When I set out to write my memoir, Getting Back Up: A Story of Resilience, Self-Acceptance and Success, my main motivation for writing the book was my kids. Finding happiness in my life and becoming a parent was a hard-fought journey that came with many life lessons that I wanted to pass down to my children. It was important to me that they understood my past, our culture, and how they came to be. My book is ultimately a love letter to them.
I have always known that I was meant to have a family. Growing up in Iran, I didn’t have the most pleasant childhood. Being different from other boys in an ultra-conservative environment was challenging on its own, but those challenges were compounded by a difficult home life and relationship with my father. Dreams of having a family of my own, a big wedding, and making my community proud were a way for me to mentally escape when I needed to. Thinking about being a parent also served as a promise to myself to do things differently than my father had done them. The only problem was that I was different.
We didn’t label it in Iran how we do in the U.S. as gay or straight, but I knew that I was attracted to men. That meant that the family I wanted would require me to live a double life; one where I took care of my wife and children in the daylight and embraced my sexual identity in the shadows. It was more common than you’d think, and to me, if it meant being a dad, I was prepared to make it work.
That all changed when I was 18-years-old and was in a terrible car crash that broke both of my legs in multiple places and left me bedridden and unable to walk for a year. The accident took everything from me that I thought mattered—my community, friends, college, and the promise of a career that would make my family proud. I had lived my entire life willingly pretending to be someone I wasn’t to make others happy, and the accident put life’s fragility into perspective. It was as if someone pressed a reset button. I could not die not having lived for myself. As soon as I recovered, I moved to Los Angeles, determined to build a more authentic life.
Eventually, I fell in love and found an amazing partner to share my life with. At that time, in the early 2000s, there was still some stigma surrounding gay men having children. I completely abandoned my dreams of being a father because, in my mind, I couldn’t have both. If I wanted to be a parent, I had to be a straight parent and marry a woman. If I wanted to be an out gay man, I would have to settle for being a good gay uncle.
It wasn’t until ten years later that the void of not being a parent became too big to ignore. My partner and I were on vacation in Palm Springs, and I started to think about the future and what our lives might be like. By then, we had found professional success and were very dedicated to our jobs. When we had time away, we traveled. We were happy, but I knew that something was missing. Times had changed, and gay parenting was more common and accepted. We decided on that trip that we would have children.
We explored many different avenues for becoming parents, including adoption, but we ultimately decided on surrogacy. We wanted to have two kids, a boy, and a girl. Our son was born first. Afterward, when we were ready to try for another, we were floored when we ended up with twin girls. In the matter of a few years, our lives went from carefree living, traveling when the mood struck us and driving around in convertibles, to changing diapers and never having any alone time whatsoever. We’ve even considered buying a minivan (but I refuse, I just can’t bring myself to do it). It’s a complete 180-degree shift from our old lives and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Parenting isn’t always easy, and many people in our community judge us for how we raise our kids. We have demanding careers and rely on outside help to stretch our bandwidth to manage home and professional responsibilities. Some feel that if one of us were a woman in a more traditional role, there would be more balance for our kids. We disagree. We believe that strong families come in many different varieties. I grew up around many “traditional families” that were not healthy environments. Ultimately the fundamental things that bind a family are love and structure, and we provide both. It does not matter if there are two dads, two moms, a single parent, a grandparent, whatever. A family is a family. And that is what we are teaching our children.
I learned at a young age that life moves quickly. Even when you have lived your own experiences, it can be hard to see how one thing led to another and another to eventually end up where you are in the present. Writing my memoir allowed me to put those puzzle pieces together and to recall experiences in my life that taught me how to fearlessly be the man and parent that I am today. Those experiences guide how we raise our children and the values we believe in; kindness, curiosity about the world, acceptance, and resilience.