If You Want to Know More – Ask Dad
By Harald Breiding-Buss
Politicians may still be struggling with the issue of gay parents, but society seems ready to move on. That, at least, seems to be the message from the smooth ride Allan Cleaver had when he and his two children moved in with another man.
“I don’t really know what to tell you, it never came up as an issue”, says Allan Cleaver when we sat down to talk about his story. And this is perhaps the most remarkable part of it.
“It” means the fact that Allan lives together with partner, Peter, and has shared custody of his two kids, Jarrad (9) and Summer (7). There’s never been a problem when the kids’ friends came over to play, or even for a sleepover? Has New Zealand finally gotten over its “Peter Ellis Complex”, which doesn’t distinguish between homosexuality and paedophilia?
“When the children’s friends come over to stay the night I’ll make sure the parents know”, says Allan, “so that everyone is really clear about it and that Peter and I are covered. No-one ever objected. At times the children’s friends have even been on holiday with us.”
Neither has Alan’s homosexuality ever been an issue with his former partner of seven years. “I had relationships with men before I met her, and she knew about it. After we split up I had relationships with women before I got together with Pete.” A true bisexual? “At this stage I’d call myself gay.” he says.
Perhaps the biggest problem for Allan was to get shared custody of his children – problems he blames more on the fact that he is male than that he is gay or Maori.
Like many other fathers he found the Family Court experience intimidating, at times hostile, and certainly entirely ignorant of the role of fathers in children’s lives.
“When Jarrad was about four his mannerisms got quite feminine, and I thought he was just mimicking his environment. He was living with his mum, had female kindergarten teachers and was around females all the time. He was needing the masculine influence in his life.
That’s always been my thing that they – and the girl, too – need that balance in their lives.” Allan is happy that Jarrad has a male teacher this year for a change.
“[After we speparated] I started out with fortnight weekends. At the time I couldn’t do more, because I was tied up with studies, but after about one and a half years things had settled down enough. So I told her I wanted 50/50.” But his former partner didn’t agree, not even after Allan had suggested further counselling and “left the idea for a while to sink in.”
But when, after a year, she hadn’t changed her mind, he made the decision to take it to Court. Only about two months ago did the shared custody agreement become legal, after about two years in Court.
“The fact that I am in a gay relationship never came up in the Family Court.”, says Allan, “perhaps if she had pushed the issue it would have made a difference or made her case stronger, but she never did.”
Today, son Jarrad lives with him for seven days out of 14, and daughter Summer for six. So far the children are cool with “step-dad” Peter. “Pete is dad’s partner as far as they’re concerned. He’s just like another parent. Especially with Jarrad I felt they had a special bond right away.
Pete’s been around, they met him before we moved in together, it’s never been an issue.
“When I moved in with Peter and the kids came over to stay the first time and I showed them their rooms there was a moment when Jarrad asked me ‘Where do you sleep, then?’ and I said ‘Oh, I sleep with Peter’ – and that was that.”
There have been surprisingly few problems at school with the kids’ friends. At this stage Allan has no fears that his children may become outcast because their dad lives with another man. “[Peter and I] are very visible at school and make sure we are.” This means parent helps, going along to school camps – the lot. “Jared’s friends – they all know.”
That didn’t exclude a few awkward moments, however.
“Once we dropped Summer off at school and I overheard one of the little boys commenting to her something like ‘Your dad is gay’, and I thought ‘Oh, here we go’, but then Summer said ‘Yes, and if you want to know more about it, talk to dad’.”
At this year’s school camp, Jarrad didn’t want both, Peter and Allan, to come along. Either one was fine with him, but not both, which, according to Allan, may or may not have something to do with his dad being gay.
When the children are going to enter their self-consicous teenage years they may yet have to feel the heat, but so far it has been a very smooth ride – a fact that Allan contributes to the fact that he is very comfortable with his sexuality himself and has been for a while.
“I take that [going smoothly] as a confirmation that I’m doing the right thing. I don’t need outsiders’ confirmation and I go with what feels right for me and my family.”