Michael Wheeler: Portland’s Pride Guru

The Single Dad With No Kids Dishes on His Love for Pride and Portland

by Sebastian Fortino
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Recently a friend and colleague connected me to a Queerty & GayCities article on a local resident who’s been named a “Pride Guru.” Oregon was recently spotlighted in a Netflix documentary on a very different type of guru who descended upon Eastern Oregon nearly 40 years ago. So of course, PQ had to make sure our Pride Guru, single dad with no kids, and swim fanatic who compteted in the 2016 Portland Bridge Swim who will this year compete in the Gay Games in Paris, was...on the level.


ProudQueer: I was alerted to you by a friend messaging me & saying, "Have you seen this PDX Pride guru dude? He's hot!" How do you feel about being known as the "PDX Pride guru dude?"

Michael Wheeler: It feels really strange. I certainly never thought of myself as a guru for Portland pride. But I love my community and I am happy to tell everyone how awesome Portland is!


PQ: Also, so many gay men are on Twitter to make a career out of being "Instamodels." Was that your intention? [It doesn't seem to be.

MW: Absolutely not. Being an “instamodel” was never on my to do list. It actually all started about 4 years ago. I was going through a period of underemployment and was trying to find something to do. I posted a photo that just got way too much attention. So I thought, hey how can I do that again? Over time through trial and a lot of error I sorta found my grove.


PQ: Why do you call yourself a single dad with no kids? Do explain!  

MW: It means I’m very alone, haha. It's rather a long story to be honest, it all started back in 2015. I really dislike New Years Resolutions (that's another long story). And in 2015 someone asked me what mine were. I told them to eat 30% more tacos and to [become] a hairy bear. At the time I was joking, but over the next few months I really ran with it. I did my best to live my Hairy Bear Life. I bought anything with a bear on it, I grew out my mustache, I got my first tattoo and there is a bear in the design. By all accounts I completely nailed it. So when the next year rolled around I moved on to my next goal, to be a Leather Daddy. Around February I did some deep soul searching and mediation on the subject in Hawaii because I wasn't feeling this new life I was creating. I decided to drop the Leader and be your Dad from 1976. It instantly felt right. Over the next few months it sort of evolved and people really started to enjoy the character. I received my first Fathers' Day card, people at work started calling me Dad, even my Mom - my real Mother - bought me that 'Best Dad Ever' hat. The short version is, like most things in my life, it all started from a joke that I just never let go.


PQ: It says you're a West Coast native, but you're originally from Cali. What brought you to Portland? When did you move here?

MW: A failed marriage. Once upon a time I was not a single Dad, I was a bride to be. We were living in Seattle at the time when we finally decided to split up. I called up a good friend of mine who was here in Portland and he offered me a couch to sleep on while I got back on my feet. That was in March of 2013. Well the joke is on my friend, I am still living in his house, although I moved into the spare bedroom now.


PQ: What attracted you to move here? What keeps you around?

MW: It's those views, have you seen a sunrise over Mt. Hood? I mean, come on! I have been in Portland for five years, but the PNW for just over 10. There is no where else in the world quite like it. I love that I can be downtown drinking coffee and then completely surrounded by trees and natures within an hour.


PQ: How did you get the moniker of Pride guru?

MW: Oh man, that was sort of just thrown on to me. I was approached by a friend to help with an article about Portland Pride and they threw around the guru word. I chose words like, familiar, active participator, knowledgeable on the subject. But I guess those words didn't have the same ring to them.  


PQ: A guru must have a philosophy! Do you have a guiding principle behind your gayness, or life in general?

MW: Every single one of us has something unique that only we can offer the world, and that is what makes each of us special. Find those qualities that make you uniquely you and share them with the world! Like one of my personal idols said, "Shine bright, shine far, don't be shy, be who you are" Eve played by Tyra Banks.


PQ: What are your plans for Pride NW 2018?

MW: Pool parties, pool parties, pool parties. This year we are supposed to have some good weather and I want to be outside pool side as much as possible.  


PQ: Other than being a guru, what do you do professionally?

MW: In my real every day life I am the Aquatics Supervisor at an athletic club downtown. Our facility has 3 pools on site and I manage all the lifeguards and run the Swim School there. The irony is my job makes me not that much fun to have around at a pool party, safety first!   


PQ: For our out-of-town readers, and for our local readers who may be hosting guests this summer, describe an ideal weekend in the Portland Metro.

MW: My ideal weekend goes like this. Warm sunlight floods my room, gently waking me up. I go upstairs and make some dark roast coffee and enjoy it out on my porch. Then I head over to Mississippi Ave for a nice brunch at Miss Delta, I love the good southern home cooking. After brunch I am going to nap, but not at home, it's too nice to not be outside. I grab a blanket and head to Mt. Tabor. I find a nice sunny spot to lay out and soak up the sun. For dinner, I will head to the Pearl with some friends for pizza at Oven & Shaker - get the spicy salami. After dinner drinks are over at Ron Toms. Their patio is perfect for summer evenings. Sundays are the reserved for the most holy of activities, hiking in the Gorge. I grab a quick bite to eat and coffee from Cup & Bar before I head east. Once I am in the Gorge I can't go wrong. Multnomah Falls, Angel's Rest, Oneonta Falls, Rooster Rock are all great places to stop. If I am feeling up for a drive, I will head all the way to Hood River for dinner and a beer at Pfriem. For the more ambitious adventurers I would recommend closing out the weekend at Overlook Park. It has beautiful views of the sun setting over the Portland skyline.   


PQ: Favorite part of a Portland Summer?

MW: For nine months out of the year Portland is inside. Once summer is here the city transforms. Everything opens up to the outside. I love that transformation and appreciation of the sun. Growing up I never understood how amazing sunshine is, but here the appreciation runs deep and it is great to see that.  

It's great to see people in the community not only celebrating Portland with other residents, guests, and friends but the rest of the world as well.