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Gay Dads Are Healthier: SF Study Reveals Positive Benefits for Same-Sex Parents

by Christine Malcom

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday July 23, 2012

While parenthood poses similar challenges for gay and straight parents, a recent study reported that having kids makes gay men -- and their relationships -- considerably healthier. In a study of 48 couples done by San Francisco State University's Colleen Hoff and colleagues from the University of Utah, couples interviewed reported less time and energy for their relationships, especially sexual intimacy. But gay fathers also reported positive changes to their relationships that they attributed to parenthood.

"One of the great, unexpected joys is getting to know [my husband] in a different light," said Louis, a Bay Area father who adopted two sons from the foster system seven years ago. He and his partner had already been together for 15 years when they acted on a long-standing discussion about becoming parents. "It's deepened my appreciation, respect and devotion. We asked ourselves 'What's next? What do we want the quality of our lives to be like?'"

Greater commitment and stability are also reflected in that fact that gay fathers see parenthood as part of their long-term relationship plans and a way to grow with their partners.

"We rely on each other more now," said Weston, a Salt Lake City father who adopted a now two-year-old son with his partner of 12 years. "Before we became parents, we kind of did our own thing. We were thinking about things like aging and who takes care of us, but also about breaking up the monotony of life. We actually spend more time together now, although it's family time with the three of us."

For other gay fathers, parenthood is an outward symbol of hard-won stability. Mickey and his husband Amos knew that they wanted to be parents from the beginning of their relationship in 1997, but couldn't take steps toward adoption until Amos was granted a green card in 2004. Since their daughter's adoption was finalized in 2009, the two have not necessarily spent less time together; rather their time and priorities have been reorganized to focus on their family.

"We were always busy with the nonprofit organization we started. I've had to step back from that a little bit," said Mickey.

Some relationship challenges and opportunities for gay fathers might be influenced more by gender norms than by sexual orientation, per se.

"We both come from very traditional families where the default is for the woman to stay home with the kids," said Weston, a stay-at-home father who said that breaking the gender mold means dividing up the duties of parenting. "We've had to create a whole new definition."

Another relationship benefit for gay fathers is the perception by outsiders of greater legitimacy and stability.

"Instead of getting a marriage license, which we can't do in Utah, we had a kid. And I've felt more doors open," said Weston.

"I think there's less scorekeeping," said Louis. "When I talk to my sister, if I say I think my husband isn't available for something, she says, 'At least you have a real partner.' Creating a family signaled a commitment. It definitely made a statement."

Parenthood also has profound effects on gay fathers as individuals.

"As a parent, I've had to think about my priorities and pick my battles, and now I do that professionally, too," said Mickey.

"One of the great, unexpected joys is getting to know [my husband] in a different light," said Louis, a Bay Area father who adopted two sons from the foster system seven years ago. "It's deepened my appreciation, respect and devotion.

Weston echoed this sentiment, believing that being a father has made him a better partner, and has given his life a sense of purpose. But amid the benefits of parenthood, gay fathers find challenges that often stem from stereotypes, starting with the very possibility of parenthood.

"When I came out, I didn't envision that becoming a parent was going to be an option," said Louis.

Although the greater visibility of gay and lesbian parents over time changed that perception, for some gay fathers, the problem of stereotypes cut even deeper.

"As men, we're told that's not what you do. [It took time to realize] I can get married, I can be a parent, I can be nurturing," said Mickey.

For some, these realizations only came later in life.

"In my 20s, I became aware that I was same-sex attracted around the time of my brother's AIDS diagnosis. I always knew I wanted to be a dad, and when I saw how sick he was, I decided that a wife and kids was the safer option," said Leo, a Salt Lake City father who shares custody of his two children with his ex-wife. "Society has abused me. There's the stereotype that being gay means being a crappy dad. But being gay is one small part of me."

Gay fathers also face barriers to involvement in his children's lives. Despite being very involved and visible at school, "I am always having to educate and argue to be included in communications from my children's school, Cub Scouts, and so on," said Leo.

"Friends are always forwarding me job opportunities. I feel like there's pressure on me to go back to work," said Weston, admitting he had experienced similar stereotypical assumptions.

On the flip side, Louis said that he experiences the "Mom's group phenomenon" even though he and his husband make a point of being visible at school and elsewhere. "We present a little bit of a challenge," said Louis. "Some people aren't comfortable calling [us both] dad."

Almost all of the men EDGE spoke to admitted that their social lives seem to shift, if not suffer, when they became parents. Mickey said that he and his partner lost friends over it, and Leo, who came out later in life, found that parenthood added another barrier to finding his place in the gay community.

"We wanted friends in the gay community, but we didn't have much in common [with childless gay men. We had different goals and struggles," said Leo.

Louis echoed this, noting that he and his husband now have a smaller circle of friends, and less time to maintain friendships, adding, "It was obvious who wanted to be involved with us as a family and who didn't. We've replaced [those who didn't] with other parents."

But despite barriers and difficulties, gay fathers were universal in their support for parenthood.

"I wanted to give love to a child," said Mickey, "But I never imagined how much I'd get back."

Christine Malcom is a Lecturer in Anthropology at Roosevelt University and Adjunct Faculty in Liberal Arts and Visual and Critical Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is a physical anthropologist, theater geek, and all-around pop culture enthusiast.