So I saw that the godforsaken plebiscite bill passed the lower house earlier today. While it isn’t destined to pass through parliament, it’s still worth addressing. For those that aren’t local, the plebiscite on marriage equality in a nutshell is a mandatory opinion poll that gives the conservative religious types free reign on treating me and others like me like we’re freaks and abominations, costs the government millions to throw together, and even if the overwhelming majority of the nation ticks the “For fuck’s sake yes” option, the government doesn’t even have to then follow through with making it law. In other words, WOFTAM. Waste Of Fucking Time And Money.
But while it’s on my mind, I thought it was worth spending a moment addressing one of the most commonly used arguments in the so called “debate”- that a child needs a mother and a father to grow up and function normally. With a divorce rate now of what… is it about 1 in every 2 now? Yeah having a mother and a father seems to really be working out there.
I have known plenty of people from all walks of life that have had different family types. I have known people that had two dads for parents. Didn’t stop them from becoming and accountant and marrying someone of the opposite sex. Just as I have known people with a mother and a father who have grown up, gotten a law degree and married someone of the same sex.
Some people have two mums and they grow up fine. Some people have two mums and they grow up to be a fuck up. Some people have a mother and a father and grow up fine. Some have had a mother and a father and it still didn’t stop them from killing themselves.
A child doesn’t just get support wholly and solely from their parental unit. Their growth comes from a wide network of family, friends, authority figures, teachers, the wider community at large. A family unit does not make up the success rate of whether someone is going to grow up to be a functional human being.
My partner happens to have a mother and a father, and sorry to the conservatives but she’s still gay as the day is long. I on the other hand happen to only have one half of the parental equation. I knew that I was gay long before my family fell apart, so before you start jumping on the bandwagon of “Well you just had a single mother no wonder you’re a fag”, shoosh- you’ll be insulting more than just me and my mother.
A weird but fascinating fact I discovered while doing a stupid high school report on family types is that I actually come from three generations of single mothers, all for a variety of different reasons.
My great grandmother escaped in the night with her two children to get away from her violently abusive drunk husband and managed to raise them on her own, with help from a network of supportive family and friends during a time when a woman getting work was unheard of. Her two kids grew up, married and had kids of their own.
My grandmother lost her husband to a heart attack, while still raising the youngest of her children. Her two kids grew up to be good people who married and had kids of their own.
As I obviously have the most experience with the next tier down, I’m going to divulge a little bit about how I had the perfect nuclear family, and it didn’t mean jack shit.
I ended up as an only child. I had a brother at one point, but I was seven years old when he died. I think I was 7 going on 30 after that. Seeing a tiny coffin and having family and friends awkwardly telling you to be strong for your parents will do that to a person. But that’s a story for another time.
My mother was a craft nut. She collected porcelain dolls which littered the house with their creepy dead eyed stares. She was also an artist, exceptionally good at drawing but never really followed through with it. She tried to do the whole suburban mum thing, on the parents committee at school, pitching in at all the bake sales and school fetes, and while she was good at it she absolutely hated it. She loved her garden, would spend almost every weekend out in it planting or maintaining. She always encouraged me to be myself, no matter whether that meant me running around the house in a power rangers costume or chasing kangaroos in the back yard with a stick. Yes I lived the stereotype.
My father was a family man. Loved tinkering on home renno projects, thought himself to be Tim the Toolman Taylor. He loved music, like his father before him, and played guitar. Tried teaching me a few times unsuccessfully. He was a pretty crap teacher. But the way his eyes lit up when he came home to find me strumming his guitar one afternoon after they started teaching us in music class.. It was like he had found a kindred spirit in his kid. We would have jam sessions here and there; he taught me to love real music, the classics.
He loved talking about space and astronomy with me, he had ambitions to become a scientist but didn’t have the inclination to get through university. I would read all his books about the universe though, it bringing a smile to his face whenever he would see me taking off with them.
He was fiercely protective of me. He pulled a kid off me by his neck and threw him across the room when he had walked in on finding the boy choking me as part of a “game” he wanted to “play”. We were best friends. When I had to go into hospital for surgery, and there were complications which meant I had to stay in overnight for monitoring, he cried like a baby.
Living on acreage in a giant house (by 90’s standards anyway), despite the fact that both parents worked long hours, we spent as much time as we could as a family, board game nights, playing racing games on the playstation, helping with homework, playing music. You know, normal family shit.
One day though it seemed like he went through a mid life crisis or something, and started distancing himself from us. When I was 13 I was awakened one night by a scream that would freeze the blood in your veins. I fell out of bed and stumbled downstairs to find mum on the phone, hysterical. Tears streaming down her face, clutching at the phone like her life depended on it. Repeating “WHY” over and over again.
She looked up and saw me in the doorway of the kitchen and just lost it. She fell to the floor and started rolling around screaming and crying as the phone was left dangling. I had no idea what was going on. I raced over to the phone and held it to my ear. There wasn’t any dial tone, it was silent. “Hello?” I said, panic creeping in the edges of my voice. Nothing but silence hung in my ear.
At this point my mother managed to pick herself up and stagger into the loungeroom.
“Is anyone there? Hello? What’s going on??” I became more frightened the longer the silence stretched on, the sounds of glass shattering in the loungeroom weren’t helping my fraying nerves.
“…. H… Hi… I’m here..” a rasping voice finally responded down the phone.
“Dad! Shit. Are you ok what’s happening why is mum going off her tree?!”
“Answer me please what is going on?”
Even more silence. Then, he found his words, stilted as they were.
“I’m……… I’m leaving.”
It didn’t process in my mind the way logic should have dictated. “Leaving where? When will you be home?”
“I…………………………… I won’t.”
It was like someone had dumped ice over me. Cold dread shot through me like lightning.
“What the hell do you mean you won’t.” I growled through the phone.
“I’m l-l-leaving. I am… I am leaving your mother.” He stuttered, his speech impediment making his conviction sound less than convincing.
Ever the pragmatist despite my age, I had automatically launched into lockdown mode. “If that’s your decision that is your decision, but you come home and say this shit to our faces. Mum is hysterical and I don’t know how to calm her down. You cannot leave me to deal with this. You make your decisions you follow through with them. You come home, you talk to us, and if you still want to leave then leave. But don’t you dare leave me to deal with the fallout. Don’t. You. DARE.”
Deal with it later. Just don’t let the realisation hit full force. Someone needs to remain rational. I had managed to convince him to come home, and when he hung up the dial tone pierced my brain with a sense of finality. I raced into the loungeroom to find a scene of absolute chaos. Broken glass everywhere from every single photo frame we had of the family scattered about. She had swept her arms along units and shelves, sending them everywhere.
I grabbed my mother’s face and kept repeating to her that he was coming home, until the hysterical crying had calmed and she had exhausted herself. I grabbed a bottle of southern comfort from the bar and gave it to her in an attempt to further calm her. She ended up polishing off the whole thing straight, while listening to that Love Don’t Live Here Anymore song on repeat for the next 5hrs. I still can’t hear that song without my shoulders involuntarily tensing.
He didn’t end up coming home until the next morning, with bread and milk in tow like it was some kind of meagre peace offering. I was made to go upstairs while they had a chat. I pretended to comply while sitting on the top step eating coco pops and listening to how my whole world was falling apart.
The truth hit like a steel trap shutting over my heart. He had decided to go through with a mid-life crisis and had been having an affair with a woman he worked with behind our backs. Somehow managed to carry it on for over 2yrs without us knowing. It all came to a head when he managed to get her pregnant. He no longer felt anything for mum but carried on the charade for “my sake” which… no.
People, if you ever fall out of love with your significant other, pro-tip: don’t stay for the sake of the kids. Your misery will in turn fuck them up even worse, and they will then in turn blame themselves for years to come because it’s then perceived to be their fault when it all inevitably falls apart anyway.
And fall apart it did. From then on it was all pretty much down hill from there. He seemingly turned into an asshole over night, a complete 180 on his earlier described demeanour. All of this shit was effectively dumped in our laps, with a “like it or lump it” shrug of his shoulders, without giving time to process or grieve. Because it took me longer than five minutes to come to terms with it, one day he decided to “let the dust settle because everything was too raw” and brush me off like an insect hovering over his food. It was the last time I would ever hear from him.
I would hear along the grapevine at a later date he joined the Jehovah’s Witness church at one point, and fell in deep with them. I would hear along the grapevine that due to the age of technology he would track me down on Facebook, look at my “lifestyle” and “disapprove of it”, like he had a right to an opinion over anything to do with the life he hasn’t had any involvement in since I was a teenager.
However even now, nearly 20yrs down track I still have difficulty reconciling the religious zealot he has become, with the man I grew up with. His absence in my life notwithstanding, I still do miss the bastard. There are times still when I have completed a song recording and wanted to send it to him so he could see that I’m still playing guitar.
Sometimes it’s out of spite, I want to throw my life in his face and rub it in like sandpaper to his skin. Look at all the shit I’ve done without you. Sometimes it’s out of grief, I want to talk to him, ask him if he still plays guitar, give him back his Eagles music sheet book he forgot to take with him, have a jam. Please see me, please remember that I exist and that I was once your daughter. Sometimes it’s out of all of the above. Depends on the day really.
My mother and I formed a close relationship in the wake of his departure, and despite the lack of fatherly figure I still turned out the best I could.
Just because I happen to also be gay doesn’t make me any less of a person, and his lack in my life has sweet fuck all to do with it. If anything, his lack taught me to always be communicative with my partner, to make sure that I wasn’t afraid to have the tough conversations when things became difficult, because anything less would make me a coward. I didn’t want to be like him, so I worked hard to be better than him.
Whether you have a mother and a father, or two of each, or one of each, or none of the above does not determine your upbringing or your level of functionality in the world. How much support you get from those around you will.
Should by some freak accident this plebiscite goes through, you will need to support your kids regardless of whether they are straight, bisexual or gay, cis or trans, or somewhere in between. The plebiscite will only cause divisive, hateful rhetoric aimed right at the heart of the entire community. The kind of language that you hope dies out with the last generation. The kind of closed minded sentiments that does nothing to advance society and culture forward, but keeps it stagnating until algae forms around the surface and suffocates us. The kind of rhetoric that says that only a mother and father can raise a child, and everyone else doesn’t cut the mustard.
But here’s the kicker. We’re all fuckups regardless of where we come from. As humans we are inherently flawed, with emotions, memory, values, belief systems, humanity. No matter your race, gender, religion, sexual preference, social status, financial status, whether or not you think Nickleback is actually a decent band….. It’s by pure chance that we are conscious beings born the way we are, when we are, where we are. In every community there are the best and the worst of us.
It doesn’t matter in the end who is the parent of a child. Because if you teach your children compassion, humility and to not be fucking jerks to each other, then they will turn out fine regardless of how many parents they have.