The Sunday Conversation: Dan Bucatinsky
In his new book, “Does This Baby Make Me Look Straight? Confessions of a Gay Dad,” Hollywood hyphenate Dan Bucatinsky explores his experiences parenting Eliza, now 7, and Jonah, 4, with his husband, director Don Roos. As Lisa Kudrow’s partner in Is or Isn’t Entertainment, Bucatinsky, 46, has also produced several TV series, including “The Comeback,” “Who Do You Think You Are?” and “Web Therapy,” which returns to Showtime for a second season on July 2.
Did you grow up thinking that eventually you’d have kids or did you assume you wouldn’t because you’re gay?
The latter. I assumed I wouldn’t because I was gay. It was a different time. I grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, a very liberal upbringing. I grew up very anxious about the idea that I might be different. I even made a pact with myself that if it turned out I was going to be gay I would kill myself when I was 18. I was fairly frequently bullied as a kid in junior high, and it made me feel that I will make sure it’s not true about me. It’s not like I was growing up with a family where I wouldn’t be accepted, because when I finally came out at 25, I was very, very well accepted. Obviously I didn’t kill myself, thank God. But growing up with that kind of pressure was tough. And it just did not feel like an option that I was going to be a parent.
When did that change?
Early in my relationship with Don, his lawyer, who’s gay, and his lawyer’s partner had a joint wedding/baby-naming for their daughter. It was a good 15, 16 years ago. I was so moved, it completely caught me off guard. I was overwhelmed by something so conventional, something so normal about the two of them standing there with their daughter and having some kind of a ceremony. That was the first time I thought, oh, my God, this is really possible, in my lifetime. And it wasn’t like we were fighting politically for the right to get married.
How common is parenthood among gay people you know?
There’s the whole notion of a “gayby boom.” It really has become — certainly in Los Angeles and New York, places where you feel the most assimilated — very common. Nothing is a great equalizer like kids. I joke with people; they say, “What’s the difference?” and I’ll say, “You know, when you’re changing a diaper, it all smells exactly the same. We just look a little better when we’re changing it.”
A lot of our friends have become parents in a lot of different ways, and we have now a circle of friends — straight parents with kids and gay parents with kids and two moms and two dads — it has become something that feels very, very common.
You and Don are legally married, right?
We are. During the window in 2008, we got married on the patio of our house. Eliza was 31/2 and Jonah was a year and a half, and we threw a clip-on tie on our boy and a dress on Eliza. Our baby sitter was our witness and, oddly enough, Tom Arnold was our minister because he got some kind of online license, and in 15 minutes we were married. And there’s something kind of silly about it, but kind of perfect also.
Did you name Eliza after Eliza Doolittle?
I didn’t. Don will say that he did. He fell in love with the name because Don is the biggest Julie Andrews fan that has ever lived on the Earth. I just love names that end in “A.”
When you did decide to adopt, was adopting in the U.S. your only option?
Yes. At the adoption agency and the family services agency that we visited for information, they had told us that in almost every country of the world, they would never allow two men to adopt together. And California would. Open adoption was the way to go, where the mom picks the couple. We hoped to get picked.
Why do you think that the moms who picked you, picked you?
There’s something I find fascinating, which is that a lot of these single moms will often want to pick two guys because it allows them psychologically to feel they will always be the only mother. So in a way, gay couples can have an advantage. Why me and Don? She told us she picked us because she liked “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” and she thought we’d make awesome dads.
What kind of parenting quandaries have you had to deal with that straight parents haven’t?
The quandary that comes to us the most has to do with the absence of a mommy. It has to do with how to celebrateMother’s Dayor another kid who wants to know why there’s no mommy in our family. And that’s why in the book I explore the definition of mommyness, without the obvious, which is the presence of a woman. Isn’t there a little bit of mommy or daddy that can exist in any gender? It comes down to what I think about the role of each parent in the family. But that’s hard to explain to somebody on an airplane who’s trying to tell you how to feed your kid because they assume you don’t know what you’re doing.
I thought you were a little dismissive of mother hunger. My few female friends who grew up without a mother say they really missed having one, and I think having a woman in the home per se is part of it. Do you think there’s a difference between losing a mother to happenstance and deliberately forming a family without one?
I do think there’s a difference. If the only family you’ve ever known is the family you have, which is two parents of whatever gender, I don’t believe that would mean you wouldn’t have mother hunger. I’m sure my kids will. There’s something about watching their friends call out for mommy and what it would feel like to be hugged by someone with breasts and a different kind of body and skin. I think the loss of a parent after you had that experience would be different than if you’d never known it. But there are a lot of women in my daughter and my son’s life and quite deliberately — a lot of aunts and we have child-care help, a nanny who has been involved in their life since birth, so there is that feeling with their aunts and grandma and their nanny that I’m hoping balances it out a little bit.
Once or twice Eliza said something about a mommy. And I love my kids so, so profoundly that I actually felt a little sad that there was one thing I couldn’t provide for them. Obviously there are a lot of things I can’t provide for them, but that was one that feels really deep and my heart breaks for them a little bit about it. And at the same time, I know they’re growing up in a home where they’re so deeply valued and listened to and respected that I think they’re going to be OK.
I thought what you wrote about having a presumably straight son was interesting.
There was a point when Jonah turned 2, 21/2, it was watching these personalities emerge. And there something kind of rough and tumble and — there’s no better way to describe it — butch, coming out of this little 2-year-old who loved to play with balls and sticks and had a bit of a swagger when he walked. And it kind of took me back to a time when that kind of swagger, that kind of confidence, I associated with the kinds of guys who used to bully me. And I got filled with all these feelings like, wow, I wonder if my own son is going to intimidate me and I wonder if he’s going to look at me differently. And I worked it through and I thought about how much I love my son and looked at the notion of unconditional love in a totally different way. It’s an exciting challenge that is going to erase lines that I thought were deeply embedded in me.
So what’s coming up the second season on “Web Therapy”?
The second season is not only chock-full of amazingly funny guest stars — including the first time David Schwimmer and Lisa Kudrow are on screen together since"Friends” — but also a really funny arc to the whole season of a political campaign that goes horribly wrong.
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