cheese cookies out of the cookie press.  Every Christmas, well at least for the past two Christmases, we are haunted by Nana, who bought us so many gifts, that even two years after her death we haven't finished opening them up  (this is a  true fact:  there is still, in our garage, an unpacked thirty pound copper unicorn weather vane that still remains in its wrapping).


And two days before Thanksgiving, Qp passed away, thus taking the last bit of estrogen out of the Bungalow of Lost Boys.  This is how the holiday season started for us.  And then Zane got expelled from the James Lick Middle School.  And Aidan developed a sleep disorder, so we have one boy who cannot stay in bed, and another boy who cannot stay in school.  In fost/adopt class, they do not tell you about the thousand heartbreaks, the ten schools your sons get kicked out of, the holes in the wall when you son digs through plaster with a spoon, the bonfire set in the bathroom sink with toilet paper, the ring that your grandmother wore being given away to a ten year old, the pencils in the microwave.


Brian (Papa) loves Christmas almost as much as Nana did but this has been the kind of Christmas that would make the herald angels panic.  In thirty years, this is the first year that Papa did not take the Christmas picture.


This week, all four of our therapists cancelled.  What are the odds?  Were they really all that sick, or had they just figured out a few days before us that our theme song had become "If We Make It Through December"?


But haunting is not always so bad.  Not really.  Sandwiched in there between Tim and Nana and Nurse Vivian and the Pekes (Miss Grrrl, Diva, Wolfcub and Qp) there was Grandpa Harold (Hap).


Sometime in the early 1960s, Aunt Mildred, who lived in Glendale, just northeast of South Ozone Park, decided to take a holiday crafts class.  Her sister-in-law, Nurse Vivian, joined her, and so the two of them learned how to make a snowman out of dry cleaner bags, and a Santa Claus out of back copies of Reader's Digest.  The last project was a Christmas card holder, and it was made out of felt, upon which were sewn beads and sequins in various shapes (holly leaves, Santa stars, angels, reindeer...)  Aunt Mildred finished hers in ten days, but Nurse Vivian struggled.  She was raising three difficult sons at the time, Brother Not X, who never did what he was told; Brother X, who had he been born fifty years later would have been diagnose as ADHD, and me, who was, well, frankly, a nelly queen in a family of decidedly straight Irishmen.


Nurse Vivian never did finish that card holder, but for reasons that remain obscured to either the sands of time or alcohol, my father, Hap decided to finish the project for her.  It wasn't too dissimilar to the beaded belt projects that he had worked with the Cub Scouts on, and mysteriously, the guy who climbed telephone poles for a living got the whole thing done.  Everyone liked it, even Aunt Bea,  and my father began sewing beads and sequins onto felt.


Hap was underrated for his creativity.  He was the only man I know who could write about the Battle of the Bulge in rhymed couplets, and he started designing card holder for others, and then Christmas stockings.  He sewed stockings for Nurse Vivian, and Brother Not X and Brother X and me, and all the aunts and uncles in the family.  He did the creative part.  Nurse Vivian took the felt cloth and sewed it and backed it, and made the whole thing into a stocking.


You knew that you were a Paulson when you got one of Hap's Christmas stockings.  As Brother X and Brother Not X got married, their wives each got a stocking, and as Brother X sired Daughter of X and Son of X, each of them was bestowed a stocking.


You can say all you want about gay marriage, but really, the moment that I knew that Brian had made it into the family, was the year that Hap sewed a stocking with the name "Bri"  No one has ever called my husband "Bri" other than Hap, but there was a chrysthanemum and a church sewn onto green felt and I knew that Hap was as all right with my marriage as he was ever going to get.


Hap developed macular degeneration in his eighties, which meant that there were dark spots in front of his eyes.  In 2003, Papa and I began the grand adventure called family, and Hap, living in an assisted living community in Saint Petersburg, Florida, went into action.  Papa and I had taken in newborn triplets, and you all know the story of Vivienne and Joshua and Kyle.  They moved in with us in April, and the first Christmas of their lives, Grandpa Hap was determined to make special. He could no longer see well enough to thread a needle, so he paid his next door neighbor a dollar a thread to thread a dozen needles at a time for him, and he sat in Room 222 (which he called triple deuce) and sewed and sewed and sewed, and each of them was given a stocking.  The night they took the triplets away, the social worker refused to take the stockings with her, so somewhere in our basement rests the cloth of our dreams.


Grandpa Hap died a few years ago, almost exactly as he had predicted, dead in bed at 93.  Of course, he had predicted that he would die in bed at 93, shot by a jealous husband, and although that was not quite how the event worked out, that is, in fact, the story we will one day tell our grandchildren.


That year I realized that there would no longer be a Grandpa Hap to sew stockings for his grandchildren. Family means keeping the tradition going, and in our case that meant that the Dad had to start sewing.  Oh, I may regret this by the time that I become Grandpa Kip, but the month that Grandpa Hap died, I started sewing.  Never good with beads and sequins, despite being the gayest of the Paulsons, I began to work in needlepoint.  Why needlepoint?  Why not? I liked it, and it was, mathematical in its beauty.


I just said that it was unusual for a man who climbed telephone poles to sew sequins, so I guess that it is not that odd for a Sheriff's Captain to sew needlepoint.  Only I never realized just how complex the project would be.  Ten thousand stitches.  Ten thousand stitches.  Took me a few years (Papa says four, but, frankly, I have lost count.)


Maybe it was that last ghost:  the ghost of Normal.  This was the year that Brian and I both gave up on Normal, that our lives would never ever be like the Hallmark movies, that the victories raising two challenged and spirited boys would always be small victories.  For us, three minutes of order would be all the victory we would have in a year of chaos.


Zane had an almost perfect "F" average before he was expelled from James Lick Middle School  Ruining that perfect score was one single grade in English.  Mr. Brody, the English teacher, asked him to write an essay about Zane's own experience, and this is what he wrote:


Zane’s Christmas Memory

Sometimes the meaning of family can be found by something as small as cinnamon rolls.  This story takes place in a royal blue home, somewhere in the southern part of San Francisco. The people involved are Dad, Poppa, Aidan and Zane, and the dogs.  But that is not where this story begins.  It begins in my crazy alcoholic birth mother’s womb.  There was no happiness there.  This story is about me getting adopted by two loving gay men.


My birth mother was a drug addict who left me in the hospital. She did not care if I was dead or alive. I was put into a foster home after my birth father was arrested for trying to rob a liquor store


When I was ten months old, I moved in with Dad and Poppa. They loved me and cared for me and taught me how to walk.  Later, Aidan moved in with us, as well as the rescue dogs


My family taught me the meaning of love and care for those who are different from us. Love is expressed in little ways, like trips to Disneyland/Disneyworld, camping with friends and baking cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning.  Christmas is very special in our family.  We invite all of our friends over the Sunday before Christmas to sing and play and help decorate the tree.  And on every Christmas morning, Dad bakes cinnamon rolls, just like Nana did when they were boys.


That is what family is really about, not the people who gave birth to you, but the people who love you.  Cinnamon rolls bring people together, people like two orphans, a gay couple and four pekingese.


by Zane Fisher-Paulson


This was the only A this semester.


But this week was the week I was determined to finish.  Not entire sure why, after it already took me years, I was determined that this be the year.


Papa, God bless him, took over Nurse Vivian's role and sewed all that felt together, and yesternight, while the boys watched White Christmas, I finished the hand sewing.  Turns out that just like Hap, my eyes are starting to go, but thanks to the very strong bifocals and equal determination, the stockings are done.  And now both Zane and Aidan have a felt needlepoint stocking that is filled with a father's love.  Let's hope that wives and grandchildren do not come too quickly.


For those of you who live on the West Coast, this is as close as it gets to an invitation to the Ornament Party.  You know we are not the kind of queens who do invitations.  Here is what we do:  on the Sunday before Christmas Eve, we go out and get a couple of boxes of cheap red wine and we mull it.  We put up a tree on the porch, and friends come over and decorate that tree.  And take the ornaments when they are done drinking mulled wine (or mulled cider).  Our friends who like better wine usually bring it.  Uncle Quentin, at some point in the evening, says, "Do you mind if I play the piano?"  And somebody sings Silent Night.  And someone sings White Christmas.  And by the time that we get to "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" I look like George Bailey in the last scene of It's a Wonderful Life. For us this is tradition.


May your Christmas be filled with cinnamon rolls.  

Feast of Saint Nicholas

I thought that it was easy to celebrate the holidays just like my Irish arents did.  But when I married a husband and adopted two mixed race boys, I found out that it was a lot harder than it looks for the Easter Bunny to dye three dozen eggs or for the tooth fairy to stick that quarter under the pillow without waking up the kid.

Oddly enough, Kwanzaa was the easiest of the holidays, because we had not history to compare.

When I was a boy, we celebrated December 6th, the feast of Saint Nicholas, as Little Christmas. My brothers and I put our shoes out the night before, and, mysteriously, the next morning, those shoes were filled with nuts and oranges and Hershey’s kisses.

That might have worked in the 1960s South Ozone Park, but not in 21st century San Francisco.  First of all, no other kid celebrates the holiday, so both of my boys are asking, “Daddy, why should we put our shoes outside?  Won’t they get stolen?”

Second, I had one pair of shoes growing up.   Zane has inexplicable become the Imelda Marcos of the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy and he is able to produce no less than twelve pairs of shoes to put out on the stoop.

But hardest of all is the grade inflation.  In 1963, I was delighted with a Bonomo Turkish Taffy bar, but nowadays, my six year old Aidan is asking, “Daddy, do you think that Saint Nicholas can fit an Xbox into my shoe?”

Sometimes parenting is about lowering expectations, showing up with those chocolate kisses when you know the kid really wants a drum set.   So last year, Saint Nicholas filled up all twelve pairs of shoes with hot chips and sour gummies and all the bad foods they loved to eat, and I braced myself for the inevitable, “Dad, why didn’t Saint Nicholas put a bicycle into my Nikes?”

Instead, Zane got up, smiled at all the food, and stuffed his backpack.  When I asked what he was doing, my son of many colors replied, “I’m bringing the treats in for the other boys in the class, who aren’t lucky enough to be Irish.”

The Wiggles

Over the weekend, my sons and I watched Pitch Perfect 2.   About halfway through, the character named Fat Amy announced that she knew three of the Wiggles.  Intimately.

My husband and I laughed, but my ten year old Aidan paused the movie and asked, “Who are the Wiggles?”  His tone indicated that he believed that Wiggles were a secret gay term for some kind of deviance.

Alas, thirty years into a relationship, I no longer know the secret language of gays, and I am much too tired for deviance.  But I do know the Wiggles.

Stick with me here.  You don’t need to have watched Pitch Perfect 2 to get this.  You don’t even have to know who the Wiggles are.

Seven years ago, my boys graduated out of Barney, and the next program up was a group of Australian boys known as the Wiggles.  They each wore a different colored mock turtleneck sweater  and they sang songs like Hot Potato and Fruit Salad.  Kind of like Teletubbies, without the antennae.

The Wiggles were a pre-manufactured group, like the Monkees or the Village People.  Withcharacters like Captain Feathersword and songs like “Get Ready to Wiggle,” it wasn’t a hard market for gay men raising children to buy into. And when my sons were toddlers,  they loved them.  So much so that I drove down to San Jose to take them to their concert.  Yes, four singing Aussies, five thousand screaming children and me.  I remember nothingother than my three year old son smiling blissfully and saying “Wiggow.”

But now, Aidan doesn’t  remember Wiggles, and the part of me who spent a couple hundred dollars in San Jose resented this.

This is what parenting means sometimes.  You watch what your son watches.  You hum along to the Wiggly Safari album.  And then a little later, your little boy discovers little girls and forgets all about the Wiggles.

Sound hopeless?  No.  Sounds like life.    Turn the DVD back on.

Take your child to every Wiggles Concert you can.  They won’t remember it.  But you will.


Give up on all expectations.

Last Sunday, I helped my sons, Zane and Aidan, put together a jigsaw puzzle depicting the solar system.  As usual, I assembled the border pieces while the boys pieced the planets together one at a time.  Aidan worked diligently on Jupiter, while Zane raced through the Sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars and the Asteroid Belt.  Within an hour he had gotten as far as Neptune, and announced that he was done.

“What about Pluto?” I asked.

“There’s no planet named Pluto.”  He said.  And my fourth grader was right. Both the jigsaw puzzle and I were wrong.  Those last tiniest pieces belonged to Pluto, which had at one time been the ninth planet in the solar system.  Sometime after I had completed my one course in astronomy, other objects got discovered in the solar system, like Eris, a disc shaped rock in the Kuiper belt that claimed to be 27% bigger than Pluto.

On August 24, 2006, the International Astronomical Union announced that Pluto was no longer a planet but had been subcategorized to Dwarf Planet, along with Eris and Ceres, a planetoid in the Asteroid Belt.

Now, I have nothing against these two orbiting objects, but what I disliked is what they did to poor Pluto.  They belittled Pluto’s eccentric orbit, which sometimes brings it closer to earth than Neptune. 

Think about being Pluto for a second, there you are a full classed planet for seventy-five years, only to get a letter telling you that size indeed does matter.

Why do I care?   I grew up with the Mnemon: Mary’s Violet Eyes Make John Stay Up Nights---Proposing.  Now, no one knows why John is staying up,  leaving his nocturnal activities to the imagination of my all-too-imaginative eight year old.  I can compromise, and fit in Ceres and Eris.  Mary’s Violet Eyes Can Make John Stay Up Nights Eagerly Proposing.  In this age of political correctness, I intended to teach my children that even rock and ice objects can be planets too.

The universe always uses coincidence to humble me.

On the following Saturday, there were soccer tryouts in the park near my house.  Hadn’t had enough, what with autumn soccer league, cross country track, winter basketball, early spring t-ball and spring baseball. No, my kids needed good reason for getting mediocre grades, and that reason would have to be a busy sports schedule.

So I get the boys up early, and they are excited to get their cleats and shin guards on, and they practically drag me down the field.  And there I am feeling out of place, as twenty boys with twenty parents all kick balls around the grass, and me thinking that Starbuck’s would be a lot more fun at eight o’clock on a Saturday morning.

Did I mention that I am old and gay?  As a man in his mid fifties, I always feel spent watching the thirty-something parents play tackle with their kids.  And it’s always awkward when one of these soccer dads walks up to me and asks me what the little woman is doing while I am watching the game.

So I stood on the sideline and tried to look inconspicuous.  This lasted for about half an hour, until a jock standing next to me said, “This going great, eh?” I could tell by the accent thathe spoke English well, but as a second language, and I figured that I would have nothing in common with the guy, other than the fact that we were both up on a Saturday morning watching our sons kick a black and white ball across the lawn.  I nodded, not to enthusiastically, not really wanting him to mistake my answer for enthusiasm about starting a conversation. “Which kid is yours?” he persevered.

I pointed out the only black child on the field,  and, as I am not black, I figured that the guy would then know that I was not a regular kind of Dad, but, instead he said, “That’s great. I am no the only Adopted Father here?”


“Yes, usually my husband takes them to these things, but he had a conference and—“ wait.  This guy was not only adoptive, but gay as well?  And here I had been in stereotype city, just wanting to feel marginalized, when suddenly, I had a quorum.  So I asked if he had adopted here, or internationally, and he said, “Well, when my husband and I moved from France to California, we decided to adopt American.”

“What brought you to America?”

“I am a professor of Astronomy.”  Again, I got caught short, because there I was ready to become best buddies with this guy, but he may have betrayed me on my one cosmic issue. 

So I jumped in with, “You’re not one of those guys who voted Pluto out of the club, are you?”

He smiled and said, “Both of them.”


“You see, Pluto is not the planet we think it is. When we finally got a good look at it, we found out, that actually Pluto has a moon, Charon, and they are locked in an orbit together, which we could not see until now. In fact, Pluto has no barycenter.  In fact, Pluto isn’t merely a dwarf planet, but a binary dwarf planet.”

The lesson?  Never hold on to stubborn opinions.  Just when you think the straight guy next to you will never understand what you are doing, he tells you that the planetoid that you have been defending for the past few years is leading a double life.

Straight Men are from Mars, Gay Men are from Pluto

Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, And Gay Men Are From Pluto

October 26, 2015Kevin Fisher-PaulsonBloggers

I used to think that there was a big difference between how straight couples raise children and how gay couples raise children. After all, if straight men are really from Mars, then gay men are from Pluto, a world with an unlikely barycentric orbit, studied by astronomers who don’t understand it and disrespect it so much that they use demeaning terms like “dwarf planet.”

And because gay men are different from straight men, I assumed that we would raise our children differently. Less football, more figure skating. Less R & B, more show tunes. Isn’t that what the religious right is really afraid of, that we will take their children and raise them all to be interior decorators?

All this led me to doubt myself. I never taught my boys how to cook or sew because I assumed that boys were not learning these skills in straight households. I wondered, At what age do straight dads stop kissing their son goodbye on the schoolyard?

But the great thing about making mistakes with your children is that it gives you something to talk about at work over the water cooler. The straight guys I worked with had questions just as I did: At what age does a child get a cell phone? How do you decide when to allow you children to date? Should I teach him the zone defense or the man-to-man defense? One of the tougher guys I work with, a straight lieutenant who is an amateur wrestler on the side, told me that his son was gay, and he said, “I don’t know any more about raising a gay son than you do raising a straight son. It’s like you and me are making mirror image mistakes.”

So then I asked myself WWTLD: What would the lesbians do? There is exactly one gay couple raising two fost-adopt children in the Crocker Amazon neighborhood of San Francisco (that’s us), and there is exactly one lesbian couple in the neighborhood doing the same. It makes for a statistical sampling size of one each.

We’ve lived up the block from them for 14 years, and I have noticed that there are differences in how gay parents raise children as opposed to lesbian parents. Again, this is a pretty unscientific article, as the statistical sample size is one of each couple.

Here are the differences I have seen in a decade and a half:

The gay dads cook Thanksgiving; the lesbian moms cook Christmas.

The gay dads shout about everything; the lesbian moms have intense conversations where everyone takes responsibility.

The gay dads take in every rescue dog that has a sob story; the lesbian moms maintain a very neat cat who spends most of his time grooming himself in the basement.

The gay dads coach soccer not out of any love of the game, but because their children demand it; the lesbian moms coach soccer, basketball, volleyball and baseball, and really like it.

And while the gay dads and the lesbian moms are cooking and coaching, the presumably straight tweenagers are hanging out in the park between our two houses, rolling their eyes and comparing notes with the sons and daughters of straight parents, all of them trying to come up with ways to convince their parents that they should be allowed to stay up till midnight, play on iPads and borrow the cars.

Last Sunday, one of the lesbian moms called me to ask for help. She had had an argument with her son and he took off on the skateboard. I got lucky, saw him as soon as I walked out the door and still had enough caffeine in me to chase him down. I walked him home, with him complaining the whole while about his Moms making him do homework. As we got to the door, he rolled his eyes and complained, “I wish I had a real dad.”

I nodded and said, “You could ask Zane for a trade. Whenever he’s mad at me he wants a real mom.”

The lesbian mom answered the door, and said, “I’m sorry for your trouble. Thank you.”

She did not expect my smile as I said, “No, thank you. I cannot tell you how grateful I am to know that every tweenager hates homework. And hates the parents who make him do it.”

Secular Gay

We were avoiding a discussion of religion when a friend told me that she was culturally Jewish.  She said that as a secular Jew she identified with a community not by belief, but by a relation of history and shared experiences.

By this notion, I’ve come to the conclusion that I am a secular gay. In my late middle ages, and married to the same husband for thirty years, I don’t spend most of my day doing gay things. But I celebrate the community of gays and lesbians and transgenders and intersex and what-have-you with whom I belong and who have become my family in the thirty-five years since I first came out.

Gore Vidal once said that if we are the gays, then they must be the grims.

What joins us is a sense of belonging, a sensibility from the perspective of my fellows who are not in the mainstream. In 1982, my lesbian friends set up ironing board on Christopher Street and helped raise money for the first National AIDS switchboard not because they were getting sick but because we shared this crisis.

In saying that I am culturally gay, I’m not saying we gays have a single uniform culture, but rather we are a diaspora, a scattering of boa feathers and leather.  We have our own dialect of inflection and irony.  Just ask a straight man to say the word “fabulous” and you will hear the difference.

And if there is a gay sensibility then it is this: tragedy happens so you might as well enjoy life.

Years ago, my son’s kindergarten teacher said, “Now I know the difference between children of straight parents and children of gays:  your son is the only 5 year old who knows all the words to “I Will Survive.”

They might not want me to admit it on national public radio, but a number of my straight friends are culturally gay. Yes, within them there beats a heart of disco. Like me, they quote lines from All about Eve and whistle show tunes as they jog.

And they are welcome to the club.

Remote Queen

On Friday night, as we were watching Pitch Perfect on the Family Channel, my nine year old, Aidan, complained, “Why does Zane get to be the Remote Queen?  How come I never get to be the Remote Queen?”

He was lodging a complaint about his older brother’s control of the television volume.  My husband, who the boys call “Papa,” is usually the Remote Queen in the house, but for reasons I do not quite understand, he ceded control of the device to Zane, thus starting a Friday night round of sibling rivalry.

Two things:

1.    This pronunciation represents progress for Aidan and his speech therapy, because prior to this past Friday, he always referred to that electronic device as a “Commote.”  He also called the city in which we live “Fran Sancisco” and as charming as that is, he has now reached the point in word comprehension where he actually pays attention to the order of syllables.

2.    This one phrase, “Remote Queen” speaks volumes about the difference between straight men and gay men raising children.   The parent who operates the car is the “driving queen.”  The parent who decides whether we can afford the Lego toy at Target is the “Money Queen.”  The fact that both Zane and Aidan think of the person in charge of something as “the queen” gives me hope that they will grow up free of patriarchal models.

Word choices truly are “the tell.”  I began to think about this five years ago when the Kindergarten aide said, “Your sons are the only two boys I have ever known who knew all the words to ‘I Will Survive.’”

English is a language of context, where meanings evolve in a place so small as our home in the Crocker Amazon.  There are words that the Fisher-Paulsons use in our home that no other home has quite the same connotation.  Take "Mr. Fluffy.”  None of our dogs are named “Mr. Fluffy.”(For the record, they are Krypto, Qp, Buddy and Bandit)  But Mr. Fluffy evolved into the collective noun signifying all of the rescue dogs who live in the blue bungalow.  If you hear, “Mr. Fluffy needs to go on the lawn” you know that you had better grab whatever hound is closest at hand and walk out the door, or you are liable to be stepping in a puddle inside.

True, I have never explained the difference between a zone defense and a man-to-man defense to them, but that is one of the other joys of gay parenting: letting the boys learn ask questions of their straight uncles.

Each of you reading this article has a distinct language in your home.  And that language is different than the language you speak on the job.  I have spent more than twenty years in California jails, and when I walk through the sallyport, every single word choice, every single inflection shifts.  When I want someone to repeat a sentence, I ask, “10-9?” I may hate being one of the “OGs” but I know that I am.  And for anyone working in a jail, the term “elevator ride” is perceived very differently than those of the public.

Dialects vary from jail to jail and from Department to Department.  My firefighter friends speak an entirely different language than my friends in Dispatch.  But we all speak a variation on that rapid-fire, gallows humor language that is peculiar to that of the people whose job it is to run into the burning building. With a few expletives to make the mix more colorful.

If I could sum up the one consistent aspect of the way we all talk, it is that we are all blunt.

So when a deputy tells me that he is “all tore up” about his divorce, he is inviting me into the secret society of our particular nomenclature.  This is the real “tell” for a Peer Support Counselor, because it lets me know that I am trusted with a secret in a language that only a few of us speak.  And when I respond, I need to use the words and the body language of a deputy, not a Daddy.  If you will excuse the term, I am more straight-talking. The cadence is faster, and I am careful to look the person in the eye, but not stare him down.

And at three in the morning, when a deputy tells me that he is wondering whether he is “going all 5150” or that he might “eat his gun” I know enough to say, “Hand it over for the night.”

But when I go home, I got to remember to make the shift.  Words that have high meaning with a deputy (“Code 3”) have no meaning in the bungalow, and words that have no meaning in the jail, can be disastrous at home.

Take the word that has the same beginning and ending as “firetruck.” One of our dramas last spring was that one of the mothers of his fellow sixth graders circulated a petition to get Zane expelled.  It turns out that her son was at a sleepover and another mother heard him say, “Shut the f-word up.”  Now this was the granola mother, the one who taught yoga, the one who smiled benevolently as she said, “Namaste” and she campaigned to get my son thrown out, because he was the only one who could possibly have taught her son that word.

I’m not here to defend the casual use of the F-word,  but REALLY?  This was the sixth grade in the 21st century , and this mother thinks the boy had never heard the F-word before?  And her compassion extends to getting an eleven year old boy thrown out of school?

The F-word was not brought into the house by this salty old deputy.  Zane had picked it up in elementary school, and the first time that he used it at home, we sat down at the kitchen table and explained that the word meant intercourse, but that it was also used for emphasis as well as intimidation.  We did not forbid him to use the word, but we did suggest that it was best left unused until he actually understood what intercourse was.

Zane was not invited back to school.

But we are family.  Zane asked me once why I chose to be a writer, and I told him that it was because words are so powerful, that they are the force that can create or destroy an idea.  And just as the indiscriminate use of the F-word may have spelled D-O-O-M for Zane’s parochial school career, so also do words bind us together.   Remote Queen and Fran Sancisco and Mr. Fluffy are among those terms that are spoken only in the argot of the Fisher-Paulsons, that only four humans and four canines in the whole world know.

And when we speak that secret language, we invoke the magic that binds us together.