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LGBTQ+ Why I never had children

Updated: Jun 30, 2022

Last Thursday, we were at Caffè Nero talking about random things, or at least they seemed to be random: the problems with one of our writing classmates, how Catherine’s son had landed the job of a lifetime testing video games; how I was ending my twenty-year relationship with Todd and moving to Providence. I wasn’t expecting the out-of-the-blue comment. Catherine paused, and through her wire rim glasses focused in on me.

“You should have had children,” she said.

I stumbled quickly for a reply: “I just never had the right partner,” is all I could come up with. To answer the question fully, I had to examine a very old and knotted decision tree. Decision trees are often taught in business schools and usually feature chance nodes, decision nodes and end nodes to predict various outcomes. Clearly, I missed those lessons. At the time, I didn’t think I was making decisions at all. There was no distinction between an end node and a decision node— at least not in my understanding of the world. I mainly took what was offered: a summer trip to Japan; a job teaching ESL at a business college; a pledge of eternal love. I would accept the consequences of these non-decisions with minimal whining, so long as there was mutual respect and safety, or at least the illusion of them. Conscious or not, all along I was making decisions: some good, some neutral, some disastrous. I wouldn’t make the decisions in that tree now, but the world has changed, and me along with it.

First Branch of the Decision tree: I am gay and gay people don’t have children

In New York City, where I lived for five years in the eighties, I had a small diverse circle of friends, all of them gay men— two professors, one writer of screenplays, one illustrator of children’s books, and one manager at Verizon. None of them had children, nor did any of them express any interest in having them. It never came up in any of our wide-ranging conversations. So I was surprised when my therapist at the time asked me about it.

“I do want children,” I said, “but it’s unlikely I’m going to have any. I’m okay with it.”

“Why?” she said as she tilted her head. “Many gay people have children.”

“How?”

“Surrogacy, adoption. Lots of ways.”

Sure, I thought to myself, life on Mars is possible, but unlikely. The only way for me to have children, I surmised, was to propose to my friend Christine, who is a lesbian. I thought about it a lot. If only this were the repressive 1950’s, when a lavender marriage was common. With the exception of the issue with sexual attraction, there was no one in the world I was more suited to marry, and no one I loved more. I’d had sex with women before and I could do it again— for a good cause.

Chris and I share a very similar world view and patience with each other’s foibles. Our interests in literature, art, cross country skiing are identical. We both love D. H. Lawrence to an irrational degree. Even our deficits are complementary— she can’t cook, so I would do the cooking. She’s better with money, so she would pay the bills and negotiate the mortgage. While she would be indulgent, I would be the sterner parent, but the one that the two children, Dylan and Sinead, would turn to in a crisis. Without a doubt, the children would be amazing Anglo-Semitic hybrids, with curly red hair, and chestnut eyes. Strong and kind with polysyllabic vocabularies from infancy on.

Each day, I would come home after working at the local high school.

Oh,” she would say, as I entered the daffodil-yellow kitchen. “You’re home early. No detention today?”

“Well, those teens are just too good!”

She would laugh lightly. “Now let me just finish these last dishes,” as she took off her pinafore apron. “Will you be going out tonight?”

“Yes,” I’d say a little sadly. “I’m meeting a new friend.”

“Another new friend? Just be careful,” wagging her delicate finger.

“I’m always careful!” I’d wink.

“When you come home dear, you’ll have to sleep in the guest room.”

“Again? Jill is coming? Can you ask her to smoke her cigars on the patio? I don’t like the children seeing her doing that.”

“Of course. I’m not wild about the smell myself.”

Then we would hug and go our separate ways— together. Years would pass by and while sometimes annoyed at each other, we would always be happy. I would become principal, then superintendent in a progressive public school district. Christine would run her own socially conscious nonprofit out of our basement. No surrogate, no adoption. Just two friends who loved each other, raising their precocious children.

Second Branch of the Decision Tree: Choosing the wrong partner

There are many caring gay men who would make excellent fathers. I have no idea where they are. Of my three major relationships, not one would have made a reasonable father, and in any case, we never talked about it. My first long term partner was Pablo, a professor of economics at Columbia University. There was sufficient income to have a child, and he had an amazing apartment with a view of the Hudson where Pablito could run from room to room. Pablo was widely published and respected; unlike me, he was settled in his career. It’s just that he was not settled with me. At age 42, he had never had a long term relationship of any duration until me, and so he had trouble adjusting to the idea of living together or even being seen together by someone from the University. Sex was possible, but sleeping together was out of the question, as was introducing me to his professorial colleagues or family. I slept on the sofa. I finally met his professional circle at the memorial service when he died of AIDS, two years after I met him.

I try not to make the same mistakes twice, and so with my second partner, Kevin, I chose a man who had absolutely no intellectual pretensions. He lived in South Boston— and talked and acted like an Irish cop. He had in fact trained to be a cop but could not pass the admissions test to the academy; next he entered the seminary but found the Latin too hard, and finally found success as a life insurance agent. Unlike my first partner, I never had any question that he loved me or was committed to me. In a few short months I had met his whole family and was invited to all their family functions including Christmas and graduation parties.

Once he went into my apartment in Allston when I wasn’t there. He had insisted that I give him a key, but I didn’t know why. When I came in, I saw that he had spent about 800 dollars on Christmas gifts for me: a microwave, a VCR, a winter coat and a box of Christmas cookies— all of them decorated with huge ribbons and cards. With Pablo, I never would have seen this kind of demonstration. I was thrilled.

Kevin was handsome, great in bed, and very loving. Ah, but there’s a snake in every garden and with Kevin, it was his temper. Once after a long night at the Paradise in Cambridge, a cop pulled him over because he suspected that he was driving drunk. He was. He failed the Breathalyzer, which he shouldn’t have agreed to anyway, and instead of making the best of an awkward situation, he raged. Raged at the two cops for picking on him when there were real criminals out there. Raged because they searched his car and found poppers. Raged because he knew their supervisors and had lived in South Boston for forty years with no arrests of any kind.

I wasn’t there to see that rage, but I was there on vacation in Fort Lauderdale next summer when he raged at the car rental agent for inflating the price and giving him the wrong model, raged at the airport when the flight attendant gave his seat to a family that wanted to be together. Raged when they asked him to calm down. We both got thrown off that flight, and had to wait two hours for the next one. That was the beginning of the end. I moved out of his place in Southie, but he followed me to the new apartment. At two in the morning he screamed my name like Stanley Kowalski, rang the buzzer and threw stones at my window on the second floor. In other words, he raged. I called the cops. This, I intuited, was not a man who should be a father.

The final branch: Gay marriage

My third partner, Todd, was six years younger than me. I had given up on the idea that older men are more mature. Todd, I thought, combined the best aspects of both previous lovers. Like Pablo, he was well educated (Pablo had gone to MIT; Todd had graduated from Princeton). Like Kevin, he was affectionate and demonstrative (he hugged deeply and long, as if our lives depended on it). Unlike either, he was in phenomenal shape from years of bicycling around Boston.

We had met in an AOL Chat room and from the beginning, our connection was strong but not especially sexual. His profile photo was unflattering and his blurb full of misrepresentations, starting with his name, Average Joe. Nonetheless, his messages were articulate and charming. After years of unsuccessfully dating women, he had come to realize that he was gay and was hoping to meet someone to shepherd him through that process. I thought of myself as a good shepherd, or at least a decent one. I had lived in Manhattan, where being gay was common and I had spent years researching the intersection of homosexuality and society. There was a lot I could teach Todd.

Todd’s history didn’t seem as troubling as his present situation: he was in his first real relationship with a man, an architecture professor at Harvard. This professor, Todd told me, had a pattern he followed with every man he fell in love with. The first month was full of passion and generosity, but by the second month, he had lost interest. At that point, he did not break up with his conquests, he simply treated them so badly that they were forced to break up with him. And that is why from midnight to two am, Todd sat on the steps of the Provincetown High School as the professor cruised the nearby leather bar. It didn’t matter that he had invited Todd to stay with him for the weekend; it didn’t matter that he was storing huge architectural models in Todd’s basement; it didn’t matter that they had seen each other every day for the past month. But Todd did not break up with him as planned.

Repeatedly Todd asked me, “Isn’t that what gay men do in relationships? They break up and become friends?”

“That’s what some men do,” I always said. “I don’t do that.”

Todd would cast his eyes down and say, “I’m in love with both of you. I just can’t decide.”

“What? You can’t decide between me, a smart, good-looking man who is madly in love with you, or this other guy who treats you like shit?”

Over the next twenty years, there were many things that Todd could not decide. He could not decide if he was bisexual or gay. He could not decide if we should live together, and if so, which apartment we should keep. He could not decide if we should buy our apartment as a condo or move. He could not decide if we should adopt a child substitute, a dog from the shelter named Fitzgerald. I won that one.

And then, after nearly twenty years together, seeing each other through chance nodes and end nodes (the death of his sister to suicide, and my sister, to lung cancer, to multiple job losses and health scares) he could not decide if we should get married.

“Maybe,” he hedged. “But what difference does it make? Aren’t we committed to each other? Who cares if we’re married.”

“I care,” I said. About twenty times, I asked him to marry me, and never got a full answer of why he couldn’t commit. The closest I could determine was that he did not want to be out at work where no one knew I existed. A ring on his finger would have caused uncomfortable questions. Having a child with such a man was out of the question, and by now I was over fifty.

I stopped asking about marriage, much less having children . This was an end node, at least for me. Todd, on the other hand, would say that our relationship fell apart when I went to Gay Spirit Camp in the mountains near Albany. The camp was coordinated by an old friend from my days in New York who had a Masters in Divinity and had wanted to start a gay monastery. Maybe, I thought, by going to to the camp, I could reconnect with my old friend and the freedom I had felt in Manhattan. My days at the camp were simple: I meditated twice a day, sang Rodgers and Hammerstein by the piano, and started having sex with other men.

I deeply enjoyed being around men who were fully committed to being out and proud— Physicians, lawyers, musicians and professors who lived their personal and professional lives unapologetically as gay men. I wanted that.


The Black Dog

Winston Churchill called depression, the black dog-- an odd expression, if you ask me, because I have a black dog now and he is the most joyful thing in my life. He has mastered several tricks, the most impressive of which is to be manipulative without being openly disobedient. For the first four months, he said almost nothing. Not a bark, not a growl, only an occasional whine when he was left alone for too long. Now after five years, he cannot stop talking. Chirps, growls yawns, something close to singing. True his vocabulary is limited, but he is extremely expressive, and dare I say it, precocious.




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