I celebrated my first Father's Day as a new father a decade ago. And while some sleepless nights, whining phases or the Gangnam Style-era seemed endless at the time, the years have gone by quickly.
Here are some of the things that I've learned about since 2009:
#1. Learning is Constant
I have discovered so much more about hockey, hip hop and slime than I ever knew before. And just because I love musicals, singing and Tiana (my favourite Disney princess), doesn't mean my kids have to enjoy the same. Plus my kids tell me that just because I can do the Floss and Orange Justice, doesn't mean I should, especially in public.
#2. When it's quiet...
Just because it's quiet doesn't mean everything is ok. I've let the two kids play on when it was quiet, only to realize later they were playing with postage stamps as if they were stickers or were unrolling condoms onto their fingers ("these balloons are kinda slimy...."). On the other hand, just because it's quiet doesn't mean everything is wrong: I once checked on them in the other room to find them counting each others' toes and in the car I turned around to see them looking out their own windows but holding hands in the middle.
#3. Speak Out When Necessary
I have advocated – sometimes wisely, sometimes passionately (read angrily) for my kids while trying to navigate the education, health, social services and adoption systems. I am much more outspoken on their behalf than mine. I will go all daddy bear on you if I must.
#4. New Perspectives
I have looked at life anew through my children's eyes, especially Christmas, theme parks and board games. Also, however, sexism, racism and homophobia – while I want to protect their innocence and curiosity as much as possible, I need to prepare them for the real world. I feel they need to know what might happen, how to respond and how irrational it all will be.
#5. Old Perspectives
There are times when "when I was a kid..." stories are fascinating to the two kids – landlines? Antenna tv? VHS? And there are times when "when I was a kid..." is just not relevant to how they live their lives today.
The kids have questions – so many questions – but they're not looking for overly complicated answers, simply something they understand and hopefully an analogy to their own experience or to a character they know.
#7. An Extensive Family
We have grown our family by multitudes with our children, their blood siblings and their blood siblings' adoptive families. It is amazing to celebrate special bonds with them all and have so many people we now consider family.
#8. Love and Pain
I find ways to let my children know that they're wanted and loved every day, while also acknowledging the trauma of the separation from their birth families. Sometimes my love isn't enough because they have questions I can't always answer. We talk to them about their adoption stories, and to ensure their sense of permanency, I had tattoos of their initials inked onto my arms.
#9. Learning From Mistakes
I try every day to provide the structure, security and safety my kids need, but also room to grow and to express themselves. They need to discover who they are, explore the world and make their own mistakes.
#10. Learning From Mistakes (Daddy Edition)
I have found myself failing as a father, yet I have never given up completely. These kids are mine and I'm responsible. I need to learn from my mistakes and do better. I also need to admit my mistakes, apologize and show that we can persist, forgive and move forward.
#11. The Importance of Saying Less
There are times when "you're having a hard day, let me give you a hug" is all I need to say and all they want to hear.
#12. Creating Community
We have met and bonded with many gay dads, sharing similar experiences of adoption, confused or inquiring looks, and times we need to out ourselves yet again. We have also met and bonded with many parents of whatever sex and orientation as we share the same experiences of trying to do the best for our children (and retain some sense of sanity), trying to register for programs with waitlists and swap helpful hints of how to get the kids to sit down and eat their dinner.
#13. Sharing Our Story
I've spoken with dozens of gay men, both individually and while on panels, about becoming parents, offering advice, wisdom and encouragement. There are usually so many questions – How? How long? How did you...? When did you...? But also sharing our photos and stories that show the results and rewards of pursuing parenthood.
#14. An Online Community
I've written for Gays With Kids for five years, offering insights and a personal perspective. I enjoy hearing from other families too and seeing photos from around the world. It is so wonderful to find a small but growing international community to encourage, support and inspire each other.
#15. Pride for All
It is important for our family of four to attend Pride together. Sure they've seen some things that make them giggle or prompt conversation later, but they need to partake as well. They need to see others like them – and others not like them – and be seen; they need to feel that they belong; and that they are equally deserving to stand tall and proud too. They're part of the community too.