The road to fatherhood hasn’t always been smooth for Rob Watson.
As a university student in the late 1970’s, the burden of pretending to be straight and the fear that his sexuality meant he would never be able to start a family drove him to consider suicide.
“It was devastating to me, not because I wanted to fall in love with a woman – that just wasn’t there – but because I really wanted to be a dad. That is the one vocation in life that I wanted to be. I love my dad. He has always been one of my best friends, and the bond I had with him, I wanted to have with my child… There was a point where I was literally ready to say ‘OK, I can’t do this.’ I was on my knees praying and threatening god with killing myself.”
A kind of spiritual awakening gave Rob the courage to carry on.
“I felt a voice coming right back at me saying, ‘How dare you? I created you; you’re what you’re supposed to be. You just turn around and go out there and be the best you can be.’”
After a period of heavy drinking, he got sober, and 18 years later, he was openly gay, in a domestic partnership and ready to start a family.
“It was like: ‘This is it. I need to do this.’”
Rob is now the father of two ten year-old boys, Jason and Jesse, whom he and his partner fostered and then adopted as babies. Both boys were born to different drug addicted couples, and their exposure to drugs while in the womb means they also have specific educational and health needs. They see educational therapists, and Jason experiences hyper-sensitivity and has to carefully watch his blood sugar levels.
When their sons were five, Rob and his partner divorced. Rob was awarded full custody, although the boys still have a relationship with their other father, and see him several times a year.
Rob says he has worked hard to keep his family’s life stable, but the boys still hope their other father returns someday. “Divorce is hard on kids. Being a same-sex couple didn’t mean we dodged that bullet.”
He has never found that his sexuality has affected how his work colleagues or his sons’ teachers treat him, something he attributes to living in Santa Cruz, California, “a very progressive area” two hours south of San Francisco.
Since becoming a lone parent, however, he’s been more conscious of negative preconceptions that some people hold about gay and single parents:
“People anticipate your failure as a single parent. It’s a two edged sword – while they’re trying to cut you slack, they’re also judging you. And being gay and a single parent, I probably put even more pressure on myself, because I am really aware that if I screw up and somebody knows that I’m gay and my kids act out in public, it isn’t going to be because my kid had a bad day or because I had a bad day. It’s going to be because gay parents somehow have this failing and cannot control their children in public.”
He also feels frustrated by assumptions about how dads should behave.
“The parenting world is very much seen as a woman’s world. A lot of people don’t treat me any differently because I’m gay, but in the day to day, I do detect some attitude difference because I’m the dad, and not the mom. It’s more from a sense of surprise — I get people who are amazed that as a dad, I’m doing this for my child. And it’s just like ‘Why wouldn’t I?’”
Rob is very open about his experiences, and writes a blog about his parenting and LGBT issues. He’s received criticism for his writing, and is careful to check the identities of people who request to be Facebook friends.
But a message from a young gay man in Bangladesh recently reaffirmed his commitment.
“When I talk to my gay friends in Bangladesh about the possibility of having a family and not having a partner like that, they all think I’m crazy,” he wrote. “And my response is ‘well, look at Rob Watson’.”
“It kind of blew me away,” says Rob.
“I’m just conscious that we’re in a very important place in time to make a difference. And that’s why I sort of give up my privacy to do something for the greater good. The thing that I’m communicating to some people in some place in the world is just that it’s possible.”