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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'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!

News

Adopting Dogs Improves Gay Couples' Relationships, Says Adorable Study

In what may be a "pre-curser to parenthood," 56% of gay and bi couples reported spending more time with their partners after adopting a dog.

As part of what may be the most adorable study you never knew you needed, pet-sitting website Rover.com found that gay and bi couples who adopt dogs reportedly boast stronger relationships as a result — 56% of gay and bi couples said they spent more time with their partners after adopting a dog. More than half of participants also said that owning a dog can help prepare couples for children.

Interestingly, gay and bi couples were also more likely to prepare for potential difficulties in their arrangements — 21% of gay and bi couples reported setting up a "pet-nup" agreement to determine custody of their new pup in case their relationship didn't last. Only 12% of straight couples, in contrast, did the same.

"You can outline the practicalities of what would happen in the event you split from your partner whether you have joint or sole custody," Rover.com dog behaviorist Louise Glazebrook told Australia's QN News. "It's a real tragedy to see breakups results in dogs needing to be re-homed.

There was, however, one clear downside to pet ownership mentioned in the study — 17% of respondents said they have less sex now that they're sharing a bed with their pup.

What to Buy

A Gift Guide for LGBTQ Inclusive Children's Books

Need some ideas for good LGBTQ-inclusive children's books? Look no further than our gift guide!

Every year we see more books released that feature our families, and we're here for it! We're especially excited for the day when diverse and LGBTQ+ inclusive books are less of "the odd one out" and rather considered part of every kids' everyday literacy.

To help us reach that day, we need to keep supporting our community and allies who write these stories. So here's a list of some of the great books that need to be in your library, and gifts to the other kids in your lives.

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Gay Dad Life

Broadway Performer's Surrogacy Journey Briefly Sidetracked — for One Very 'Wicked' Reason

"Broadway Husbands" Stephen and Bret explain the exciting reasons they had to hit pause on their surrogacy journey — but don't worry, they're back on track!

In the latest video of the Broadway Husbands sharing their path to fatherhood, Stephen and Bret explain their hiatus for the past 4 months. The couple have big news to share including a relocation, a job announcement, and the fact that they're getting ready to restart their journey (which they had to take a brief pause from since September).

Watch their video to find out their latest news.

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Gay Dad Family Stories

These Gay Dads Lost Everything After Hurricane Dorian — Except Hope

The couple, who live in "Hope Town" in the Bahamas, lost everything after suffering a direct hit from Hurricane Dorian this past summer.

Max Bethel-Jones, 52, had traveled to more than 120 countries over the last 30 years working with the United Nations, but had never been to the Bahamas — in 2015, he decided to apply for a private teaching job as a special needs teacher in Freeport on the island of Grand Bahama.

Just weeks after his arrival, he'd get a whole lot more than another pin in his map of visited countries when he attended a social event at Freeport Rugby. "My object was to ogle the local male talent but several women had other ideas," he said. One woman was particularly insistent, he said, but after a couple of drinks she got the hint that he batted for the other rugby team. "She promptly told me there was someone I should meet."

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News

Gay Dads Told One Must Identify as 'Mother' to Enroll in Daycare

The Israeli gay dads told one must identify as mother — like a "normal couple" — in order to receive financial assistance for daycare.

Israeli dads Guy Sadak Shoham and Chai Aviv Shoham were trying to enroll their two-year-old twins in daycare when they were told by a government official that one would need to identify as the "mother" in order to be cleared.

According to Out Magazine, the couple was attempting to apply for financial aid to help pay for the costs of preschool when a government bureaucrat called them to discuss their eligibility.

"I understand that you are both fathers and understand that you both run a shared household, but there is always the one who is more dominant, who is more the mother," the government said, according to an interview on the Israel site Ynet (translated by Out Magazine). "I am just asking for a written statement in your hand which of you is the mother. From the point of view of the work, which works less than the father. Like a normal couple."

The official, apparently, said she was beholden to rules set for in the Ministry of Economy.

"It is mostly sad and a little disturbing," one of the dads told Ynet. "These are concepts that we consider the past. We do not necessarily come up with allegations against this representative, she is ultimately subject to the guidelines and as she said, they are the state. It is also sad that the state's definition of a mother is someone who works less and is at home with the children, and that we must choose which of us meets that definition."

The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, fortunately, issued an apology following the incident, and promised to update its protocols. "We will emphasize that the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs practices explicitly treat all types of families and grant equal rights to all," the ministry wrote in a statement, an apology that was called "insufficient" by Ohad Hizki, the director-general of the National LGBT Task Force.

"The Ministry of Labor and Welfare must sharpen its procedures immediately to prevent recurrence of cases of this kind, as other public organizations have been able to do," he said.

Read more about this story on Out Magazine.

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