As I hear more and more children of gay couples casually mentioning their two moms or two dads, I always experience a mix of joy and profound regret. You see I, too, was raised by a gay couple; however, I didn’t even know it.
When my mom was coming to terms with her own sexuality in the mid-‘60s, it wasn’t acceptable to be gay, much less bring up children in a gay household. For that reason, she didn’t tell many people the real reason she left my dad in 1966. And those she did tell, like her own father, often rebuked her for it.
But once the rumor mill in a small town starts cranking, there’s no stopping it. My mom knew she had to get as far away as possible to have a chance at a new life. So, after she left the custody hearing with my dad, she jumped in a U-Haul truck with her partner, June, 8-year-old me and my 3-year-old sister. We moved three hours away, where June had landed a job as a teacher and they had rented a house for us.
For the rest of our childhood, my sister and I were part of a very loving household, where Mom was the chief breadwinner, and June, because she had a teacher’s schedule, assumed the lion share of responsibilities for us kids. The phrase “Mom and June” was as much a part of our vernacular as “Mom and Dad” was to other kids. We were a family in every sense of the word.
But to spare us from the slings and arrows of society, Mom decided to hide the true nature of their relationship from us for the 18 years they were together. I’m not claiming to have been totally clueless, but kids never want to be different. And in those nuclear family days, I was already different enough with divorced parents. It was simply easier for my sister and I to naively believe that Mom and June were just the best of friends.
Mom didn’t come clean to us until she and June were splitting up, and I was well into my adulthood and my sister was in college.
I have many regrets about this time in my life: that I didn’t ask Mom about their relationship, that I gave a crap about what people might think, that their relationship probably failed because of the sacrifice they made for us (I mean, what relationship can survive when it’s downplayed that much?).
However, my greatest regret is that I was never able to acknowledge June as one of my mothers. Sure, my sister and I sent June Mother’s Day cards every year and tried to keep in touch after she and Mom split, but even at her funeral two and a half years ago, we were still just “Pat’s girls” to her family and friends.
The truth of the matter is that June was one of our moms – from the tomato sandwiches she made for us to the kindness she instilled in us – and I will wish every day of my life that I had told her so!