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.

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.

the last days of the first months

Each day for the past four months my morning routine has been the same: drop off my oldest son at his bus stop, drop off my husband at his office, and then before going into work take my youngest son to the coffee shop around the corner and pass the time until his pre-school opened its doors. Going to the coffee shop, it was our ritual from almost the first day he had been placed with us. Having come from a very small town in rural West Virginia, going to a coffee shop seemed a great adventure to our newest addition and he loved it. Every morning he would stroll about the coffeehouse as if he owned it, putting on a show for the regulars who only encouraged him with their laughs and smiles. The barista was a big fan too, overlooking the contraband snacks we had brought from home to eat with our coffee and water.

After choosing a seat (always by the window!) we would settle in with our drinks and snacks, pausing from our respective distractions to make small talk and share smiles. I worked my way through the pages of the Call the Midwife trilogy while he polished off two seasons of SpongeBob on my phone.  The minutes ticked by slowly during those first few weeks as we both struggled to settle into this new normal, but in those final days it seemed as if no sooner had we sat down then it was time to part ways.

Today was our last morning at the coffeehouse. Summer vacation starts on Monday. As we walked from the car we played our last game of Booby-Trap Sidewalk. Inside he performed his last show for the coffeehouse patrons. We enjoyed our snacks and drinks as if it were any other morning. I read my book and he watched his show, both of us acting as if Monday would be no different. He looked at me and smiled. I froze the moment.

I’m not nostalgic, except now I am.

My son is just five years old and already he is growing up.

I try to freeze every moment before the present fades into the past.

I think back to those early days with my oldest son and I struggle to remember that first summer with him. Fresh off the plane from Oregon and we were strangers. We spent every moment of those three months together — we had our own routines, our own rituals — every day was a great adventure. We made small talk and shared smiles. I froze moments, but two years later, it seems not enough.

When you adopt they make you read books and take classes on being a parent, but for all their information what the books and classes fail to tell you is that children grow up and moments slip away. One day the seven year old turns nine and the next day the five year old is graduating high school. Life goes on.

two boys kissing is gay

Ew. Gross.

 

It happened shortly after dinner last night. The boys were watching an animated series about a group of misfit teenage superheroes, most of the PG-13 humor going straight over their heads. The scene featured a boy and a girl sharing a plate of spaghetti, a riff on that classic moment in Lady & the Tramp.  At the point where the would-be sweethearts are set to kiss, a second boy popped into the scene locking lips with the first boy.

 

Ew. Gross.

 

“Excuse me,” I said to my nine year-old son in my best oh-hell-no-you-did-not inside voice.  Time stopped.

 

I considered the moment. It was a cheap joke. Two boys kissing. We’ve all seen it employed before – on television, in the movies, even in the hallowed gay halls of musical theater. (Boy + Boy) x Kissing = Funny. The lazy math of straight comedy writers. The joke being on us.

 

I asked my son – who on numerous occasions has witnessed his two fathers share a loving lip-lock – why it was gross, these two boys kissing. He searched for an answer, but could find none. Silence. This was a teachable moment. I could wait.

 

Eventually he confessed that the other kids at school had told him that two boys kissing was – in the schoolyard vernacular of adolescence – gay. Like fat and retarded, gay is the all-purpose go-to insult of children everywhere. 

 

Gay.

 

You’re not okay. You’re different. 

 

I gently reminded him that he had two fathers who were gay and that there was nothing wrong with being gay. It was no different than being born white or black; it’s just what you are. He apologized for hurting my feelings. Of course this was much bigger than my feelings. 

 

There are people in this world who think we should not be married, who think we should not have children, who think the children we have should be taken away from us. For those people the word gay is a weapon. A word that once meant happy, now made dirty, passed on to their children to fight the fight in schoolyards everywhere. 

 

Ew. Gross. When you say it, you make those people credible. You give them power. You let them win. 

 

We talked, well past his bedtime, because there was much to talk about. You need to stand up for yourself. You need to stand up for your family. Be proud. Always.

 

My son clings to me, announcing to everyone that I am his dad. On a recent trip to the beach he proudly told all the kids that he had two dads. Two gay dads. The issue was never that we were gay. The issue was never two men kissing. Ew. Gross. was learned on a playground. A cheap joke passed down from parent to child turned into a weapon and used to make a little boy feel not okay. Different.