What was your greatest gift ever? Have you ever thought about what your answer would be? I know unequivocally the greatest gift I have ever received. It was almost Christmas nearly 15 years ago, just before Y2K. But before I reveal what that gift was, let me give you some history that brought me to that moment.
I grew up in a rural setting and spent most of my youth working on a farm and playing in the cornfields. Yes, I can actually bale hay, milk a cow, muck out a stall and even call cows. I knew very early on that that life was not for me. To quote the theme song from 'Green Acres': “New York is where I'd rather stay/I get allergic smelling hay!/I just adore a penthouse view/Dah-ling I love you but give me Park Avenue!”
I formulated my plan early and as my friends can attest, I can be a bit overzealous with my planning. I graduated from high school with my sights on a small private school in upstate New York and then law School. Unfortunately, that college went bankrupt the summer after my high school graduation and closed its doors. Not to be deterred from my plan, I ended up at a fall back school – SUNY Oneonta. What a mistake: more cows! I had been accepted at Syracuse University but that was only 30 minutes from home. Wasn’t the object of college to get as far away from home as possible? Nonetheless, I transferred to Syracuse University, Utica College campus. For the next three years I would be living at home.
I graduated from Syracuse University in 3 ½ years and was off to law school. I finally moved out of my parents' home and, after a brief stop in Albany as a senate clerk, I moved to Connecticut to begin law school. I was just an hour outside of Manhattan and ready to explore my coming out years.
I survived first year law school hell. The main objective of the professors is to teach you to think and learn differently and to humiliate you whenever possible in front of your peers! Year one completed and I am thrown another curve ball – I hated law school. During the first semester of my second year, while contemplating dropping out of law school, I was persuaded to take a class for all of the important reasons: a great time slot, it did not meet on Friday (it didn't interfere with my Thursday night gay bar adventures) and an easy professor. Lucky for me, in that class, I found my career niche in intellectual property. I focused the rest of my law school curriculum on intellectual property classes and graduated law school in 2 ½ years.
My first real job out of law school was as assistant general counsel for Chanel. A gay man’s dream. Being a gay man working at Chanel was the norm, not the exception. My career gave me the opportunity to be “of counsel” to Tommy Hilfiger and Nautica. From there, I was recruited to be the worldwide intellectual property counsel for Timberland. After six years there, I was approached by Burberry to start the US legal department as the intellectual property counsel. What a wonderful career, but there was always something missing. I was not complete nor was I happy.
To the world, I appeared wildly successful, living the dream. I traveled the world, I owned two vacation homes in addition to my primary residence, had a small yacht in New Haven harbor and a collection of cars. I attended fashion shows in London, Paris and New York and met all of the best designers, actors, models and CEOs. But something was missing.
That bring me to the reason I am writing for you today. While at Timberland, I met a 72-year-old woman, a retired pediatrician, who funded the rebuilding of an orphanage in Cambodia that provided shelter, medical care and education to around 90 Cambodian orphans – mostly boys. She convinced me to get involved with her charity. I developed a deep compassion for the orphanage she was supporting. After I met with her foundation board, my admiration and respect for this woman continued to grow. Finally, I began the adoption process for one of the orphans. I began working to fulfill my life-long dream of being a dad.
The adoption process was more difficult than getting admitted to the Bar. As many of you are aware, there are health exams, psychological evaluations, police clearance, FBI clearance and fingerprinting, home inspections and reference letters. I completed my paperwork with the help of my personal assistant and kept all of the paperwork in a dedicated briefcase that remained with me morning, noon and night.
One weekend in early December of 1999, I decided to take a pre-holiday trip to Atlantic City with my then-partner and his parents to enjoy some rest and relaxation and some gambling. It was only a two-day trip, so I packed light and left the briefcase at home.
My assistant manages to get a hotel staff member to track me down as I am leaving a blackjack table. “They called, they need to speak to you!” I immediately contacted the adoption agency. A referral had come through. Back in my hotel room, I get an email; the attached photos trickle in, slowly, pixel by pixel. Up comes the most amazing thing I have ever seen: a photograph of Mean Chey, a 16-month-old boy, the size of a 3-month-old, with big brown eyes and a sad smile. In that room at the Taj Mahal Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, on December 7, 1999 I got the first glimpse of my son Harrison.
Finally, on February 24, 2000 I got to meet this boy when his nanny placed him in my arms. In a moment that we celebrate every year, a moment forever crystal clear in my memory, Harrison gently laid his head on my shoulder and went to sleep. I had received the greatest gift of my life.
That began the happiest and most fulfilling aspect of my life. This past weekend, that boy turned sixteen and I am beginning my journey of blogging the experiences of "an adoptive dad of a hormone-addled 16-year-old boy (navigating the waters of sex, drugs, alcohol and high school) while managing the complexity of a second parent adoption with a younger partner.”