Darryn Dunbar has had quite a journey over the past 10 years, so spending a "pretty chill" Father's Day with his daughters, Molly and Lilly, was just fine with the Lake View resident.
Dunbar, 42, was married to a woman for 19 years before coming out in December 2003. He's now single, divorced and an Instructor of Nursing at Truman College (City Colleges of Chicago). He also works part-time as a nurse clinician for Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center and is one of the rare male certified nurse midwives in the United States, at North Shore University Hospital in Evanston. Dunbar is one of only three male midwives in the state of Illinois.
Dunbar, who is from Peoria, received his undergraduate degree from Illinois Wesleyan University and his graduate degree in nursing from the University of Illinois-Chicago.
Currently, also been involved in marathon running and the annual Ride For AIDSa two-day, 200-mile bicycle ride in July.
Also, he's lost about 225 pounds.
"It's been a challenge, to say the least," going from a married dad/father of two to a single, gay man with two kids, Dunbar said. "While I have some friends who are gay dads, the numbers are few. Our collective lives with our kids and our family situations are very busy, thus making it hard to be close and support one another, though we do it from afar.
"Many, if not most of my friends, know my kids. Some are integral parts of my kids' lives. However, there are a handful [whom] I have encountered who 'don't get it' or are less understanding when I cannot do things because I am doing things with my kids on my weekends with them, or if they have school events that I am attending. By and large, I have a large circle of loving and supportive friends who adore my kids. But I still feel like I'm in a weird space at times as a single, gay, divorced man with kids, but that's me."
Dunbar's children are Molly, 13, in seventh grade; and Lilly, 8, a second-grader. He came out to Molly when she was 8, and she's endured only one negative experienceat schoolwhen some classmates heard her dad was gay. Lilly has known dad is gay practically her entire life and not experienced any negative responses.
"For me, Father's Day was a time to reflect and reminisce on what fatherhood has been for me," said Dunbar shortly before the holiday. "There are times when it feels like my kids are still young, however, it's hard to believe that I have a daughter who will go to high school in another year. They grow [up] fast. I like to think back and remember other Father's Days, from when the kids were really young. Since I always have the kids on Father's Day, it's also an opportunity to have what I call a, 'homerun moment.' One of those [times to] do something we're going to remember for a while. Such as, a trip to the beach, a museum visit, a theatre production, a special meal out … something out of the ordinary to celebrate the day with my girls."
Father's Day always was emotional for Dunbar, especially the goodbye, when Molly and Lilly leave Dunbar's watchful eye and witty personality.
"I have always been a very proud father … and Father's Day is a great time and way for me to express that pride."
He's also now proud to be gay, although that wasn't always the case.
Coming out was "scary and lonely" at the start, he said. Only his therapist knew the first few months until Dunbar found a support group for gay and bisexual married men, M-Group Chicago in Oak Park. "It was there I learned that I was NOT the only person struggling with being gay in a straight marriage," he said.
Dunbar admits he always knew he was attracted to men, even before getting married, "though I did not always correlate that with being gay." Dunbar wanted a wife, children and the seemingly-normal married lifeif only because he didn't have that while growing up, he said.
"I had a rough childhood on several angles," he said. "To me, getting married meant I could create my life in a way that I wanted it to be rather than living it because of other's choices and decisions.
"The beginning of my significant weight-loss journey and beginning to lose what I found to be one of my protective mechanisms for admitting my homosexuality was what helped me make the connection that being attracted to men did in fact make me gay. I stayed morbidly obese to keep men from making advances to me so I wouldn't have to deal with that. Looking back, that didn't matter, I was still prospected on a few occasions, though [I] did not partake. In fact, it freaked me out each time. After all, I was a married man."
Dunbar said his anchor since coming out was the friends he's made and friendships he's developed, particularly in the gay community.
"If it weren't for them, sometimes I really wonder how I would have made it through certain times," he said. "If there is one thing I am blessed with in this world, it is a wide circle of friends. I'm no wallflower and tend to make acquaintances and friends pretty easily. That personality characteristic has really benefitted in the rough times. There are so many people who I am thankful for; I hope they know how thankful I truly am for being there for me and my kids."
Dunbar was happily marriedor so it appeared. He had the wife, kids, house in the suburbs, two dogs, minivan, good job and a six-figure income. However, deep down Dunbar said he was "completely miserable with myself."
It was mainly because he had not come to grips with being gay.
"By 2003, I had ballooned to nearly 500 pounds," Dunbar said. "Much like others who struggle with being overweight and weight loss, my weight gain and loss chart looked much like an unhealthy financial graph more than anything else."
Then, in July, 2003, Dunbar had gastric-bypass surgery after weighing 484 pounds on the day of the surgery.
"It has been a successful tool in helping me manage my morbid obesity," Dunbar said. "I'm still a husky guy, but [weighing about] 250 is a much healthier place for me to be than where I was Before the surgery, I was diabetic, hypertensive, with high cholesterol and on my way to an early grave if I didn't do something vastly different."
Dunbar got down to 286 pounds and stabilized at about 300 pounds for a while. However, a cycling injury in 2008 affected his ability to exerciseand he tacked on 30 pounds by the summer of 2009.
Committed, Dunbar was determined not to gain any more weight.
He is now at his lightest weight ever.
He's still shooting to drop moreperhaps hit 242 and, possibly, maybe even under 200.
"I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing because it's working and I'm bringing the weight down slowly and sensibly while building muscle at the same time," said Dunbar, who works out regularly with Chicago-based personal trainer Michael Grimes.
Despite his weight, Dunbar has been active athletically. In 2004, for instance, he started running. That September, weighing 350 pounds and wearing a pair of size XXXL running shorts, he completed his first 5K race.
He joined the National AIDS Marathon training program in 2006 and completed his first full marathon that October, and then another two months later.
"I trained for the 2007 Chicago Marathon and ran as far as I was allowed (about 15 miles) until the marathon was stopped [due to] excessive heat," said Dunbar, whose running resume also includes four half-marathons and one 15K race. "Collectively, I have run over 40 shorter-distance races since that first one in 2004. I'm not about speed; I focus on finishing.
"My marathon times are all over six hours and my half-marathon times are just over three hours. The success for me is completing the race. I went on to coach in 2008 and 2009 for the National AIDS Marathon Training Program and while I certainly emphasized doing one's best, my line was always, 'Get the jewelry,' as in, finish the race and get the medal."
Dunbar also has been involved with the annual Ride For AIDS. Last year, he trained and fundraised for the event; however, he needed surgery 10 days before the Ride, so he was unable to participate. This year, he is participating as part of the Medical Crew, attending to injuries and providing first-aide to riders along the course.
"Life is a journey…and I'm certainly not there yet," Dunbar said. "There are many things I am successful with in life, particularly professionally. However, I'm still figuring out what it means to be a gay man. I'm not skilled at dating and haven't had a [long-term] relationship with a man yet. I would say I'm a happy guy, but if I could make some things different in my life, would I? Yes.
"I feel I'm more settled and ready to check out the dating scene now. Everyone says, 'Stop looking and you'll find one.' Well, I'm not hunting per se, but if it were to happen, I'm game.
"I plan to pursue a doctorate in nursing to advance my current knowledge as well as solidify my place in nursing academia. Personally, I'm not sure whether a man will be in my life or not. I would like that, but that remains to be seen. As I've said, I have many good friends that I enjoy great times with. I've only travelled domestically, so I would like to expand that to international levels. I also want to become scuba certified which will meld well with my travel aspirations."
Then there's the Dee Dee LaMore aspect of Dunbarhis drag persona. After dressing as Madea, Tyler Perry's character, for Halloween back in 2007, Dunbar was told that he was all too comfortable in heels and a dress, and that he should give drag a trywhich he did. "I did a casual competition in February 2008 and took first place," Dunbar said. "I looked pretty good and had the help of [the person] who became my drag mother, September Frost. Cee Cee La Rouge was also a big help to me and my relatively short 'drag career.' I have done events and performed at Sidetrack, Roscoe's, Hydrate, and The Velvet Rope. Ms. Dee Dee went into semi-retirement in the spring of 2010, however, she was recently resurrected for a charity event back in April. I have a lot of fun when I dress upand that's all it is for me; I'm not interested in gender reassignment and often feel like I can get away with things in drag that would never fly if I were just me. Not sure why that is, but that's been my experience. I will also say this: drag is a lot of work. It is expensive and the gigs don't pay well. One has to be in it because they really enjoy it, or they are so good they're doing it really often to be paid really well. That budget definitely operated in the red for me."
Dunbar is a regular at Caribou on Broadway, usually with computer nearby, and he certainly loves his cocktails at Sidetrack.
Before being able to openly admit that he was gay, Dunbar told his therapist: "I'm lonely, depressed, can't sleep at night and am watching gay porn every night after my family goes to bed. What it that all about?"
The therapist responded, "What do YOU think that is all about?"
Two visits and a month later, Dunbar said the words he still remembers, "I think this all means I am not straight!"
As Dunbar often says, it is what it is.
"Do I regret being married? Absolutely not. Do I wonder what it would have been like to not get married, come out and be a gay man in my 20s and 30s instead of figuring things out at 35 and really coming outas in, [ending] my marriage and becoming a single gay man at nearly 39? I sure do," Dunbar said.
"That said, I cannot imagine my world without my daughters, so those 'I wonders' and 'What if's' pass quickly," he added. "I am never without my kids in some way ... I have a tattoo of a lily flower and my other daughter's name on my right calf. The lily was done in my three favorite colors: orange, green and purple. I did [it] Pride weekend in 2006, knowing the time would come that my kids would not always 'be with me' as well as to celebrate the Pride in who I was as a gay man and father."