Monday, November 30, 2009

Yes, Gus & Niko, There Is a Santa Claus

Christmas has exploded at our home. Perhaps more correctly, Christmas has thrown up. Violently so.

Yes, I know, it's still early in the season. Technically, as I write this, it's not even December. But it's close enough. And the boys, well, the boys are already winding themselves up into knots of excitement. And good lord is that fun to watch!

I'm so happy to be giving these kids a boring, middle class upbringing. I want them to look back on their childhoods and see nothing different from what their friends experienced...except they happened to have two dads.

Oh and in the future, if they watch the video from today of the Christmas tree being decorated, they'll notice that the carols in the background are being sung in Greek. If asked about it by a future spouse or child I hope to hell they respond, "Gah! Who doesn't love 'Rudolf, to elafaki?'"

But the highlight of the day for me came when I asked the boys whose birthday we celebrated on Christmas. "Santa's?" Gus offered.

"No, some one really special."


How do you tell a kid his grandfather really isn't in the same league as God? LOL!

Along with our army of nutcrackers and my Andean Holy Family nativity set - one of the wise men is wisely bringing the Baby Jesus a chicken! - we've added some really wonderful decorations this year: decorations inherited by us from my precious Theia "Mimi", who passed away in June. Now there was a woman who loved Christmas.

Maybe that's why I was so willing to start the celebrations early this year. Seeing the impish little elf that I had played with as a child, or the ancient Merry Christmas sign that hung on her front door, made me feel that a little part of her will be celebrating the holiday with us.

Maybe that's my early Christmas gift from Santa.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Putting the thanks back in Thanksgiving

(Yeah, I know, cheesy title. That's why my column has an editor.)

Gus' teacher, Mrs. F. as the kids call her, has a strict rule about class work: if it doesn't get completed during school it becomes homework. Like a lot of other students, Gus had to test Mrs. F.'s conviction during the first few weeks of school, and ended up with extra homework. But once he realized she meant what she said, he finished his work in class.

So imagine my disappointment this past Monday when I opened his backpack and found an incomplete set of work sheets with the word Homework!! scrawled across the top in intimidating red ink!

Really, I guess I couldn't blame him. He was overly excited this week. There were only 2 days of school, no spelling test was scheduled, no homework was planned, and the coup d' grace: it snowed Sunday evening. Snow makes Gus crazy with excitement.

As I launched in to my lecture about the importance of staying focused at school and how disappointed this made me, I thumbed through the worksheets. That's when I saw it: a picture of four stick people and four stick animals, and in his still learning handwriting: "I am thankful for my dad, papa, brother, dog and guinea pigs".

The lecture stopped, I hugged Gus and said, "I'm thankful for you too."

So, in the spirit of thankfulness, I am grateful for:
- my kids, who every day teach me how to be a better man
- my partner, Kelly, who stands by me in thick and thin
- my parents, siblings, cousins, uncles / aunts, nieces / nephews; if I lost everything else, I know I'd always have them
- my dog, Gracie, whom we've had 9 years this week, and never lets a minute go by without letting me know, as far as she's concerned, I'm the greatest guy in the world
- my old friends with whom I get to spend time again and new friends, who are enriching my life in all sorts of fun ways
- John, Sabine, Carol and a host of other folks in California whom we no longer get to see as often as we want, but are always in our hearts
- my Dilworth girls (who know who they are...)
- my fellow Arcadians and our "club", through which I get to see my cousins regularly and which connects me to my family's past (and my very personal past in the form of my 5th grade teacher eating dinner with me once a month!)
- my AHEPA brothers, a never-ending source of amusement...come on, Greek men and "organization" in the same breath???
- my church where I am always welcomed with open arms
- the seasons, something I really missed in California
- all of you, who read my blog, share it with friends and colleagues and provide me with such great feedback

And most of all, I'm thankful for my life, warts and all!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Come On, It's 2010!

The other day I went to pick up Gus from school. As I waited for class to get out, Shawn, the father of one of Gus' friends, arrived and came over to talk with him. He mentioned that he had just read my column in QSaltLake.

I was rather surprised, since he's neither gay nor on my own personal distribution list. Now that doesn't mean that Q doesn't have a wide cross section of readers of every persuasion. It just surprised me.

Turns out the paper had recently interviewed him. He and his wife bought a bar earlier this year that, until its sale, had been a gay bar called Naked.

At one point the reporter asked Shawn if his place, Gracie's, was a gay bar. His response was brilliant: "Well, it's not a straight bar. And it's not a gay bar. It's just a bar. Come on, it's 2010."
What an amazingly refreshing attitude.

The way I see it, if we think too much in terms of gay and straight, we end up isolating ourselves. And I can't do that.

Not only do I think a world where all of my friends were gay, or white, or Greek, or Orthodox Christian, or liberal, or vegetarian, or mid-40s would be excruciatingly boring, I think it'd be really unfair to my kids.

What could they possibly learn from a world where everyone was exactly like their dad? (Fabulous though he may be?) I want my kids to experience people and ideas different than what they know. I want my kids to question beliefs and ideas. It's about growth.

And I recognize that it's a two-way street. I need people to be open to having their beliefs or their kids' beliefs challenged by my family.

But isn't that the way it should be? No gay families or straight families. No LDS families or Orthodox families. No traditional or non-traditional families? Just plain families? Come on, it's 2010!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Family Values Voter

I've become a family values voter. I know! It's kind of scary, isn't it? I realized my new position a couple of weeks ago when I went to the polls to choose my new Salt Lake City Council member.

After a jam-packed primary for this open seat, the general election offered my neighbors and me a choice between two fine gentlemen: Phil Carroll and Stan Penfold. Both run not-for-profits. Both have lived in the neighborhood for many years. Both are well respected.

About a week prior to the election, The Salt Lake Tribune profiled the candidates. It noted that during a recent debate, when asked to distinguish himself from his opponent, Mr. Carroll mentioned that he had raised a family - unlike Mr. Penfold. It seemed a not-so-subtle reminder that Penfold is an openly gay man.

The Trib also noted that whereas Penfold strongly supported the City Council's move to pass an anti-discrimination ordinance, which would protect gay men and lesbian women from being evicted, fired or denied services, Carroll was worried the ordinance would create a special, protected class (his words, not mine).

His statement left me scratching my head, so I emailed Mr. Carroll. I said that like him I too am raising a family in the Avenues. But unlike him, because I am a gay man, I could be evicted from our home, I could be fired from a job, I could be denied services. I told him I needed to vote for a candidate who is best for my family, and in this case it seemed to be Penfold.

To his great credit, he responded the next day. He told me that The Trib had simply gotten it wrong and that he did support passing the ordinance.

I thanked him for his response and added that the proposed ordinance was very significant to many people in the district. If The Trib had indeed gotten it wrong he should immediately contact them and get a correction.

No correction - not even a letter from Carroll - appeared in The Trib challenging its earlier statement. And two days prior to the election the paper reiterated his views on the subject.

On election day, Kelly, the boys and I walked into our polling station as a family. And I cast my vote for the guy whose views best reflected our family values: Stan Penfold.
I wasn't alone. Mr. Penfold was elected the Council's first openly gay member by a comfortable margin.

I guess there are a lot more of us family value types out there after all.

(Side note: earlier this week the Salt Lake City Council unanimously passed the anti-discrimination ordinance. And the added bonus: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints ("the Mormons") threw its considerable weight solidly behind the ordinance. Thank you to Councilwoman Jill Remington Love for spearheading the efforts, thanks to her colleagues for voting "aye", and thanks to the LDS Church for standing up for what is right.)

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Rose by Any Other Name

A couple of days ago, The Salt Lake Tribune's lead story focused on Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff's announcement that he will not challenge U.S. Senator Bob Bennett for the Republican nomination. Shurtleff cited recent threats to the well being of his daughter, who suffers from mental illness, as his reason. I applaud the attorney general for putting the needs of his family over his own political ambition.

So, why am I writing about this? Because the story mentioned that the daughter in question is adopted.

To me there seems to be only two plausible reasons why the reporter or his editor (or Mr. Shurtleff if he was being quoted) was compelled to state the girl is not biologically Mr. Shurtleff's daughter. The first is to allay any concern that he shares DNA with this girl, and thus could also have mental health issues. The second is the belief that adopted children are somehow not "really" your child.

Personally, I'm not sure which is more offensive. The former shows great insensitivity to those with mental health struggles, while the latter reinforces the myth that somehow adoptive families aren't "real" families.

Maybe I'm being overly sensitive. But can anyone imagine The Trib writing, "...his biological daughter was dealing with mental health issues and needed family support."? Well, can you? Then why add "adopted"?

All children struggle. Adopted children can (but of course not always) struggle with a sense of belonging and identity. Continuing to give life to the misguided notion that there are "real" families and "adoptive" ones only intensifies theses struggles.

Kelly and I are exceedingly lucky that we have the love and support of family and friends, who see only grandsons, nephews, godsons, and cousins free from any classification or segregation from any other members of the family. It's a pity not everyone shares that same vision.

I hope for the very best for the Shurtleffs and their daughter. Plain and simple.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

We experienced a little of all three over Halloween.

The good:

Let's face it, our costumes were simply fabulous!

Niko gets props for the best line of the night. After visiting his second house, he looked down into his bag, saw the candy and announced, "Hey! This really good idea!"

The bad:

We trick or treated out in Midvale so Yia yia, Papou and Uncle "Gaga" could see the kids. The number of people whose houses were dark was pretty astonishing. (But, don't worry, the boys scored enough candy to last well until Thanksgiving....even with Daddy and Papa appropriating a candy "tax" of a piece or two now and then!)

The ugly:

Still high on sugar, and not having eaten prior to Holy Communion, Sunday morning found Gus' blood sugar dropping faster than USC in the rankings. The lack of Halloween sugar in his system turned our delightful, well-mannered boy into, well, a monster. A meltdown of epic proportions ensued. We're talking Chernobyl level. Long and short, he had to skip church, missed Sunday School class pictures, and was forbidden from even looking at sugar for 24 hours. By dinner time he was back to his old, delightful self.

Next year, maybe we'll all be pirates: ARRRRRGH!