when the kids aren’t there


Even after 8 years of this parenting thing, I still have no idea what I’m doing.

Being a dad challenges me at my very core. It challenges the way I view my present and my future, and the way I interpret my past. It influences my dating, my travel, my freedom, the way I exercise, the way I spend money, the ways I choose to spend my time.

It honestly tears me into exhausted shreds sometimes. It is my fondest wish to create a nurturing and supportive home environment for my children. I have a nice home where they have their own bedroom filled with toys… a bedroom that is empty more than it is full due to a custody arrangement that places my children with me about six days a month.

I used to keep a cupboard full of snacks for the kids. But then I found myself eating the snacks when they were gone. So now I just buy fresh snacks when they come over.

Recently I purchased a small cat for my older son’s birthday. He’s been asking for a dog or a cat for, literally, years, and I figured now was the right time to provide that. I took myself over to the animal shelter and I sat in the corner of the cat adoption room, and a small little grey-and-white thing, a 5 year old cat, plopped itself into my lap, then climbed up on my shoulders. I adopted it minutes later. My son named the cat Lilly Potter.

A friend asked me if I enjoyed having the cat, and I said yes, that it was kind of nice to have the company. The friend then joked, wondering if I got the cat for me or for my kids. My response to him was a bit sad, a bit sober. It surprised him.

“The cat is for them, definitely. And the cat represents both of my worlds, strangely. It is my job to provide a safe and nurturing home for my sons when they are with me, and to also create a full and fulfilling life for myself for the nights they aren’t with me. So now, I have a cat. And the cat is for them, but in ways it is for me, cause now I have a bit of company around.”

This seemed to help the friend understand me a bit better. My situation isn’t always easy to describe. There are a lot of divorced moms and dads out there, and many of them don’t get to see their children nearly often enough, and many of them have difficulty finding their lease on life while they balance out the time and money commitments of parenting, the struggles in raising kids, and the heartbreak and loneliness that can set in during times when your kids aren’t around.

I’ve gotten a bit accustomed to sharing holidays now. My sons went on a trip for a week with their mother recently, and my phone contact with them was limited. I don’t always get to see them on their birthdays, and I’ve done Christmases alone, Thanksgivings alone, and, tonight, Halloween alone. They are out trick-or-treating. And when they are done, they will call to tell me good night, and then tomorrow I’ll pick them up and we will do our own little celebration.

I am told often by people who don’t have children, or by people who don’t see their children often, how lucky I am. And I agree completely. I am richly blessed and insanely fortunate to have these two beautiful boys to raise. Anyone who knows me knows how much they define me and how much I love them. That aside, though, it is a major area of struggle.

One of the hardest parts is interacting with people who don’t have kids. Most of my friends are gay men. They travel and hit the gym, they own homes, they date and have parties, they go out drinking and dancing. And, obviously, I date within this community as well. Having kids means I don’t have a tremendous amount of financial freedom. It means I can’t hit many of the parties, or pursue the relationships, or be available for dates. It also means my time is precious and valuable, and I try to make the most of it when I have it.

It also means profound loneliness sometimes, with sounds bouncing off of empty walls, and watching the phone to see if the person you are reaching out to is texting back, and trying not to be unreasonably sad when they don’t. It means inserting myself into social situations haphazardly, when I can, and seeking human connection while I remain a bit aloof from those around me.

The loneliness has been getting to me lately, and it feels a bit pathetic to recognize that, but I think other parents will understand when they read this. I’m lonely when my kids are home, because I want to be around other people and to connect, and I want someone to share the raising of them with. And I’m lonely when my kids are not home, because I want them there, and heading out into the big world of single men when I know I have to pick up my kids in the morning, it’s strange and isolating.

And so tonight, I sit with my fingers clacking on a keyboard, a decaf coffee and a glass of water at my side, in a coffee shop full of strangers because that feels less threatening to my own house, and I type out my thoughts on a blank screen for a handful of strangers and loved ones to read… while my sons, dressed as a Jedi and Harry Potter, knock doors and ask for candy. And in an hour, they will call me and tell me about their night, and there won’t be a hint of loneliness in my voice. I’ll be thrilled, and interested, and ask about every detail of their days like what they learned at school and what they ate for lunch and what they played at recess and if they had fun trick-or-treating. And then I’ll tell them how much I love them, and I’ll hang up. I’ll turn on music and crack open a beer and fold laundry and maybe watch an old Halloween movie by myself, and then I’ll head to bed and listen for the sounds of my sons’ breathing even though they aren’t there.

the Grilled Cheese War


“Dad, come turn on the TV for us!”

“A, I’m making lunch! Turn it on yourself!”

“But I can’t find the remote!”

“It’s next to the couch!”

“But I looked and it isn’t there!”

“Yes it is!”

“No it isn’t! If you love us, you will turn on the TV for us!”

I grit my teeth as I set six freshly buttered slices of bread on three individual plates, and I turn the stove down so the oil doesn’t heat too fast. I walk into the living room, where both my sons are looking at their small computer screens, sitting against the far wall. I look at the couch, where the remote control is sitting on the arm.

“A!” I rarely get frustrated with them, but today has been one of those parenting days. “The remote is right there!”

He doesn’t look up. I yell louder.


“What?” He says, nonchalant.

“You just called me in here to turn on the TV!”

“Yeah, thanks, dad.”

“The remote is right there!”

“Okay. I’m playing my computer.”

“It’s right there! You said you couldn’t find it! It’s right there!”


I walk out of the room in a huff and return to making lunch, laying out freshly sliced turkey, cheddar cheese, and Miracle Whip on the bred, then closing them to make sandwiches. I grill them one at a time, flipping them over in the pan so the edges will be perfectly brown and the cheese softly melted. I cut them into four triangles and arrange them on each plate around a handful of Cheetos, next to a small cup of applesauce, and pour a half cup of milk for each boy. I set the table, ignoring the multiple shouts over a few minutes of tattling “Dad! J looked at me!”, impatient protests “Dad! Why isn’t lunch ready!”, and mindless reports “Dad! The cat on my computer ate a treat!”, and then call the boys in for lunch.

My four year old, A, is adorable, a small tank of a child with a love of all things fanged and ferocious, but he has a very delicate palette lately. He basically has four food groups: cheese pizza, McNuggets, pancakes or waffles with thick syrup, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Oh, and anything chocolate or doughnuts. He’s a bottomless pit with an endless appetite but only for those things. Anything else takes extreme effort to get him to eat.

And so, no matter what I make… chicken and rice, ham and mashed potatoes, eggs and bacon, lasagna and French bread… he scoffs at it with disgust and derision, and then picks at it for an hour, taking bites the size of a comma on a piece of paper, until he finally concedes and eats the meal without complaint. It is an exhausting prospect, and I’ve been working with him for weeks at being gracious instead of difficult. But today, we are already frustrated with each other when he sits down at the table.

A takes one look at the plate in front of him, surveying it like it’s roadkill, then looks up at me. “Yuck.”

J, his seven year old brother, who is sweet and a bit overly sensitive, already knows this will be a disaster. “C’mon, A, it’s a yummy lunch and Daddy worked really hard on it for us. Try some, you’ll like it.”

“Well, I don’t like it.”

I breathe out both nostrils. “A, you do this every meal. Eat your food.”

“I’ll eat the Cheetos. That’s it. The rest is gross.”

“Do you like bread?”


“Do you like turkey?”


“Do you like cheese?”


“Okay, well, that is turkey, cheese, and bread.”

“It’s gross.”

“Eat your lunch, A.”

“Only the Cheetos.”

He gives me a stare down, that defiant look in his eye that says he is prepared for all out war. Fifteen minutes pass, and I tell him he can’t have more Cheetos until he eats some of his sandwich.

“I don’t like it.”

“You haven’t tried it.”

“Well, I don’t like it. I like Mom’s cooking better. Yours is gross.”

“A, you’re being very rude right now. Eat your sandwich.”

He picks it up and takes the merest morsel of a bite, literally a crumb of the bread.

“Buddy, you need to start eating or we won’t be able to go to the aquarium this afternoon like we planned.”

“I don’t care, the aquarium is stupid, everything is stupid.”

I give a deep sigh and stand up, then walk around the table. There is a tension in the room, and J tries one last time to get his brother to have the bite.

“Come on, A, try it! It’s yummy!”

I kneel down next to him and give him an ‘I’m sorry for what is about to happen’ look, then reach over and break off a small portion of one of the sandwich fourths, about the size of my thumb. His brother has already finished his plate, as have I.

“Listen, A, you need to eat this part of your sandwich. Right now.”

“I don’t like it.”

“You haven’t tried it.” I can feel my frustration building. I’ve been out of patience for two hours now. “You will eat it. Now.”

“I’ll just eat the bread.”


“I don’t want it.”

“I don’t care. Eat it.”

“It’s too big.”

“You can either eat this small bite, or the entire sandwich.”

“I don’t want it.”

I pick the small bite up and move it toward his mouth which is now wedged closed. “Open your mouth, A.”

“I don’t want it!”

While his mouth is open, I place the small bite between his teeth.


I push it back on his tongue, barely a morsel.

“Now chew it.”

“No, I don’t want it!”

“A, it’s been nearly 30 minutes. You will eat this bite. You will not spit it out. Now chew.”

“I don’t want it!” He yells, and I can see the bread from the sandwich start to dissolve on his tongue, showing the turkey and cheese underneath.

“Come on, A, eat it, it’s good!” J steps in, trying to encourage.

“J, why don’t you go into the other room and watch a show. This is going to take awhile. Now listen, A, you will sit in that chair until that bite is eaten, do you understand me?”

He clamps his jaw shut and gives me that stare down look, prepared for the battle of wills ahead.

“I can stay here all day, buddy.”

And for the next 20 minutes, it is full on war. A kicks, he screams, sandwich saliva runs down his chin as he calls me mean, yells for mommy, says he wants pancakes or a doughnut instead. And for the entire 20 minutes, he holds that dissolved bite of cheese and turkey and bread on his tongue, refusing to chew it. I sit against the wall calmly, asserting over and over that he must eat the bite.

And the finally, he opens his jaw wide and screams, the scream of the hell hounds, shrill and ear-splitting, as he kicks his legs in a full on tantrum.

And I clench my hands at my sides, press my back against the wall where I’m sitting, kick me feet against the kitchen floor, and look him in the eyes, and scream back, loud, at the top of my lungs, a true show of dominance at the four year old level. When the grizzly bear roars, you roar back louder.

A appears to be in shock. His eyes widen, his legs relax against the chair, and he closes his jaws and slowly begins to chew, never breaking eye contact. He swallows the soggy mass in his mouth. Still looking at him, I reach over to the plate and grab another bite of food, handing it to him. He takes it from my hand, puts it in his mouth, and eats. And within seconds, he is grabbing bites of sandwich off his plate, taking big bites, muttering how good it tastes and how he likes turkey. I think perhaps he is frightened of not liking it, but I know he actually does like it or I wouldn’t have cooked it in the first place.

A few minutes later, it is all over. The sandwich is gone, the tantrum is over, and A asks permission to get up from the chair. He gets up, hugs me tight around the neck, and squeezes.

“I’m sorry, daddy. That was a good lunch. You’re a good dad. Is it time for naps now?”

And a few minutes later, the kids are sleeping soundly, the table is cleared, and my hands are in the dishwater, wondering how much I’m screwing up my kids and if I’m fighting the right battles and pondering about how much work parenting is, but how it pays off in the end.

It’s then I decide I’ll probably make pancakes for dinner, and maybe I can sneak something healthy into the batter unseen, because I don’t have another fight in me today and I know he does.



“You guys wanna play storytime?”

I take a seat on the couch as my sons sit on the ground in front of me, eager. It’s nearly nap time and they have full tummies. J, age 6, starts first grade

in a few weeks and is growing more mature and creative every day. A, just barely four, looks up with bright blue eyes, his imagination already spinning tales.

I look down at them, my eyes growing wide to convey excitement, and begin.

“Once upon a time, there were, well, three grasshoppers that lived in a beautiful patch of grass, where they ate leaves. They–”

“What were their names?” J interrupted.

“Well, Ernst, Ferdinand, and Gilgal. And one day a really nice old lady who lived in a house nearby was working in her garden and she saw the three grasshoppers, who were brothers. The woman, whose name was Clementine, thought they were the most beautiful grasshoppers she had ever seen so she asked if she could take them home and they agreed. She put them in a little jar and carried them home, and she made them a nice big home in an aquarium where they could hop up and down all around the aquarium as they grew older. She decorated it with plants, grass, leaves, and sticks, and they were so happy. She fed them every day two times.”

“And then what happened?” A asked, intent.

“Well, one day Clementine got sick and she had to go to the hospital and she couldn’t be there to feed them.”

“Use their names!” J reminded.

“She couldn’t be there to feed Ernst, Ferdinand, and Gilgal. They were so hungry, they were too tired to hop. But the next day, she came home and said ‘I’m home and I’m okay!’ and she fed them some delicious eucalyptus leaves as a special treat and they were so happy, they lived happily ever after.”

Both boys seemed to want more, looking at me expectantly.

“Well, what did you guys think? What were your favorite parts?”

J thought for a moment. “Well, I liked when they ate the leaf.”

A made no effort to hide his disgust. “I didn’t have a favorite part. There wasn’t any bad guys this time.” He’s particularly fond of toothy creatures.

“Okay, J, your turn.”

J and I traded places, he taking his seat on the couch and me moving to the floor next to A.

“Okay, this is a good one,” J started, and he looked up, pressing his lips together tightly like he does when he’s thinking hard.

“Once upon a time there were two sisters named Elsa and Aana, but not the ones from Frozen, some different sisters. They lived with their mom and dad who were gone. And when the sisters were playing one time, a giant giant attacked and the sisters runned into their rooms and were hiding until their mom and dad came home and they had turned bigger than the giant and the house and everything and they stopped the giant who ran away and the sisters were okay. The end.”

I clapped my hands. “Great story! My favorite part was when the sisters were smart and hid in their room.”

A stood up, knowing it’s his turn next. “I liked when the giant mom and dad came in and punched the giant right in the nose and killed him dead!” He punched a little fist into the air.

J, looking proud of himself, climbed down. “Okay, A, your turn!”

A took more effort to climb up onto the couch, pulling himself by his arms and bringing his knees up, pulling his body up, then twisting himself around. I smiled at him as J took a seat by me. A is so big for being so little.

“Okay, here we go. Once upon a time, there was two boys named J and A and a mom and a dad. They lived in a big house. One day, a big big big big big mean mean mean shark came over. Oh, I forgot to tell you that the mom was a mermaid and the dad was at work and the brothers was twins who lived in their mom’s belly. Then the big shark came in and he had a lot of teeth and he was mean and he tried to bite them a whole bunch but the kids popped out of the mom’s tummy and the dad came home and punched the shark til he was dead a lot and then they winned. The end.”

I clapped my hands for him again and J looked up at him proudly.

“Great job! My favorite part was when the dad saved the day!”

“Good job, A! My favorite part was when the brothers came out of her tummy.”

The boys, knowing the routine, climbed up onto my lap for some snuggles, one on each arm, winding down for naps. J, my compassionate and intuitive son, patted my shoulder.

“Aw, you’re a good daddy. You make us breakfast, snuggle us, tuck us in, and play with us. Thanks for everything.”

And soon they are sleeping, and I’m watching their little prone faces breathe peacefully, soft music in the background, and I’m thinking once again how this part of my life is the best thing in the world.



Seven hours remain in 2015, and I sit, engaged in my favorite pass-time: writing. And I realize at this moment, I am resolute (defined as admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering).

I began 2015 in Seattle, Washington, where I had moved in a grand gesture to find myself. I had been there since September the year before, three months of intense personal growth where I dated, found new employment, and explored every corner of a new city. Now far away from my children, I found new ways to stay connected to them, through drawn comic strips, nightly webcam calls, monthly visits, and little mailed gifts and postcards.

In January and February, I found myself with new friends and new support systems, yet working in a difficult job with high stress and low satisfaction. I spread my exploration of Washington to varying corners, looking at rainforests, islands, mountains, and beaches, and I grew to love the climate, the people and the area, and to hate the traffic, the parking, and the cost of living.

As March approached, I came to a few powerful realizations. 1. That in Seattle, I was the same me that I had been in Utah, just a lot farther away from my children. That sounds like such a simple realization now, but it was a powerful one toward my journey. 2. That I was losing all interest in dating, and that I no longer wanted to put my energy toward it. I learned to spend time with myself, and had dinners, saw independent films, and went to plays and movies on my own. 3. That I had all the building blocks for a powerful life already in place: a love of history and books, a kind and strong heart, a curious and careful spirit, a great smile, talents for helping and understanding others, and a consistently developing skill of writing.

And once I knew all of those things about myself, I was able to return to Utah, stronger than before, and ready for the change. I left the difficult job behind, and seized a new life in an old place. I moved into a downtown apartment, renewed old friendships, and started brand new life initiatives.

In June, I opened up an Airbnb in my home, welcoming guests from around the world, and had some great and some not-so-great experiences. I began doing therapy part-time, and crisis work on the side, and I made the decision to work only for myself from now on, for as long as possible, so that I can love what I do and give it my all. I taught a few college classes again, and realized that I didn’t enjoy it like I used to, and I was peaceful with the change in myself.

I spent every waking moment with my sons. We drew, we played, we swam, we explored, we read and wrote, we laughed and screamed, we wrestled and snuggled and lived, and one night, one of my sons looked up at me and said “I’m so glad your back” and tears came to my eyes, and I knew that even though I had had to leave, I also had to return. I began volunteering in their school classrooms, and I learned how to be friends with their mom again.

I stayed in Utah for several months without leaving, and I tried my hand at dating a few times, though I didn’t really mean to. And against my better judgment, I fell just a little bit in love a few times, and I had my heart broken just a little bit a few times. And I learned that I was stronger than ever, better at taking care of myself, and independent, all qualities I had wanted for myself for so long.

In September, I made a surprise connection with someone from far away, forming a new and binding friendship, and it gave me foundation, hope, and strength, and I realized my own potential as a writer, a father, a counselor, and a man once loneliness was gone from my heart. I learned how wonderful it was to have someone care about my day-to-day life.

I went to my family reunion and found peace. I attended my sister’s wedding to her lovely wife in Massachusetts. I went on a wonderful weekend trip to New Orleans and awakened my wanderlust. I spent Thanksgiving with my mother and sister. And I ended the year with a surprise trip to Palm Springs. I realized again that my world is more full when I travel.

When gay marriage passed, I celebrated. When reparative therapy was shut down in courts, I rejoiced. And when the Mormon church put policies in place that called gay couples ‘apostates’ and turned children against their gay parents, I grieved.

I discovered more than ever my love of expressing myself through writing. I wrote about social justice, politics, zombies, dating, and my children. I wrote my observations on the world, on people around me, on ego, on courage, on the social work profession, on parenting, and on provocative and titillating professions and mindsets. I began a daily post on LGBT history that quickly became a personal quest with future potential.

I joined a Men’s Choir and began singing again.

More than ever, I began dreaming of the future, and realized that at 37, I am now just beginning to realize my potential.

In 2015, I danced, drank coffee, laughed until I cried, cried until I slept, and slept until I awoke with new hope. I set boundaries, made new friends, and grew closer than ever to some of the most important people in my life. I learned to say I’m sorry when I need it, and to ask for an apology when I need it. I learned to forgive. I learned how strong I am, and how things that I once perceived as weak are really just parts of my overall strength. I learned to relax, to work hard, to put myself first. I learned that the world has a long history, and I am only part of it for a brief time, and that I want to live that part as powerfully and authentically as I can.

And as I approach 2016, I vow to take care of myself in every category: physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. I vow to feed and foster the important relationships in my life. I vow to get out of debt. I vow to push my limits professionally and to learn just what it is I’m capable of. I vow to travel. I vow to let myself believe that love is possible so long as I love myself. I vow to embrace every emotion in its entirety, in safe and healthy ways: gratitude, fear, anger, sadness, peace, security, guilt, happiness. I vow to live, more than I ever have before, with my life and the lives of my sons as my primary priority.

And thus I enter the New Year not with resolutions, instead I enter the New Year… Resolute.

“Why don’t you like girls anymore?”


“Daddy, why don’t you like girls anymore?”

I shifted the grocery bags onto one arm and knee while I fumbled for the apartment keys in my pocket. My six year old trained his big blue eyes up on me. Just behind him, his little brother, 3, made the jaws on his toy shark Chomp-Chomp open and close.

“What do you mean, J? I like lots of girls.” I fumbled the key into the lock.

“Yeah, but not like a wife likes a husband.”

I nodded as I pushed the door open and shifted the groceries back into two hands. “Well, that’s true. I like girls like friends, but not like a wife likes a husband.”

J followed me in as I dumped the groceries on the kitchen counter. “You used to like mommy like a wife likes a husband, but now you don’t, right?”

“A, you and Chomp-Chomp come in and close the door!” I yelled at my toddler out in the hallway. I looked down at my older son. “Yes, that’s right. Mommy likes boys and I like boys, too. You know that.”

A made his way in and somehow closed the door with his hindquarters while still manipulating the shark’s jaws. “Dad, Chomp-Chomp is a nice shark, he only eats mean fish!” He was yelling despite my being a few feet away.

“I know, buddy. Chomp-Chomp is your best friend, huh?”

“Yeah!” He and the shark went zooming into the room.

I started emptying the grocery bags on to the counter, J still standing there looking up at me. “But why?”

J’s been curious about his origins lately, asking all kinds of questions about his birth, what foods he liked as a baby, what his first words were. He asks about the house Megan and I lived in when we were married, the pet cockatiels we had, the trees that grew outside. His kindergarten teacher has him writing short stories and little plays, and they all seem to feature animal couples getting married and having babies, and he’s always wanting to look at photos of himself as an infant. His curiosity about the world and his place in it constantly brings a smile to my face. I love learning about the world through his eyes. Some answers just aren’t easy to provide to a 6 year old boy, though.

My brain flashed over to a commercial I had seen years before, an ad placed against gay marriage during the Proposition 8 trials in California. A cute little blonde girl being raised by two dads turns to them with poignant questions about marriage, looking hurt and baffled that she doesn’t have opposite sex Christian parents to raise her, the commercial ignoring completely the loving home she has.

I moved the eggs, apples, and spinach into their places in the fridge, my brain rehearsing all of the answers I could give to this beautiful little child who looks so much like me it is startling. I could talk about my Mormon upbringing and the religious counsel I’d had to cure my homosexuality through service. I could talk about how his mom knew I was gay before we’d married and how the marriage had lasted until I was going to break. I could talk about how happy I am now that I am out and all the puzzle pieces of my insides are put together. I could tell him how lucky I am to have he and his brother despite the crazy circumstances that brought them into the world. But he’s six, and all he needs to know is that I love him.

I turned around and drop down to my knees, getting on his level. “Well, Mommy and I used to be married, and now we aren’t, and we both like boys for marrying instead of girls, and we both love you. Mommy and I are still friends, it’s okay, and we both think you and your brother are the best things ever.”

J twisted his lips like he does when he’s thinking. “If you get married again, will you be a husband or a wife?”

“Well, I would get married to a boy, so we would both be husbands. Later this year, Aunt Sheri is marrying Heather. They love each other and they will both be wives.”

He nodded, still thinking. “I’ll probably get married when I grow up and have some kids, too.”

I gave an oh-so-serious look. “Yeah, I bet I know who you’ll marry, too.”

He gave me a look, recognizing that shift I get in my voice when I’m about to be silly. “Who will I marry?”

I looked innocent as I reach my hands up. “Oh, I don’t know. Probably a tickle monster.”

He screamed in mock protest as I grabbed at his knees, his shoulders, his tummy with tickling fingers. He fell against me in laughter, arms around my neck, and I squeezed him in tight.

“I love you, dad.”

“I love you, too, son.”

And suddenly there is a shark eating the back of my neck, and the next several minutes are spent wrestling and being monsters (nice ones, of course, who only eat mean things) and practicing standing on one foot. The afternoon is filled with a blanket fort and a cheese pizza and Dora the Explorer, who (I suddenly realize after my 1000th episode) yells everything instead of speaking.

It’s hours later as I watch my boys sleeping, J on the top bunk with his arms stretched out over his head, A on his stomach with his knees and arms folded underneath him (and his faithful shark at his side) when I realize, once again, how grateful I am for these incredible men in my lives, and how thankful I am that the world is changing, one generation at a time. These two well-adjusted happy little boys will grow up with a straight mom and a gay dad, and it will be normal to them because it is normal to us. A non-traditional family, yet a family still.

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