“Well, that’s just not fair!” cries the indignant 8-year-old. “Fairness has nothing to with it!” says one of his dads. It’s a dialogue that occurs at least once a day in our house, especially around bedtime. As soon as our youngest son can talk, I’m sure we’ll hear it in stereo.
Ah, the concept of fairness! To most North Americans, it’s sacrosanct. Corruption, bribery and gross institutional inequality, commonplace in the developing world, are mostly newsworthy aberrations to us, albeit with some significant pockets of resistance. (Remember, I live near Chicago.) To most of us, fairness is something we seek in every aspect of our dealings with others, sometimes even with our children.
A few words of advice: If you choose to build your same-gender-parented family through adoption or foster-to-adoption, fairness is a concept with which you will have a tortured relationship. It’s not just the arbitrary and personal occurrences of unfairness that creep up. All the “isms” of the world, which are usually kept to corners of our ordered world, come out swinging. Gross examples of sexism, heterosexism, racism, classism, elitism and their numerous cousins abound.
Between both our sons’ adoptions, I can't count the number of times we uttered, “Well, that’s just not fair." Such as when a birthmom chooses the heterosexual couple that just finished their application after your two-year wait. Or when an estranged maternal grandmother suddenly asserts her point of view as you pace anxiously in the hospital waiting to meet a newborn. Or when the birthmom with whom you’ve corresponded for weeks abruptly stops communicating. (All of this happened to us during our placements.)
We became familiar with the all the unfairness on the other side as well. How social agencies seem to favor some birthmothers over others, how our healthcare industry miserably fails to serve the poor, how so-called faith families abandon their own when an unplanned pregnancy happens, and how men (who are biologically 50% responsible for each pregnancy) often seem unconcerned with the actual responsibility of that pregnancy. (All of which happened to our birthmothers during our placements.) The silent and persistent answer to all these questions was “Fairness has nothing to do with it.”
During our last placement, we became aware of the unfairness of “urban food deserts” when we searched for a few comfort foods requested by our birthmom. After striking out at tiny bodega after tiny bodega, we found an overpriced and understocked grocery store in a blighted part of town, which featured aisle after aisle of processed, low quality foods and a produce section that could easily fit in our bedroom. Remembering that she had no car, we wondered how she managed to buy groceries. Prior to that, our grocery store grievances had centered around the lack of parking and finding local organic produce in winter. No, it seemed that fairness has nothing to do with it.
Then, in the blink of an eye, it all changed when our sons were placed in our arms for the first time. All of the unfairness we encountered seemed to disappear. As the English poet Robert Browning wrote, “God’s in His heaven / All’s right with the world.” Like the pain of childbirth, you begin to forget and settle into the new “unfairness” of sleepless nights, the outrageous cost of diapers and the inequalities of preschool entrance procedures. It's a joyous forgetfulness.
But we strive to remind ourselves that pain and loss are only pointless if we don’t learn from them. We remind ourselves of those unfair moments, those we felt ourselves and those we felt for others, so that the memories become parts our family’s adoption stories. Like contrasting notes that balance a complex dish, our sons’ adoption stories will be richer if we keep those unfair moments in them. No story worth telling is completely devoid of sad moments.
As our sons grow up and learn to tell the stories on their own, we hope they will sense the injustices we experienced to become their dads. By truthfully talking about those challenges we will help our sons understand the beautifully complex and imperfect world in which we live. Maybe they will carry those experiences and seek to make the world they inherit more fair for everyone. Maybe they will look back and appreciate their adoption stories more genuinely and take nothing for granted. Maybe…
But for now, bedtime is bedtime and fairness has nothing to do with it.