Parker Foster Aiken
AUG. 8, 2008
6 LBS. 2 OZ.
Clay Aiken always knew he wanted to have children, but he didn’t realize just how ready he was until a month after the birth of his son Parker. That’s when the baby—who was conceived via in vitro fertilization with Aiken’s best friend, 50-year-old music producer Jaymes Foster—was rushed to the emergency room after vomiting all day. Diagnosed with pyloric stenosis, an intestinal condition which complicates digestion, little Parker was scheduled for surgery to correct the problem. “Parker had been in one day already, when I got really panicky,” Aiken remembers. The singer got up at 2 a.m. and headed to the hospital. “I was like, ‘Wait a second, this is my responsibility. I need to take care of this child,'” he recalls. “I don’t like to nag people, but I asked [the doctors] every question I could think of. It was a reality check, like, This is the real deal.”
Becoming a father led to another life-changing decision for Aiken, 29, the American Idol runner-up whose awkward charm, flat-ironed red hair and soulful sound inspired a curious and deeply devoted cult of music fans who call themselves Claymates. Long dogged by rumors about his sexuality, Aiken decided the time had come for him to publicly acknowledge what he’s known privately since he was in college: He’s gay. Says Aiken: “It was the first decision I made as a father. I cannot raise a child to lie or to hide things. I wasn’t raised that way, and I’m not going to raise a child to do that.”
He acknowledges this truth may not sit well with some of his fans (“Whether it be having a child out of wedlock, or whether it be simply being a homosexual, it’s going to be a lot,” he says), but for now his priority is coming to grips with the end of his paternity leave. Aiken is reprising his role as Sir Robin in Monty Python’s Spamalot on Broadway until Jan. 4. Parker, who’s “fine, healthy and doing well,” and Foster will join Aiken in New York City mid-October, once he settles into an apartment. During a deeply candid interview with PEOPLE in the backyard of his home near Raleigh, N.C., the singer shares his thoughts on fatherhood, coming out—and how he hopes the Claymates will react to the news that yes, he is a gay dad.
Is this the happiest time of your life right now?
When [Parker’s] doing very well, absolutely. When he’s screaming, I question it every once in a while! You know, my mom looked at me when he was born and said, “You never thought you could love anything this much, did you?” And I realize what she meant.
How did you and Jaymes decide you were going to have a child together?
Well, she’s always known that she wanted children, but her [ex-]husband did not want children. I grew up working with kids. I taught special ed. Babies? I’m learning. I’ve always wanted kids, and as a gay man, it’s just not an option. I mean obviously there were other options, [but] let me put it this way: I had always dreamed of it, but never really saw it as a possibility until this happened. I don’t really remember whose idea it was. It was one of those things where we were both thinking of it at the back of our heads.
Are you or Jaymes dating anyone?
I’ve got one man in my life right now, and he’s crying and he needs formula! And if Jaymes continues to date, she will, but she’s not going to date anyone who doesn’t understand this is the dynamic.
How are you sharing parenting responsibilities with Jaymes?
When she’s in Raleigh, she’ll live here. When I’m in L.A., I’ll live with her. So we kind of do it amenably that way. We’re going to kind of go back and forth. She may go on vacation, I may take him. It’s really going to be a tossed salad of different options.
I don’t know that there’s such a thing as a prenuptial for a situation like this. [But] we’ve made arrangements to try to make sure that things are taken care of and that people are happy. It’s our intention that when he gets to school age—like 5 years old, kindergarten—she’ll move here and he’ll go to school here because I grew up here, and my family is here. Both of her parents have passed away and her family is kind of spread out. And this is a great place to raise a kid.
What do you think the reaction will be to your new family?
There are plenty of people who will say this is completely unorthodox and “How dare they.” I have people in my family, people I know, who, sexuality aside, did not like the fact that I was not married. My mother knows about me, but that I was having a child out of wedlock was a big issue for her. She had to come to terms with it. At the end of the day people are going to dislike it, and I hate that. But I’m not going to be somebody who tells them they’re wrong.
When did you tell your mother you were gay?
The poor thing, I told my mom [Faye Aiken Parker, 62] the day my brother [Brett Parker, 22] left for Iraq. Brett’s been in the military for four years. So I guess four years ago. I know, I’m the devil! [laughs] I figured, You know what? If you’re having a bad day, you might as well have it all happen now!
I started crying in the car, driving back from Camp Lejeune. It was dark at night, I was sitting there, thinking to myself. I don’t know why I started thinking about it. And my mom looked up and she said, “Why are you crying, Clayton?” She calls me Clayton—but she’s allowed to! And I just started bawling. She made me pull over the car and it just came out. I have no idea what I said. I really don’t remember it all. I think I said, “You know! You know what’s wrong!” Something like that. And she was like, “No I don’t!” And then she started crying. She was obviously somewhat stunned. But she was very supportive and very comforting. It’s not been a very easy thing for her—without question—at all. And she still struggles with things quite a bit, but she’s come a long way.
Did your mother envision you married to a woman one day?
I think she envisioned it a little bit, yes, but at the same time … I mean, I got picked on all through high school and all through middle school for a plethora of things, and I had a very difficult relationship with my birth father and my stepfather. I think she probably feels I’ve had a tough life and she’s finally seeing things happen right for me and she doesn’t want anything to go wrong for me, and that’s her concern.
How did you tell your brother?
I cried more with my brother than I did with anyone else. I told him right before he went back to Iraq the second time. It was probably a year or so after Mom. I still have no idea what I told him because I probably wasn’t even intelligible, I was bawling so much. And he went, “Is that it?” So I was more worried with him and he was just like, “Okay.”
Did you ever feel ashamed or confused about being gay?
I think everybody has at some point. I mean, I don’t know many people who are [gay] who weren’t confused. I grew up in a place [in North Carolina] where either you hid it or you couldn’t hide it—you know what I’m saying? When I got out to L.A. and I realized there are “normal” people who are [gay], it became a little easier for me. The first person I ever told was [fellow American Idol finalist] Kim Locke, and that’s why we became best friends and roommates. It was the first time I ever admitted it to myself.
When did you know you were gay?
I probably didn’t realize until college, when I was like, I just cannot get the hang of this! I thought it was always a phase, like I hadn’t hit puberty. Like I hadn’t finished yet. Like I was a late bloomer. I didn’t realize until college that, You know what? I’m definitely through puberty! But then again, I think there’s a lot of misconception about it for anybody, and I was raised around people who thought it was a choice.
Do you ever feel at odds with your faith because of it?
Of course. I have to respect the people who disagree with me. I don’t struggle with it anymore, but there have been times that I have. And I still consider myself a born-again Christian, and I am absolutely comfortable with that and comfortable with my salvation.
Why do you think some of your fans are resistant to the idea that you’re gay?
I don’t know the answer to that. Of course I struggle with that. I think my bigger concern would be to let people know that I’ve never intended to lie to anybody at all. The truth is I didn’t answer questions. If I felt that I was lied to, I would probably be upset. I’ll tell you what I’ve kind of explained to my mom: It’s not like I just became gay. I was when I was 18—I just wasn’t telling them. The fans, if they leave, they leave. But if they leave, I don’t want them to leave hating me. I don’t want them to leave feeling that I lied to them, because I didn’t. I’m not lobbying to keep them being supportive. I sure hope they do. But I am more interested in them knowing I care about them, even if they don’t care about me.
What are your hopes for Parker?
I want to raise him in an environment that is accepting and allowing him to be happy. I have no idea if he’ll be gay or straight. It’s not something I’ll have anything to do with, or that he’ll have anything to do with. It’s already probably up inside the code there, you know what I mean?
Do I think he’s going to get picked on a little bit? Especially going to school in North Carolina? You know what? Probably. And do I hate that? Of course. But I got picked on more than he’ll ever get picked on, I guarantee you. And you know what? No matter what situation you’re in, if you’re raised in a loving environment, that’s the most important thing.