In the 1980s, when I was struggling with my burgeoning sexuality, I found solace in a few disparate places: I empathized with the angst-ridden teenagers in John Hughes movies; I exorcised demons by reading Stephen King novels; but more importantly, I discovered a little manual that outlined the perfect life to which I could aspire: Lisa Birnbach’s The Official Preppy Handbook.
I dog eared it, highlighted it, memorized it. I created a fantasy where my Bible-thumping, Daisy Duke-wearing family from Arkansas was replaced by Biff and Muffy and Bitsy and Trip, a Ralph Lauren family who wintered in Boca and summered in Montauk. A respectable bloodline where being gay was a badge of honor on the family crest.
This book had such a formidable affect that when I became a father I turned to it time and time again to guide me through the landmines of being a gay dad. Others had Dr. Spock and Heidi Murkoff, I had Leon L. Bean and Lilly Pulitzer! Yes, everything I know about being a gay dad I learned from The Official Preppy Handbook. To wit:
- Explain to your frustrated son that your father getting a divorce from his mother and coming out of the closet at the same time is a good thing: especially if dad comes out of the closet wearing his L.L. Bean black and white checked Norwegian sweater, Vineyard Vines pink lobster chinos, and a gross grain, hand knitted, whale spouting nautical belt;
- Getting catalogues in the mail from Brooks Brothers is preppy. Getting catalogues from International Male is not. Because you have to explain to your son why the pages of men wearing gold lame thongs are all stuck together;
- Always carry an extra Polo shirt (or Izod) in your car. Your embarrassed son just might ask you to change…because you’ve chosen to wear to his lacrosse game a tight muscle-tank showing off your newly acquired gay gym bod;
- Support your son fully when he decides to play a preppy sport like lacrosse. But when he’s twenty years old and invites you back into the locker room…where his twenty-year-old manly sweaty teammates are showering…DO. NOT. GO;
- When your son is finally close to drinking age, taking him on a wine tour of Napa Valley will gain you brownie points. But taking a detour over to the Russian River—during Bear Week—will not;
- Speaking in a Connecticut lockjaw accent doesn’t make it any better when you have to explain why you’ve been sexting with a Mexican dentist on Grindr;
- Reading The Catcher in the Rye is a very preppy thing to do; discovering daddy’s hidden video The Pitcher and the Catcher is not;
- And finally, encourage your son to attend an Ivy League school like Vassar, which is terrifically preppy. And when he gets accepted, and you and your gay partner escort him into beautifully gothic Thompson Memorial Library on his first day, you can beam with immense pride, because in that glorious lobby you spot a dozen or more gay parents with their straight children. And no one, parents or kids, straight or gay, bats an eye. That’s when you know your kid’s going to be alright. And just as important, so are you.