the problem with people


This past weekend my 10-year-old son Chris made his stage debut in a production at a local theater. During the intermission, I was swapping parenting war stories with a fellow nontraditional parent whose child was also in the production. We talked about being a nontraditional family and what that meant: our experiences dealing with the schools, funny anecdotes about encounters with strangers at restaurants, tips on how best to navigate the holidays with unsupportive families. After a particularly grueling story he remarked, something to the effect of, “It’s 2016.  What’s wrong with people?”

Now that I have children in this world it’s a question I find myself asking again and again.

What is wrong with people?

Despite my son’s sometimes larger-than-life, always outgoing personality, he has struggled to make friends at school and in the neighborhood. He gets along famously with adults, working the room like a seasoned politician, but with kids his own age he flounders, often regarding his peers as if they were aliens visiting from another planet.

So when the new school year began a few weeks ago I was thrilled to hear all about a friend he had made. The boy was a new student, and he and Chris took an instant liking to one another, bonding over Minecraft and other matters of importance to the average ten year old. They sat together at lunch, took selfies together on the bus, worked together on class projects.

At last, a friend, I thought.

Everything seemed to be going well until my son asked the boy if he wanted to come over to our house to play. The boy told him that he did want to come over, very much so, but his mother would not allow it. It seems she did not want him to be friends with my son. In fact, she forbid him to be friends with my son.

She said that being gay was wrong and because Chris had two dads our home was unacceptable. She went on to tell her son that because Chris had two dads this also meant that he, my son, had to be gay. She concluded by threatening to send her son to a different school if he continued being friends with Chris.

I am rarely without words, but on the car ride home from school that day, I was speechless.

What is wrong with people?

I eventually found my words and after internally revising my expletive-laden monologue, I reassured my son of the thing he already knew: there was nothing wrong with his family. I reminded him that he had two parents who loved him which was two more than a lot of other kids had.

I told him that although his friend’s mother was a mean-spirited and hateful woman (and yes, she was, and yes, my son needed to understand that there are people like that in the world) – this boy who my son called a friend was not to be judged or condemned for the actions of his mother.

My son was to say nothing to the boy on the subject because to do so would put this boy in the position of having to defend his family, the very same position this boy’s mother had put my son in, and no one should ever have to defend or explain away their family…even if that family is headed up by an angry, narrow-minded, spiteful bigot.

I informed the school of the situation and they were appalled. They assured me that all types of families were welcome and celebrated within their hallways. The principal said that while they cannot control what happens after a child leaves the school (nor would I expect them to), once the kids walked through the front doors everyone was to be respected regardless of where they came from or who their parents were, and any parent who had an issue with that was free to take their child elsewhere.

Chris is determined to remain friends with the boy and the boy is determined to remain friends with Chris. Perhaps easier said than done given the boy’s mother, but still, I applaud both boys for being better ambassadors than the generations of people who came before them.

It may in fact be 2016, but incidents like this remind us that for as much as progress as we like to think we’ve made we are not that far removed from a time when parents would tell their kids, “You cannot be friends with that boy because he’s black.”  It reminds us that we are living right now in a time when parents tell their kids, “You cannot be friends with that boy because he has two dads.”

What is wrong with people?

Sean Michael O’Donnell is 41 year old married gay man. He lives in Pittsburgh with his husband and two sons. Sean enjoys Law & Order reruns, Christmas movies in October, and Facebook stalking. He likes donuts and beer. Sometimes he goes to the gym.  He is the author of the blog seansbiggayblog where he attempt to chronicle his experiences as a parent.  The contents of his blog (and life) are 75% truth, 18% satire, 6% hyperbole and 1% drama. He is also the author of Which One of You is the Mother?

i can’t sign this

It’s that time of year again. As we say goodbye to summer and prepare to send the kids back to school there are visits to the doctor and trips to the dentist and a million and one school registration forms to be completed and signed in triplicate. In the past two weeks I have put my John Hancock on so many documents I’ve developed carpal tunnel. It’s like I’m a teenager again and I’ve just discovered masturbation except this particular repetitive hand motion is all the work and none of the fun.

It wouldn’t be so taxing if all I had to do was sign the forms, but as a “non-traditional” (read: gay) parent I not only have to sign each form I also have to cross out Mother and write in Father. Mother’s Father’s Name. Mother’s Father’s Employer. Mother’s Father’s Phone. Mother’s Father’s Signature.

It is like this everywhere we go. The doctor. The dentist. The school. We can’t be the only same sex parents in the city, I think to myself. I look around the cafeteria during school orientation and based on hairstyles alone there are obviously a few lesbians in the house. And that dad over there hasn’t stopped checking me out since we got here so he must be gay and …oh wait, there’s his wife. His poor wife. Oh honey, no. No, no, no.

How hard is it to change the form? The rest of us are living in 2015, but our schools and health providers seem to be stuck in a perpetual state of 1957. The world has changed. The modern family no longer conforms to the conventions of mother, father, and two point however many kids. Today’s family lives outside the box. Way outside the box.

I just read an article about a family in the Netherlands. The family is made up of two lesbians who are having a baby with two gay men who are currently involved in a polyamorous relationship with a third man meaning this baby is going to have FIVE parents. Where is the form for that family?

This is not a big deal. There are easily 527,342 more important things going on in the world right now than my issues with antiquated ephemera. I don’t expect this would-be controversy to trend on social media or develop its own hashtag. The matter does not require a Facebook support group or the endorsement of a D-list celebrity.

It is a simple problem with a simple solution: change the form. Just change the form. Open the word document, delete the old school Mother/Father, replace with the ultra-mod Parent/Guardian, and then hit print. Voila! Everyone wins. Even that crazy Dutch family.

Read more about my adventures as a gay adoptive father in my book Which One of You is the Mother? 

Available for pre-order on Amazon now. Release date August 24, 2015.