Father Tony

The Feathering Of The Empty Nest

Filed By Father Tony | June 17, 2010 10:30 AM | comments

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I've known men who have dedicated their lives to cock. I've known others who have inadvertently serviced alcohol for most of their adult lives. Others plan their week around their perpetual search for love without ever reaching into the pockets of their souls where they'd find the note explaining why they'll never find it. Hamsters on a wheel, rats in a maze, stevedores on the clock, we all have our predisposed distractions that, unnoticed, chew up our lives. The problem with death is that there is no preview, no rolling of the credits before the final frame. We get arrested by death with no reading of the Miranda rights and no attorney to present the justification for how we spent our days. We fuss with our hair, oblivious to the percentage of our lives devoted to the maintenance of this excretion.

On Tuesday, I did get a preview of a show about priorities and choices, and these thoughts came to mind as I chatted with Soledad O'Brien of CNN, Jarrett Barrios President of GLAAD and two gay men, Gary Spino and Tony Brown, who spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to become the parents of a boy with the help of an egg donor and a surrogate mother. Soledad, Jarrett, Gary and Tony are all raising children - without sacrificing great hair. (The show Gary + Tony Have A Baby, reported by Soledad O'Brien in CNN's In America series will air June 24 at 8PM ET/PT. I highly recommend it.)

I began to wonder if there is not a nest being feathered somewhere in the heart of every queer. If not for children, for what?

Today I ran three miles in Central Park finding my usual route interrupted by the barricaded flow of thousands of energetic folks involved in a race sponsored by a bank founded many years ago by the venerable American financier J.P. Morgan. They were running in a direction opposite mine with IDs pinned to their chests and hoping for respectable finishes for some good cause. They were tiring themselves for a reason perhaps admirable. The women jostled hopeful eggs, the men bounced eager sperm and from heaven, the prosperous J.P. Morgan blessed their efforts.

Exiting the park, I passed a corner bodega where I inhaled the scent of banks of flowers in buckets on the sidewalk and I was reminded of the recent wake of the father of a close friend. He died in his 80s having raised a family and bested the drinking that had almost destroyed them. The white flowers I ordered to accompany his coffin paled in comparison. Suffocating is the thought of mortality before accomplishment.

I ran past a prestigious address, the Prasada, on Central Park West, where I dodged film star Antonio Banderas as he exited a cab and greeted the deferential doorman who ushered him into the emblem of his success. He'll sleep on an upper floor with a view of the park and all its fervent running, half way between me and J.P.

I ran down a side street where I passed a beige leather sofa and a heap of personal oddities put out for the trash collectors. Perhaps this was the detritus of someone who had died. I imagined the relatives fussing over the trappings of a life whose resolution saddled them. I could almost hear their murmuring voices deciding what of the man's life had worth and what was simply garbage. Did they even run their hands beneath the cushions of that sofa to extract what change may have slipped in? Or were they in too much of a hurry to erase him?

Some of me will eventually end up on the sidewalk. Some of all of us will eventually end up on a sidewalk.

A few days ago, my husband and I saw a potted plant on the sidewalk outside our building. A paperclip held a note to one of its thick deep green straps. "I am an orchid. Pretty! Please adopt me." We deferred our coffee gratification for the few minutes it took to return inside, wait for the elevator and place our adoptee on a window ledge. Its flower stalk had been clipped so we don't know what color or shape its blooms will take. I wondered if it might have roaches hidden in the mulch. Will we regret adding it to our plant family? Not so different a speculation from what Gary and Tony express as they select an egg donor and a surrogate.

I am a childless wordsmith. Although running out into the night in Manhattan may make me wonder about my personal race and my personal best, I have no regrets. My route is clear and filled with things I scoop up from the path. I wonder if eventually overburdened with what in love you've picked up in life, you eventually stop running. We'll see.


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Rick Sours | June 17, 2010 2:38 PM

Among our friends who are Lesbian or Gay couples, several are parents. It many ways it has enriched and completed their lives.

For most Gay men and Lesbian we know, they want to feel that they have made a difference in a positive way. Whereas parenthood is not for everyone, a lot of people do countless hours of volunteer work and give what they can to
charities. My Partner and I subscript to the principle of "pay it forward"; doing good deals/acts simply as a good gesture.

One thing we both do not understand is that among our circle of Gay/Lesbian couples; those with the most financially seem to do this least for others. To be perfectly blunt: One day the last Partner will die and some relative they probably have little contact will inherent a great deal of money.

In closing, my Partner was previously married and he has grown children and grandchildren. We enjoyed their last visit but were also glad when they went home.

Dear Rick,
Your comment is a good reminder to all queer folks with even a modest estate that we should all be planning ahead so that our assets won't be diverted where we wouldn't prefer.

Mark Holmes | June 17, 2010 6:06 PM

What a beautiful post. Having just turned 42 and (hopefully) just completed my mid-life crisis, mortality and my place in the world has been much on my mind of late. Thank younfor putting into words much of what has occupied my thoughts. All of us, indeed, have no idea how long we have left on this earth; it's good to have this reminder of that fact.

Thank you for once again giving me something to mull over. It takes time to respond properly.

In the race for love, some will choose children. But having children is no guarantee of happiness (and some studies have proven to nonparents what we parents already knew). The greatest joy of parenting comes from giving love, not from receiving it, and there may be long stretches of time when that will be all you have. I have known the apogee and perigee of love for a child, and it is a constant uneven orbit of dual stars.

The best we can hope for is sharing love, not DNA. So those without children—like you—have found the same reward with people who are not their children. But like with our relations, it must be cultivated; and it reaps its greatest rewards over time, rendering an easy intimacy of trust and forgiveness.

My detritus will end up on the curb too. But my legacy lives on in the moments and meetings and seasons and a lifetime of helping others know they are loved. It is the greatest pleasure there is.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | June 18, 2010 2:43 AM

I know a gay man who had a trust fund estate that indicated that the income from the trust fund could only descend to the offspring of a legal marriage. The trustee documents were written identically for all of the beneficiaries. It was not a "gay thing" but a 1950's thing. Joe already had an adoptive son from his time in Japan, but adoptive was not covered for the purposes of the trust.

At age 80 when his partner died Joe proceeded to marry and have a child by means of artificial insemination with his wife so that his trust proceeds would be maintained to his offspring. Oh, and it was impregnate first and prove it, then a march to the altar.

That is the only justification he has for creating an unhappy and now divorced marriage. The continuation of a trust, and it seems the most empty reason imaginable to create a life. It is irreconcilable for me to consider people spending hundreds of thousands to create a child with "their DNA" when the human genome has demonstrated that we are 99.98% alike. Far better to provide a little help to the already born.

As a person who has chosen twice in five years to downsize detritus in two moves landing me in Florida and Asia I would agree that estate planning is vital whether you own a lot or a little when you die. The sad truth of the end game is that people fear they will outlive their money and when I go charities will benefit. meanwhile I do what I can in small amounts and privately when I find a worthy cause.

And erasure? I do not fear it at all. I will not know or care anyway.

What a stunningly well written post, Tony.

GraciesDaddy | June 18, 2010 12:11 PM

Sounds to me, Father Tony, as if you read the first few chapters of Larry Kramer's "Faggots" as a basis for your opening paragraph. You are certainly on-point regarding what many are wanting/chasing in their lives... even sofa change. What's poignant -- perhaps sad? -- is that that book was written 30+ years ago and *we're still doing many of the same things!!*

For the most part.

However, for [many?] others, who involve themselves in the politics of garnering civil rights for future LGBT generations; those who give their time and themselves toward bettering the lives of those with HIV -- or to *preventing* its transmission, etc., have, I believe, a deeper heart connection with the future LGBT children they don't know -- and probably aren't even yet born. It is "condoned," even "expected" that one would do their best to ensure the safety, well-being and future of their bio children... while LGBTs without progeny do, to me, dig a little deeper within themselves to ensure the same for *every* "next" generation.

That is running toward something.

Dear GraciesDaddy,
I think you are right about the "deeper digging" we do when the ordinary systemics and events are not part of our lives.
(I read a bit of Faggots when it was new. Decided I didn't like it and have never picked it up again. I told this to Larry Kramer a few weeks ago but quickly followed it with gushing praise for his short story Mrs. Tefillin.)