The not-so-mysterious rituals of gay parenthood

It’s 5:15 AM and I hear dance music. “All around the world, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dum. Around. Around. Around.”


It’s Tuesday morning, and I’m listening to a dance-music compilation one room away. This is crazy: house dark, moon ​still ​out, husband asleep, dogs curled tight, and I’m listening to ​pulsing techno at the highest possible volume that D-man’s alarm clock can handle.

No, I’m not having a flashback to my younger days when at 5 in the morning​ I might actually still be dancing at Backstreet in Atlanta (think Bonham Exchange, on steroids, 24-7, and packed). I nod off. Minutes later: “Hello, Barbie, let’s go party.” And … I’m awake again.

You see, I’m dad of a 14-year-old son (D-man) who runs cross-country. I remember that this now-obnoxious alarm system was my brilliant idea. I told him, you gotta wake up ​on time … the buzzer doesn’t do it for you … go with something that makes you want to, ahem, “get up and dance.” Great idea, Dad.

I’m also just about the lightest sleeper ever put on Earth; a true curse if there really are curses in our modern world. ​Just to rub it in, the powers that be have gifted me with a menagerie of the deepest-sleeping characters ever: ​snoring ​cats, ​immovable ​dogs, an adorable​ husband who is out when he’s out, and chickens who don’t lay their eggs until it is time for brunch.

I’m lying here thinking this is absurd. Twisting in my sheets ​and ​amazed that anyone could sleep through this–and also, OK, feeling that slight twitch to dance that most gay men have buried somewhere deep within–my mind wanders in that half-awake way. Now ​playing: a ​Diana Ross ​classic-turned-club-remix of ​”If You Could Read My Mind.”

​No one wants to read my mind right now. But some quick memories from when I first partied to this song ​(original mix) ​oh-so-many decades ago flash through my brain. It seems music more than anything else has the power to transport us in time, in an instant, and bring back the distant past as vividly as if it were yesterday. I wonder what pop songs D-man is listening to today that will spark memories for him 30 years from now, and what those memories will be.

It’s 5:25 now, and “Don’t Call Me Baby” comes on. Momentarily I feel like my kid: Ooohhhh, I love this song. Ha. The irony on so many levels, not the least of which is that I’d just told him the night before that he is too old for me to baby him anymore. I secretly love waking him up, though, I have to confess. I was blessed with one of those kids who is fun to wake up. He fights and hides, but then smiles and acts silly. He has not become one of those teenage ​moody ​mutants who finds it cool to stay on the proverbial wrong side of the bed all day long.

He is​, however,​ starting to call everything “stupid” with much more frequency lately. I tell him, “Son, there is already too much stupid in the world,” without him rebranding things as simple as taking out the trash. Anyhow, today I wake him up, again.

It’s funny. Being a gay parent is so in the news these days. I meet so many (well-intended) people who want to know “the story”: whose are they, did you always want to have kids, are you discriminated against, who does what (code for needless speculation ​about narrowly defined gender roles), etc. The questions make it sound so mysterious and exotic. But it isn’t. It’s this. It is getting your 14-year-old son up in the morning, knowing how exhausted he is because he is pushing himself so hard and handling so much on this journey to adulthood. It is feeling such compassion for him, while pushing him hard at the same time. It is being proud one minute, frustrated the next; remarkable and unremarkable at precisely the same time. It’s also trying to be mom and dad all rolled into one​, ​and ​at once. And it’s totally awesome.

It is driving him wherever he needs to go, both of us still half asleep to the radio’s disco beat, on our way to cross-country practice at 6:15 a.m. … “Sharp!” as the coach warns us. It is reminding myself to love every minute of it, because one day soon he will not need me to drive him anymore​, and that will make me sad.​

The whole way to cross country I’m reminding him: remember this and that, be here and there. The whole way, he rolls his teen-angst eyes, saying, “Yes, sir” repeatedly, in that charmingly irritating way that both parent and child know means, “Please ​shut up.”

​At least he is remembering to think​ “please,” right?

We’re there, in line for drop-off, car lights glowing in the dark: my daily reminder that it is not just us going through this. I love that moment. I’m impressed that so many people are up and out this early in the morning​, day after day, year after year; cross-country here, swim team there, and band practice across the field. So many parents who probably went through exactly the same drill this morning–maybe country music at their house–all for the sake of their kids who, generation after generation, face the drills life gives them, jumping the hurdles, playing the game–starry-eyed about their future, though blurry-eyed in the moment.

So, we’re off and running: D-man literally, and I’m headed to the office. That is also what I love about cross-country season: I get to work earlier. As I drive, I wonder what tomorrow morning will bring and remember that these are the simple joys of parenting. An “I Feel Love” remix by Donna Summer, perhaps? Well, yes, I do, but not how Donna Summer meant it.


Tom Payton works in publishing. He and his husband have two sons and live in San Antonio. His blog site is located at (He would love to hear your questions and comments about parenthood and family life. Email him at [email protected]


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