I was headed east from California on a red-eye flight. As soon as I boarded the plane I buckled up, covered myself with my very own red blanket and tried to fall asleep. I have heard some pretty colorful stories about the way in which the airline blankets are cleaned so I always remember to bring my own. The usual chatter was going on in the P.A. system asking folks to bring their larger carry-on items to the front of the plane for a “courtesy check-in.” I closed my eyes and prepared to sleep.
Moments later I heard shuffling in the seats next to me. Then an infant began to cry loudly. I shut my eyes tighter. For some very strange reason my brain seems to believe that shutting the eyes tightly will magically close the ears. Well, it didn’t help. Not only did I clearly hear the infant crying, a second sound track of a toddler wailing wafted by.
I opened my eyes and took stock of the situation. My neighbors were two men. Seated immediately next to me was a tall, well built gentleman with a brown t-shirt (we’ll call him Mr. Brown). Settled on his lap was the chubby toddler boy about twenty months old. Next, to him was Mr. White (you guessed right—he was wearing a white shirt) holding a most adorable, blue-eyed little baby girl. The whole situation was quite unusual. Being an observant person (read nosy) I could not pass up on the opportunity to learn more about the couple. So, I decided to bag my sleep and put it in the over-head bin or beneath the seat in front of me.
My eyes raced to their fingers. Both of them were wearing identical wedding bands. Mr. White was wearing a thick, leather bracelet as an accessory on his wrist. Googling would reveal its name—a “mangle.” GQ magazine had listed it as a men’s fashion statement.
Mr. White was busy rummaging through a diaper bag. The bag was dark brown, quite manly and well designed. It had nice little compartments for bottles, diapers and wipes. The main well of the bag was filled with clothes, towels and other sundry items. He managed to pull out a bottle of Benadryl, sucked the medicine into the filler and deftly squeezed it into the children’s mouths. I was surprised. I remember the times when I traveled with my little daughter—I always made sure no one else watched when I gave the sleeping doses. I didn’t want to be judged as a bad mom. On long flights, I knew that Benadryl must be given to the children on the sly—in absolute secrecy. This gentleman had just broken that untold mommy law.
I have not interacted with gay parents before. Gay couples—yes, but never gay parents. My mind was ballooning with questions. Do you both work or does one of you stay behind and look after the kids? Do the kids go to day-care? Are one or both of you biological parents? Or, are both the children adopted? Was a surrogate mother involved? Did money exchange hands? Was it the same surrogate mother for both the children? Is the mother someone whom you folks know closely? Who does the dishes? Do you have diaper duties? Shushhhh I told myself, clearly all this is none of my business.
The baby started to whimper. She was wearing white coveralls with blue elephant print—the blue matched the color of her eyes, perfectly. The material of the coverall looked soft and comfortable. The baby had chubby cheeks and a round, bald head. She looked so tiny on her dad’s broad shoulders. Her tiny legs covered with the overalls started kicking her dad’s chest. What had began as a whimper rose into a full-blown wail. Mr. White patted her bottom. “She needs a diaper change,” he declared. He artfully removed the seat belt with one hand and picked up the diaper bag with the same hand before heading towards the bathroom. A few minutes later, the much happier baby, and dad headed back to their seats.
Mr. White handed the baby over to Mr. Brown saying he wanted to use the restroom himself.
Mr. Brown now held the baby in his left hand and the boy in his right. He kissed their heads fondly. The baby was gurgling and was ready to fall asleep. The toddler was still fussing. Mr. Brown told the little boy that he would buy him a large hat when they got to the beach. They must be heading somewhere warm for a vacation I thought, as I pulled my blanket closer.
The boy whined and said, “I am hungry. Can I have something to eat?” Mr. Brown placed the boy on his lap and moved his hand. I presumed that he was going to press the call button and ask the flight attendant for a glass of milk but instead he pulled a Styrofoam take-out box from his bag and gave the kid a handful of fries. Unconventional? Yes. But, it did the trick. The boy fell asleep after munching a couple of them. Mr. White came back to his seat and took back the sleeping baby. The family of four dozed off, looking perfectly serene.
The baby smiled blissfully in her sleep. Her smile melted my heart. How will it be for the little girl to grow up in a household with two male parents, I thought—especially during her teenage years? Would she be comfortable discussing the changes in her body with her dad(s)? I hope she would be able to talk to her grandmother or her aunt during her adolescence.
The only girl that I know, who was raised by two dads is Rachel from Glee. She grows up to be a totally driven and competitive teenager with a single-minded goal of becoming a performer on Broadway. Rachel’s dads stand by her, every step of the way. She revels in the affection showered by her dads, but this does not prevent her from trying to get in touch with her biological mother. Rachel is, however, disappointed when she meets her mother.
She realizes that they could never connect at the mother-daughter level. Rachel, otherwise, is portrayed, as a normal girl who falls in love, suffers through breakups and goes through life like any average girl. But Rachel, I told myself, is only a fictitious character, a figment of a writer’s imagination. How would a real life teenage girl feel?
Later, I would ask a teenage girl how she would have felt if two dads raised her. Her reply came back like a dart. “It surely beats being raised in an abusive or a broken family.” Unlike Rachel, I hoped that the little girl in the plane would never pine for her biological mom.
Mr. Brown’s breaths morphed into a mild snore. I was fully awake and watched the kids intently. Would the little girl and boy marry within the same gender? It did occur to me that two or three generations down the line there might be a little girl who grows up with two dads and four grandfathers.
Another hypothetical scene ran through my mind. A scene set in a society where same-sex marriage becomes the new normal. In that society would procreation just be a business dealing with a member of the other sex? The practice of producing an offspring outside of marriage, in cases where the couple could not have children of their own seems to have been accepted in puranic times.
In fact, this practice called Niyoga features several times in Mahabharata. When Vichithravirya dies without an heir to the throne his mother Sathyavati calls Vyasa to help save the lineage by performing Niyoga with the widows Ambika and Ambalika. Similarly, when Pandu is cursed to die if he became intimate with any woman, his wives Kunti and Madri have children through Niyoga. According to Niyoga the paternity of the child lies with the husband and wife and the person performing Niyoga is forbidden from having any attachment to the child. Would the laws set in the Puranic times be applicable today, I wondered.
While I had cheered on heartily when Blaine proposed to Kurt, in Glee’s Season 5 premiere, I considered only the fate of two people in love and not the destiny of the their offspring.
The P.A. system came alive and the captain warned us about the upcoming bumpy ride. I tightened my seat belt and prepared for the tumultuous times ahead. The baby girl opened her eyes and smiled at me.
Sujatha Ramprasad loves to read poetry and philosophy. She is an ardent fan of Harry Potter.