So I wrote a book. It’s called Which One of You is the Mother? It is based partly on this blog…but mostly it’s based on every day of my life since I became a big gay dad to my two adopted sons. I have been publishing excerpts of the book on social media for the past week in anticipation of the book’s Kindle release on August 24, 2015.
Todd and I share a lifetime of photos. We could fill countless scrapbooks; volumes devoted to our respective births, our terrible twos, the first day of school. But of Chris we have no picture memories before the age of five. We have clues. Fragments of stories shared with us; stories like the time he accidentally spilled spaghetti sauce on the floor and his grandfather beat him with his belt. Or the one about that time when he was three and his sisters lost him in the airport. We have distant narratives written by overworked caseworkers and reports dictated by psychologists who I doubt ever bothered to even look up from their notepads to see the scared little boy in front of them. I look at our photos and it’s easy to remember that we had a life before our son. I read through his files and it’s strange to think he had one before us.
The day we brought Chris home from Oregon I had one thought and one thought only: I need to delete the browser history on the computer. Before you have children the internet is a limitless utopia, an adult playground where anything and everything is possible. But after you have kids the internet is basically an unexploded grenade in the shape of big chocolate candy bar with a sign on it that says Don’t Eat Me. Every time Chris asks if he can go on the internet I experience what I imagine a stroke must feel like. My right arm goes numb, a sharp pain shoots through my brain, I forget how to breathe, everything goes dark and then twenty minutes later I wake up in a puddle of urine wearing my mother-in-law’s wedding dress. Chris once asked me if we could Google pictures of bears. Five seconds later the screen was flooded with images of hairy middle-aged men. A few months later when he asked if he could see a photo of a baby inside the womb I thought it would be educational. But here’s the thing: if you Google baby in the womb you still get the beaver shot.
I grew up feeling like an outsider, a stranger in a strange land. I never quite fit in and while my parents loved and supported me I’m not sure they knew exactly what to do with me. For the most part I was free to be myself. Left to my own devices and without much-needed guidance I struggled with being different. I stumbled awkwardly in adolescence, navigating an often unsuccessful path through my weirdness. I would eventually learn to embrace and celebrate that same weirdness I now see in Chris. But unlike me at his age, Chris does not stumble or struggle. He happily marches to the beat of a different drummer. In fact, he is that drummer and it doesn’t matter if he’s the only one who can hear the music. Everyone else is just missing out. Some days I think I need to intervene and point him in the direction of the herd. Life will be easier for him, I tell myself. But of course that’s not true.
At first, Elijah would not look at us. He just sat on the floor playing with his toy cars. He said a few words, part of a brief narrative directed at and for the benefit of his toys. Barely five years old and already he had mastered the art of freezing people out. The minutes ticked by slowly, passing into hours. We didn’t exist. I freaked out. Chris asked more questions. Todd, no longer standing, now sat stoically. And then something clicked and the four of us came together. Suddenly Chris and Elijah were running around the office engaged in an endless game of hide-n-seek. Suddenly I was hiding under the desk with Elijah, having been roped into the game. Suddenly Elijah was holding Todd’s hand as we walked to the car. Then we were at the zoo and Elijah was following Chris everywhere, shouting “Chris! Chris!” as he chased after the big brother who seemed to have been there his whole life. For me it was in that moment when Elijah asked me to carry him, because now I could be trusted. It was after Elijah fell and Todd scooped him up into his arms and cradled him, both looking as if they were finally home.
The book has received notable critical praise:
“After reading this brilliant, touching book, all I could think about was having Sean and Todd tuck me in at night. Please adopt me!!!!” — Simon Doonan, Barneys Creative Ambassador and author of The Asylum
Which One of You is the Mother? is a “thoughtful, charming (and funny) essay about gay parenting that proves, not just engaging, but enlightening to gay and straight families alike.” — Terry Galloway, author of Mean Little deaf Queer
“I don’t like to think of us as boring, just profoundly unremarkable…, writes O’Donnell in the first chapter, but I beg to differ. Their story of starting their relationship to adopting their children is remarkable, considering all they had to go through as a gay male couple. Their story is one for anyone, a story of true love, commitment and what it means to be a family in the US in 2015. O’Donnell is a natural story teller who puts the reader front and center in their daily lives. It’s a story of hope, a story of compassion, and a story for anyone who has ever wondered what those Club Kids from the nineties are up to these days.” — Thomas McMillen-Oakley, author of Jesus Has Two Daddies
Ultimately I just want people to read our story because it is a story that no one else is telling. I think once people read it they will understand that although we are a different kind of family, we are also just like every other family. Only funnier. And gayer.
Which One of You is the Mother? is available for pre-order on Amazon: Buy Which One of You is the Mother? here. No seriously, buy it now. It’s only $4.99 for the Kindle version and $9.99 for the paperback edition. A venti Starbucks Frappuccino costs more and unlike that Frappuccino this book won’t make you fat(ter).