When you were small, people said you looked just like your dad. As you grew up, they said you had his sense of humor or his temper, you laughed alike, you walked alike. Today, you may be close or you may have a chasm of miles or emotion between you, but as in the new book Gay Like Me by Richie Jackson, you’re a lot more like Dad than you think.
Jackson, an award-winning Broadway, television and film producer, knew two things from the time he was small: He “felt lucky to be gay,” and he wanted to be a father someday.
“Everything good that has happened to me is because I am gay,” he says – and that includes the birth of his son, born to a surrogate when Jackson was in his 30s. Since then, the sentiment has surely doubled since Jackson’s son came out as gay.
That was his “greatest wish for” his son, that he know the joy of being gay because it’s “a gift.” Jackson writes that he is “thrilled for the flight ahead of you” and “wary of the fight ahead of you,” because wonderful things could happen but vigilance is required. Jackson knows that pain sometimes comes from people you didn’t think would hurt you.
Still, he is excited for his son, who is college-age now and who grew up at a time when AIDS isn’t a death sentence, hiding isn’t mandatory, and so many large battles have already been fought – at Stonewall, in the military, in marriage equality, and in everyday life. These things give Jackson hope as he launches his eldest son into the world as a gay man, but he has advice.
Know who you are, he counsels, and “never diminish your essence.” Know the heroes who went before you. Never let your sexuality shame you, and never use it to shame others. Know your partner’s HIV status in advance. Don’t fall into the drugs-and-alcohol trap that’s ensnared so many other gay men. And “vote as if your life depends on it, because it does.”
Is there a modern teenager in the world who takes his father’s advice? Perhaps not, but if he’s a gay young man, he might still be glad to have Gay Like Me.
The author writes with enthusiasm and gratitude and displays a lot of loving steel hidden in the things he wants his son to know. His advice is fierce, but tempered with the kind of acquired fear that traumatically becomes a part of one’s DNA. In the sweetest of dad-tones, he’s honest, using a please-don’t-do-as-I-did warning, heavy on the “please.” He doesn’t just write words to his son. He also penned them about his son, and they’re caressing, but difficult words that aren’t solely for one specific, specifically young man.
You don’t, in other words, have to be young or gay or even a man to enjoy Gay Like Me. Mothers of gay teens will want it, fathers and sons alike.