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.

i’m coming out

I never came out. My sophomore year of college I just started kissing boys. A few months later I brought home a guy to meet my family and as we sat around the Thanksgiving table I casually began referring to him as my boyfriend and end of story. Looking back I feel like I missed a real opportunity to create some top-notch drama complete with tearful scenes of me throwing heirloom china at my homophobic uncle while dressed in a pair of short shorts, the word QUEER spelled out in pink glitter across my once upon a time 21 year old rump.

Ah, regrets.

Today, no one comes out. It’s passé.  Everyone is what they are and if they aren’t sure what are is they identify as something called pansexual which we used to call “going to college”. Twenty years ago coming out was quite the affair. I knew people who planned actual coming out parties that included tears and short shorts and the throwing of heirloom china, but always ended with a good group hug and someone’s grandma saying, “I’m glad you like kissing boys.”

I might have missed the boat back in 1996, but not today. Today, I’m coming out. It’s time I blew open the closet doors. It’s time I threw off the shackles of political oppression. It’s time I admitted the truth to myself.

I suspect this late-in-life admission could cost me a few friends and I know that it will undoubtedly lead to sneering derision and further condescension on social media, but I will no longer be shamed by info-graphic posting know-it-alls, nor a public who has been seduced into confusing opinion with fact.

Consequences be damned.

I am a moderate.

At last. I am out of the political closet.

I am a moderate.

Wow! that felt good.  I feel like a weight has been lifted from my not-as-liberal-as-I-thought shoulders. I feel as if I’ve lost twenty pounds from my formerly progressive frame.

I am a moderate. I am a moderate. I am a moderate!

I should clarify. I am a 21st century moderate which is really nothing more than a 20th century liberal. I believe in personal freedom and I believe that we should all contribute which is to say I stand for the same things today at age 41 that I did yesterday at age 21. I have neither progressed nor regressed, but also I have not remained fixed.

Now I’m not going to bore you with a list of my specific beliefs because 1) you don’t care and 2) my beliefs are none of your business. Suffice it to say, I believe we should all talk less and listen more. I believe I am not always right nor do I know everything. I believe in common sense and the unfairness of fairness.

Unlike the extremes on both sides of the aisle, I do not feel the need to keep stomping my feet until everyone believes exactly as I do. I continue to think that the best way to affect change is to lead by example (and as a gay man and as a father of two adopted children I can assure you I’ve done more than most to affect change and alter people’s perceptions).

I understand that in a country of 400 million people, the process is slow and the middle is often where you have to meet.

Sometimes you win, and most times you lose.

I am a moderate. And I like kissing boys.


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.

all the things you have today

Facebook likes to remind you about your past. Every day lurking at the top of my newsfeed sits a memory. Most days the memory is a happy one: the day my husband and I first met our sons; the anniversary of our children’s adoptions; a memorable photo from an otherwise unmemorable day. But sometimes the memory is a ghost from the past, a moment best left buried and forgotten. Yet there it sits, not so much haunting as taunting you.

It invites you to stroll down memory lane. It dares you to dip your toes into yesterday. It calls and most days you answer. Your mind begins to drift away — six months, a year, two years, five years, twenty years. One minute you’re a gay 40 year old father of two trying to keep it all together and the next you’re a sexually confused 20 year old college sophomore making out with some girl because, why not?

Oh, the past.

We love the past. We romanticize it. We rewrite it. We have the benefit of being able to view the past from the present. Twenty years ago I was a college student studying in England and traveling through Europe. Fifteen years ago I was operating a small community theater. Ten years ago I was living in New York. Five years ago I had a wonderful circle of friends.

At least that’s how I look at the past now….but the truth is: Twenty years ago I was a college student studying in England and traveling through Europe under a mountain of crushing debt. Fifteen years ago I was operating a small community theater at the expense of my relationship with my husband. Ten years ago I was living in New York with a violent bi-polar lunatic. Five years ago I had a wonderful circle of friends because I operated a small community theater.  

The past has its purpose. It gives us perspective. It teaches us. It reminds us of all the things we were capable of achieving even in those moments when it seems we did nothing but fail.

But the past is yesterday. The present is today.

And I have a great today. Today I am a published author. Today I am a husband. Today I am a father. Today I am happy.

I understand that none of the things I have today would have been possible without the benefit of yesterday. Still, instead of feeling beholden to yesterday I prefer simply to say thank you and skip the daily strolls down memory lane.

I choose this moment, right now.

So this New Year’s Eve rather than making resolutions about the future or looking back on all the things you did/did not accomplish this past year, why not just take an inventory of all the things you have right now?

The love of a good man. The joy of two incredible children. The beauty of family.

Happy New Year, indeed!


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.

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.