Gay Dad Life

In the Shadow of Leukemia, a Focus on the Little Things

Malaki was diagnosed with leukemia just two months after he arrived at his new Toronto home. Now, two years later, the family has never looked back.


It’s Saturday afternoon and Michael Went is helping his son Malaki put a final dusting of sparkles on a construction paper ornament at the 519 Community Centre’s December Children’s Party in Toronto. Later, the active 4-year-old, who loves karate, swimming and skating, will join his other father, Doug Kerr, a college instructor and non-profit management consultant, in a sing-along circle with about two dozen other children.

“I focus on him and what he wants, which is really quite micro,” Went says. “He wants a daddy to love him, he wants to be entertained sometimes, he wants food, maybe some TV. If I can focus on the moment then I don’t have to worry about the big stuff.”

“Big stuff” is a euphemism: Malaki is battling leukemia. He hadn’t even celebrated his second birthday when his fathers noticed that he had stopped walking. Went, a senior municipal financial advisor with Ontario’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, recalls trying to get Malaki back on his feet.

“I went to the playground and put him about two feet away from the swings,” Went recalls. He told Malaki that if he wanted to go on the swings, he would have to walk to them. Instead, he just lay on the ground, screaming in frustration. “That’s when I realized something was wrong,” Went says.

Doug, Malaki and Michael

A pediatrician first thought Malaki might have an infection, but grew more concerned when antibiotics failed. A blood test revealed Malaki had leukemia, the most common form of childhood cancer. “In an hour we were taking transit over to SickKids [as The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto is more commonly known], where we stayed overnight,” Went recalls. “Our lives changed forever.” It happened to be their wedding anniversary. “We call it crappyversary,” he says today.

Just two months before the diagnosis, Malaki arrived at Kerr and Went’s Toronto townhouse as a foster child “with a view to adopt,” meaning the Children’s Aid Society’s ultimate goal was to establish an adoption. As they weren’t yet Malaki’s legal guardians, Went and Kerr worked closely with a social worker who helped them land a judge’s permission for Malaki’s medical procedures.

Some prospective parents may have reconsidered moving forward with the adoption. “It never crossed our minds,” Kerr says without hesitation. “At that point we could have easily said to CAS [Children’s Aid Society] that we [didn't] want to go forward with the adoption, but we couldn’t. We were falling in love with him.”

The partners of 13 years took turns staying overnight in SickKids with Malaki while he underwent treatment. “Survival rates are fairly high, but you have to do a lot of chemo,” Kerr says. “He didn’t have major side effects but it’s not easy taking chemo. You are in the hospital a lot for the first six months. It is so complicated, the different drugs you have to take.” Malaki lost his hair but was spared the mouth sores that can make eating difficult for some kids who go through chemotherapy.

“The first few needles? They were hard!” Went remembers. “Really, really hard! But every couple weeks we’re doing it, he got used to it. Now when we go to the hospital the hardest part of it is not the needle, is not the entry of the hospital, it’s not the lack of food, because he has to go fasted; the hardest part is leaving because he is having such a good time. SickKids has such an amazing array of toys and people to entertain him.”

In addition to multiple playrooms, SickKids offers a weekly musical performance, craft days with the Brownies and Cubs, and a games room with TV, video games and pool. Malaki is just one of the 100,000 children who pass through SickKids annually.

Kerr and Went have explained Malaki’s condition to him in age-appropriate language. For example, he knows he has a “port” in his chest where doctors can take a quick blood sample and he uses words such as “emergency” and “stethoscope.” “I don’t know if he knows that he’s sick,” Kerr says, noting he has never used the word “leukemia.” “He knows now, but not really.”

Went suspects he might be a different kind of dad if Malaki’s health wasn’t a factor. “I think I would be a little bit less of a softie,” he speculates. “I will give in more often than not to his whims. One of the warnings that SickKids gave us is it’s a habit for parents to spoil their children, and I dare say I have veered in that direction. We give him a little too many cookies when we have coffee. When I compare to how my parents were, I didn’t have that many cookies!”

Together, Kerr and Went are a united front of positivity, focusing on the very good chance that Malaki will make a full recovery when he’ll finish his treatment in a year and not on the small possibility of a relapse. “The big stuff will happen and we will deal,” Went says. “But if I spend too much time worrying about all that big stuff then I’m going to get myself into a negative spiral, and it’s not helpful for Malaki or for me. My job is to make sure he is happy and safe and secure now.”

Doug, Malaki and Michael

Editor's note: Went and Kerr are extremely pleased with the level of care provided at SickKids, so we're showing our support by providing our readers with this link to help fund the hospital's life-saving mission with a donation: sickkidsfoundation.com/donate. Donations help fund equipment, staff training, and research. Those living in the greater Toronto area can volunteer or participate in a SickKids fundraising event, visit sickkidsfoundation.com/get-involved.

Show Comments ()
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.

Keep reading... Show less
Gay Dad Life

Top 10 Reasons You Should Date a Gay Dad

Jay Turner lays out the top 10 reasons you should consider dating a single gay dad

We're gay dads. Many of us were married to women, and for various reasons we eventually found ourselves single and looking for companionship from another man. Life is a little more complicated for us because we have kids. But that shouldn't deter you from seeking a relationship with a gay dad. In fact, there are many reasons why we make better partners than men without children. We are generally more mature, responsible, and emotionally available. We are also better communicators.

Here are the top ten reasons why you should date a gay dad:

Keep reading... Show less
Gay Dad Life

Karamo Brown Co-Writes Children's Book with Son, Jason

The 'Queer Eye' star and his son named the story on a family mantra: You are Perfectly Designed

When his sons, Jason and Chris, were young, "Queer Eye" Star Karamo Brown repeated the same saying to them: "You are perfectly designed."

That mantra is now a Children's Book, cowritten by Karamo and his 22-year-old son, Jason, who used to come how and "say things like, 'I don't want to be me, I wish I was someone else, I wish I had a different life." As a parent, that "broke my heart," Karamo told Yahoo! Lifestyle. "I would say to him, 'You are blessed and you are perfect just the way you are,' as a reminder that you have been given so much and you should be appreciative and know that you're enough — I know that the world will try to tear you down, but if you can say to yourself, 'I am perfectly designed,' maybe it can quiet out some of those negative messages."

The illustrations, by Anoosha Syed, also make a point of displaying families of a variety of races and sexual orientations throughout the book.

Read more about Karamo's fascinating path to becoming a gay dad here, and then check out the video below that delves deeper into the inspiration behind "You Are Perfectly Designed," available on Amazon.



Personal Essays by Gay Dads

How This Dad 'Redesigned' the Holidays After Coming Out of the Closet

Rick Clemons describes how he made the holidays work for him and his family again after coming out of the closet

What I'm about to describe to you, is something I am deeply ashamed of in hindsight. I was a jerk, still in a state of shock and confusion, and "in love" with a handsome Brit I'd only spent less than 24 hours with.

I was standing in the Ontario, California airport watching my wife walk with my two daughters to a different gate than mine. They were headed to my parents in the Napa Valley for Thanksgiving. I was headed to spend my Thanksgiving with the Brit in San Francisco. It was less than one month after I had come out of the closet and I was so caught up in my own freedom and new life that I didn't realize until everything went kaput with the Brit on New Year's Eve, that if I was ever going to manage the holidays with dignity and respect for me, my kids, and their Mom, I was going to have to kick myself in the pants and stop acting like a kid in the candy store when it came to men. Ok, nothing wrong with acting that way since I never got to date guys in high school and college because I was raised to believe – gay no way, was the way. But that's another article all together.

Keep reading... Show less
What to Buy

Shop with a Purpose with Our 2019 Holiday Gift Guide

Want to find amazing gift ideas while *also* supporting LGBTQ-owned and allied businesses? Look no further than our 2019 holiday gift guide!

'Tis the season to show loved ones you care. And what better way to show you care, by also supported our LGBTQ+ community and allies whilst doing it! Shop (LGBTQ+) smart with these great suggestions below.

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

A Newly Out Gay Dad Feels 'Demoted' After Divorce

Cameron Call showed up to his first family Thanksgiving since coming out and getting a divorce — and struggles to find himself "stuck with the singles."

Cameron Call, who came out in summer 2019, has generously agreed to chronicle his coming out journey for Gays With Kids over the next several months — the highs, lows and everything in between. Read his first article here.

Denial is an interesting thing. It's easy to think you're potentially above it, avoiding it, assume it doesn't apply to you because you'd NEVER do that, or maybe you're just simply avoiding it altogether. After finally coming out, I liked to think that I was done denying anything from now on. But unfortunately that's not the case.

And this fact became very clear to me over Thanksgiving.

Keep reading... Show less
Resources

New Report Details the 'Price of Parenthood' for LGBTQ People

A new report by the Family Equality Council takes a deep dive into the current state of cost for becoming a parent as an LGBTQ person

Parenthood is expensive. But parenthood while queer is still prohibitively costly for so many segments of the LGBTQ community interested in pursuing a family, according to a new repot by the Family Equality Council, titled, "Building LGBTQ+ Families: The Price of Parenthood."

Among the more interesting findings was this one: the cost of family planning is relatively similar for all LGBTQ people, regardless of income level. This shows "that the desire to have children exists regardless of financial security," the report's authors conclude.

Research for the report was conducted through an online survey of 500 LGBTQ adults over the age of 18, and was conducted between July 11-18, 2018. For comparison, the survey also included 1,004 adults who did not identify as LGBTQ.

Other interesting findings of the report include:

  • 29% of all LGBTQ+ respondents reported an annual household income under $25,000 compared to 22% of non-LGBTQ+ respondents.
  • 33% of black LGBTQ+ respondents, 32% of female-identified LGBTQ+ respondents, and 31% of trans/gender non-conforming LGBTQ+ respondents reported annual household incomes below $25,000.
  • Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have volunteered to participate in online surveys and polls. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to multiple sources of error, including, but not limited to sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, and error associated with question-wording and response options.29% of all LGBTQ+ respondents reported an annual household income under $25,000 compared to 22% of non-LGBTQ+ respondents.
  • 33% of black LGBTQ+ respondents, 32% of female-identified LGBTQ+ respondents, and 31% of trans/gender non-conforming LGBTQ+ respondents reported annual household incomes below $25,000.
  • Regardless of annual household income, 45-53% of LGBTQ+ millennials are planning to become parents for the first time or add another child to their family. Those making less than $25,000 a year are considering becoming parents at very similar rates as those making over $100,000.
  • Data from the Family Building Survey reveals that LGBTQ+ households making over $100,000 annually are considering the full range of paths to parenthood, from surrogacy and private adoption to foster care and IVF. The most popular options under consideration in this income bracket are private adoption (74% are considering), foster care (42%), and IVF or reciprocal IVF (21%). At the other end of the economic spectrum, for LGBTQ+ individuals in households making less than $25,000 annually, the most commonly considered paths to parenthood are intercourse (35% are considering), foster care (30%), and adoption (23%).

Fatherhood, the gay way

Get the latest from Gays With Kids delivered to your inbox!

Follow Gays With Kids

Powered by RebelMouse