New York cosmetics instructor Michael Cisneros seems an unlikely viral celebrity.
Nevertheless, he and his husband, Alex Hanson, became international superstars after a video of their 27-month-old son Maxwell hugging his friend Finnegan became an internet hit. It was easy to see why the video was shared so widely: Kids know no boundaries on love and decency, unlike the leaders of this nation today. It also showed something else, slightly less obvious: Good parents make good kids, and gay dads are nothing if not good.
In short order, the Cisneros-Hanson family made the rounds on various networks and talk shows like CNN and Ellen. The sight of two toddlers hugging, and that of a queer, multi-racial family, provided some much-needed sunshine to the dark storm of the American news cycle.
Queerty caught up with Cisneros to ask him about Maxwell, queer fatherhood, the secret to a healthy marriage, and his ironic celebrity.
How long have you and Alex been together?
How did you meet?
We actually worked for the same company. I moved to New York about 18 years ago, so I met him then. He ended up becoming the boss of my best friend. My best friend really liked him. I play tennis, he plays tennis, so my friend said we should play tennis together. So we set a tennis date and started dating.
When did you know he was the one?
After about a year. He’s just a very good guy. He keeps me out of trouble. He is very supportive, very understanding. I suffer from anxiety and depression, and he really helps me out. Very caring. Super smart. I say I’m the one that got lucky. My friends say he’s the one that got lucky.
When did you guys decide to become parents?
We started talking about it about seven years ago. He’s always wanted a family. I wasn’t too sure; I’ve never been a big kid fan. We discussed it, and I thought he would be a great dad. I figured if the kid could have a bit of both of us, he’d be a great person. So we agreed to adopt. It makes a big difference; there are plenty of children who are given up. It gives them an opportunity.
How long did that process take?
It was a four and a half year process.
How does becoming a parent change your life?
Honestly, not much. I’ve always been a homebody. Even now, with Maxwell, we have to plan everything around his schedule. We don’t travel as much as we did. But, we ended up buying a country house, so we just go there.
How did it change your marriage?
It makes it better. We both bring different things to the table. We like what we bring. It’s fun to see the characteristics that Maxwell is starting to form. Some are mine, some are Alex’s. It’s fun to see how nurturing has an effect.
Do you feel like people treat you or your children differently because you are a same-sex couple?
Yes, and also, because he is a child of color. We live in New York City, so everybody loves it. We walk down the sidewalk and see people just smiling. People love the diversity of it all. We go to Austin quite often; Alex’s parents retired in Austin. Austin is very progressive, but still, it’s Texas, so people aren’t as open-minded. It’s not that anyone’s ever said anything, but you can see people trying to figure things out.
How did you explain same-sex parenting to Maxwell?
We tell him he’s adopted. He’s at an age right now where every woman is “mommy.” So we tell him that his mommy lives in Philadelphia–he was born there–and that she wanted him to have a better life than she could provide. But he’s just over two, so he doesn’t really understand yet. We’re trying to make it as open dialogue as possible. It’s not a situation we can hide. I don’t want it to ever be taboo or something to hide.
How did your son’s sudden internet celebrity change your lives?
A lot. The whole thing was crazy. When we went to Ellen, we went to the airport, we couldn’t go through the airport without people wanting to take photos of us–even security! We stayed at a hotel, and people were actually spotting us and asking to take pictures with [the boys]. It was weird; we’re generally pretty private people. It makes dog walks a lot longer. The best part of all of this is the messages I’ve gotten from all over the world–people thanking us for being good parents.
What’s the secret to a healthy relationship?
We talk about everything. We’re both very strong-willed, very independent as well. If we do get in an argument, I’m not going to be able to change his mind. He’s not going to be able to change my mind. So we don’t really argue much. I think we have enough respect for one another that we respect one another’s opinions.
Tips to good parenting?
Do the best you can. Hate is taught, but so is love. We’re raising him with a lot of love. We have a lot of different types of people in our lives, which helps. Be kind. I want to raise an activist, so we took him to the Women’s March in New York City. This past year was his second AIDS Walk. We buy him inclusive books about different kinds of families, different kinds of cultures.
We’re just trying to raise a stand-up guy: Someone empathetic and strong who wants to help people.
Check out the happy family:
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