'Modern Family' and Me: The Men in the Mirror

Filed under: Gay Parenting, TV, Opinions

Question: Where can I find the following family?

Two gay dads -- one slender and uncomfortable offering public displays of affection, the other hefty and prone to flamboyant gestures. Add one adopted daughter of another race, the youngest member of an extended family whose senior patriarch is remarried to a younger woman, which makes him now the parent of a child close in age to his grandchildren. Need a hint? Their wacky adventures are broadcast on Wednesday nights.

Answer: I just have to look in the mirror.

I've just described my family, whose adventures I chronicle here at ParentDish. But you can be forgiven if you mistakenly thought I was referring to "Modern Family," the ABC comedy. In fact, you wouldn't be alone -- our own relatives might have answered that question the same way.

Ever since the very first episode aired last year, our families, friends, co-workers and even a few casual strangers have noticed our resemblance to the sitcom's Cameron, Mitchell and Lily.

modern family

My own "Modern Family." Credit: David Valdes Greenwood

I'm the Cam in our house, the zaftig brunette who once was a clown and still loves costumes; my husband's the Mitch, the skinny guy with the gray beard who rolls his eyes at my exuberance when I'm not looking (and sometimes when I am). Our daughter, who I always nickname Diva in my writing (for obvious temperamental reasons), is actually named -- wait for it -- Lily.

So, while we were thrilled when "Modern Family" made history by showing a family like our own, it's been unsettling how eerily exact the portrait is.

Maybe it's just that I'm not sure how I feel about my personal doppelganger. When my own mother-in-law said Cam was just like me, it gave me pause: Do I really whinny that much? Are my hand motions that ridiculously expressive? Have I ever dressed Diva up like a character from a Broadway musical? (Maybe, yes and no.)

It's easy for my mother-in-law to enjoy the similarities because her counterpart is Sofia Vergara -- and who wouldn't like that? But mine is the campy dude who shops at the Big 'n Tall. Am I the only person ever to watch a sitcom and wonder, "Does this TV show make me look fat?" (Actually, life does that just fine.)

Don't get me wrong: We're hooked on the show, which makes us laugh every time, if sometimes uneasily. When Cam has an emotional outburst, or Mitchell gets all prickly, or they compete to see which husband some cutie is flirting with, it feels a little like reality TV -- as if our lives have been edited down to their most exaggerated moments for an audience of millions.

Of course, it isn't our actual reality: Our condo would fit into a wee corner of Mitch and Cam's vast mansion; our house is strewn with doll parts and laundry like a child actually lives there; and we don't have gay friends with campy names like Longinous and Crispin and Pepper.

Even so, the overlap is strong enough that each episode is accompanied by the same soundtrack in our house: snicker, snicker, wince; snicker, snicker, wince.

Maybe the show hits a little too close to home sometimes, but that's a nice problem to have. Let's face it: TV has never depicted families like mine in this way before. For all its zany exaggerations as befitting a sitcom, the show is a gift and not just to us. As our culture grows and adapts to new realities, the show is a reminder that while some family structures might seem new, the real challenges, pleasures and rewards we share are as old as time.

When "Modern Family" airs its season finale on May 25, The Hubby and I will be sure to gather in front of the HD mirror in our living room to see how we look. I just hope Cam wears something slimming.

Veronica Rhodes and David Valdes Greenwood alternate weeks writing the Family Gaytriarchs. Look for them on ParentDish every Wednesday.

David Valdes Greenwood has written about marriage and parenting for the Boston Globe and in his first book "Homo Domesticus: Notes from a Same-Sex Marriage." The author of three nonfiction books and the creator of the blog "Diva Has Two Daddies," he also finds time to be a kindergarten room parent and Barbie pretend play expert. Read his blog on Red Room.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.