the coulda been kid

The adoption agency called and asked if we would be interested in fostering a four year old. This would be an immediate placement, meaning the child could be living with us by the end of the day. However, as the caseworker explained, this placement would not be permanent as they were looking for a long-term foster family and not an adoptive family. The end goal of this placement was to be reunification with the child’s birth parents.

We would be temporary.

As much as I would love to give a home to every child in the foster system, the fact is I can’t do it. I tell myself (and others) that the reason we don’t foster is because it wouldn’t be fair to Chris and Elijah. This is your new brother, but don’t get too attached because he’ll be moving out in 4 to 6 months. But the real reason we don’t foster is because I can’t handle it. I’m not strong enough. I fall in love at first sight. I become too attached. I can’t say goodbye.

The truth is even if I knew from the beginning that a placement was to be temporary when the time came for that child to leave it would destroy me. I can’t be temporary. I’m just not wired that way. I’m grateful to those people who are able to be placeholders, people like Chris’s foster parents who have selflessly given home and heart to dozens of children in need.

For the past two decades these heroes have taken in children from the most unimaginable situations. One child brought in to their care had been so badly neglected that she suffered brain damage when her birth parents attempted to starve her to death. My son’s former foster parents literally nursed this child from the brink of death, loving her for over a year before saying goodbye when she was adopted by her forever family.

I wish I possessed their courage and strength. Because that particular brand of courage and strength is in demand.

Today in the United States of America there are more than 400,000 children in foster care.

400,000 children in need of a home.

For many of these kids the need for a home is (at least for the moment) temporary, but for more than 100,000 of these children the need for a home is a lifelong commitment.

And here’s the thing: those numbers never go down. It seems as soon as one child is placed with a family another child is brought into the system to take his place. The need is never-ending.

I think about all those kids who came before Chris and Elijah and all the children that will come after them. I think about the hundreds of profiles that have come across my desk. I think about all the photos and stories. I think about that four year old.

I remember all the times I was convinced that a child would be a perfect match only to never hear from the caseworker. I remember all the times my heart broke reading page after page of neglect and abuse. I remember all the times I had to say no.

You can’t save them all, I tell myself.

Except it’s not about saving. These kids do not need to be saved. These kids need to be a given a chance.

Like all of us, they just need to be loved.


November is National Adoption Month. Learn more about adoption and find out more about local adoption.

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please don’t eat the daisies

When someone has a baby it is customary for their friends and family to throw them a baby shower. These baby showers are extravagant affairs complete with whimsical decorations, silly games, overpriced gifts and cake. Lots of cake. No one has ever thrown us a baby shower.

That’s not the point of this blog post. I’m just putting that out there because I have two kids and also I like cake.

The point of this blog post is that we have decided to adopt again. It turns out two is not enough. My guess is a year from now we will be saying that three is not enough. I should probably rephrase that because Chris and Elijah are absolutely enough. They are more than we could have hoped for or dreamed of; they are as perfect for us as we are for them and if we never had another child we would still be complete.

So when I say that two is not enough what I mean to say is why should we stop at two or three or even five for that matter, especially when there are tens of thousands of children in need of a forever home. And while not every one of those kids may be a suitable match to our family dynamic, I have no doubt at least one or two or twenty-seven of those tens of thousands are a match and they are out there right now waiting for us to find them.

Todd calls it a calling. You know, like when someone is called to serve God or called to work in the Peace Corps or called to eat obscene amounts of donuts twice a week. It is odd to compare serving God to adopting children, but as soon as he said it I understood exactly what he meant.

Maybe it’s because I just turned forty and the closer I get to death the more philosophical I become, but I believe all roads have led me to Chris and Elijah. Everything that came before now, even the really shitty stuff, had to happen so I could be their Dad. They were my calling.

I am exactly where I am meant to be.

We were talking with our caseworker last week and I said how lucky we were to have been matched with two well-adjusted and happy boys. She said that while it’s true we did have two fairly smooth adoptions we should not underestimate our contribution and that a big reason why the boys were so happy and well-adjusted was because of what we brought to the table.

I’m normally embarrassed by such praise, immediately defaulting to false modesty, but not this time because I knew what she was saying to be true. We are really good at this.

I know we cannot adopt every kid out there, nor should we, but if we have room in our hearts and the ability to change even one more life, then we should do it. We have to do it.

After all, it’s our calling.


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.

eyes wide shut

Chris could not find his belt. I knew where it was. I also knew that if he would just open his eyes and look he would see that his belt was exactly where he had left it twelve hours earlier, slung over the back of his desk chair underneath the very clothes he had just put on five minutes prior to asking, “Where’s my belt?” Still I indulged his Helen Keller routine and said, “It’s exactly where you left it.”

“What do you mean?” he called from the stairs.

“It’s exactly where you left it,” I repeated, putting a period after each emphasized word.

Okay, I know, yes, I could have just said, “It’s on the desk chair,” and that would have been the end of it. Lights down. And yes, if I had simply wanted to make a point I could have satisfied the passive-aggressive middle-aged woman inside me and added “underneath the clothes you just put on five minutes prior to asking me, “Where’s my belt?”

Of course I didn’t do that. For some reason I had decided to draw a line in the sand and, even though I knew where this was headed, “It’s exactly where you left it” was all he was going to get from me.

Chris came down the stairs a few minutes later. Without the belt. He announced that he would not be wearing the belt because he could not find it.

I snapped. I took him (gently, but firmly) by the arm, marched him up the stairs, pointed to the chair where the belt was hanging and said, my voice dripping with periods and italics, “In. Plain. Sight. The belt is in plain sight. It’s exactly where you – not me, YOU – left it twelve hours ago. I mean, c’mon, you’re too old for this crap.”

It was perhaps not my finest hour, but then I’ve had worse.

Chris put on the belt and then, looking me directly in the eyes, he said, “I know you’re new at being a parent, but it’s just a belt.”

Some people might hear this and think my son was talking back to me or being disrespectful, but he was not doing either of those things. He was being honest and if I was being honest I would admit that he had a point…to a point.

It was just a belt, but – as I later tried to explain to him – it was also more than a belt.

Do you ever look at your kids and wonder how it is they will ever be prepared to survive in the world without you? I do. And it’s in those moments that a belt becomes more than a belt because if I can’t teach my kid to open his eyes and see the belt that is right in front of him then how will he ever be ready to drive a car or have a job or manage a bank account or raise his own children?

Sometimes Chris will ask me what a parent does and in reply I recite to him a long list of responsibilities. The list changes, but the one constant is always a parent gets their child ready to be an adult. Because after making my kids feel safe and loved and happy all I really want is for them to be ready for the day when I’m no longer around to find the belt.

It’s not the most pleasant of thoughts, but then much of parenting is about being unpleasant.

So for now I will concede my son’s point that it was just a belt and if I did overreact it was only because one day it will be more than just a belt and when that day comes he needs to be ready for it.

Having said that, the next time he asks where his belt is I may just tell him, “It’s on the desk chair.”


Sean Michael O’Donnell is the author of Which One Of you is the Mother? It is available on Amazon.

10 Things I Hate Being Asked as a Gay Adoptive Parent

This post was originally published by America Adopts on September 2, 2015.


Most people come to parenthood the old fashioned way. Either they light a few candles and say, “Let’s make a baby” or they have one too many drinks and forget the condom.

I am one half of a gay couple which means no matter how hard we try or how many drinks we have we will never be able to make a baby, at least not in the conventional sense.

This does not make us unique; many people find themselves unable to have children the “traditional” way. For some people this means using a surrogate or choosing IVF.

For us it meant adoption.

Adoption was always a first choice and never a last resort. We are proud of our decision to adopt.

Adoption made our family. We sing its praises wide and far, mostly in the hopes of encouraging others to adopt but also to educate people so they stop asking us stupid questions.

10. You mean gay people are allowed to adopt?

Yes, we can even get married now. All snarkiness aside, I’m willing to overlook this question because the truth is that I too was surprised we could adopt.

I thought our only option as two men would be to foster because no government entity was going to allow two gay guys to legally adopt a child.

Fortunately I was wrong and not only were we allowed to adopt a child, we were encouraged to do so by our agency. We now have two children and both of our names appear on their re-issued birth certificates.

9. Did you decide to adopt because of that gay couple on Modern Family?

The funny thing is we’re real people living in the real world so we don’t actually make life-changing decisions because of something we saw on TV.

My husband and I have been together for more than 18 years. We talked about starting a family very early in our relationship – approximately a year after Ellen (the TV character) came out and two years before Will & Grace premiered.

8. What country is your child from originally?

The United States of America. You may have heard of it since you live there. We get asked this question A LOT.

People seem genuinely shocked to learn that we adopted domestically, almost as shocked as when we inform them that there are more than 100,000 kids right in their own backyard in need of a forever home.

7. Couldn’t you get a baby and/or afford a surrogate?

The truth is we could not afford a surrogate. Nor could we afford to go through a private adoption in the hopes of acquiring an infant.

We are hopelessly lower middle class. Not that our limited financial resources played a role in our decision to adopt. The truth is not everyone wants a baby and not everyone requires a genetic connection to their child.

We certainly did not. My husband and I were more than happy to skip the dirty diaper/helpless stage and jump right into the horrible adolescent/helpless stage. And it cannot be said enough, there are children of all ages who need a home.

6. He looks just like you.

This is more of an observation than a question, but we hear it frequently. I’ve decided that people say it because, well, that’s what you’re supposed to say when a parent presents you with a new kid.

He looks just like you. The thing is my tall, skinny, long-limbed, Native American son looks nothing like my short-waisted, stout, full-faced, pasty white Irish ass. Still, I appreciate the sentiment.

5. Aren’t you afraid your kids will be bullied because they have two dads?

All children are bullied. Even the kids with a mom and a dad. I was the product of a heterosexual marriage and still I was bullied from the age of 7 to 18.

Of course rather than allowing my bullies to define me, I used the experience to make me a stronger person. If (when) my children are bullied I hope they will follow my lead and move beyond the tit-for-tat of playground politics.

Of course who’s to say my kid won’t be the bully?

4. Do you think/hope your kid is gay?

I assume people ask this question because as heterosexuals they think/hope/assume their child is straight. My kids are 5 and 9, and imaging them in some pre-pubescent courtship with anyone of either sex is just creepy.

The fact is their sexuality was determined long before my husband and I came into the picture. I don’t care what they are – straight, gay, bi, trans – as long as they are happy.

3. Will you be disappointed if your kid is heterosexual?

I get it…if your kid were gay you’d be disappointed. Get over it.

2. Is it in the best interest of a child to be exposed to your lifestyle?

You’re right. It’s unconscionable to expose a child to the horrors of a stable, loving two-parent home.

1. Which one of you is the Mother?

Funny you should ask. I wrote a book based on that very question. The book is called Which One of You is the Mother? To best answer this stupidest of all questions, I’ll refer you to a passage in the book (and then encourage you to buy the book on Amazon).

“The first time someone asked me that question I laughed, thinking it was a joke. Which one of you is the mother? Well, if we’re talking in strict biological terms then the answer is neither of us because we’re both dudes which means we have guy parts in our downstairs.

Which one of you is the mother? Well, if we’re not talking in strict biological terms then we must be relying on gender stereotypes; therefore, as the more emotional of the two, I suppose that I fit the maternal role.

But then in terms of household duties it’s a 50/50 split: I clean, but my husband does the laundry, and we both do the cooking. My husband is better at dressing cuts and bruises, whereas I just look better in a dress.

And while he delivers award-winning hugs, I am just plain award-winning in my impersonation of Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford screaming, ‘Tina, bring me the axe!’

Ultimately the problem with the question is that it is not the question. They ask, “Which one of you is the mother?” but what they really mean to say is, “Which one of you is the woman?”‘


Sean Michael O’Donnell is the author of Which One Of you is the Mother? It is available on Amazon.


making a list, checking it twice!

I apologize. I hate social media top ten lists. I realize I’m in the minority here because the truth is these lists are incredibly popular. They generate insane numbers of shares and views. I suppose they’re popular because they don’t require much thinking. Certainly not for the lazy writer who counts the top ten list among his top ten best friends. Shame on every last one of you lazy writers for phoning it in and shame on you for reading these lists…and for clicking on those You Won’t Believe What Happens Next videos. (You know what happens next? Exactly what you would expect to happen next.)

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest please enjoy today’s blog post 10 Ways My Life Has Changed Since I Adopted My Sons

  1. People think I’m selfless. This is a common misconception. When you tell someone that you adopted your children they assume you are good person because only a good person would do something so selfless. Whatever. Adopting my kids was the most selfish thing I ever did. Basically I wanted something and I got it and then I ate donuts. End of story.
  2.  I got Christmas back. When I was a kid I loved Christmas. I would stay up all night waiting for Santa Claus. The weeks leading up to his arrival were pure magic and there was nothing better than Christmas Eve, the one night of the year when I believed that anything was possible. But then I grew up and slowly Christmas started to lose its magic. I would still go through the motions, but it was hollow. Then I had kids and poof! Christmas was back. Suddenly I’m a five year old again, staying up all night, and embracing the incredible magic of one perfect night. Is there a Santa Claus? Absolutely.
  3. I have two children. This one is a bit obvious, but every good top ten list has padding. Still, nothing will change your life more than being responsible for tiny people.
  4. I have a stronger relationship with my husband. Todd and I have had our ups and downs over the years, and it’s no secret that in the years leading up to adopting we were in a downswing. Fortunately we got our act together and just when we realized we didn’t have to be together it made us want to be together. I’ve known Todd for almost twenty years and I thought there was nothing left to know about him, but then I saw him as a father and I fell in love with him all over again. Having the boys has made me see and appreciate my husband in a new way. He is, simply put, the best person I know. I admire and love him.
  5. I watch cartoons again. Before the age of ten I watched cartoons nonstop, then I found soap operas and it was goodbye Garfield & Friends and hello General Hospital. Maybe I just got tired of the recycled plots or maybe it was the day ABC cancelled One Life to Live, but I turned away from soaps around the time we adopted Chris. Now I spend my evenings catching up Teen Titans and I leave the goings-on in Port Charles to a new generation of ten year olds.
  6. I played baseball with my son. I hated playing baseball as a kid. My Dad made me play because he thought I should and he thought I should because he knew I was different and I think having me play baseball was his way of trying to make sure I fit in, and for that I thank him. But still, it is a painfully boring game. And even though my kids show no interest in sports (yet) one of the best first days of being a Dad was the day I took Chris to the park and we played catch. It was a rite of passage that made me feel more like his father than a thousand re-issued birth certificates.
  7. I learned patience. I have a temper. I blame it on ten years spent directing plays in the theater and working with needy adult children. I screamed a lot as a director but I only screamed because I knew if I hit people I would probably go to jail. Anyway, parenting children is a breeze after you’ve worked with a gaggle of passive aggressive narcissists (there were exceptions, you know who you are!)
  8. I became a better version of my parents. My parents were very good parents, but they did have stumbles. I have the benefit of their experience and being able to learn from their wrong turns just as I hope my children will learn from my mistakes.
  9. I gained 25 30 35 pounds. The reason you gain weight when you have kids is not because you don’t have time to exercise. The reason you gain weight when you have kids is because you eat all the leftover food on their plate every night. And then eat a half gallon of ice cream while you catch up on Call the Midwife.
  10. I downsized. My weight notwithstanding, I have really cut back in every aspect of my life. My circle of friends is now a short line. I don’t waste money and hours at the mall. I don’t need stuff to make me happy because my family makes me happy. They bring out the best in me that isn’t always there. My husband and children are all I need. Ten years ago such simplicity would have made me run screaming into the night, but now I find comfort in just how easy it is to be happy.

Now please share the hell out of this top ten list as you are required to do by the gods of social media.

making babies the new old fashioned way

Most people become parents the old fashioned way. They either say, “Let’s have a baby,” and then engage in meaningful heterosexual intercoursing, or they say, “Let’s have a drink,” and then three hours later forget to use a condom. And while both roads may lead to a baby, the second option makes for a better romantic comedy. We tried going the traditional intercourse route for years but it turns out you can’t make omelets without eggs. You also can’t make a baby with two penises because contrary to what your seventh grade health teacher told you in sex ed, you cannot get pregnant in the fanny.

Since boy + boy ≠ baby we turned to adoption. We had our reservations. Our first thought was, “Are gay people even allowed to adopt?” To our surprise not only were the gays permitted to adopt, they were encouraged to do so. There are nearly a half million children in the foster system and with most straights choosing to have babies through intercoursing, supply exceeds demand. Initially our caseworker seemed to only pass along profiles for the harder to place children. “He’s only started a few fires. I’d hardly call that a pattern.” We assured her that while we might be open-minded we didn’t think our dogs would enjoy living with someone who tortured animals even if “it was just that one time.” We persevered and eventually we hit the jackpot. Twice.

Adoption is a funny thing. You wait and you wait and you wait and then suddenly you have two kids and you’re driving a minivan. All you know is now and your memories are something that happened in a dream. I could not even begin to list all the ways being a father has changed my life because the person I am after my children is in no way related to the person I was before them.

Yesterday we met with our attorney to discuss the final steps in Elijah’s adoption. Today she will file the last round of paperwork and in a few short weeks we will go to court. When that day finally comes some judge will bang his gavel and poof! we will be a family. Except of course we already are a family. We may not have biologically created our boys, but they were born to be our sons just as we were born to be their fathers. And while the bang of that gavel will mean many things, it won’t change the most important thing.

we aren’t friends

Social media is a funny thing. We use it to share cat videos and photos of our families. We use it to show the world how clever we can be in 144 characters or less. We use it so everyone knows exactly what we are thinking on every subject all the time.

We use it without thinking.

But then again social media isn’t real. We don’t have a thousand friends. Or five thousand friends. Or, if we’re being honest, even a hundred friends. The majority of these imagined friendships exist in a distant world of interconnected routers and servers. They are code. They are not tangible. These friendships are cute and a great way to waste time, but 95% of our dealings on social media are conducted with people we barely know or people we knew a long, long time ago or people we never knew in the first place. And while it’s great that we’re all connected and we live in an age where we can share information, we are not required to be friends simply because the opportunity has presented itself.

I see people complaining that their news feed is clogged with friends who are racists, misogynists, homophobes, and I wonder: Outside of this distant world of interconnected routers and servers would you actually be friends with any of these people?  Honestly. In the real world where people look each other in the eyes and speak with words would you as a black man be friends with a person who thinks that black people deserve to be shot by the police? Would you as a woman have drinks with a man who thinks women should not work and if they do, they should make less money because they’re inferior? Would you as gay person invite into your home the neighbor who believes you should not have the right to visit your dying spouse in the hospital?

Personally, I refuse to maintain some virtual friendship with a virtual stranger who thinks my life as a gay man is wrong. Because someone who thinks your life is wrong is not your friend. At least not in the real world that exists beyond the tap-tap-tap of your smartphone.

You cannot fundamentally disagree with who I am as a person and honestly think that I’ll be okay with that because really you’re a good person you just have different views. No. Voting for Jeb Bush instead of Hillary Clinton is a different view. Preferring Target to Walmart is a different view. The view from your backyard compared to the view from my backyard is a different view. Believing that you are superior to me and sitting in judgment of my life is NOT a different view.

Also, you’re not a good person. I know that’s harsh, but you should hear it. All of your “love the sinner, hate the sin” bullshit is just what you tell yourself so you don’t have to admit to being what you really are: a hateful bigot.

Look, I get it. Your beliefs are important to you. My husband and children are important to me. I understand that the words your god said over two thousand years ago – or at least your interpretation of those words and I’m speaking of those words you choose to acknowledge, not those words you ignore because they’re inconvenient for you – I get that those words matter to you. My rights and freedoms IN THE PRESENT DAY matter to me. And I hear you loud and clear when you say that, while you’re happy for me, you believe marriage is between a man and a woman and that only a man and a woman should have children. Of course if that’s true then why do you keep liking my photos on Facebook, you know, all the photos of me and my husband on our honeymoon and the other photos of me and my husband parenting our children?

I guess it’s because you’re such a good person.

the day i met my son

He was waiting for us at the door. I imagine he had been there for days, from the moment his foster parents told him we were coming. With his perfectly parted hair and his blue shirt buttoned to the very top button, he had a smile so big it threatened to swallow the whole of the earth. I suspected his bags were already packed, tucked discreetly behind the door, in anticipation of our arrival. He would have come home with us in that moment had we let him. He would have gone anywhere with us in that moment. Us, the parents he had been waiting a lifetime to meet.

It had been six weeks since the decision. Some faceless committee on the other side of the country deciding our future and creating our family. From the start all we had been given was a basic narrative and a photo. It’s the photo that gets you. It’s the photo that dares you to imagine a lifetime of birthdays and Christmases and bedtime hugs. It’s the photo that teases you with a tomorrow that may never happen.

That photo. It invades your dreams. It speaks to you. It sometimes calls you Dad.

I had that photo, his photo, on my computer, but I tried not to look at it, afraid that I would go even further down the rabbit hole. Without the photo he was just a collection of words; a story with a beginning, middle and a distant end. Without the photo, I could close the book, put it back on the shelf. Without the photo he was not real.

Except he was real and I had already imagined all of the birthdays and the Christmases and the lifetime of hugs. I heard his voice call me Dad. I pictured a future with him, my son — this boy I’d never met. And that was dangerous. Because the faceless committee on the other side of the country deciding our future might have hated us. They could have chosen another family, a better match.

Of course, that wasn’t the case. They chose us.

We traveled backward through four time zones, arriving in Oregon shortly after we had left Pittsburgh. It was a few miles from the hotel to his foster home and as we drove I remember looking over at my husband and thinking, This is the last time it will be just the two of us. In a few minutes, for the rest of our lives, it would now be the three of us (at least).

I closed the car door and rounded the corner to the house. Everything changed.

In the movies and in books when writers employ that laziest of clichés love at first sight, I always roll my eyes and silently chastise the author for condescending to his audience with weak plot devices. “Show, don’t tell!” I want to scream as I throw the book across the room. “This isn’t real life!” I say as I shake my fists in protest at the movie screen.

People do not fall in love at first sight. Except for parents. Parents fall in love at first sight. From the moment they see their child they are in love. And it does not matter if they are seeing a newborn or a seven year old, that love is immediate and unconditional and eternal.

The moment I saw my son standing at that door — with his perfectly parted hair and his blue shirt buttoned to the very top button and his smile so big it threatened to swallow the whole of the earth — I was in love. We may have lived in two different worlds for the first seven years of his life, but he was my son as sure as if I had made him. Looking at him I realized that every moment in my life before this moment had been nothing more than an audition.

Curtain up.

He opened the door, offering his hand to me in greeting. It had been a rehearsed bit meant to show respect, but also a subtle wink from his foster parents to let me know that they had done their job, that he had manners. He shook with his left hand. I shook with my right hand. It was very awkward, less of a hand shake and more of a hand embrace. Just another reason to love him.

He had decided that I would be called Dad and Todd would be Papa. “I’m Christopher,” he said. 

My son, Christopher. And me, his Dad. Was I really someone’s Dad?

We made our way to the living room and sat on the couch, my husband on the left and me on the right with our son between us as if he had always been there. A camera appeared, immortalizing our first moments as a family. The picture captures two smiling grown men, wide-eyed and deliriously happy, and a young boy, home at last. The photo sits in my son’s room. Sometimes I find myself staring at that photo and suddenly I am inside the picture, living a memory as if today were yesterday and yesterday were now.

I hear my son reading to us. I can’t remember the name of the book, just the sound of his voice. The voice I first imagined before there was a voice, when all I had was a photo and a collection of words. Christopher, Chris, sits across from me, his face buried in his book as he reads with tentative confidence. I close my eyes and his voice takes me out of the room, out of the house, past the hotel, past tomorrow, fast forwarding me through a life that has yet to happen. We are on the plane, back in Pittsburgh, at our home. He is eight, nine, eighteen, twenty-seven years old. There are birthdays and Christmases and a lifetime of hugs. No longer a child, now a man. From the beginning of our story to the end of mine. He reads and I see it all.

In July of 2013, my husband and I traveled to Oregon to meet our son for the first time. It was the beginning of a life-changing adventure. Five days later when we boarded a plane back to Pittsburgh with our soon-to-be-adopted then-seven year old son in tow, we were a family. Sometimes everything just falls into place. Sometimes love at first sight transcends cliché. Sometimes only a stale platitude will do: it was meant to be.

(gay) PROUD to be a (gay) DAD

June is a great month to be a Dad. We celebrate Father’s Day the third Sunday of every June. June is also a great month to be gay. We celebrate Gay Pride all the June long. If you are a gay dad like me, then the gay daddy* party don’t stop for thirty days and thirty nights.

But what exactly is at the heart of these two calendar-mates? According to Wikipedia, Father’s Day is a celebration honoring fathers while recognizing fatherhood, paternal bonds, and the influence of fathers in society. According to Wikipedia, Gay Pride is a celebration honoring lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people while recognizing their dignity, equality, and contributions to society.

The universal symbol of Gay Pride is the rainbow flag. The universal symbol of Father’s Day is the ugly tie.

The President recognized Gay Pride this year issuing a moving Presidential Proclamation saying, “We celebrate the proud legacy LGBT individuals have woven into the fabric of our Nation, we honor those who have fought to perfect our Union, and we continue our work to build a society where every child grows up knowing that their country supports them, is proud of them, and has a place for them exactly as they are.”

The President was curiously silent on the subject of Father’s Day this year – my guess is Sasha and Malia gave him one too many ugly ties – but in 2013 he did say, “Fatherhood is the best job I’ve got.” (I don’t doubt the sentiment, but to be fair, fatherhood won’t you get a ride on Air Force One.)

This year marked my second year as a father and my 21st year as a gay, which means I have now celebrated Father’s Day two more times than I have celebrated Gay Pride. I have nothing against Gay Pride. It’s just not for me. I’ve never waved a rainbow flag. I love pageantry and have a healthy appreciation for sequins but I have never walked in a Pride Parade. I enjoy being gay, but in terms of my identity it’s number five or six on the list somewhere after “donut lover” but before “lapsed yogi”.

And now more than ever it feels so antiquated. We are here, we are queer, everyone is used to it. There is an irony in wanting to be noticed by the mainstream when you have become the mainstream.

Still, I understand the significance of and have great respect for the institution of Pride; without it, and all those brave men and women who proudly waved flags and marched before me, I may very well not be where I am today. Every last one of us as Americans owes them a debt.

And while I acknowledge that debt and recognize the importance of teaching my children to be proud of their fathers and to celebrate and be inclusive of all people, I like the idea of a world where there is no Gay Pride because that would mean being gay is no longer special, at least not in a different way. Gay would be like being male or female or black or white; it’s what you are, not who you are.

But then I suppose I do celebrate Pride. I celebrate Pride every day. I live my life in the open, as I have for the past two decades, now with my husband and my two sons. The four of us live our lives just like all the other families on the block. We are proud. Every day. We celebrate that pride by being extraordinarily ordinary. And on Father’s Day, we get ugly ties.


* I mean a homosexual father, not a middle-aged gay man who has a more dominant personality and doesn’t mind providing monetary funds and/or protection and guidance to his younger boyfriend.