Two Gay Dads in Search of Community in Asia
Two years ago when Oliver arrived into our lives, my partner Rob and I were living in separate countries. We met in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and had Oliver when Rob was working in Bangkok and I was in KL. Oliver arrived two weeks early when we received an unexpected message from our agent saying to go to the hospital – our surrogate had been checked into hospital.
We were both stunned, 'What? She's due now? But I thought he was arriving in two weeks!?' as if the birth and delivery of a baby was something that could be perfectly scheduled like the production of a Boeing plane. Rob rushed off to the hospital and was in the waiting room for about twenty minutes before a team of nurses wrapped him up in a hospital gown, rushed him over to the delivery room where the doctors and nurses hovercrafted our son into his arms. They snapped a few quick pictures with Rob holding Oliver before whisking Oliver away to be washed, cleaned, measured, weighed, and then placed in the nursery under heating lamps with other babies that had arrived that same week.
Meanwhile in KL, I frantically booked the next available flight to Bangkok. The following day we both made our way to the hospital where we met two other couples who were waiting by the nursery window. We were all anxious to meet our new family members, pressed against the glass window, eagerly anticipating the arrival of our small mushy bubs being carted up close so that we could see. One couple was from Australia and the other from the US. It was serendipitous that we were all an Asian/Caucasian interracial couple. The hospital had a policy where you could only hold and feed your babies at twice a day; once in the morning and the second in the evening. Rob and I had agreed that he would feed Oliver in the morning and I would do it in the evening. As it turned out, the other two couples had the exact same idea. We called it the Asian rotation, the Caucasian fathers fed the kids in the morning and the Asian dads the evening.
At the time, Thailand had just passed a law to ban surrogacy. We along with the other new fathers, were all deeply worried and anxious of what effect the sudden law change would have on our family. The emotions of excitement and the fear of uncertainty surrounding the law change brought us together. Over a period of one month, we bonded with the other new dads in our shared experiences of processing citizenship and travel documents in Bangkok. It brought us together. By the end of the month both couples were able to return to their homes in Australia and US without hassle. Of the three, we were the only ones who remained and for two years we would call Bangkok our home before moving to our new home in Ho Chi Minh City. Our friendships moved into the digital world of Whatsapp and Facebook messages; sending occasional pictures and updates of how our kids were doing with each other. While we've continued to stay in touch, that was the last time we saw another two-dad family on Asian soil.
It wasn't until we moved to Viet Nam two years later that we would have the chance to meet another two-father family. In the small tourist town of Hoi An, forty minutes from Danang we were walking along the old market streets on a blisteringly warm sunny day when we noticed two men walking with two little boys. Rob and I looked at each other as if we both saw a unicorn on a unicycle. Without saying a word to each other we were both compelled to reach out and strike up a conversation. For 5 solid minutes we stood on the sidewalk talking intently with them. Curious and enthralled, listening and lingering on each and every word as they shared their lives based in Hong Kong, their holiday adventures in Hoi An, their son in hospital getting stitches. We commiserated with their feelings of being failed parents for not being aware 24/7 to prevent their son's accident.
The connection may have lasted for only 5 minutes but in that moment we felt like we were part of a community. They were our people! There were no walls, just understanding and a shared experience of being a two-dad unit. We had met another Benetton family and even though we may not have stayed in contact, or be in the same geography, knowing they were in Asia, that they were there, made us feel less alone. The whole experience put a smile and grin on our faces for the rest of the day. When we left Hoi An, we left having discovered others living parallel lives to ours; a deep sense of comfort in knowing there were others in Asia. Gay families maybe few but they are amazing when you meet them!