who we are

I walked to work today. I usually take the subway, but today I walked. I needed time to think – or, not think – to clear my head, to process the events of the past 24 hours. But instead of thinking (or not thinking) I found myself watching faces. I live in the city so, unlike people living in the majority of the country, the faces I see every day are different than my own face. The faces I see are the faces of African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, Muslim Americans, Jewish Americans, Gay Americans, Transgender Americans.

These are the faces that make America great every single day.

I celebrate them. I cherish them. I count myself lucky to be among them.

So as I walked the mile from the parking garage to my office on this, the morning after our country elected a misogynistic, racist, xenophobic, anti-LGBT, anti-Muslim, wall-building, tax-dodging, crotch-grabbing demagogue, I studied the faces of my fellow Americans and, for perhaps the first time, every face looked the same. By the stadium, across the bridge, waiting in line at Starbucks, on the steps of the church – everywhere – I saw written across these faces the same thing: shock, sadness, embarrassment.

I had spent the previous evening watching the election results and, with each state that turned red, I turned to my husband and asked, “Who are we?”

Now, confronted by the faces of my fellow Americans, I saw exactly who we were.

In their faces I saw the faces of all the women I knew and how it must have felt to wake up to learn that the glass ceiling had not been shattered, but reinforced.

I saw the faces of my female friends who had exercised the deeply personal right to choose and what it must be like for them to now have that right in doubt.

I saw the faces of my friends and their Hispanic children and I tried to imagine the sense of fear and uncertainty those kids would face in this new America with its walls and borders and hatred of brown people.

I saw the faces of the many incredible gay men and women who fought so hard for equality and who were now faced with losing that equality at the hands of family and friends who had turned their backs on them in the name of change or protest.

I saw the faces of my transgender friends who still have to fight to use a public restroom.

I saw the faces of the brave parents who fight every day for their special needs children and how much harder that fought just became for them.

I saw the face of my African American foster son and what it must be like for him in a world where all lives matter and blue lives matter, but only sometimes do black lives matter.

I saw the faces of my adopted children and I understood that in a world run by Mike Pence they would not be my children.

I saw the face of my husband, a man I have loved for almost twenty years of my life, and I thought how easily everything we had could be taken away.

And then at last I saw my own face and I felt my anger, my disappointment, my sadness.

too blessed to be stressed and other stupid things people say

Yesterday I stayed home from work. I didn’t have a fever or a stomach ache or even a hangover. The truth is I was exhausted and I was exhausted because all I do is worry. I’ve been a worrier all my life. In high school, so chronic was my worry that I kept a bottle of aspirin in my locker to help combat the daily headaches brought on by my excessive worrying.

As an adult I like to tell myself that I have learned how to manage my condition, but the truth is I’ve just become better at compartmentalizing it. Now when something bothers me I imagine a box high up on a shelf and I stuff all my worry into that box – out of sight, out of mind (not really!) I cram that box full of every petty annoyance, every concern, every case of “what-if” until finally it gets so full it explodes and I have to stay home from work.

I had not been feeling well for a few weeks—stomach aches, headaches, indigestion, trouble sleeping. The internet told me I had everything from an ulcer to Lupus to Lyme’s Disease to cancer. I looked in the mirror: how could I be falling apart when I was still so young and beautiful? What would everyone I had ever met do without me? Who would play me in the TV movie of my life, there was no question that Judith Light would play my husband, but what about me?

It was Judith Light my husband who suggested that I was perhaps/maybe/most likely not dying and that maybe I was just stressed out. I hate the phrase stressed out. It’s up there with depression, another overused self-diagnosis from which everyone claims to be suffering. Still, I considered his suggestion and, as much as I hated to admit it, I realized he might be on to something.

I made a mental list of all the things which had been causing me worry: my weight, my student loans, the “check engine” light that came on while driving home from work, my children, my children walking unsupervised for three blocks from the bus stop to home, the mother of the boy in my oldest son’s class who didn’t want her son to be friends with my son because he has two dads, what it must be like for my sons to have two dads, my youngest son’s refusal to eat anything without large amounts of ranch dressing, my oldest son’s piano lessons and play rehearsals, my youngest son’s soccer practice, the phone interview we had with the caseworker from Washington about adopting an eight year old boy, the fact that it’s been nine days since the interview and nothing, if we have enough money, how we spend our money, the lack of one-on-one time I have with my husband, the realization that silently watching TV for three hours a night does not constitute one-on-one time with my husband, Donald Trump winning the election, people who support Donald Trump speaking to and/or influencing my children, how I’ll react if Maggie dies on The Walking Dead…

The list goes on and on and, yes, I realize that 80% of what I worry about is ridiculous and the other 20% is stuff that everyone worries about all the time. My problem is not that I worry, my problem is I don’t process my worry. I stuff it all in that box high up on the shelf and the next thing I know Maggie is lying in a pool of blood and I’m sobbing on the living room floor next to a pile of dog vomit because my dog always vomits at the worst possible moments.

I have to learn to let go and let God (another stupid thing people say) which is about as hollow as #prayers, but if I peel away the very thick shell of cynicism that envelopes me, I get it. I can’t control everything, or really anything for that matter. Life happens and the best I can do is control how I react to it.

I may want to destroy the mother of the boy at my oldest son’s school who won’t let her son be friends with my son because he has two dads, but what would that accomplish? Sure I might feel great, but I’d probably end up in jail. And so what if my youngest son needs ranch dressing to eat his broccoli? In the end, he’s eating his broccoli.

Ultimately the world keeps on spinning and if Donald Trump is elected President of the United States…no, that’s a legitimate concern. We cannot let that happen, people. There isn’t a box large enough or a shelf high enough to contain that disaster.

Worry, worry, worry….


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?

it’s okay, he has two dads

I rarely encounter prejudice. I’m not naïve – I know it exists. It leads the nightly news and it clogs my social media feeds. It seems everyone is getting it but me.

Perhaps I am too caught up in my own little world to notice the ugliness around me. As a gay man and as the father of two adopted children (one who is bi-racial) you would think prejudice would be everywhere – in line at the grocery store, peeking out the windows of the houses on my street, lurking in the shadows at my children’s school.

But if it’s there, I’m not seeing it.

I suspect my inability (or unwillingness) to see it has less to do with progress and more to do with politeness. We no longer announce our prejudices with burning crosses and limp-wristed gestures. It is considered passé in these early days of the 21st century to be a card-carrying bigot. We are more subversive in our bias.

We have no problem with African Americans…as long as they don’t cause trouble. We champion women in positions of power…as long as they don’t act like a bitch. We applaud when a non-traditional family adopts a child…as long as we can pity the poor child behind closed doors.

I recently read an article titled He Doesn’t Have a Mom. It was written by some well-meaning mother of three who, in short, believes a child needs to have a mother in order to be happy. In the story the authoress details an encounter she had with a young boy in her son’s class. The boy is depicted as being emotionally needy, immediately clinging to the writer and telling her, this stranger, that he “loves her” and that she is his “best friend”.

The author learns (from another well-meaning parent) that the child does not have a mother and suddenly in a flash of privileged arrogance it all makes sense. Never mind that the author notes the child is being raised by his grandparents, two people whose actions are the very definition of parenting. Never mind that this boy has a mother, his grandmother. Never mind that 90% of this woman’s story is total fabricated bullshit.

Never mind any of this because it is too late – she has gone full Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side.

She hugs the child. She cries for the child. Her heart breaks for the child. As she reaches up for her Academy Award, she vows to pray for the child. She promises to connect with him in the years to come and (threatens?) to bring him into her home so that he may experience “family time”.

She concludes her tale by saying that the boy does have a father – no, not his grandfather, but his capital letter “F” Father – God.  He “who has promised to take the place of parents for those who have been abandoned”. She hopes the boy will come to God and be redeemed because, you know, as a motherless orphan he must be godless.

Look, I’m not even going to touch the religious angle here because the author’s faith is between her and her capital letter “F” Father and if HE rewards condescension and arrogance then the author has bought herself some prime real estate in the afterlife. However, as the parent of two kids who don’t have a mother and on behalf of all the nontraditional families in the world let me just say this to the author: Blow it out your ass.

A mother is a wonderful thing, but a mother is not a parent. To be clear, a mother is defined as a woman in relation to a child to whom she has given birth. By this definition she is a womb, an incubator. She has a job for nine months and then after nine months she is either unemployed or she accepts a promotion and becomes something more, a parent.

And parents are not defined by gender or convention. Parents are not a check mark made inside a box labeled Mother or a signature above a line designated Father. 

My husband and I are more than mother or father, we are parents.

We raise and nurture our children.  They are happy. They are loved. Their lack of convention does not require your pity anymore than their non-traditional circumstance cries out for your self-serving prayers.

They are whole. Even without a mother.

I sometimes encounter prejudice.

I may have to look for it, but it exists.


Sean Michael O’Donnell is the author of Which One Of you is the Mother? It is available on Amazon here.

puppies for sale!

Last week this article was making the rounds on the internet: READ HERE

The article was about four siblings (ages 1, 3, 5, and 10) who were currently in foster care, but were now in need of a forever home. It read like a typical adoption profile complete with phrases like “the sweetest kids ever!” and “very smart!”

It gave a brief biography about each child, detailing the good and winking around the not-so good. The article was topped off by a photo of the four children, dressed in their color-coordinated Sunday best and smiling happily for all the world to consider.

(Cue sad music and Sarah McLachlan voiceover.)

Now because I have two adopted sons and because I have written a book about my experiences adopting, several friends thoughtfully posted the article on my social media.

I read it. I considered the photo. And then I got mad.

I was offended.

I hated the article. It minimized our adoption journey. It diminished our children’s story.

I have no doubt that the motivations in publishing this glorified adoption profile were pure. I am confident that The Northwest Florida Daily News meant only to draw attention to adoption and for that I applaud them.

There are more than 400,000 children in foster care with nearly one quarter of that number in need of a forever home, so adoption needs a voice.

But with its frame-ready photo and easy-breezy narrative this article served only to trivialize the adoption process. Certainly the comments on social media as well as those in the original NWF Daily News posting did just that with (supposedly) well-meaning people writing:

“I want them all! Please contact us.”

“Aww! They are so cute! I want them!”

“Are they free?”

“I’ll take them! I want babies.”

“Bring them on. I’ll take all four!”

First, adoption is not that easy. You cannot just say, “I’ll take them!” People interested in adoption first must be certified as a viable resource foster parent. In Pennsylvania this certification is a rigorous months-long process that requires more than 40 hours of parenting classes, FBI background checks, mountains of paperwork, references, a home study…the list goes on.

Then after being certified, prospective parents enter the matching phase. This back-and-forth between your caseworker and the caseworker of a waiting child can take anywhere from two weeks to two years…or more.

Becoming a parent is hard work.

These kids have already had one set of parents disappoint them. The last thing they need is to have another set of jokers flake on them. Simply put, if you’re the kind of person given to making statements like, “Bring them on. I’ll take all four!” then adoption is not for you.

Second, these are children. They are not puppies. I repeat, they are not puppies. This is not a craigslist ad. These children are not for sale. Their level of cuteness is irrelevant. These are real people with real problems. Most of these kids have been through shit that we can’t even imagine. They have been neglected and abused and abandoned, often multiple times, the victims of a system meant to protect them but one that seems hell-bent on breaking them.

So if you want these children, then do something. Stop making comments and start taking action. These children are more than a trending diversion in your newsfeed. They require more than your momentary consideration. They deserve more than your well-meaning empty declarations.

You see a cute photo.

I see a lifelong commitment.

(not) just some woman

I never met her. She was just this woman in a photograph. A stranger. My youngest son’s birth mother. Yesterday I received an email informing me that this woman, this stranger, my youngest son’s birth mother had died. And even though I never knew her, even though she was no one to me, even though I had hated her, I looked over at my son, barely six years old, and I was overcome by such profound sadness.

She was gone and he would never know her.

My son has no memory of this woman, his mother. She was as much a stranger to him as she was to me. He was taken from her custody at a very young age, the result of her poor choices and the unfortunate lifestyle that ultimately claimed her life. In the past when my son spoke of “his mother” he was referring to his foster mother, the only mother he had ever known, but still, this woman who died two weeks ago, she made him and if it had not been for her my son would not be my son.

One day my son will no longer be barely six years old and he will understand his story and he will realize before his fathers before his foster mother before his caseworkers there was his mother and he will ask about her.

He will ask who she was and what she looked like and does he look like her and why did she stop being his mother and can he meet her.

A few months ago we learned that my son’s birth mother had contacted his former caseworker. She had been asking about us. She wanted a photo or to send a birthday card or maybe to write a letter, I can’t remember.

Even though there was nothing she could have done, his adoption had been finalized and she had relinquished parental rights years ago, I was angry by her sudden reappearance. Since that moment I had been worried that she would somehow find out where we lived and show up unannounced on our doorstep. I worried that she would upset my son and cause confusion and disrupt our perfect life. And so when I read that email, before I looked over at my son before I felt such profound sadness, I felt relief.

And now I just feel guilty. And sad. And after I closed the email I hugged my son and I told him I loved him and he playfully pushed me away and said, “Not now, Dad.” And I suppose right now in this moment I just hope that one day when my son asks about his mother, after I tell him the truth, after I hug him, after I tell him I love him, he won’t push me away.


Sean Michael O’Donnell is the author of Which One Of you is the Mother? It is available on Amazon here.

 

 

holiday (monster truck) blues

The holidays can be a time of great joy and celebration, but also a time of profound sadness and grief. The period between carving a turkey and opening presents can bring up a host of memories for many people, especially adopted children. Perhaps it’s the tradition of the day or the gathering of families or the ghosts of holidays past. Whatever the reason, the days leading up to these special moments can be an emotional minefield.

For my two sons, both adopted, the holidays are a reminder of all they have lost—family, friends, pets, a favorite toy. The life our boys had before often goes unmentioned for months at a time, but every December, like the ghosts that haunt Scrooge, they reappear and make their presence known.

It was Chris who this year first began to steal visits down memory lane. At Thanksgiving dinner he waxed nostalgic about his grandmother’s mashed potatoes and her homemade mac-n-cheese. A few weeks later he recalled all the Christmas mornings spent playing with his three older sisters. Last night he told me (for the first time) about a blue monster truck his foster parents had given to him.

As Chris told me in great detail about this much-loved truck, I began to understand that he was not telling me so much as reminding himself. I could hear the sadness in my son’s voice as he tried to hold on to his former life, to maintain a connection to a past that grew more and more distant with each passing day.

I was reminded of this truth this past weekend as we cut down our Christmas tree. On our way to the tree farm Elijah began to talk about his “mom” and his life in West Virginia. Elijah was telling us a story about his (former) dogs when suddenly he paused and whispered, “I can’t remember their names anymore.”

If you want to know what it feels like to have your heart break or if you ever need a good cry, just imagine a five year old coming to the realization that life is full of pain.

These ghosts used to scare me. They would make me doubt myself as a parent and question my children’s happiness because if I were a good parent and if my children were truly happy then why would they need to visit the past? I thought the only way for our family to move forward was to run from these ghosts, but to run from them would be to deny my children their story.

And that would be wrong.

I tell myself those dogs had a name and that those names are important. I remind myself that while life at grandma’s house was not always easy for Chris, there were mashed potatoes and homemade mac-n-cheese and Christmas mornings with his sisters.

There were blue monster trucks.


Sean Michael O’Donnell is the author of Which One Of you is the Mother? It is available on Amazon here. Why haven’t you bought it yet?! Seriously.

why aren’t you talking about my children?

November is National Adoption Month, but then you probably didn’t know that because CNN and MSNBC and FOX and The New York Times and The Washington Post and Twitter and Facebook and the entire Internet have yet to notify you of that fact.

There are 415,000 children in foster care in the United States. That is almost a half million children, or roughly the population of Wyoming, without a permanent home.

Every night these kids go to bed not knowing where they belong or if they belong. And every year more than 20,000 of them age out of the foster system. These kids have no family. They have no home.

Each year, we, the so-called greatest country in the world, turn our backs on these 20,000 children. We abandon them.

Still not interested?  Still not willing to hashtag adoption?  Still not willing to launch an all-out Facebook assault on your friends and family who think adoption “isn’t their problem?”

Perhaps it’s because adoption is benign. It isn’t sexy or controversial enough to warrant your concern. It doesn’t sell papers or generate page views.

There are no flag overlays for adoption. It fails to inspire hashtags. It lacks conflict.

It isn’t a red cup at war with Christmas.

It isn’t Syria.

But then this post isn’t about Syria. For the purposes of this post Syria is a prop and before you judge me for that truth bomb I caution you to go back over your social media feeds because the only difference between you and me is that I’m being honest.

A week from now after Syria has runs its course in our collective consciousness and the news cycle has moved onto its next big story I’m simply asking you to remember that those 415,000 kids will still be there.

Those kids will still need a home.

No one is talking about them now. No one is probably going to talk about them tomorrow, but they will still be there.

Now I am not implying that these nearly half a million homegrown children are more important than children in other parts of the world or refugees from Syria or people in Paris or homeless veterans. I am saying that these kids are here and they’re not going anywhere and no one is talking about them.

And why is that?

If Anderson Cooper or Megyn Kelly or Rachel Maddow or a minion dressed as Caitlyn Jenner told you right now to drop everything and talk about adoption would it suddenly merit your undivided attention? Would you go into keyboard warrior-mode and obsessively begin to post every link you could find on adoption? Would you casually begin to throw around the adoption equivalent of twenty-five cent phrases like “white privilege” and fifty cent words like “xenophobe”?

If I could go back in time and snap a photo of my son as a baby sitting in the corner of what was probably a crack house with a blanket thrown over him while his birth parents shot up drugs or if I could travel to another time and take a photo of my other son’s birth mother in jail while five months pregnant with him would these images bring a tear to your eye?

Would these photos incite your passion? Would you spend your day littering Facebook with an endless stream of nonsensical memes if foster children were like those puppies in the Sarah McLachlan commercial?

Would they, at last, deserve your consideration?

Would they?

For the record, I’m not implying that I’m better than you because I did something; because I adopted two of those 415,000 kids. The truth is my interest in adoption was self-serving. I had no time for adoption until adoption could do something for me.

But now that I know about adoption, now that those statistics are a part of my life, now that those numbers have a face, I wonder, why are there not more people taking action?

Because you don’t need to adopt to make a difference. You don’t need to foster to make a difference. There are so many ways in which you can change the lives of these children who are living in unsafe conditions, who don’t have a home, whose future is Dickensian.

Consider, the woman who saw a young mother living in a tent with her baby and called children services. The caseworker who removed a child from the home of his drug addicted grandmother. Those people, who by the way made it possible for us to have our children, did nothing more than care about something that wasn’t on the news or trending on social media.

I have been told that these two issues (Syria and adoption) are like comparing apples to oranges, and while that may be true, I don’t necessarily believe that the apples are more important than the oranges or vice versa. I just believe the apples get all the attention on your newsfeed while the oranges don’t even merit a share.

And for the record, yes, I am aware of just how manipulative this post is, because who’s going to be the person who calls out the guy who adopted two kids, but if this calculated manipulation gets you to consider for even thirty seconds the plight of these 415,000 kids with as much passion as you’ve exercised over the past few weeks on Syrian refugees and red cups then it will have been worth it.

Sean Michael O’Donnell is the author of Which One Of you is the Mother? It is available on Amazon here. Why haven’t you bought it yet?! Seriously.

the other parents

This story was originally published on August 31, 2015 on The New Family.


This is my family. From the outside we may look different from most families, but the truth is we are just like every family. And just like every family the story of how we came together is unique. It took us a long time to find each other. I first met my husband in 1997. We grew up in the same very small town; separated by four years we seemed to always just miss each other at school. It wasn’t until after college when I began working across the street from his house that we finally met. Looking back it seems odd that we never encountered each other before that cold February day eighteen years ago, but like most things in life it was about the timing.

Our kids are perfect examples of that timing. We adopted our two sons, Chris in 2013 and Elijah this past year. It took a lot to bring the four of us together. In those early days when my husband and I were still getting to know each other, setting up house and accumulating dogs, our sons had not even been born. During our thirties when we were living a carefree life in New York City, Chris was just beginning his life on the other side of the country. By the time we met Elijah he was a walking, talking, mostly toilet using five year old.

My husband and I believe the boys were always meant to be our children, but we also understand that how these two kids came to be ours was due in great part to forces beyond our control.

The story of our family begins not with us, but with strangers. People we have never met. People we will never meet. These two sets of strangers are my children’s birth parents. They created my children; without them my children would not exist. I owe them everything because without them I would have nothing.

For reasons that no longer seem relevant, these two sets of strangers were unable to care for their children – now, my children – and so government entities intervened, agencies were called and caseworkers were enlisted. These caseworkers stayed with my children for many years. They were the one constant in a sea of uncertainty. They helped our kids navigate the difficult transition from birth parent to foster parent to forever family.

While my husband and I waited to meet our children it was their foster parents who cared for them. These unsung heroes taught my children to use the bathroom and color within the lines and understand their emotions and read and write and a million other things parents do every day. They kept a place, giving them hugs and bandaging their scraped knees. They were everything we could not be because the timing wasn’t right.

Until it was.

Two years ago it was just my husband and I — complete, but not quite.  Then the universe gave us Chris and Elijah. They changed our lives; they made us complete.

We became a family because of other people – these strangers and caseworkers and heroes who brought us together. Us. Four people in a world of seven billion. We found each other across four decades and thousands of miles and impossible odds.

That’s pretty remarkable.


Sean Michael O’Donnell is the author of Which One of You is the Mother? Available on Amazon Kindle and Paperback.