Change the World

Rebel Dad: 1st Gay Canadian to Adopt Internationally Writes New Memoir

David McKinstry set a legal precedent in 1997. A few years later, with his second husband, Michael, he did so again when they became the first gay Canadian couple to co-adopt children.

Excerpt #1 – From Chapter 1: The Search (1793 Words)

As the first openly gay Canadian man approved to adopt internationally, David McKinstry set a legal precedent in 1997. A few years later, with his second husband, Michael, he did so again when they became the first gay Canadian couple to co-adopt children.

The following is an excerpt from the first chapter of his new book Rebel Dad: Triumphing Over Bureaucracy to Adopt to Orphans Born Worlds Apart. Here, it's 1998 and David finds himself in India. While in India, David visits several orphanages with his guide, Vinod, on his quest to adopt. With Indian adoption officials being extremely homophobic at the time, David could not reveal that he was a gay man.


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Vinod [my guide while I was in India] was standing outside my bedroom door when I emerged looking ashen. I handed him the list of five orphanages I had scheduled appointments with that day.

The first was a state-run facility, Delhi Council for Child Welfare. The building rose up in front of us as we drove into an upscale neighborhood with white stucco houses, each lot divided by rows of fifty-foot-high trees. The narrow streets of this cul-de-sac were cobblestoned; the laborers who swept the streets spotless would take home only a few rupees for their daylong effort.

Nisha, the director of this facility, was a stunningly beautiful thirtyish woman with a kind and gentle manner as she greeted me and then led me to her office. She had just placed a child the previous month with a family in Ottawa and she was happy to see another Canadian inquiring about adoption. Scanning through my file, Nisha asked me thoughtful questions while frequently making encouraging observations about my readiness to adopt children. However, after thirty minutes, she announced that this orphanage's charter denied single people, widowed or not, from adopting their children. She suggested I visit Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity orphanage, just up the road and the next place on my list. Nisha asked if I was Christian and gave me a warm, bright smile when I replied, "Indeed I am." After a short walk around the compound full of nicely dressed and happy-looking children playing under tall shade trees, she bid me goodbye and good wishes for a successful adoption.

Vinod drove me directly to the Missionaries of Charity compound. A garden worker opened the gate for the taxi to enter and fifty preschool children and two nuns instantly surrounded us. Vinod spoke to the first nun, who motioned him to move the car forward and for me to follow her to the office. The taxi drove slowly through the crowd of excited children playing tag with the car. Once inside the building, I was directed to sit in a small waiting room at the far end of a dimly lit corridor. As we entered the hallway leading to the waiting room, I gazed into a large room on my right filled with cribs housing at least fifty cooing or crying babies. The dank, cool air of this old cinderblock building was a relief from the oppressive heat outside in the courtyard. I was left wondering if these babies had ever seen the moon and the sun or had the chance to breath fresh morning air.

Dressed in a full habit, the head nun, Sister Joyce, came to greet me. I mentioned Nisha's name and told Sister Joyce I'd come to see her about adopting children. She showed no expression and her locked-tight lips gave me the impression I was in the presence of someone who didn't waste time on niceties. She motioned for me to follow her into an office off the open-air courtyard. She sat down behind an oversized desk, quickly scanned through my portfolio of home-study documents and after five dead-silent minutes said, "What you want?"

I told her my well-rehearsed story, which the Canadian adoption officials had dreamed up: I was a widower, and my late wife, Nicci, had begged me prior to her death to go ahead with plans to adopt children from India. I told Sister Joyce that I loved children and was able to afford to give children a wonderful, loving home in Canada. After twenty minutes talking about my reasons for wanting to adopt she began to loosen up. However, she said that being a widower still meant I was a single man in the eyes of the Indian judiciary and very few orphanages would give me a child.

"Why not you get married again?" she asked. I just shrugged and handed her photos of my home, Woodhaven, and my life in Canada. After a quick gaze at the pictures and a chuckle over the dogs she said, "I think you good man. Want to see children?" I stood up and nodded eagerly.

She walked in front of me and led me into a room like the nursery I'd passed when I first entered the building. Sister Joyce informed me that three helpers were preparing lunchtime formula and Pablum for sixty babies and if I wanted to help feed one or more of them I could. I was overjoyed at being asked to help care for these youngsters.

"Are these babies available for adoption? Would I be able to adopt one or two of your babies?" I asked her wide-eyed with joyous anticipation of her saying yes. "These babies were orphaned at birth and it is okay for a Canadian to adopt our babies. Maybe you like one of these children?" she smiled up at me. My gosh! I had no idea it would be this easy. One of the helpers motioned for me to follow her into the kitchen and she put a bowl of Pablum in my hands. Sister Joyce handed me a baby from one of the cribs and told me to feed this little boy. I spent the next hour feeding children from the cribs amid the smiles and chuckles of the nuns and helpers. I wondered what they were saying to each other about this Canadian man who wanted so fervently to adopt children.

Vinod was brought into the nursery by the nun who had greeted us at the gates of the compound. While he stood there watching me, I had two or three youngsters crawling up my pant legs and another two scrambling up my arms. They just didn't want to let go of a prospective parent. As I fumbled to balance all the children, the supervising nun walked past me toward a young boy, who looked about three years old, trying to escape from his crib. She smacked him across the face and pushed him back into the crib. He didn't cry or flinch. I was horrified but knew if I confronted the nun, I risked being asked to leave and not return.

Vinod smiled as he stood beside me in the nursery and asked if one of these children was going to be mine? I could feel my smile widening from ear to ear and whispered that I thought Sister Joyce liked me because she had invited me to visit the children and help feed them. Vinod smiled and said, "You look happy with baby." He mentioned if we were still going to make the next appointments we had to leave within thirty minutes or be late.

As I placed the children back in their cribs, they shrieked and cried while reaching up to be held again. It was painfully obvious that they didn't have much tender time in human arms, except for ten minutes of feeding three times each day. I walked back through the long inner hallway past an office where Sister Joyce was talking with a blond-haired Caucasian man and woman.

"They from Norway," she said as I peeked into the room to say goodbye. I told her I had to go to another appointment but asked if I could come back later to help with suppertime. As I left the building and entered the compound, I was swarmed by 100 children all looking to be less than five years of age. They were playing in the dirt piles of the compound and when they saw me they rushed over and grabbed at me to pick them up. On one hand it was exhilarating to have all this attention from so many adoptable children, but Vinod came over and pulled them off, so I could get into the taxi.

"They want to go with you," he said. "These children always do this to white people who might adopt them." To experience clinging children trying to climb into my arms was gut-wrenching, and I could feel tears welling in my eyes. The taxi drove out of the compound amid wails from the children who hadn't yet touched me. I wondered how the nuns and helpers managed to be calm surrounded by orphans clamoring for constant attention.

By 6 p.m. I had visited five institutions. Only the Missionaries of Charity orphanage had given me any indication I might be considered as an adoptive parent. Two Catholic missions had curtly refused to consider me because I was single and male. Another state-run group told me that due to infertility on the rise in India, Indian couples and Indian nationals living abroad were given first right of refusal. One official apologized and said I would be the last person to be considered because they didn't give children to single men or women.

I returned to Sister Joyce's compound and told Vinod that I'd stay for a few hours feeding the children. He agreed to wait when I told him I'd treat him to supper on the way back to my hotel.

I entered the nursery and found several older nuns feeding the children and changing the diapers of those standing at the sides of the cribs. If a child wasn't being fed, he or she was crying alone. Some cribs held two or three babies. Without delay I grabbed a bib and a bowl of paste-like stew from a large pot in the adjoining kitchen area and began to feed babies in the row nearest me. Some of the nuns were quite brusque in handling the children. I watched one nun walk down a center aisle of cribs and slap eighteen-month-olds on the cheeks for standing up in their cribs. Appalled by this abuse, I again had to grit my teeth in silent indignation.

I cradled and sang to a pair of crib-sharing babies simultaneously. Two nuns walked by and smiled like angels looking down from on high. I was desperate to make a good impression on the nuns and Sister Joyce. As I looked into the eyes of the children, Elsbit and Lampai, cradled in my arms, I whispered, "I'd take the two of you home to Canada tomorrow if Sister Joyce would let me." Had I become a rebel with a cause? My cause being to return to Canada with multiple orphans from India to raise as my children. Imagining myself arriving home with children, greeting Michael and us becoming a family was the fuel that fired my defiant determination and had been at the root of my recalcitrant attitude toward changing the system for decades so I, as a gay man, could live out my dream to become a parent. My journey to fatherhood was not going to be a quick, easy sprint to the finish line, but instead a lengthy mountainous marathon.

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