Well, kind of. It’s no secret that I want children. Sons, specifically. I have the names picked out; I imagine taking them to the park on weekends; and I look forward to teaching them how to read, write, and ride bikes. On my Facebook page, I have an album called “Zach with Babies” and it’s full of pictures of me with friends’ babies (not strangers’ babies, though I must admit, when I see parents with strollers or prams, I fight the urge to ask if I can hold whoever is inside). My natural inclination toward fatherhood must come from growing up in a family of babies. As a brother to six siblings, I have done my share of baby carrying, baby feeding, and baby changing. There is something sweet about babies — the new baby smell for one, and of course watching them grow — and I long to experience the joy of fatherhood someday.
Having babies on my own will not be easy though, so I probably won’t be having any, via adoption or otherwise, for awhile. I can, however, shower my caring nature on current family members. My teenage cousin Maurice, who is not at all a baby, may be coming to Washington, D.C. for the summer. This exciting news has me thinking more about an adult life of responsibilities. Up until now, all I have had to do is keep myself alive. Soon I will have to figure out where he is going to sleep, how much food he is going to eat, and how he is going to affect my social life. I will also have to evaluate how my life can serve as a model for his, how I can be someone he can look up to and come to for questions. How do I get ready for all that?
I may have to change some of my lifestyle habits. No, I’m not some all-night party animal despite what you might have heard. I am, however, a social butterfly who enjoys lots of quality time with friends. Just how much of my social life will be affected by having family around, I don’t quite know yet. But I’m sure more of my time will be spent at home cooking dinners than on the town drinking lattes.
This is what it must feel like to prepare for being a parent. Of course, I’m talking about a young man, hardly a child that needs rules, curfews, or even close monitoring. Still I do have to make sure he’s safe, secure, and somewhat well fed. And I have to teach him how to use the metro, how to respond to the homeless, which neighborhoods to avoid, and where to go grocery shopping for good produce and good service (Georgetown Safeway has the largest produce section in town and the Gay Safeway has the friendlier staff).
There’s also the joy of teaching him the cultural etiquette of D.C. On the metro, we don’t eat, drink, or play loud music. Also, we have our Smartrip cards ready before we reach the turnstiles. And while using metro escalators, we stand on the right and walk on the left. Pedestrians obey all traffic walk signals but usually have the right of way. We take cloth bags with us when we go grocery shopping. And once a month it’s good to buy a Street Sense newspaper from a street vendor but not hot dogs (we go to Ben’s for those).
My cousin is gay, too, so it will be especially good for him to see an active, thriving gay community. I’m pleased to say Washington, D.C. offers a large, diverse gay-friendly environment. Some parts of the gay male community can be focused too heavily on body image, sex, and income, but such a section exists for other social sub-groups as well, and can be easily recognised and set aside. The parts of the community I’m most proud of are the out city council members, the active gay community leaders, and the openly gay individuals and couples that walk around Dupont Circle, Logan Circle, and 17th Street everyday. These are powerful and positive reinforcements of our community’s visibility. For a boy from rural Arizona such sights can be character affirming and life changing.
Since Maurice first started talking seriously about a summer visit I have been thinking a lot about adulthood and about my desire to be a father. Raising children would be a joyful experience, but I’m realising it would also be a demanding and selfless one. This summer, sharing my home with a younger relative, who may not need as much supervision but who will need just as much love and care as a son of my own, will be an eye-opening experience. As I said, until now all I have had to do is keep myself alive, and with luck and pluck I have barely managed to make that happen. We’ll see how I feel about the joys and responsibilities of fatherhood after the summer’s over. For now, I could use some tips: what do teenagers do for fun in D.C.?