Gay Dad: Sick With Worry
By John Jericiau
We just returned from seeing Before Midnight as our date night movie, right after Thai food and a Thai massage. This movie sounded good on paper, but I didn’t find it all that.
Nine years after Before Sunset, their highly-regarded sequel to Before Sunrise, director Richard Linklater reteamed with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy for Before Midnight, which finds their characters together raising twin daughters. Jesse (Hawke) attempts to maintain a relationship with Hank, his teenage son from his first marriage, but their bond is strained even though Hank has just spent the summer with his dad and stepfamily. Meanwhile, Celine (Delpy) must make a difficult decision about her career.
Almost the entire movie is spent watching the two main characters, together for years now, banter back and forth, trying to one-up the other with clever words (Ethan Hawke’s character is a writer, and as I know, sometimes the words in a writer’s head slip out of the writer’s mouth instead of out of the writer’s hand.)
But this is not a movie review piece, or it least I didn’t mean for it to be. What happened in my mind as I watched this movie in our reserved stadium seats with a large popcorn and large diet Coke is that I spent most of the movie waiting. Just waiting for something to happen. The opening scene lasted about 10 minutes as we watched through the car windshield as the main characters talked back and forth while the twin girls were asleep in the back seat during a very long and windy trip in the countryside from the airport back to town. I sat with my mouth shut, not wanting to ruin my husband’s experience by telling him how sure I was that something awful was about to this family. I waited for the car to careen off the rocky cliff. I anticipated the head-on collision each time an oncoming car came toward them. I expected the terrorists to show up, kill the mother, beat up Ethan Hawke, and kidnap the beautiful twins that Ethan would try to rescue for the remainder of the movie.
But nothing happened! They talked their way through the movie, ending with clever words as quickly as it started. And I realized just how jaded I have become. All of the movies I’ve seen, all the news I read, all the Nancy Grace I watch – all of it has affected me in a very dark way. My expectation of tragedy has percolated into my daily life, especially as a father.
I worry about the kids. As they’re playing in the back yard, I listen from the kitchen (where I am barefoot) and wait for the scream of searing pain as one son bonks the other over the head with a newfound brick. If I hear a door slam, I wait for the sound of a finger to thump on the floor below, followed by the blood-curling scream of a 5 or 6-year old. And if I hear nothing at all, I peek outside the front yard and the street for a sex offender carrying my sons under each arm to his unmarked waiting car bound for Mexico. I worry when they’re at school. I keep alert for any phone calls from the school – I imagine that one of the boys “just disappeared after he walked out of the classroom to use the bathroom” or “he succumbed to injuries after the earthquake hit the school today.”
I worry about our parents. Between the two of us, Alen and I have four parents in their seventies: one who’s had a stroke brought on by chemotherapy treatments for cancer, one who just had a knee replaced, one who has diabetes, and one who had a hip replaced and cataract surgery in the same year. In my mind I can hear the constant countdown to the end, despite every attempt to silence it. No longer is it a question of IF something is going to happen, but WHEN. Where will we be in ten years, when they should be in their mid to late 80s? Odds are that things will be dramatically different.
I worry about the world. Plenty of natural disasters all around the world. Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados, tsunamis, blizzards, and floods. Lots of hatred and terrorism from our enemies. I’ve been prepared for the worst, ever since 2001 when I arrived home one morning after enjoying an early morning 50-mile bike ride before work. I sat down in front of the TV with my breakfast (two eggs and an English muffin) and was caught by surprise when I turned on the news just in time to see the World Trade Center, which my father helped build, fall into a heap of sadness.
As a family with two gay dads, we have to be even more vigilant. As more and more states recognize our relationship and force their people to recognize us too, whether by marriage equality laws or changes in the Boy Scout rules, I can’t help but worry that more hatred will come out of the woodwork and find its way right to my family. We have to plan vacations with safety in mind. We have to consider our surroundings every time we want to enjoy a “spontaneous” public display of affection. It gets old after a while, and I would be much more lackadaisical about it if it weren’t for our three sons. I hope that as we get older, our sons will understand that we did the best we could to balance safety and freedom in order to provide them with the best childhood possible. I really hope we can sit down in fifteen years and discuss all of this as a family. Unless, of course, my heart gives out before that.