Personal Essays by Gay Dads

Gay Dads Left "Speechless" by Daughter's Reaction to Learning Her Birthmother's Identity

"It felt like a bag of bricks lifted off of us," Erik Alexander wrote of revealing the identity of their daughter's birthmother

I can't believe it's been over two years since I wrote about our 'Open Adoption' for Gays With Kids. In that article I covered the series of long discussions that my husband Douglas and I had that led to our decision to pursue an open adoption. There are several reasons that this was the right choice for our family.


We wanted to be transparent

Many factors came into why we chose an open adoption. If you are considering adoption you must understand that adoption is a long process and not a single, clean event. We went into it with the expectation that the process had the potential to be difficult for both the birthmother and for us. I can't even begin to imagine what it must have been like for her to make the decision to place her child for adoption. And then after all the emotions and challenges of pregnancy and the pain of childbirth, entrusting the care of that precious little baby to two men whom she just recently met.

We felt that having an open adoption was one way that we could help ease the pain of letting go. We had occasional visits during the first year. She had the opportunity to see our daughter's growth, and we had the opportunity to show her that we were providing a safe, loving home.

After the first year, the visits slowed as we didn't want to cause confusion as our daughter grew. As time went by, we knew the moment would come when we needed to talk about our daughter's origins with her. For two dads it is pretty obvious that their child was either adopted or was born through surrogacy. Needless to say, mothers are pretty ubiquitous in pop culture, bedtime stories, and the world in general. As such, we were afraid that not having a mother figure in her life could be pretty confusing, so we knew from the beginning that we wanted to be truthful and transparent with her.

Our girls both go to nursery school weekly. They are able to see 'mommies' come to pick their children up everyday. We figured that would eventually prompt questions. A couple of weeks ago it did. After bedtime stories, we said our prayers as usual. After prayers, she usually asks us to tell her about Disney World (she loves to hear about Disney World).

However, this particular night she didn't ask about Disney, rather, she asked Daddy (Douglas) to talk about his mother.

We both looked at each other as this was pretty random. At her request he started to tell her a story about his mother. After the story she said, "I don't have a mother." Immediately we both cut in and said, "baby, everyone has a mother." Surprised, she asked us to tell her about her birthmother. I don't know what shocked us more--the question or the fact that she used the word "birthmother" when she asked. We have several adoption-themed books mixed into our bedtime story collection. It's pretty amazing how much the adoption stories helped to introduce a complicated subject (after all, she's only 3 1/2) but also helped break the ice to open up dialogue.

"Well, baby girl, when you were born your birthmother searched all over for a daddy and a papa that would love you with all of their hearts and would take very good care of you. After searching everywhere, our telephone rang. Do you know who it was?"

She answered, "Was it my birthmother?"

"Yes it was! And she asked us if WE could be your daddy and papa!" In reality it was much more complicated than that, but she seemed to be assured by hearing this. She inhaled quickly and smiled from ear to ear. I had a knot in my throat fighting back tears. She really understood! We both were amazed.

The heaviest question of all

For the next few nights she continued to ask for stories about my mother and Douglas' mothers in lieu of hearing about Disney. Douglas has two mothers that are both very involved in our lives. So, with 3 mothers between us we don't run out of stories to tell her! A few more days went by and we figured we had finished that conversation until she asked the heaviest question of all, "Who is my birthmother?" We looked at each other and quickly changed the subject.

We felt that we needed to have a talk with her birthmother before we went any further. We all needed to be on the same page. Our daughter has unwittingly met her birthmother many, many times. We knew Alli Mae would know who her birthmother was if we said her name, but we wanted to clear this with her birthmother before proceeding. After talking it over with her we were all on the same page. We were all ready to face it head on.

The next night I was sure that she would ask again--our girl is very persistent. Sure enough, as soon as we finished her prayers she asked, "who is my birthmother?" Our daughter has a rainbow nightlight in her room that was given to her by her birthmother. It shines in her room every night and she loves it so much. I was very eager to tell her that it came from someone very special. As the light changed from color to color I pointed to it and asked, "Do you remember who gave you your rainbow nightlight?" She shook her head no. "Well baby girl, your birthmother did." We then told Alli Mae her birthmother's name. As soon as we told her, she knew exactly who we were talking about.

We wanted this to feel natural

We figured the next step was to have her birth mother over for dinner. Alli Mae is very inquisitive and we knew she would have some questions. She isn't very shy, so after a few minutes of acclimating to the situation I knew if she was curious about something, she would ask.

We wanted this to feel natural. We wanted it to be an organic and meaningful meeting. We didn't want anything to feel forced. Usually when you have to force something, then it feels awkward and afterwards you second guess yourself asking if it was the right decision in the first place. We thought having her birthmother over for dinner would feel as natural as you could get. When her birthmother first arrived, Alli Mae kept her distance at first. Douglas and I were cooking in the kitchen visiting with Alli Mae's birthmother while Alli Mae stayed in the living room. About 30 minutes into the visit I went to check on Alli Mae to see if she was okay. When I did she looked at me and just like a 12 year old girl she told me to ask her birthmother to come into the living room. (This time, she said her name instead of saying "birthmother"). The question was so direct and to the point... I was completely shocked! She's 3! At her request I walked back into the kitchen and told her birthmother that her presence was being requested in the living room.

As soon as she walked into the room Alli Mae looked at her and asked, "Are you my birthmother?" Her birthmom looked at her and smiled, "Yes, I am."

"You are?" Alli Mae asked. "Do you want to go play with my toys, birthmother?" And just like that, the ice was broken. The secret was out. There was no awkwardness. It all felt very natural- like it was supposed to happen- just like that.

Don't underestimate their amazing capacity to comprehend

It felt like a bag of bricks lifted off of us. That was a very heavy situation that was handled with such grace by everyone involved. I am left speechless at how our daughter was able to comprehend such a serious topic. It leaves me feeling so hopeful about how we can face any other subjects as she grows older.

Children are amazing little humans. Don't for one second underestimate their amazing capacity to comprehend seemingly complicated concepts. It comes from such a uniquely innocent place. It makes me tear up just thinking about it. If only we as adults could comprehend and interpret tough subjects like that.

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News

Indiana Court Says Couples Using Sperm Donors​ Can Both Be Listed on Birth Certificate — But Ruling Excludes Male Couples

The 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in the case, a major victory for LGBTQ parents — but the Attorney General may appeal to the Supreme Court.

On Friday, a US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling from a lower court that said that both parents in a same-sex relationship are entitled to be listed on the birth certificate — previously, the state of Indiana had required the non-biological parent within a same-sex relationship using assisted reproductive technologies to adopt their child after the birth in order to get her or his name listed on the birth certificate, a lengthy and expensive process not required of straight couples in the same situation.

It's a double standard LGBTQ parents have long been subjected to in many states across the country. So this represent a major win. As reported by CNN, this ruling "takes a lot of weight off" the shoulders of LGBTQ parents, said Karen Celestino-Horseman, a lawyer representing one of the couples in the case. "They've been living as families and wondering if this was going to tear them apart."

The 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals deliberated the case, according to CNN, for more than two and a half years, which is one of the longest in the court's history.

However, because all the plaintiffs in the case involved female same-sex couples using sperm donors, the ruling left open the similar question of parenting rights with respect to male couples. Indiana's Attorney General, moreover, may also appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

We'll be following the case closely and be sure to keep you up to date. For more on this recent decision, read CNN's article here.

Change the World

'Homosexuality is Wrong' Utah Teacher Tells Boy Who Gave Thanks for His Two Adoptive Dads

The substitute teacher went on to say two men living together is "sinful." She was fired shortly after.

To anyone with a heart, the moment should have done nothing more than bring a tear to the eye. Last week, just before the Thanksgiving break, a substitute teacher in a fifth grade class in Cedar Hills, Utah — just south of Salt Lake City — asked her students to name something they were thankful for this holiday season.

"I'm thankful for finally being adopted by my two dads," said Daniel, one of the boys, when it was his turn.

Rather than grab a tissue to dab her eyes, or ask the classroom to join her in a hearty round of applause to celebrate Daniel finding his forever family, the teacher took it upon herself to impart her personal religious beliefs onto the young boy. "Homosexuality is wrong," the teacher said in front of the class, adding that it was "sinful" for two men to live together.

The teacher, fortunately, was fired from Kelly Services, the substitute staffing company that employed her, quickly after the incident, but the moment is nonetheless receiving widespread attention in the press — no doubt in part because one of the boy's dads, Louis van Amstel of "Dancing With the Stars," posted a video clip to his 76,000 Twitter followers with the title: "Our child was bullied."

"It shouldn't matter if you're gay, straight, bisexual, black and white," he said to the New York Times in a follow up interview. "If you're adopting a child and if that child goes to a public school, that teacher should not share her opinion about what she thinks we do in our private life."

Louis also revealed that the moment may not have come to light were it not for three of his son's classmates, who told the principal about the teacher's bigoted comments. His son, Daniel, didn't want to report the incident for fear of getting the teacher into trouble.

Louis expressed thanks that the staffing company responded as quickly as it did following the incident — and also stressed that his neighbors and community have rallied behind he and his family in the days afterward, offering support. He wanted to dispel stereotypes that Utah, because of its social conservatism and religiosity, was somehow inherently prejudiced.

"It doesn't mean that all of Utah is now bad," he told the Times. "This is one person."

It's also true that this type of prejudice is in no way limited to so-called red states, and incidents like these happen daily. LGBTQ parents and our children are subjected to homophobic and transphobic comments in schools, hospitals, stores, airlines and elsewhere as we simply go about living our lives. These moments so often fly under the radar — many classmates don't have the courage, as they fortunately did in this case, to report wrongdoing. Some administrators are far less responsive than they were here — and most of us don't have 76,000 Twitter followers to help make these moments of homophobia a national story.

All that aside, let's also get back to what should have been nothing more than a heartwarming moment — Daniel, a fifth grade boy, giving thanks to finally being legally adopted into a loving family.

Entertainment

Amazon's New "Modern Love" Series Includes Episode on Open Adoption

The episode is loosely based on the New York Times "Modern Love" essay written by sex columnist and activist Dan Savage.

In 2005, Dan Savage, the gay sex columnist, contributed one of the most talked about essays for the Modern Love column in The New York Times. Better known for his acerbic wit and cutting political commentary, Savage exposed a more vulnerable side in this piece, sharing the highs, lows and everything in between that comes from the experience of pursuing an open adoption.

His son DJ's birth mother was experiencing what Savage called a "slo-mo suicide": homeless by choice, in and out of prison, and surrounded by drugs. Though Savage has chosen an open adoption so that DJ's birth mother would be a presence in his son's life, she often disappeared for months and sometimes years at a time without contacting the family, leaving their young son with lots of questions and no satisfying answers.

The piece ends on a heartbreaking note, with Savage simply seeking some sort of resolution. "I'm starting to get anxious for this slo-mo suicide to end, whatever that end looks like," he wrote. "I'd prefer that it end with DJ's mother off the streets in an apartment somewhere, pulling her life together. But as she gets older that resolution is getting harder to picture."

At the time, many interpreted Savage's story as a cautionary tale for those considering open adoptions. But in 2016, on the Modern Love Podcast, he asserted that was not his intention: "DJ's mom is alive and well," Savage said. "She's on her feet. She's housed. We talk on the phone occasionally. She and DJ speak on Mother's Day and on DJ's birthday." He added that he "would hate to have anyone listen to that essay or to read it — which was written at a moment of such kind of confusion and despair — and conclude that they shouldn't do the kind of adoption that we did," Savage said. "I think that open adoption is really in the best interest of the child, even if … it presents more challenges for the parents. So I encourage everyone who's thinking about adoption to seriously consider open adoption and not to be dissuaded by my essay."

Now, Savage's piece is getting the small screen treatment as one of 9 episodes included in Amazon Prime's adaption of the column. The episode inspired by Savage's essay, "Hers Was a World of One," contains some departures from Savage's original story — Savage's character, played by Fleabag's Andrew Scott, adopts a daughter rather than a son, for example, and the episode concludes closer to the upbeat note struck in the Podcast version of hist story than in the column.

Either way, we welcome any and all attention to the complexities of open adoption. Check out the episode (which also randomly includes Ed Sheeran in a couple scenes) and tell us what you think!

Change the World

Miami Tourism Board Releases Vacation Guide for LGBTQ Families

Miami isn't just about circuit parties! The LGBTQ Family-Friendly Miami Vacation Guide showcases many options for queer parents, too.

As gay people, it can be difficult to find vacation spots that are LGBTQ-friendly out of the normal travel "fruit loop" — New York, Mykonos, San Francisco; repeat. For those of us with kids, the Venn diagram of destinations that are both queer and kid friendly can seem practically non-existent.

Fortunately, that's starting to change as the tourism industry realizes that LGBTQ families are a growing segment of vacationers. One city to quickly pick up on this trend is Miami. While the gays have long flocked to Miami for party weekends, the city has also recently noticed an uptick in the number of LGBTQ visitors who are parents. In response, Miami's tourism board release a guide, LGBTQ Family-Friendly Miami Vacation Guide, that includes loads of options for queer parents and their kids. Amid Miami's legendary circuit parties, it turns out, are tons of family friendly things to do — like the Museum of Science, an eco-adventure theme park, and other kid-focused events all year long.

Who knew?

"When I came onboard as Director of LGBTQ Marketing a little over a year ago, I found that our LGBTQ messaging was centered around our annual events," said Dan Rios, who works with the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau. Massive parties like the White Party and Aqua Girl are a central part of the city's LGBTQ offerings, he said, but he was also worried the city was "developing a reputation solely as a party destination. "I want to diversify that message to highlight everything else that Greater Miami has to offer."

Hence the city's family-friendly guide that includes offerings within "art and culture, dining, beaches, fitness," Dan said. "We have unique and amazing family attractions that we had been promoting to our general audiences for decades. I saw this as an opportunity; an opportunity to introduce our attractions to LGBTQ families, and an opportunity to further promote our attractions -- it was a win-win."

Dan said the Bureau is also in the midst of a campaign that will prominently feature LGBTQ parents within different travel destinations throughout the city, which will be featured throughout both LGBTQ and mainstream websites, publications and advertising.

We applaud the effort to reach out to LGBTQ families, and hope more cities follow Miami's lead! Be sure to check out the guide here.

Gay Dad Life

Gong Hei Fat Choy! Happy Chinese New Year!

As we usher in the year of rat, we asked some of our dads how they honor this special time.

Today we're celebrating, alongside our families, the Chinese New Year! As we usher in the year of rat, we asked some of our dads how they honor this special time, what they do to celebrate, and how they're instilling these traditions in their kids. Here are some of their responses.

Keep reading...
Personal Essays by Gay Dads

As a Gay Dad, What's the Impact of Letting My Son Perform Drag?

Michael Duncan was excited when his 10-year-old son asked if he could perform in drag for charity — but he also felt fear and anxiety.

As LGBT parents, we have all lived through some sort of trauma in our lives. For many it is the rejection of our family, being bullied, or abuse. We learn to be vigilant of our surroundings and often are very cautious of who we trust. As adults, we start to become watchful of how much we share and we look for "red flags" around every corner.

So, what effect does this have on our children? Does it unintentionally cause us to be more jaded with our interactions involving others? For some the answer may be a resounding "no." But as we look deeper into the situation, we often find that through survival our interactions with others have changed and we may not even realize exactly how much we are projecting on those around us.

Keep reading...
Diary of a Newly Out Gay Dad

A Gay Chiropractor Explains Why He Came Out to His Patients

After Cameron Call, a chiropractor, came out to his family this past year, he knew he had one more step to take — he had to come out to his patients

Fear is an interesting thing. It motivates when it shouldn't, shows at inconvenient times, and is the author of stories that do nothing but hold us back. I would argue though, too, that fear has some good qualities. I believe it helps us to feel. And I think it can be a great teacher as we learn to recognize and face it.

For years fear prevented me from embracing my truth and accepting a large part of who I am. I know I am not alone in that regard. But for so long my fear convinced me that I was. Fear is what kept me from ever telling my parents or anyone growing up that I am gay. Fear mingled with strong religious teachings, embraced at a young age, which led me to believe that I could cure myself of my attractions to the same gender. And fear is a part of what kept me in my marriage to a woman for over ten years.

Keep reading...

Fatherhood, the gay way

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