To label Dan Bucatinsky’s Does This Baby Make Me Look Straight? Confessions of a Gay Dad a “gay parenting” book is to do it a disservice. Not that there is anything wrong with gay parenting books (far from it)—but Bucatinsky’s work is about parenting, period. To limit the scope of this hysterically funny, often bawdy, and unexpectedly touching book to gay parenting alone is to miss that essential point—even if the book also contains some supremely sharp observations about being both gay and a parent.
Bucatinsky is an actor, writer, and producer whose credits include the indie comedy film All Over the Guy, as well as Showtime’s Web Therapy, NBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? and HBO’s Emmy-nominated The Comeback (the last three with producing partner Lisa Kudrow, of Friends fame). While he may move in exalted entertainment circles—Gwyneth Paltrow, Neil Patrick Harris, Rosie O’Donnell, and Kudrow are among those who have contributed publicity blurbs for the book’s cover—he doesn’t let it show. This is not a memoir of celebrity life and extravagant nurseries.
Instead, the book is a romp through his children’s first few years on the planet, covering topics that will make any parent both smile and wince with familiarity: children’s bodily functions, keeping romance alive, competition between partners and other parents, and embarrassing travel incidents. The stories don’t form a continuous narrative, but are held together by Bucatinsky’s quest to make sense of the often nonsensical world of parenthood and the personal transformations that come with it.
Readers are treated to hilarious details from Bucatinsky’s life, such as cheering his daughter at her soccer match with, “Give it a kick, honey! Pretend it’s the head of Ursula from Little Mermaid!” At the same time, we are taken through some of the great universals of parenting: wanting the best for our kids while allowing them to find their own paths; “teaching moments” that force us to confront our own values; coming to understand lessons from our own parents once we become parents ourselves.
Bucatinsky weaves in the story of how he and his husband Don Roos adopted their two children, but refreshingly does not make their path to parenthood the focus of the entire book, as have so many other LGBT parenting memoirs. His gaze is on life with kids.
Most of his anecdotes will strike a chord with gay and straight parents alike, but Bucatinsky also gives us a look at some very gay experiences: having flashbacks to his own bullied school days when he realizes he is raising a swaggering straight boy; coming out to the nannies in the park; responding to tokenizing neighbors who think it is “good for their family” to have friends “like us.”
Not to mention hair.
“Not every hairdresser is gay,” he writes. “And of course, not every gay person is a hairdresser. That being said, I’d venture to say most of us notice hair. . . . So when the hair equation includes two dads, their six-year-old blond daughter, and a bottle of detangler, the battle for the comb is inevitable.”
Bucatinsky’s coffee-out-the-nose-funny style gives his more poignant observations about parenthood that much more impact. The second half of the book in particular, is stuffed with moving passages and wise observations that lurk in the comedy like Legos in a shag carpet.
He describes, for example, his discovery of “something all parents must feel deep within themselves: a boundless desire and responsibility to nurture and protect.”
Most people call this the “maternal instinct”—but he explains, “In a home where no conventional mommy exists, Don and I, by definition both dads, are freed from the shackles of traditional gender roles and allowed to explore the gamut of parental emotions and impulses.” As gay dads, however, they also face the challenge of “finding the balance between the parts of us that are distinctly dad and those qualities that are, in a sense, maternal.”
Bucatinsky then ponders whether certain actions or attitudes even need to have gendered labels, asking, “Isn’t it all just ‘parentness’? And can both of us dads play all these roles in turn?”
He wraps the whole section in a story involving Angry Birds, a petting zoo, and his Jewish mother, cleverly avoiding preachiness or pedantry while getting at the heart of some of the most profound questions LGBT parents bring to the world.
Bucatinsky’s skillful weaving of the personal and the universal, the funny and the profound, make his book more than just a lighthearted summer read. ABC’s comedy Modern Family may take a humorous look at gay dads, but Bucatinsky shows that reality is both funnier and more touching than fiction.
If all parents approached parenthood with the same humor and self-reflection as Bucatinsky, we (and our kids) would be the better for it. If more of those opposed to LGBT parents read his book, perhaps they’d start to realize we are not really all that different—even if gay dads may fight more over the hairbrush.
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (www.mombian.com), an award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBT parents.