i am the parent

The moment I met my children for the first time I was their Dad. On July 8, 2013, when Chris first greeted me at the door of his foster home I was his Dad. The day Elijah first ignored me seconds after being introduced to me I was his Dad. The afternoon A’Sean first arrived at our house with nothing more than a knapsack and I told him, “You’re safe now,” I was his Dad. I have never not been their parent.

Emotionally. Physically. Legally. I am their parent. The state of Pennsylvania and the government of the United States of America recognizes that I am their Dad. My husband and I are listed on their birth certificates. We are their parents. Legally. Just us. No one else. Nothing and no one can change that simple fact.

And yet despite an overwhelming amount of legal and emotional and spiritual proof to the contrary for one brief second yesterday I was made to feel that maybe, possibly, in the eyes of some, because my children were adopted, I was not really their ACTUAL parent.

It was a horrible feeling. It made me sick and sad and, later in the evening when I admitted these feelings to my husband, it made me cry.

I felt weak and ashamed and illegitimate and angry.

Angry. Angry. ANGRY.

It was our third trip in six weeks to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. We had met with a geneticist on our first visit. Our PCP had some concerns and wanted our eleven year old to be tested for Marfan Syndrome. The geneticist found several visual markers for the disease which led us to visit the cardiologist a few weeks later. The echocardiogram from this second visit had raised a red flag and now we found ourselves back for a third visit to discuss the cardiologist’s findings and to go over our options. The visit went well…in fact, all things considered, all three visits had gone very well. The doctors and nurses had provided us with excellent care and treated us with respect.

 Until…

 It was the end of the third visit and we were in the process of checking out. (It’s an important point, so to be clear, we were checking out. The visit was over. The care had been provided.) The nurse asked for my son’s insurance card and then she asked for my information. She asked my relationship to the child and I said, “Father.” She then asked for an additional contact and I gave her my husband’s information. She asked for his relationship to the child and I said, “Father.”

 Memory is a funny thing, but I swear I could hear the air being sucked out of the room the moment I said “Father” in reference to my husband.

 The nurse looked at us and informed us that we would need to provide the hospital’s legal department with an adoption certificate to prove that we were our son’s parents. She said that the hospital needed to confirm that the persons making medical decisions for our son were legally allowed to make those decisions.

 The nurse then said something about ACTUAL PARENTS. Those were her words, actual parents. She said this in reference to my son’s birth parents as if to draw a distinction between my husband and I—the two faggots standing before her—and my son’s birth parents—the two people not standing before her who have not been a part of my son’s life since he was two years old.

 Also, she said all of this in front of my son.

I questioned why we would need to provide an adoption certificate or any documentation for that matter considering we were my son’s ACTUAL PARENTS and also none of the straight couples in the waiting room were being asked to provide documentation and also this was our third visit to Children’s Hospital so if our parental legitimacy were an issue shouldn’t it have been addressed on that first visit six weeks ago?

I’m not a dictionary but it sure sounded like discrimination.

In telling this story to other people I have found myself growing more and more angry as if repeating the events of the day are making this ridiculously surreal moment in time painfully real. My husband and I have never encountered a situation like this…I knew one day eventually our family dynamic would meet with resistance, but I always assumed it would happen in someplace like the small town I grew up in or in one of those ferociously red states I see on CNN. I never thought it would happen at a major medical institution in a fairly liberal urban setting.

Many people have offered their support and shared in our horror. We have been advised to seek legal counsel and to contact GLAAD. A few people have said that we should approach the hospital and let this be a teachable moment. Except, my family and I are not someone’s teachable moment. We do not exist so that you can learn to not be an asshole.

Actual parent.

I am not going to demonize my children’s birth parents. I do not know the truth of their struggles, but I do know I would not have my children without them and so I am thankful for these strangers who made me a parent.

They gave my children life, but the reality is they are no longer in the picture. I am. I give them love. I bandage their scraped knees. I celebrate their good test scores. I make their birthday cakes and donut towers and chocolate zucchini bread. I cheer loudest at baseball games and I clap hardest at every curtain call. I yell and punish and I make the tough choices.

Every moment of every day I am the actual parent.

Usually I apologize when there is some sort of benign slight aimed at my non-traditional family. At the start of each new school year I am faced with a mountain of official papers to sign and each paper has a place for mother’s signature and father’s signature and each year I cross out mother and write in father and I say, “It’s not a big deal.” I make excuses and I convince myself that I’m being overly sensitive because it’s just a piece of paper.

But every time I pardon those benign slights I contribute to a culture of privilege that makes it okay for some nurse to ask me to prove that I am my son’s actual parent. I’m done. Change the fucking form. See the world beyond your little patch of grass. Learn to speak in a language that is inclusive and kind and stop being the world’s biggest dick.

As for that nurse and the policies of the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, to be clear, until every parent who has ever walked through the doors in the very long history of that hospital is asked to show their papers, then no, I will not show mine.

I am the actual parent.


Sean Michael O’Donnell is 42 year old married gay man. He lives in Pittsburgh with his husband and three 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 best-selling book Which One of You is the Mother?

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this is us

We received the call shortly after 4 p.m. It was a Wednesday. I had just picked up the boys from school. Chris was in the dining room doing his homework. Elijah was in the attic playing Minecraft. Todd was still at work. The phone rang. It was our adoption agency. They needed an emergency foster placement for a 12 year old boy. There weren’t many details, there never are, but they said there was a good chance the placement could become permanent. Would we be interested?

Over the years we’d received this phone call many times, but we had always said no. Todd and I had long ago weighed the risks and decided that short term foster placements were not something we could handle. It would be too hard on the boys. It would be too hard on us. We needed guarantees. We couldn’t do goodbyes.

But that day was different. I don’t know why. Looking back, it just was…

And so two hours later there was a 12 year old boy standing in our living room. The story of how this twelve year old boy came to be standing in our living room is not my story to tell…he was there now and in that moment as we introduced ourselves and made small talk and later adjourned to the street to play ball, in those moments, is where his story became our story.

He was scared, or maybe just in shock. I know we were, scared and definitely in shock. But we all put on our best faces and we made it work. Chris let him ride his bike. Elijah played catch with him. Todd and I assured him he was safe.

He was home.

Over the next few weeks we spent a lot of time in family court. Family court is the seventh circle of hell and no child should ever be forced to go there. The halls are lined with crying children and screaming adults. There is security and policemen and judges who have seen too much to be sympathetic. The holding room is painted a depressing brown and the walls are gouged and scratched and the carpets are stained with coffee and every chair in the room is broken.

The room was a metaphor for every person who had ever walked through its doors.

It was heartbreaking. I am 42 years old and I barely survived our first day in family court…at one point I disappeared into the restroom to cry. The whole system was sad and it made me feel hopeless and small and out of control.

By the time we were called in front of the judge, this scared twelve year old boy had been with us for less than sixteen hours. He was a stranger and yet without hesitation, with instinct, Todd and I became his fiercest advocates. Everything and everyone in that building had been designed to tear him down, but not on our watch. And not on his watch because he was strong, stronger than I realized, and besides we were in this together. We were a family.

As we walked out of the courtroom I put my hand on his shoulder and I said, “You’re staying with us. This is your home. You’re safe.”

That was eight months ago. That was the day we answered the phone. That was the day we said yes because that day was different.

I don’t know why.

Looking back, it just was…meant to be.

 

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.

fostering

Foster parents are a mixed bag. Many foster parents are some of the finest people you will ever meet, called to serve like a minister to God. Others are of a more basic variety, called to collect a monthly check from the state. My oldest son was blessed with the gold standard of foster parents. They gave him food and shelter and love and the hope that he would one day have a tomorrow better than today. My youngest son had a foster parent more tin than gold. Despite her many shortcomings, I admired her for doing the work that so many others would not.

I have great respect for foster parents. They do the heavy lifting. Foster parents rescue our children at a time when they are in desperate need of saving. They attach without becoming attached. They give love often without ever receiving it in return. They get the worst but rarely see the best. They hold a place and then they say goodbye.

I could never do that.

Or so I thought.

Eight days ago my husband and I became foster parents. Our agency called us with a child in need of an emergency placement. There were few details available. We discussed it. We considered all the many reasons why we should say “no” and then two hours later we found ourselves standing at the door welcoming a scared twelve year old into our home.

The specifics about this child and the story of our journey together will be a story for another time. We are not permitted to name the child or tell the child’s story or post the child’s photo. For now we have been tasked with doing the heavy lifting, with aiding in the rescue, with giving love.

For now we are holding a place.

And I’m okay with that…or so I tell myself even though it’s not true. What is true is that it took me all of fifteen minutes to attach. I won’t tell you how long it took me to love the kid, lest I embarrass myself, but suffice it to say if there is a goodbye it won’t be easy.

So we wait and we hold a place and we become attached and we fall in love and we see where all this takes us. We hope for the best and we prepare for the worst and we remind ourselves that no matter what we may be feeling this isn’t about us. This is about a kid who needed a home.


*This photo of Hillary Clinton has nothing to do with the story, but since I cannot show photos of the child I thought I’d use this opportunity to remind everyone to vote for Hillary Clinton on November 8 because #imwithher.

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 planet of the apes

When I was growing up I loved The Planet of the Apes movies. I spent many a weekend during my extra-chubby adolescence watching ape movie marathons on one of the now defunct upper channels which could only be accessed through a precariously balanced antenna. I was obsessed, planning my non-existent social life around this dystopian world dominated by talking apes and ruggedly handsome men in loincloths.

There was Charlton Heston in the original film, collapsing at the base of the Statue of Liberty under the horrifying realization that “it was earth all along”. Later in the quintology there was Escape from the Planet of the Apes, an ode to the swinging 70s complete with time-traveling apes, feminist undertones, and a carnival barking Ricardo Montalban. For the fourth film the series went dark as Conquest of the Planet of the Apes offered us a totalitarian view of the future and an endless backdrop of bad concrete architecture.  The franchise ran out of steam by its mostly unwatchable last film, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, an all but forgettable entry save for a cameo by the late great John Houston, an Academy award winning actor who was clearly slumming it for the paycheck.

But the movie that stuck (and sticks) with me most was the second entry in the series, Beneath the Planet of the Apes. A cautionary tale of a post-nuclear war civilization, it featured an underground city populated by mutated humans with psychic powers. The mutants worship a nuclear warhead and, in the best scene in the film franchise, they peel away their seemingly normal faces to reveal the hideous radiation scarred skin beneath. As the music swells, the mutants turn to the bomb and, in what can only be described as an unbridled display of orgiastic religious fervor, they begin to chant, “I reveal my innermost self”.

(I promise I’m going somewhere with this.)

I love that scene. I have probably watched it fifty times, maybe more. Even at eleven years old I like to think that I understood what the filmmakers were really trying to say: blind obedience is bad and, if I ever decide to join a post-apocalyptic cult in an ape dominated world first make sure the other members aren’t hideously scarred mutants who worship a nuclear warhead.

Actually what I remember most – and what resonates now three decades later more than it ever did in 1986 – was the line, “I reveal my innermost self,” because in this age of technological isolation I realize that we have become those hideously scarred mutants hiding out in our underground cities, communicating through psychic messages, hiding behind a mask so no one can see our truth.

We don’t leave our houses. We communicate through the tap of a phone screen. We are the sum total of our social media profiles.

We don’t let people see the warts. We hide. We reveal nothing.

I dread social obligations. I just want to hole up in my house eating doughnuts and watching Call the Midwife. The real world is too much work, too much effort. I do not talk on the phone. All calls go to voicemail. All communication is done through text or instant messaging. My phone rings and I think, Why are you calling me? Did someone die? …and if someone did die then why don’t you just text me the bad news so we can avoid a scene?

(Texting is like having psychic powers and if it worked for movie mutants then it should work for us.)

I feel bad.  I feel guilty. I think I must be the only person who feels this way, but then I log on to social media and I see the whole goddamn world has gone Planet of the Apes. 

Facebook is nothing but the latex mask we wear over our hideous radiation scarred faces.

(Okay, I know I’m being a bit much here and really this is just an excuse to talk about those ape movies, but also everything I’m saying is kinda true.)

I honestly have no idea what anyone’s innermost self looks like because all I see is perfection. Perfect families. Perfect marriages. Perfect pictures of perfect dinners.

We all do it.

Life is a fucking postcard and you had better keep up because if you can’t compete with my fake life then something must be lacking in your fake life.

Just once I would like to see someone (not me, of course!) say: My life is a mess. My children hate me. I haven’t spoken to my spouse in three days and that’s okay because the truth is I’m hoping for a fourth day of silence. Also, I ate three gallons of ice cream last night and I just deep fried a pie for my second lunch.

Imagine how freeing life would be if we all walked around showing our hideous scars to one another. I’m not talking about complaining, please don’t do that because no one wants to hear you whine. I mean just some good old fashioned truth tellin’ and if that seems like too much, if you can’t handle the truth, then don’t try and sell the latex mask lie.

Embrace the mess. Cherish the silence. Eat the second lunch.

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?

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?

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.

(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.