on being a father on father’s day and every day

I first became a father on July 8, 2013, the day I met my then-seven year old son for the first time. Four years later and my husband and I are on the verge of (legally) becoming fathers for a third time as we begin to finalize the adoption of our (biologically) oldest (chronologically) youngest son.

We came to fatherhood a bit late; I was 38 and my husband was 41. I sometimes think we both wished we had started having children a bit sooner, years ago back when we still had the energy to keep up with a seven year old before we started buying pants with elastic waistlines.

But because I know that our kids were always meant to be our kids I also know that starting earlier would not have been an option. The timing would have been off—a day sooner or a day later and suddenly we’re in an alternate timeline where Todd has a full head of hair and I hate doughnuts and instead of three kids we have 27 dogs and everything is just wrong.

The five of us were a series of lines, always meant to cross, but at very specific points.

When I was younger I knew I wanted a family, a big family with six kids, but when I was younger I also knew I was gay and because of that I understood that my big family with six kids would never happen. At 11 years old, at 18 years old, at 27 years old, I could never conceive of a time when a gay man could have children.

And yet, here I am.

I get to play ball with A’Sean and help Chris memorize a monologue and laugh when Elijah says really inappropriate words.

I get to celebrate their successes and encourage them past their defeats.

I get to see them grow up.

I get to watch them be brothers.

I get to imagine who they will be when I’m gone and not be sad because I know they have each other.

Being a father is the greatest joy of my life and raising my boys is my greatest accomplishment. My kids make me laugh and they make me scream. They challenge me and they exhaust me. They bring out my best and they bring out my worst. They give me purpose.

Every day is not the best day, but every day is a better day because I get to be their dad. So even when I’m screaming at them (which I do) or sneaking off to the bathroom to cry (which I do even more) or beating myself up for getting everything wrong (which I do every day), I would not trade a moment of this great privilege.

Happy Father’s Day – today and every day.

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?

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.

crying on the toilet and other bathroom distractions

The following is an excerpt from my book Which One of You is the Mother? You can purchase the book on Amazon here.


The difference between five and nine is greater than four. We learned this new math in the days and weeks following Elijah’s placement with us. I had imagined a five year old would arrive factory ready — just plug him in, flip the switch and presto! you have a fully functioning mini humanoid. This is untrue. It turns out five year olds are basically talking babies that can use the toilet. You still have to bathe them, dress them, tie their shoes, hold their hands in public, teach them to read, force them to nap, force them to brush their teeth, monitor them as they brush their teeth, and clean up after they brush their teeth, and while they may be able to talk the toilet business is 50/50 on a good day.

Chris was a breeze in comparison. Granted he was a few years older, so he could be trusted to take a bath, dress himself and not run out into traffic. Elijah was another story. He was exhausting. He required constant attention. I laugh at the former me who once considered adopting a child under the age of three. I could absolutely handle a newborn, I bragged to my friends and family. If an all-things-considered-well-behaved five year old nearly drove me to the brink a newborn would have killed me.

And Elijah is a good kid. Oh sure sometimes he pees his pants while waiting in line at the amusement park but otherwise he’s fairly continent. He is an average five year old who listens 75% of the time and hates napping. He has never once been horrible in public, which is more than I could say for those non-GMO-gluten-free-Paleo kids I see at the mall. (And for the record, I see you other parents judging me when my son eats his genetically modified deep-fried sugar-dipped potato-in-a-bun.) Elijah may ask a million questions but he asks them because he’s curious. He wants to learn. There is no end to his inquisition: What are clouds? Where does the moon sleep? Do girls have wieners? I do my best to answer his questions, but I also recognize that I am not an expert in meteorology, astronomy or female anatomy.

The endless questions were nothing compared to the boundless energy and I began to fear that I had met my match. Here I was a forty year old man and my undoing would be at the hands of a five year old. Elijah had been with us for about two weeks the Sunday afternoon I fell victim to a plate of questionable Middle Eastern kebabs. Food poisoning is never pleasant and I spent the better part of the night projectile vomiting the previous day’s spaghetti dinner.

The next morning I awoke dehydrated with a blinding headache. If it had been just me I could have managed the situation. I would have popped a few aspirin, confined myself to the couch and slept the day away. But it wasn’t just me. It was me and a five year old (due to a clerical error Elijah was still not enrolled in school).  Todd had gone back to work the previous week and now I was on daddy duty, food poisoning be damned.

Five year olds don’t understand being sick. They don’t understand blinding headaches and dehydration. They cannot be left to their own devices while you cough your best Camille in some faraway Bavarian sanatorium. Five year olds want to play and be five. Five year olds do not want to sit quietly and watch Law & Order reruns all day. They instead prefer to run through the house singing at top volume and pretending to be a Disney princess. At least that’s what my five year old preferred to do on this particular day. When I suggested we take a nap after his 437th encore of Let It Go, he laughed at me. My five year old son laughed at me and then he threw all forty pounds of his little body onto my stomach which at this point, now void of food, had begun to digest my internal organs.

It was sometime around 2:45 p.m. that I excused myself to the bathroom where I cried for seven and a half peaceful minutes.

I do this a lot now. I excuse myself to the bathroom and I cry. The bathroom is my sanctuary. I have spent the better part of an hour holed up behind its locked door, watching videos on my phone or reading the back of the shampoo bottle. Sometimes I turn on the water and I pretend I’m taking a shower. Sometimes I slip down into the bubbles and let Calgon take me away. Sometimes I fall asleep on the toilet.

I would kill for a midday nap. I think most adults wish they could indulge in a nap at some point during the day. But children hate naps. If I tell Elijah to take a nap he will collapse on the floor and begin to sob uncontrollably. The first time he did this I hurriedly closed all the windows in the house, afraid that the neighbors would think I was beating him. Now if I even mention the word nap he launches into a five-act opera entitled Emotionally Unstable Italian Grandmother at the Funeral of Her Dead Husband.

The truth is we’re still figuring him out. He’s an odd little kid; he thinks it’s hilarious to look you directly in the eyes when you’re speaking to him and then do the exact opposite of what you just told him to do even though you’re sure he heard you because, after all, he was looking you directly in the eyes when you were talking to him. He also loves to repeat everything you say except for those moments when he’s pretending not to hear you. He eats nothing but chicken nuggets with mustard. Give him a choice between eating a plate of fresh vegetables and being water boarded by Dick Cheney and he’d go with virtual drowning by Darth Vader.

If Chris is the very definition of resilience, then Elijah is the very definition of obstinance.

But still, he makes me laugh. His preschool teacher remarked that she had never before met a five year old who understood sarcasm…and then used it. His caseworker noted in his file that Elijah was “a chameleon”. She said, “He could adapt to any environment and would often assume the personalities of those around him.” It was no doubt a coping mechanism he had adopted, the result of having lived in so many different homes.

In the foster home where he lived before, Elijah had been taught that physical affection was unacceptable; there were no hugs or goodnight kisses. He adapted to this environment and learned to live without affection. When we met him Elijah was emotionally reserved, if not aloof and frosty. He forbade us to hug or kiss him for those first few months. One night before bed he told me that I could not kiss him on the cheek because “boys don’t kiss”. They do in this house, I said, but respected his wishes. Finally after months of watching us shower Chris with affection Elijah changed his outlook. Now he hugs first and when we tuck the boys into bed he demands to be kissed goodnight.

Time moves slowly when you are living inside a moment. In the time before hugs and kisses Elijah would only call us by our first names; it seemed we would never be Dad and Papa. We never forced the issue. If he was comfortable calling us Sean and Todd then he could call us Sean and Todd. Still, when addressing one another in front of him we always referred to each other as Dad and Papa. We instructed Chris to do the same when talking about us to Elijah. We laid the groundwork and it took time, but eventually Elijah began to experiment with our new names until those new names became our only names. Now every morning he wakes me up by crawling into bed and whispering mischievously into my ear, “Daddy!”  Now he rushes Todd at the door and with open arms delivers a welcoming, “Papa!” No longer Sean and Todd, now it seems we are who we have always been, his Dad and Papa.

He has become so much like the three of us; it’s hard to know who he is after us especially when we never knew who he was before us. Our obstinate little chameleon has now assumed our manner of speaking, our casual attitude, our sense of humor. Unfortunately he has also adopted some of Chris’s less desirable qualities, like selective laziness. Long gone are the days when Elijah would voluntarily (and thoroughly) clean up after himself. We’ve said goodbye to the boy who eagerly offered to set the dinner table. Now we’re left with the pint-sized smartass who, when asked to carry more than one bag of groceries into the house, indignantly replies, “I only have two hands”.

The difference between five and nine is still greater than four. But with each whisper of Daddy, with each offer of I love you, with each willing hug that difference shrinks. Chris and Elijah wanted a forever home, but what they received in the bargain was so much more than a roof and four walls. They found each other. Elijah idolizes Chris and has assumed the role of loyal companion and much smaller shadow. And Chris, the boy who wanted an older brother, has himself taken that role and become the defender, confidante and best friend.


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 rules of estrangement

History is full of epic smackdowns. David and Goliath. Ali and Frazier. Joan and Christina Crawford. This past weekend my children bitch slapped their way on to this showdown shortlist, going ten rounds in a knock-down-drag-out face-off six months in the making.

In the blue corner towering in at 64 inches tall and weighing a lean 108 pounds it’s Chris “Jazz Hands” Eagleton. And in the red corner looking up at 42 inches small and punching in well above his weight it’s Elijah “The Bulldog” Metz. Alright boys, let’s have a clean fight. No unauthorized sports metaphors. No hitting below the belt. No low blows. No sucker punches. The gloves are off. Don’t throw in the towel. Just roll with the punches. Homerun! Touchdown! Put on your character turbans…and scene!

And so it went. All weekend long. We were stuck in a constant loop of tears, tattles and tussles. They fought over the TV. They fought over the Xbox. They fought over who got to sit across from me at the dinner table. They pushed and shoved and called names. They were little assholes from sun up until sun down. Monday morning could not come fast enough.

Siblings fight. Families disagree. I haven’t spoken to my own brother in more than two years. I have not been in the same room as my sister since Christmas 2012. Neither of them has ever met my children. Stuff happens. Time passes. We have all missed out on so much. My parents met Chris twice. I sent them a photo of Elijah, a gesture of obligation.

Like all good estrangements no one can say for sure why it started…it just did and now it is.

There are no villains. There are no innocent victims. No one is to blame and everyone is to blame. Hurt feelings turn to resentment and resentment turns to indifference until enough time has passed and you start to think the only thing you ever had in common was DNA.

Except what happens when you don’t have even DNA in common?

I vow that my children will not end up like me; estranged from a family I love even on days when I don’t like them very much. I see my boys fight – these accidental brothers – and I remind myself that this behavior is normal. It is a part of growing up. It does not portend future discord. My siblings and I rarely fought as children. We became friends as adults. Yet, look at us now. There are no guarantees. No right ways to do anything.

Chris and Elijah are still learning how to be a family. Territories need to be marked and order must be asserted. With each unkind name, each shove, each hysterical tear they are establishing a bond. They are making up for a past they never shared. So I let my kids go all ten rounds because I know it’s just a show. Because I know they have something stronger than blood ties; they have each other’s backs.