When my son Danny started wearing skirts and dresses at age three, and when he came out after high school, his grandpa was there. My father, Arthur Shigeru Mayeno, has always been there for Danny and me. Now 87, he has never talked much, but his wisdom runs deep. He’s admired by many who meet him, and a shining example of a man, an elder, and an amazing ally. Teaching through his actions more than his words, Dad’s wisdom helped prepare me to be the mother of a gender-creative gay son. Here are some pearls I have gleaned from him.
#1: Make decisions based on what’s important to you, not based on what others will think.
A private man who dislikes being around people he doesn’t know, Dad agreed without hesitation to have his images and story made public. When I mentioned to him that some people wouldn’t want to be public about having a gay grandchild, his response was straightforward, “That part doesn’t faze me a bit.”
#2: Find joy in doing things with children that you love and they love too.
A single mom, I often relied on Dad to take care of Danny while I travelled for work. They both love art, and much of their time together was spent doing creative projects. They drew princesses with long flowing hair riding on flying horses. They made books, shrinky-dinks, and even a stained-glass unicorn. Danny, remembers those times. “It was cool that he was able to connect with me through his chosen medium and my chosen expression. I remember it being really special that I got to work with glass and use the soldering tool. He made an effort to make it about something that was special to me.”
#3: Let children be themselves.
Dad remembers Danny playing with dolls and play-acting female characters in Disney movies. He was surprised, and even a little bothered, by Danny’s gender non-conforming ways. Mostly, he thought they were a natural part of Danny growing up. Unlike many men of his generation, Dad didn’t feel any obligation to mold his grandson into a conventional boy. It wasn’t because he had strong feelings about gender. He just believed in letting children be themselves. He never tried to pressure his children or grandchildren to fit into gender boxes, or any other kind of box.
#4: Welcome the loved ones of your children and grandchildren.
The summer after high school, Danny brought his first boyfriend to a family gathering. There were no warnings or coming out announcements. Says Danny, “When Grandpa met my boyfriend for the first time, I didn’t hear anything about it from him or anybody in the family. I still meet people today who aren’t out to their grandparents. I couldn’t imagine having to think twice about bringing someone to a family event.”
#5: Stand for Justice for All
Dad sees parallels between the discrimination he has endured as a Japanese American and the mistreatment of LGBTQ people. When he was 14 years old, he and his family were forced out of their home and into a war relocation center. His days exploring the streets of Seattle and fishing with with his brother at Puget Sound came to an abrupt end. For years, he was stuck in a barren wasteland, behind barbed wire and under the watch of armed guards. He felt betrayed. “According to the constitution, a person could not be put in jail unless you committed some kind of crime. That’s what I was taught in school, so I didn’t believe that the relocation could possibly happen in this country. But, it did. I was very disappointed. It was a very traumatic experience.” Having his own freedom taken away made him more aware of continuing injustice. He wants LGBTQ youth to be able to live full lives and be treated with justice.
# 6: Live your life, not the life that others want for you.
After the war ended, Dad did not live the life that others expected of him. He followed his own dreams. He studied art, where he met and fell in love with a young Jewish artist, Rebecca Joy Reynolds. They soon married and together raised five mixed-race children. In 1953, their interracial marriage challenged the status quo. Interracial marriage was still illegal in some states. My cousin, who married someone of a different race a generation later, says that Mom and Dad paved the path for her. This taught me that people who dare to live outside of boxes make it easier for others to do so.
#7: Don’t chart out your children’s future. Support them in their own dreams.
Dad has never tried to chart out the future for his children and grandchildren. “It may go back to when I was younger and wanted to study art instead of dentistry like my mother and father wanted me to do. When the kids were going in different directions, even if I thought they were following a path I thought would not be economically productive, I was glad to let them follow it.” His message to parents and grandparents is the formula he has followed: “Help them realize their dreams. That’s important.”
#8: Live up to your potential and follow your dreams.
Though Dad never lectured his children or grandchildren, when I pressed him for a message, he said, “I think the most important thing is for all of us to be able to live up to our potential. Our potential goes with our dreams. It’s very difficult in some cases to do. If I was instructing the kids about anything, I’d just tell them to follow their dreams, just like I did.”
Dad, in his own quiet way, is an Out Proud Grandpa. He is proud of Danny because, “He is one of the few people I know who has followed his dream, and so far, he’s been very successful.” Dad doesn’t measure success in terms of money. For him, Danny is successful because he’s doing what he loves.
About Danny Moreno