The Day That Hallmark Forgot

Follow one gay father's journey to understanding society's exclusion of nontraditional families, while struggling with traditional familial milestones.

Where It All Began

child holding adult hand

While his classmates cut symmetrical hearts from folded pink paper, one little boy sat sadly at the back of the room -- so I pictured him -- with no one to give his heart to. That is, he had no mother, and this was a Mother's Day project.

He had a birth mother, of course, but he didn't know much about her. What he did know fully was his actual family: the two fathers who had adopted him nearly at birth. They were sensitive men, highly alert to slights that might compromise their son's (or perhaps their own) feelings of normalcy. That such feelings were already compromised by reality -- they were, after all, the only such family in that school, and one of very few, even now, in the country -- is a paradox but not a contradiction. They wanted their unusual family to be normal in their son's eyes, as any parents would. And so, seeing, or imagining, his alienation from the community of happy children in the matricentric classroom, they complained to the teacher. And pled with the principal. And wrote letters to the editor and articles for educational journals. Which is how they became, according to some New York tabloids, the Grinches who stole Mother's Day.

"Happy Mother's Day, Dad"

I know these guys: I introduced them, many years ago. They are not particularly radical. Their crusade against the pink-heart brigade might have sputtered out quickly had the responses they received along the way not proved (to them, at least) that their concerns were well founded. They were asked: Was there not some female in the family the boy could make his card for instead? (There was, but that was not the point.) They were asked: Why should the school remove from the curriculum something so traditional and innocuous? To the fathers it was neither: not innocuous by definition, because it "harmed" their son; not traditional because even though the official observance dated back to 1914 it had long since been co-opted as a crass marketing campaign for florists and Hallmark. My friends countered: What was Mother's Day doing in the curriculum anyway? It had no educational relevance. And surely there were other kids, kids whose mothers had died or jumped ship or divorced and moved away, who were similarly estranged by the compulsory momolatry.

The trouble was that none of those other kids, or their families, ever complained. Nor did I, though I am also a gay father, when the subject came up at my boys' schools. While I was sympathetic to my friends' feeling of injury, I simply didn't feel injured; I think it's healthy for kids to experience and accommodate, in a safe way, the truth of their difference from the mainstream. In fact, I've been delighted when my boys over the years have brought home their handmade cards, given them to me or to my partner with their spent lunch bags and said "Happy Mother's Day, Dad." Or even "Happy Mother's Day, Mom."

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