Personal Essays by Gay Dads

A Painful Christmas Taught This Dad the Meaning of Home

Erik Alexander spent Christmas 2005 in Los Angeles after being displaced from his New Orleans home after Hurricane Katrina — it was a painful experience, but one that taught him the meaning of home.

Everything that happens in our lives is meant to teach us something. These experiences — good, the bad, and the ugly —accumulate to help us grow into the people we are. I see how true this is with each passing day.

In 2005, my life was turned upside down. Katrina blew everyone's life to hell and then we had to pick up what was left and learn to live again. After becoming a 'refugee' in Memphis, I decided to move out west because I had always wanted to live in LA. I had stars in my eyes and dreams of making it big. FEMA money in my pocket, I loaded up my little blue Mazda Protege and started my journey across the country to become a famous pop singer. It was just after Thanksgiving when I moved, and I was lucky enough to have a couple of sweet friends to meet up with when I arrived. Christmas time was quickly approaching, but I wasn't ready for it.

Y'all, I loooove the Holidays. I always have. There are so many things about this time of year that are special to me... the decorations, the cheerful people, and most of all my family. I didn't realize how big of a role family played until I moved. I had to relearn how to enjoy Christmas.

As the universe would have it, I met up with a friend of mine. He was the manager of the B-52's and lived in a gorgeous house off of Sunset Boulevard. I would sit on his door step and look over at the 'Laugh Factory,' a famous comedy club in LA. It was amazing. The walls of his home donned several platinum records from the B-52's. It was surreal. After some time there my friend had to leave to visit his family for Christmas. The day before he left, he called me into the living room. There were button down shirts hung from coat hangers all over the room; he wanted me to have them. At first I didn't understand why, but later on it hit me — I was from New Orleans and people viewed me as a refugee. This man was giving me his clothes. I still have a shirt in my closet from him. I stayed in his home a couple more days after he left. Some people would have loved it, but I remember crying and feeling so lonely. I spent Christmas Day of 2005 sitting on his front steps and staring at Sunset Boulevard but longing to be back home in New Orleans.

I remember talking on the phone to my best friend from back home that Christmas. Every year we would call and exchange stories about our Christmas and what we love about the holiday. But this time it felt different. It felt as if my friend was 1,670 miles away. While Christmas of 2005 was painful, it helped to allow me to see where I belonged. As much as I thought I wanted to be on the west coast, the place where I was supposed to be was New Orleans, my home.

It's hard for me to wrap my mind around that in just 10 years from that very moment of despair, my husband and I would be welcoming our newborn daughter home. With clammy palms, rapid heartbeats, and our stomachs in knots, we welcomed our tiny little daughter. At 4 lbs, she was smaller than a baby doll and more fragile and more beautiful than anything we had ever held. This was the moment our lives changed forever. It was as if life's fog lifted and everything around us became clear. Now, every choice we made would revolve around her. This was perhaps the most significant day in our lives--the day we became Daddy and Papa.

I remember laying on the couch and having this tiny baby lay on my chest. Listening to her breathe, watching her little hands move. Now THIS is surreal. Life has an amazing way of helping you grow up. When our daughter was born she only weighed 3.5 lbs. She decided to come into the world 10 weeks early so she had to stay in the NICU for a few weeks to gain her strength and put on some weight.

In the beginning we called her "werewolf baby" because he would literally try to eat us when she became hungry. She would be all snuggled in her cute swaddle then, like clockwork, about 20 minutes before it was time to have her bottle she'd start squirming and transform into a loud and angry baby worm. We had to be sure to not feed her too early because that would mess her feeding schedule up. So we had to do whatever we could to help her pass the time. We would usually cave in about 10min early out fear of being eaten alive by our beautiful werewolf baby. My husband thought to buy a Christmas ornament to remember those times. Every year we are taken back to those moments when we place it on our Christmas tree.

Feeding schedules weren't the only thing we had to learn. We also needed to know how to NOT overfeed her. Being premature, she had a terrible time digesting her formula. We had her on the most sensitive type they make and yet it still seemed like it was too potent. As hungry as she would become, we knew if she drank too much we would be in for it. I think the hardest thing we had to do was try to console her when her tummy was hurting. The pain on her face was awful, and the only thing that seemed to help was when she threw up... and threw up... and threw up. All the time, every time. No matter how many burps we were able to achieve, it would still involve projectile puke somehow. We wouldn't dare wear anything nice because it was sure to be barfed on. I lived in tank tops and sweat pants for months.

One time, we were in Jackson visiting my mother-in-law. Our baby girl was still having a tough time digesting. We were talking in the living room reminiscing about our newfound parenting lives. Someone said something hilarious that made each of us die out laughing. It was like she was waiting for the perfect moment. Douglas had Alli Mae facing him as he held her. And just as he opened his mouth to laugh, she unloaded a whole bottle's worth of baby puke directly into his mouth. IT WAS HILARIOUSLY DISGUSTING. His mom and I laugh about that to this day and I think we will until the end of time.

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It's amazing how much the direction of life can change. Christmas of 2005 felt so depressing. I felt so stuck and it seemed like every decision I made blew up in my face. But in hindsight, I was wrong. That Christmas wish I made sitting on those doorsteps looking onto Sunset Blvd. almost 15 years ago came true. I didn't realize I loved New Orleans like I did. I wouldn't have known that unless I moved away. And as soon as I moved back home, I met my husband, the Daddy of my babies. The way the universe works is so incredibly awe-inspiring. Just when you think you have it figured out- the universe gives you a wink and says, "not so fast."


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