For parents thinking of introducing their kindergarten-aged children to the topic of same-sex families, a couple of book reviews might be helpful.
“Asha’s Mums,” “One Dad Two Dads Brown Dad Blue Dads,” and “Daddy’s Roommate,” are unadulterated advocacy. Scant wonder the books are turgid and cannot be pried from their pitch i.e., that same-sex families are just groovy. What’s particularly unforgivable about this pamphleteering is that it leaves children out in the cold. The upbeat little tykes in the books are simply parroting the say-so of the advocates.
The silliest of the three, “Asha’s Mums,” tells a completely contrived tale. The two authors must have racked their unsupple minds to come up with a plot that would show the perils from a hostile world to a child with two mums. Since these perils are few, our authors concocted a story that doesn’t gel.
Asha is excited over an impending trip to the Science Center. All that changes when the ‘homophobic’ teacher calls on the child to explain why her permission-slip sports the signatures of two mothers. You can, after all, only have one mother reasons the teacher. When the poor child vows never to go back to school, Mom One (Alice) materializes in a flash to upbraid the oppressive pedagogue.
In yet another scene designed to push buttons, Asha’s sunny painting of her family, two moms front and center, initiates a discussion in class. And what would such a discussion be without the progeny of the prototype bigoted parents piping up? “My mom and dad said you can’t have two mothers living together…it’s bad.” No sooner do the cherubic kids silence the voice of the dissenting rube kid than mommies Sara and Alice swoop down to ensure that opinion about same-sex parents remains monolithic. Yes, to sexual diversity; no, to diversity—and freedom—of opinion.
With teacher on the straight and narrow, all are primed for one last lesson. You can have two mommies “just like you can have two aunts and two daddies.” It’s never too late to start teaching the lessons of moral and intellectual equivalence: everything is the same, no one thing is better or preferable. Judgment must be suspended at all times.
This tale is a series of sensibility tweaks. Nothing in the permission-slips my daughter brought home over the years ever said, “All sexual partners in the household sign on the dotted line.” What’s generally requested is a signature of a single parent or a guardian. The authors decided to use the permission-slip ruse as part of their coming-out project. Further, unless I don’t get the birds and the bees, Asha was conceived with the aid of a man. Whether Asha is a product of artificial insemination, adoption or shotgun, a man exists somewhere with half of her DNA. He might be a deadbeat dad or just a sperm donor. He may even be a poor sod toiling to send The Moms maintenance while they remain mum about him. From this obfuscating tale he has, however, been expunged.
Straining at the seams with condescension, “One Dad Two Dads Brown Dad Blue Dads” is dedicated to “Jacob, who has only one mom and one dad,” but doesn’t need your sympathy, “because they’re both pretty great parents.” This bit of comedy lays bare an indifferent to what children really want. Can you honestly imagine a child jumping up and down demanding an extra dad, “Just like Lou has?” The story has been compared to Dr. Seuss. It shouldn’t. “One Dad Two Dads” lacks Dr. Seuss’s delicious sense of the absurd, the kind that tickles kids pink. And kids, absent indoctrination, will detect this imposter.
The book begins with a little guy telling of the domestic bliss that comes with having two blue dads. Code Blue is an unfortunate metaphor for gay: the dads are said to be the same as every other non-hypothermic dad except for their hue. How did they get this way? “They were blue when I got them.” And that’s okay because it seems reasonable to assume that people are born to their sexual orientation. But then comes the clincher: “They are blue because… they are blue. And I think they’re wonders – don’t you?” It is one thing to suggest the dads were simply born “blue,” but quite another to declare them wonders by virtue of their tinge. Why impart to children that the value of a person is a function of his sexual orientation? People are wonderful because of their character, because of what they do, not because of whom they bed.
Towards the end, the pigmentally checkered dads begin to multiply and some green dads appear on the scene. Like Oscar Wilde’s signature carnation, green is a good deal more festive. However, more than anyone, Wilde, who is often appropriated by the gay community, would have found insulting the attempt to define the Self in terms of sexual preference. After all, the great wit’s most favorite organ was still his brain.
“Belinda’s Bouquet” is more honest. One can sense some attempt at adopting a child’s perspective. The book does speak to differences. The only hint of the same-sex addle is that the two mothers are the ones who strategically dispense the nuggets of wisdom. If I wanted to be difficult I might ask why ‘mama’ teaches poor chubby Belinda to chant, “My body belongs to me,” every time someone comments about her weight. Wouldn’t, Mind your own business,” or, “You’re no oil painting,” have been more effective? But one can’t hope to divine every bit of feminist affectation.
The themes of adult selfishness, divorce, and same-sex union converge in “Daddy’s Roommate.” Published by Alyson Wonderland publications, this story is particularly sad. The little narrator here has no name! This isn’t surprising, since children in these books exist to affirm their parents. What is alarming is that the educators, who stand firm behind these books, and who routinely tout the self-esteem catechism in schools, overlooked the sagging sense of self exhibited by the books’ tots.
The nameless narrator tells us his parents have just divorced. With nary a reference to the sadness of this event, he blurts out; “Now there’s somebody new at Daddy’s house. Daddy and his roommate Frank live together, work together, eat together, sleep together.” From here on in it’s pretty much “Brown Dad Blue Dads” all over again, detailing the good times the dwarfed child spends with the two larger-than-life men.
Mommy, like the child, is a conduit in the service of the men’s outing. She tells no-name boy that Daddy and Frank are gay and that “being gay is just another kind of love.” “Daddy and his roommate are very happy together,” chants the child, “and I am happy too!” So long as Dad has found his true self, so will the boy arrange his feelings accordingly. It’s a cruel farce that has a child spouting homilies in the service of a parent’s project.
What would I have considered an honest narrative?
“My name is Ben. I am very sad. My mom and dad are divorcing. Frank is my dad’s new friend. My mom and dad held me tight. I told them I wanted my old home back again, and I cried.”
©2001 Ilana Mercer
A version of this article was published in Canada’s North Shore News
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