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.

the lady of the house is a dude

Mrs. O’Donnell is my mother. Mrs. O’Donnell was my grandmother. I am not Mrs. O’Donnell.

It was an innocent mistake. A harmless assumption. An oversight. Earlier in the day I had emailed the principal at my son’s school. I had some concerns about the structure (or, lack thereof) of his classroom. I wrote a lengthy message detailing my concerns and in the body of the email I referenced my husband. I closed by signing my full name and then I hit send. A few hours later I received a response back from the principal, it began: “Dear MRS. O’Donnell…”

Oh no she didn’t, I thought.

At first I was angry and then I was amused and then I stopped laughing and I was angry again. I knew this gaffe had not been intentional and, based on the many spelling errors in the message, I knew her response had been written in haste.

So I assessed the situation. I recognized that we were a new kind of family. I understood that most of the families at my son’s school were probably of the “traditional” mom-and-dad variety and even though we had maintained an active presence at the school for the past two years I could accept that the reference to “my husband” might lead to certain assumptions and besides, wasn’t Sean also sometimes a girl’s name?

Stop.

I was rationalizing. I was making excuses. I was apologizing for myself and my family.

I have no doubt that the principal had made an honest mistake and while I wasn’t willing to give her a complete pass, did I really feel the need to justify myself to myself?

It’s true that my family does not conform to the mold of a traditional family, but then what is a traditional family? Three years into this parenting gig and it’s a question I keep coming back to: what is a traditional family? It’s an idea that no longer exists. It’s an antiquated photo that hangs over the mantle in a house belonging to people who pretend to like each other. It’s a throwback. A term which I suspect brings comfort to many of the people who want to “make America white straight Christian great again”.

But here’s the thing: there is no traditional family. There is just family. And no matter how you choose to define that dynamic we really are just a group of people thrown together – many through biology, some by circumstance, others by fate.

As my ten year old so eloquently wrote, “Family means people who love you and take care of you.”

So call me Mrs. O’Donnell. Put me in a house dress and pearls. Make me the Life magazine housewife of your 1950’s wet dream. I can be the person you need me to be.

But the next time we meet, remember that I am not Mrs. O’Donnell. I am just some guy married to some other guy raising two kids in a changing world…and it’s time for you to catch up.

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?

in defense of my family

I have a photo on my desk of my children. They are standing in front of a paint splattered door and in the photo my oldest son is looking out from behind his glasses appearing effortlessly handsome as he towers over his much shorter brother, my youngest son, who looks ready to cause trouble as soon as my husband finishes taking the photo. My husband and my two sons. Together these three are everything. My life. My purpose. My reason.

I cannot imagine a world without them. I cannot conceive of a world where the four of us were not brought together for some greater purpose, where we did not find one another because we were always meant to be a family, and yet, how different our lives could be in another time and place because as inconceivable as it is for me to imagine a world without them, I am keenly aware that such a world exists in the hearts and minds of millions of Americans.

These people believe that I should not be afforded the same rights and privileges of “normal” people, that I should not be married, that I should most definitely not have children. They hide behind their religion, using it and their perverted notions of God to justify their bigotry. And when their base religious manipulations fail them, they turn to the political arena in the hopes of legislating their morality on the masses.

Over the past few years as marriage equality became the law of the land and as all fifty states finally recognized the rights of same-sex couples to adopt, it seemed that such nonsense had gone the way of the dodo. But in 2016 with the threat of a Donald Trump/Mike Pence administration looming over our country, the rights and privileges of gay Americans and the very existence of non-traditional families are at stake.

The RNC platform, under the auspices of Trump and the notoriously anti-gay Pence, include these decidedly anti-LGBT nuggets:

  1. We believe that “marriage is a union between one man and one woman. Traditional marriage and family, based on marriage between one man and one woman, is the foundation for a free society.”
  2. We pledge to “support adoption organizations that refuse to serve gay couples” with the belief that “children raised in a traditional two-parent household tend to be physically and emotionally healthier, less likely to use drugs and alcohol, engage in crime, or become pregnant outside of marriage.”
  3. We support (the widely discredited practice of) conversion therapy, guaranteeing “the right of parents to determine the proper treatment or therapy for their minor (gay) children.”

This is the platform for a major political party in the year 2016 and it scares the hell out of me because as impossible as it seems that we as a country would willingly go backward, that we would allow marriages to be dissolved, that we would allow children to be taken away from loving homes, that we would operate under the absurd notion that one could pray the gay away, the fact is an uninformed, undereducated, and angry electorate makes this not just possible, but probable.

The reality is that on November 8 people will vote for this hateful nonsense because either a) they support it or b) because they are more concerned with tax breaks and welfare reform and defense spending than the basic rights of their friends and family.

Look, I get it, people can have fundamental disagreements about government, but the right of my family to exist is not a fundamental disagreement. If you cannot bring yourself to cross party lines and vote for another candidate then you need to right now at this very moment demand more from your party and its leaders. You need to stand up and say, “I will not accept this. I will not tolerate this. This is not what I believe. This is not who I am.”


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?

 

u wanna fight?

It was our first Father’s Day. We had been fathers for approximately eleven months, but this would be our first year officially celebrating the Hallmark holiday as dads. It seemed necessary to mark this momentous occasion with something more than cake…or rather, in addition to cake because every holiday demands cake. We spent the weeks before Father’s Day searching online for a family-friendly, father-centric activity. The local zoo was offering free admission for all dads with the paid admission of a child so we settled on the zoo…because we like the zoo and also because we’re cheap and there is nothing cheaper than free.

In the days leading up to our zoo trip my mind was preoccupied by a single thought. It was this same thought I was now obsessing over as we drove the ten minutes from our house to the zoo. What if two dads was one too many? I imagined the attendant refusing to allow both of my son’s fathers to enter the zoo for free. Managers would be called and scenes would be made. Our first Father’s Day would be in ruins as we slunk away on principle.

The parking lot was full. We eventually found a space and made our way to the end of the half-mile line that stretched into the distance. While my husband and son discussed which animals they were most excited to see that day, I silently stewed in the soup of my inevitable persecution. The closer we got to the ticket booth the more anxious I became. I had convinced myself that this was not going to go well.  And if when that moment came that we were singled out for our sexuality how exactly would I handle it? Would I cause a scene and risk embarrassing my son just to prove a point? Or would I fork over the extra $15 and live to fight another day?

The line inched up and I pictured myself calling the local TV stations—the teaser on the six o’clock news: Gay Dads Day at the Zoo Goes Bottoms Up! The line continued to move. I envisioned our new six-bedroom house (with an indoor pool and elevator) that we would purchase with the profits from O’Donnell-Collar v. Pittsburgh Zoo. We were next in line. I saw myself becoming a self-righteous pundit on msnbc; I would be Rachel Maddow’s favorite guest and together we would sneer at those conservative dumbos over at Fox.

Have a good time. Oh, and Happy Father’s Day.

The voice of the attendant brought me back to reality. There was no scene. There were no questions. There was only, “Have a good time. Oh, and Happy Father’s Day.” As the three of us walked through the gates I realized that I was…disappointed. I was so ready for a fight, but the fight never came. There would be no profile on the six o’clock news. There would be no six bedroom house with an indoor pool and an elevator. There would be no Rachel Maddow.

My son had two dads and no one cared.

My disappointment quickly passed, giving way to something far worse: shame. I expected the worst and the worst turned out to be me. If we listen to the news and social media we become convinced that everyone is out to get us. We believe that every person we meet will judge us based on our race, our religion, our gender, our sexuality. Every day we show up for a fight that never comes.

Yes, there are bad people in the world. There are people who hate and oppress and discriminate and will hurt you just as soon as look at you, but they are not all people. Most people are kind and accepting and they don’t care if you have two dads or six heads.

I’m taking off the gloves. I’m going to turn down the noise from TV and social media. I’m going to anticipate the best and if the worst comes, at least it won’t be me bringing it.


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.