A new view

Similar to many of my senior generation, I have had a problem accepting the concept of same-sex marriage. My views have been fashioned over the years from a traditional perspective. I grew up in the Eisenhower years, married a great girl, graduated from college, and went to work for a large company. We raised two daughters in small towns during my career and I grew to become a corporate executive. Mine was a standard, by-the-numbers story fairly typical of my generation. My career took me to San Francisco in the 1980s where I was repulsed by the flamboyance and “in your face” attitude of the Haight Ashbury gay community at the time. Those images have stayed with me over the years and have added to the negative stereotype and my discomfort with gay issues. I am now retired with my wife of fifty-plus years in an upscale golfing community which reflects the same values.

But two recent experiences have led me to reconsider my attitude towards same-sex marriage.

The first was an article in a recent Sports Illustrated titled “Do Ask, Do Tell.” It is the story of a black boy (Max Lenox) who was born in the 1990s to a crack-addicted mother, and who was adopted and raised by two gay fathers. Three years later the two men adopted Erin, a baby girl, also black, from another mother.

It is a remarkable story as the young man and his parents struggled against society mores during those years. When one church refused to baptize Max, another stepped forward. When their neighborhood swimming pool association rejected their membership, neighbors rallied to their cause. As an athlete, Max had to deal with mean-spirited razzing at basketball games and racial and sexual taunts in school.

Yet the family moved forward. As laws and social values changed, Dave and Nathan were married in Massachusetts during Max and Erin’s years in high school. Max attended a military prep academy, became a West Point cadet, captain of the Army basketball team, and is scheduled to graduate next June.

I was moved by this story: it looked beyond the current controversy of same-sex marriage to that of a family. A family that faced difficult social and family issues, but prevailed and became a stronger unit.Then another experience came along which was much closer to my world and prompted me to further question my long-held views.

My wife and I recently purchased a beach condo and attended our first meeting of the property owners’ association. As we gathered before the meeting, we met the other owners, including our next-door neighbors, who brought their children to the meeting.

Similar to my Sports Illustrated story, this was a white couple with two black children, a boy and girl, probably ages six and eight. Only this time the parents were two women. They did not make any special issue about their relationship, but I noticed both appeared to be wearing wedding rings. One woman actively participated in our meeting while the other cuddled with her daughter on a couch off to the side. The boy occupied himself quietly playing with his Lego blocks on the floor.

The meeting dragged on and I became bored so I joined the boy on the floor. “Tell me about your Lego’s,” I asked him.

“These are my planes and my airport,” he said as he proudly showed me his full collection. Then he asked, “Would you like to play checkers?”

“Sure. Let’s do it.”

He put away his Lego’s and pulled out a checker board and set it up for our game. We finished (he won) just as the owners’ meeting completed. We gathered up his checkers and Lego’s and he joined his parents on their way out. We briefly visited with the two women, complimented them on how well-behaved the children were, and learned they would be heading home the next day.

The next morning I was sitting on our deck, enjoying my morning coffee. The beach was empty, the ocean was still, and I was enjoying a moment of quiet reflection that seems to come best at the beach. Then our new neighbors appeared in a joyful family scene that will stay with me forever.

It began when one of the women and their boy came out of our complex, holding hands, and walking down to the beach. He had a bag of bread pieces in his hands and couldn’t wait to get to the beach. As soon as they got there, he set about slinging the pieces into the breeze. Before long, there were six gulls feasting on the crumbs, then twenty, and more kept coming. Bread pieces were thrown about in the air, wings were flapping everywhere as the gulls fought over the morning feeding. The boy took this as his cue to start chasing them, creating a scene of chaos. It was all energy and pure, uncomplicated joy that is the special province of youth. By the time he ran out of bread there had to be sixty seagulls trying to get the bread while avoiding his rushes.

As he was nearing the end of his bread, the other woman and daughter joined them. The girl took her cue to join him as they both made sport of harassing the seagulls, who were not about to abandon the last morsels and knew how to stay just out of their reach. Eventually, the kids ran themselves to exhaustion as their parents were busy taking photos.

As the gulls finished off the last of the crumbs and departed, the scene became very quiet. The four of them gathered in a small circle and embraced each other in a group hug, standing very still as they put their arms around each other for a quiet moment. I have no idea what words, if any, were spoken, but it was obviously an intimate family moment. I suddenly felt I was eavesdropping on their privacy and had to look away. Then it was time to go and they headed back to the condo, all still holding hands.

I sat there with my coffee in the serenity of the empty beach and the eternal ocean and recalled similar occasions with my wife and daughters and how those times together helped build the strong family relationships that continue today. The Sports Illustrated story took on more meaning. Max’s family and our neighbors might not fit my traditional view, but to each other they are obviously family. And asked myself why I or others should try to diminish their “marriage” by imposing our views of marriage and family. I wondered – what if one of those women had been my daughter? Would I love her less? Would I not accept her family into mine?

These are two very different same-sex couples who have taken on the responsibilities and joys of being parents in the only manner available to them. They are providing a stable home environment for children who otherwise might have struggled to overcome social and economic issues. Marriage entails not only love and intimacy, but also responsibility.

I continue to be uncomfortable with public display of same sex affection. It is completely foreign to me and I don’t expect to overcome that discomfort. But at a time when domestic violence, racial tensions, and community unrest dominate our news, maybe we need to pay more attention to family success stories – even when they don’t fit our formula.

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Doug Lapins is a retired executive and the author of “Sweet Success,” a combination autobiography and management manual.