My 5 Biggest Fears About Surrogacy — and How I Overcame Them

Note: To ramp up for my appearance this weekend at the Families Through Surrogacy conference in San Francisco, I’m posting another informational/opinion piece (infopinion?) on gestational surrogacy, the route my partner and I took to have kids. It’s not right for everyone, but if you’re thinking about it, you’re welcome to read all my previous posts on the subject by clicking here.

When my partner Drew and I decided to have a baby, we had so many reservations about surrogacy, we initially didn’t even consider it. As we investigated other routes to parenthood for same-sex couples, we learned that every method involves its own pitfalls, heartbreaks and great expense, so there was no easy road to choose. Most foreign countries with a surplus of adoptable children don’t allow gays to adopt. Domestic adoption is complicated, too. Some birth mothers reconsider their decision to give up their baby, leaving would-be parents crushed. Foster children can be reunited with their own families. Even when you’re raising a kid who’s been with you since birth, legal struggles can tie up your parental rights for years.

We eventually realized that, no matter which path we chose, the road ahead would be bumpy. That’s when we gave surrogacy a more serious look, and we found that the main fears that scared us away from it were all unfounded.  Here’s what we were afraid of — and what we learned.

1. FEAR: The surrogate will want to keep the baby.

BabyMminiseries1988In 1986, there was a very famous court case centered around a child known as “Baby M”. The details were as follows: a New Jersey couple named William and Elizabeth Stern contracted a woman named Mary Beth Whitehead to be their surrogate. Whitehead was inseminated with William’s sperm and became pregnant with a fetus conceived from his sperm and her own egg.

After the baby, called Baby M to protect her privacy, was born, Whitehead refused to relinquish her parental rights and insisted on keeping the little girl. The Sterns took her to court, and after an agonizing legal struggle which was tabloid fodder for years, the surrogacy contract was ruled invalid. Whitehead was recognized as the legal mother, and although the Sterns retained primary custody, Whitehead was permitted visitation rights.

In short, it was a mess, and it scared a generation of people away from the idea of surrogacy.

Here’s the upside of the Baby M hullabaloo: it forced would-be surrogates, intended parents and the legal system to take surrogacy more seriously. Some states outlawed surrogacy altogether, but others passed laws laying out the terms under which surrogacy contracts would be enforceable. It became far, far less likely that parental rights would remain up in the air after a baby was born.

You could also say that Baby M led indirectly to the rise of gestational surrogacy. As in vitro technology improved, people increasingly used surrogates who were not expected to provide their own eggs. The thinking went that, if a surrogate wasn’t biologically connected to the child, she wouldn’t consider it her baby. It also made it clearer to the courts that she was not intended to have parental rights.

These days, the ideal candidate for gestational surrogacy has already had children of her own and feels her family is complete. She’s more likely to fear that the intended parents will walk away and leave her with an infant she doesn’t want to keep.

Situations like Baby M are pretty much unheard of today, at least in the United States. If you have a baby with the help of a gestational surrogate, you can rest assured that the infant will go home from the hospital with you, not her.

2. FEAR: Surrogacy exploits women.

I consider myself a feminist, but some feminists want to kick me out of the club for having a child with a surrogate. Before I truly investigated surrogacy, I worried that they were right. A part of my conscience told me surrogacy was equivalent to renting a womb, that it was a case of a wealthier person buying something from a less-well-off person that they really shouldn’t be selling. It felt icky.

On the one hand, that’s an incredibly paternalistic argument. No one’s forced into surrogacy against her will. (At least in the U.S. If you’re pursuing surrogacy internationally, you need to be sure to use reputable agencies.) A surrogacy contract is an agreement between consenting adults, all of sound mind, and most states make it fairly clear whether they will recognize the contract or not. If I rejected the idea of surrogacy in order to “protect” women, that would be more sexist than respecting the surrogate’s right to make that decision for herself.

Put another way, I believe a surrogate has the right to choose what to do with her own body. By having a baby with a surrogate, I’m not dictating how women should use their wombs, but laws that tell women they can’t be surrogates are restricting their rights.

As for the money, yes, a surrogate gets paid. Yes, a lot of surrogates use the cash to supplement their income. But no one’s getting rich as a surrogate. And the money that these women do make, they earn. The payment can be an incentive for many, but there has to be a deeper reason as well, a desire to help infertile couples.

When we met with our surrogate, we were stunned to see that she drove a nicer car than we did. She had a full-time job and a big heart, and when she told us she was going to say yes to moving forward with us, the tears in her eyes were happy tears.

There are people who will never accept this argument, who will always insist that surrogacy exploits women and shouldn’t be legal. If it nags you that seriously, then surrogacy isn’t right for you. As for me, I have no regrets, and neither do my partner or our surrogate. We’re all extremely proud of the way we created our kids. In fact, our surrogate later gave birth for another couple as well.

3. FEAR: Surrogacy reduces the miracle of life to a series of business transactions.

Every kid is eventually going to ask how she or he came into the world. Most parents can explain it pretty easily: “Well, Mommy and Daddy love each other very much, so we made a baby together. We’ll give you more details in a few years.”

Parents of adopted children also get to say something very sweet. “Well, your birth parent(s) couldn’t take care of you the way they thought you deserved, but they knew that we could, so they chose us to love you and raise you, and that’s how we became a family.”

I feared that, as a dad through gestational surrogacy, I’d have to say something like this to my kids: “Daddy and Daddy found a couple of women who needed some cash, we hired lawyers, signed some paperwork and bam, there you were!”

That was before I actually went through the surrogacy process. Now, I’d say something like this: “Daddy and I wanted very much to have a baby, but it takes a woman’s help to have one. Your Aunt Susie saw how much love we had to give, and because she loves us so much, she donated her eggs to help create you. Then we met Aunt Tiffany, who saw what good daddies we’d be, and she carried you inside her for nine months so that we could have a family. You were so loved before you were even born that four people came together to help make you.”

That sounds a lot nicer, doesn’t it?

4. FEAR: We can’t afford it.

This probably should be #1.  When we started looking into surrogacy, my partner and I both made decent salaries, but we were hardly wealthy. We didn’t have trust funds or rich parents willing to write us six-figure checks. Whatever money we had in the bank was supposed to help us buy a house and to retire.

Ultimately, we decided that having a family was our top priority. It mattered more to us than owning a big house, taking fancy vacations or being able to live comfortably. If it meant we could have a baby, we would sacrifice everything else.

Our surrogacy agency required a $7,500 downpayment, and they told us that we’d be on the waiting list for a surrogate for about a year before we’d have to pay the balance. I admit that when we gave them the deposit, we weren’t totally sure we’d have enough money when the time came. But we started saving like mad and searching for funds under every financial couch cushion, and somehow, we made it.

5. FEAR: We could spend a fortune and still end up babyless.

I knew that, despite its high price tag, there were no guarantees to in vitro fertilization. We could make embryo after embryo but never get pregnant. In fact, just as we were starting our baby journey, the Los Angeles Times ran a series of articles about a gay couple who invested their life savings trying to have a baby through surrogacy. Their tale had a tragic ending, and I feared the same could happen to us.

The surrogacy agency we spoke to was much more confident about our odds. They said their gay male clients had a success rate, over their first 3 in vitro cycles, of 98%. How is that possible? Well, unlike with infertile straight couples who pursue IVF, no one involved in gay surrogacy has any prior history of infertility. Egg donors and surrogates are tested for their fitness for their respective tasks before they’re approved.

Furthermore, through a process called IntraCytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI), even a man with a very low sperm count can create healthy embryos.

Most straight couples want to use a husband’s sperm and wife’s egg, and they’re dealing with low quality on one or both counts. But for same-sex couples, every participant can be replaced if things aren’t working. If their first IVF cycle is unsuccessful, they can find a new egg donor and/or a new surrogate. They can even switch out which of them is donating sperm.

There are still no guarantees, and as they Los Angeles Times articles show, even a successful IVF can end badly. But in many ways, the odds of having a baby with a surrogate are greater than with the other methods.

*****

My book’s release date (5/8/14) is less than two months away. Have you preordered your copy yet? Yes? OK, I’ll shut up then. Wait, did some of you say no? REALLY?!? Don’t you know you can find a bookseller to preorder from by clicking here? It’s that simple! Then you get to read a book full of all-new, all-funny, all-heartwarming goodness before most or all of the people you know. That’s right. If you don’t preorder soon, other people you know might read it first. Don’t let that happen. Preorder now! Why are you reading this sentence? Don’t you know what “now” means? Click on that link! Or this one! Or the next one. Which one? This one here, that’s which one. Now! (Thanks.)

FairyGodmother2-good

Just a Couple of Gay Dads at Disney World

snowwhite2Last week, I did something I never thought I’d do. I went to Disney World as a dad.

The last time I’d been there, I was pretty much still a kid myself — 20 years old and just coming to terms with being gay. Everywhere I looked in Orlando, I saw dads. They were buckling their kids into the Dumbo ride and hoisting them onto their shoulders to watch the Main Street Electrical Parade. They all had big smiles on their faces, and they all had wives.

With that visit, Disney World became Exhibit A of what I was sacrificing by coming out of the closet.

Or so I thought.

I’ve written a whole book about how I got from that point to fatherhood, and I’m happy to say that twenty years in the future, life looks a lot better than I ever expected it would. As soon as Drew and I felt the kids were old enough to appreciate a Disney vacation, we booked our trip.

I had just a tinge of nerves as the four of us headed for the airport. We’re never more visible as a family than when we travel. Nothing says “We file taxes jointly” as clearly as sharing a Lion King suite in a Disney hotel. And I doubt any place in America draws such a cross-section of Americans as Orlando. I was sure we’d bump into some people who wouldn’t find our family… let’s say, family-friendly.

We’d barely stepped through the front door of our hotel when an eager employee — er, I mean cast member — strolled up to us and asked if we needed to check in.

“Well, I was told I’d get a text when our room was ready, and it hasn’t come yet,” I told him.

“Hmmm, let me see,” he said. He took down my name and disappeared behind the check-in desk.

A minute later, he was back. “You haven’t been assigned a room yet, but I’m going to talk to my manager and get that taken care of right away! Just sit tight!”

We watched him approach his manager, and Drew whispered to me. “I think we’re getting the family treatment, if you know what I mean.”

Of course I knew what he meant. The cast member who was helping us was gay (“family”) himself, so he was being extra nice to us. Moments later, we were upstairs in a fantastic room on the top floor.

Though I’d planned all our meal reservations months in advance (which you have to do if you want to eat at the good spots), I needed to make a change to one. I was not optimistic I’d be able to get what I wanted, but I picked up our hotel phone and dialed the reservation line.

“So this is for you and… Andrew?” the man on the other end asked, reading my information off his computer.

“Yes.”

“And are you celebrating anything today?”

“Well, it’s our anniversary, actually.” (We hadn’t specifically planned to be at Disney World for the occasion, but a lot of big life events seem to end up happening on the same day Drew and I met 11 years ago.)

“Aw!” he said. I realized that once again, we were getting the family treatment. He fixed my reservation and waived the change fee.

It’s then that I realized something that would become even clearer to me throughout our vacation: a LOT of gay people work at Disney World. And as I’ve already learned, gay people love to see gay parents. Thanks to them and all the other wonderful people who work at the Magic Kingdom, I felt completely safe at Disney and never had any second thoughts about whether my family belonged there.

mulansuccessWe spent our vacation like pretty much everyone else. We dined with everyone from Donald Duck to Tigger to Stitch to Sleeping Beauty. We stalked Mulan through Epcot’s China pavilion so the kids could get her autograph, camping out on a tip that she was going to make a surprise appearance. (Success!) We spent roughly half our kids’ college funds on Disney merchandise.

It was awesome.

Instead of feeling self-conscious about our family, we felt… well, special.

As we stood on Main Street waiting for a lunch reservation one day, a cast member approached us in character and said, “You have a beautiful family! The four of you, I love this.” She pointed at each of us, just so we knew for sure that she understood exactly what kind of family we had.

fairygodmotherOur kids felt like celebrities, because everyone from the White Rabbit to Princess Tiana treated them rock stars. They got picked to take part in shows, Mike Wazowski read Bennett’s joke during the Monsters, Inc. show, and the characters at Disney restaurants didn’t want to leave our table. No one was more awesome than Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother. We stood in line one day to get her autograph, and the next day, she spotted us during the park’s opening ceremony. “I remember you guys!” she called out to us. “Come see me later!”

Of course, we did, and she greeted us like old friends. This was a woman who probably spoke to hundreds of families a day, but precisely because we were a little bit different, she remembered us. It made me realize once again that it’s better to stand out than to blend in.

Any fears I had about people reacting negatively to our family were unfounded. As I’ve noted in other posts, the nice people we come into contact with tend to be extra-nice to us, and the homophobes are at least polite enough to stay out of our way.

There’s no way to say this without sounding cheesy or like some Disney shill (which I’m not — no one has paid me for this post!), but the best word I can think of to describe our trip was “magical.”

Becoming a dad was a major life victory for me, but it was hardly the last one. It’s been followed by innumerable others, the most recent of which came last week, when I took my family to Disney World, just like anyone else.

And it was even better than I’d imagined.

* * * * *

If you’re a regular reader, you may already know to skip the part after the asterisks, because you’ve probably already subscribed to my blog and followed me everywhere else, too — and geez, when’s he going to stop asking? Those of you who are still reading — what are you waiting for? Subscribe, like me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter – and hey, as long as I’m shamelessly groveling, why not mark my book as “to read” on GoodReads? That’d be swell.

Grateful Man: How I Went from Self-Promoting Author to #1 Best-Seller*

BestsellerNo1I almost started writing this post too soon.

I tried not to get my hopes up too much about my Amazon Preorder Chart Twerk, wherein I brazenly begged everyone who would listen to me to preorder my book, 7 months before it’s even released, so that I could make a big splash on the Amazon sales chart. I had no idea what kind of difference a stunt like this could make, but it felt good going into it ranked #403,253. The only way to go was up!

Or so I thought.

So many people, from close friends to readers of this blog whom I’ve never even met, shared my link and tried to get others to sign on. At noon sharp, I started tweeting, Facebooking, emailing and basically squeezing every bit of juice out of all the social networks I’ve built up over the last few years to hype the presale. Then I sat back to watch my book coast up the charts.

I couldn’t wait to write this blog post, the one where I told everyone how much all their help paid off. I only wondered what numbers I would be able to boast about. Hey, I made it to #1,486 in the rankings! Hooray, I cracked the top 900! Oh my God, I’m outselling Catcher in the Rye**!

At 12:01, I hit REFRESH. No change. At 12:01 and 5 seconds, I hit REFRESH again. And again. And again. Hmm… maybe these charts didn’t update as frequently as I thought.

Finally, at 12:49, I saw a new rank… 409,937.

Huh?!

I asked everyone I know to buy my book, and it was actually going down in the rankings? This can’t be right. REFRESH REFRESH REFRESH!

At 2:17pm, I saw another new rank…

420,449

Now I was panicked. My chart twerk had been going on for 2 full hours, and the book was still plummeting like a Saw sequel the week after Halloween. What if Amazon didn’t rank preorders the same way as books that have been released? What if this didn’t work the way I’d led people to believe it would? What if I’d cashed in all the good will I’d amassed my whole life FOR NOTHING?

REFRESH REFRESH REFRESH REFRESH REFRESH REFRESH REFRESH REFRESH…

By 5:00 I’d pretty much given up hope. I was composing an email to Drew asking him what I should do. Apologize to everyone and tell them to cancel their preorders? Change my name and leave the country?

Right before I was about to hit SEND, I refreshed one more time. That’s when I saw this:

Rankings1Just as I was staring at the numbers, my phone rang, and I knew right away it was the one person who was probably hitting REFRESH as much as I was.

“DID YOU SEE IT? HOLY SHIT!”

“I was just sending you an email,” I said, as I immediately deleted everything I’d just typed to him.

Just like that, my book shot up 420,083 places, to #366. As in 0 million, 0 hundred thousand, three hundred sixty-six.

Holy shit, indeed.

Even better, it was #15 in Parenting… and #1 in Gay & Lesbian Memoirs and Biographies!

I didn’t stop refreshing. At 6:43, the book was up even more… #260! Still #1 in LGBT memoirs and now #9 in Parenting. I was ahead of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child!

I giddily looked up some other books. Eat Pray Love? #3,070. Pfft! Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire? #1,068. Ha ha! Sure it was just for one brief moment in time on one retailer, but I was outselling J.K. Rowling!

The book popped up in Hot New Releases for Gay & Lesbian Biographies. It ranked #2 on Amazon’s Movers & Shakers chart (based on a sales surge of 98,150%). Best of all, if you searched for my book, it popped up with a sticker that said “#1 Best-Seller” because of its placement in its category chart.

Admittedly, part of me felt guilty. I was gaming the system, after all. There was no way my ranking would hold, and I’d displaced authors who’d earned their sales the hard way. Still, I couldn’t feel too bad because I was too busy feeling something else instead…

An overwhelming rush of love and gratitude.

I have the best friends, family, followers and blog readers in the world. I am silly with affection for you guys right now. The rank may have been inflated, but there’s no way I could overstate how loved I feel at this moment. I was moved to tears when I saw what you did for my book, and it’s ultimately not about selling a book as much as it is feeling like I’ve done something right with my life. I’ve surrounded myself with amazing people.

There are too many people to thank individually here, but two bloggers really went above and beyond in helping me promote this, so the least I can do is point you toward their awesome blogs. John Kinnear and Miceala Shocklee, you guys rock.

With seven months until the book comes out, I’m not sure what comes next. I’ll probably talk to my publisher about how we can garner some more attention out of this, and I’m sure they’ll have plenty of marketing schemes to implement as my book comes closer to being released. But even if my book never reaches these kinds of numbers again, this already seems like a win.

My book is about how I became a dad, so it recounts some of the happiest moments of my life. Today, you gave me another one, which goes in a new chapter all its own.

… a figurative chapter. Don’t worry, I’m not setting you up to buy another book already.

—–

* Gay & Lesbian Biography & Memoir category

** That never happened. But I slaughtered Franny & Zooey.

3 Days And Counting… Amazon Chart Twerk update!


amazonrank

Great news! My book has cracked the top 674,000 on Amazon! I actually noticed it go as high as the top 176,000 shortly after I announced the presale, but clearly most of you have been holding out for the official chart twerk, which takes place this Friday, October 4, at 12pm EDT (or as close to that as you can manage to be near a device running Amazon.com). I’m hoping then that I’ll see a much higher ranking, which of course, will give my publisher a big boost of confidence and hopefully convince more booksellers to stock it.

I’ve been so touched by all of you who’ve said you’re going to participate. I’m happy you want to read the book and grateful that you’re willing to help me out with my crazy little plan. (Admittedly, the one thing that’s likely to get a bigger boost than my book’s ranking is my own ego.)

For the rest of you, I’ve realized that maybe you need some more convincing. Maybe just some more information about this book I’m asking you to shell out your preorder money for. So, if you’re curious what’s contained in these 264 pages, here goes:

This memoir began as kind of an expanded version of a Modern Love column I wrote for the New York Times. You can read that original column here. That piece mostly centered on the amazing gift my partner and I received from my sister-in-law Susie, who selflessly donated her eggs to help us have children. The hardest thing about writing that column was fitting the whole thing into such a limited space. There was so much more to our story. So many more amazing people who deserved to be included, so many more unbelievable anecdotes I was dying to share. Writing the short version convinced me that I wanted to write about all of it. For my own sake, for my kids’ sake and, hopefully, for a bunch of people who might be moved by or just get a kick out of our story.

What I didn’t want to write was some deep, ponderous, self-important memoir like so many of the others out there. If you’ve been reading my blog, you’re familiar with my writing voice – snarky, jokey and then, when you least expect, ridiculously sentimental, because that’s just the kind of guy I am. That’s exactly what you’ll get from the book, too.

If I do say so myself, it’s also just a great story. Here’s the synopsis I put together for the publisher, which you can also find on the book’s Amazon page.

As a teenager growing up in the 1980s, all Jerry Mahoney wanted was a nice, normal sham marriage. 2.5 kids and a frustrated, dissatisfied wife living in denial of her husband’s sexuality. Hey, why not? It seemed much more attainable and fulfilling than the alternative—coming out of the closet and making peace with the fact that he’d never have a family at all.

Twenty years later, Jerry is living with his long-term boyfriend, Drew, and they’re ready to take the plunge into parenthood. But how? Adoption? Foster parenting? Kidnapping? What they want most of all is a great story to tell their future kid about where he or she came from.

Their search leads them to gestational surrogacy, a road less traveled where they’ll be borrowing a stranger’s ladyparts for nine months. Thus begins Jerry and Drew’s hilarious and unexpected journey to daddyhood. They meet a surrogate who’s perfect in every way… until she rejects them. They squabble over potential egg donors, discovering that they have very different notions of what makes the ideal woman. Then, Drew’s sister Susie makes a stunning offer that turns their entire journey on its head. If they’re interested, she’ll donate her eggs.

For the first time, Jerry and Drew imagine what it would be like to have a baby who’s a little bit of both of them. From then on, they’re in uncharted waters. They’re forced to face down homophobic baby store clerks, a hospital that doesn’t know what to do with them, even members of their own family who think what they’re doing is a little nutty. Along the way, Susie receives some devastating news that threatens to crush all their dreams of parenthood. One thing’s for sure. If this all works out, they’re going to have an incredible birth story to tell their kid.

With honesty, emotion, and laugh-out-loud humor, Jerry Mahoney ponders what it means to become a Mommy Man . . . and discovers that the answer is as varied and beautiful as the concept of family itself.

If you have any questions, post them here. I’d be happy to answer them. And if you need a reminder to place your order with the rest of us, just let me know and I’ll add you to my email list.

I have no idea how high a ranking this book can get, but I’m dying to find out. Maybe some day you can say you helped me crack the top 8,000!

[Remember: the Amazing Amazon Preorder Sales Twerk is this Friday, October 4, at 12pm EDT. You can place your orders here.]

Book Update! And more!

Where Do Gaybies Come From, bookshelf, great books, literatureThere’s some big news concerning my upcoming book, WHERE DO GAYBIES COME FROM (available May 2014 from Taylor Trade Publishing, ahem, plug plug plug). And the news is that it’s no longer called WHERE DO GAYBIES COME FROM.

To be honest, I’ve never loved the word “gayby.” I know what you’re thinking: so why did I name both the blog and then the book WHERE DO GAYBIES COME FROM? Well, it had a clever ring to it. It got people’s attention. It did a reasonable job of explaining what the book was about.

Still, it bugged me, and I finally figured out why. When you come up with a cutesy name for the child of gay parents, it implies that the kid is the one who’s different, that something about having two dads classifies you as some kind of unique species. Worse, it gives my kids’ future bullies ammo to use against them. “Hey, gayby!” “I’m not a gayby!” “Oh yeah? Well your dad said so in his best-selling memoir!”

I understand we’re a non-traditional family, that gay dads are still a relatively small minority, so if there’s some cutesy term that applies to me, I’ll embrace it fully.

But my kids are just kids. I wrote 264 pages (official page count!) explaining how two dudes ended up with two perfectly amazing yet perfectly common human infants, and that’s kind of the point, so why have a title that suggests otherwise?

Also, I know there are plenty of other people who dislike the term “gayby” — because it’s cutesy, because it implies the kids are gay rather than the parents or for the same reason as me. Who needs a title that turns people off?

I briefly flirted with calling the book “Breeders,” even though that term irritates people even more than “gaybies,” but at least it referred to me, not the kids. Then, my editor came up with a much better idea, one that was right under our noses all along.

Announcing my upcoming memoir:

MOMMY MAN: HOW I WENT FROM MILD-MANNERED GEEK TO GAY SUPERDAD

If I have one reservation about this title, it’s that it’s entirely focused on me. Sure, the book is mostly about me, but it’s also also about my amazing partner, Drew, and the two incredible women who helped us become a family. And it’s about the kids, of course, although (spoiler alert!) they make kind of a late appearance.

Just don’t call them “gaybies.”

* * * * *

A couple of other things to report… I did my first podcast! The delightful Karly and DJ at What’s With the Drama invited me to take part in their show about stay-home dads, and we had a really fun chat.

* * * * *

I was also invited by the Daily Post at WordPress to take part in a roundtable for parent bloggers. We had a great conversation about privacy, dealing with criticism and our personal blogging tips. Part 1 of 3 is up now!

* * * * *

Sorry for the repeat image at the top of this post. Until there’s a real cover, this one will have to suffice.

Bravo to “The Boxtrolls”

"Sometimes there's a mother. Sometimes there's a father. Sometimes there's a father and a father. Sometimes both fathers are mothers."

“Sometimes there’s a mother. Sometimes there’s a father. Sometimes there’s a father and a father. Sometimes both fathers are mothers.”

One of the bigger challenges of being in a two-dad family is finding representations of families like yours in popular culture. When you have no mom in your home, it can sometimes seem like 90% of kids’ books don’t apply to you. (And when you have no dad, you’re just as likely to feel excluded from Disney princess movies, where moms are virtually nonexistent.)

Yesterday, I took my kids to see Despicable Me 2. There’s a subplot in the movie about the main character’s daughters wishing they had a mom. It was perfectly sweet and inoffensive, and I’m sure it’s a subject that really does pop up in a lot of families headed by straight single dads. I don’t mind my kids seeing cartoon children who wish they had a mom, but it’s nice when that can be balanced out by fictional characters who are perfectly happy with the number and gender of parents they already have.

The amazing thing was, they actually got that. Not from the movie, but from one of the trailers that came before it. I’d never heard of The Boxtrolls before, but I let out a little squeal of joy when, out of nowhere, I heard them acknowledge the existence of families like mine. “That’s like us!” I cheered to my kids.

You can watch the trailer here:

I’m sure the filmmakers will get some flack over what will seem to many people like a totally unnecessary nod to LGBT parents — and maybe publicity was part of their motivation. The trailer comes right on the heels of the Supreme Court DOMA/Prop 8 decisions, yet the movie doesn’t come out until September 2014. (Hey, Focus Features, just how long do you think my kids’ memory is? They didn’t remember the movie about the racing snail and we only saw that trailer a week ago.)

Still, it’s my opinion that it’s never too early to talk to your kids about homosexuality — in fact, the sooner, the better. So I’m grateful this trailer will help nudge the conversation forward. More importantly, though, I’m happy for all the kids like mine who are going to see it.

You may not see families like mine every day — or single-parent families, adoptive families or families that cross any number of racial lines — but it’s very nice for us when we get a chance to see ourselves… so to the filmmakers, I want to say thanks.

I also want to let them know that my son was kind of freaked out by the Boxtrolls themselves and has sworn he’ll never see the movie. Good thing he has plenty of time to change his mind before it’s actually released.

(l-r) Awesome, Cool, Hilarious Daddy; Daddy

My Two Daddies… The Awesome, Cool, Hilarious Daddy, and the Other One

(l-r) Awesome, Cool, Hilarious Daddy; Daddy

(l-r) Awesome, Cool, Hilarious Daddy; Daddy

There was nothing I wanted to inherit from my father more than the name “Dad.” I loved my dad, and in my mind, he was indelibly tied to that particular sobriquet. “Dad” was a term of love and respect for me, a part of all my memories of childhood and a crucial element of how I defined my family. The problem, when I actually became a dad, was that my partner Drew wanted to be called “Dad,” too — or, in the early years, “Daddy.”

“You can’t both be Dad,” a million people warned us. “That’ll be so confusing for your kids.”

They suggested we go by “Daddy” and “Papa,” which seem to be the go-to designations for gay dads these days. No matter how much we considered it, though, “Papa” felt like the consolation prize, and neither of us would agree to settle for it. We both grew up with dads whom we loved very much, so that’s what we wanted to be. Finally, we found someone who gave us the answer we were looking for.

“We’ve never had a problem,” a business associate of Drew’s told us one day. He and his partner had an eight-year-old son who called them both “Dad.”

“Is it ever confusing?”

He shrugged. “When it is, he finds ways to differentiate.”

So we went for it. Before they could even understand speech, our twins heard the word “Daddy” thousands of times. To them, “Daddy” came to mean two different men and one common function. They called for Daddy to kiss their boo-boos and to break up their disputes, not knowing for sure whether the tall guy or the short guy would walk through the door. When they didn’t get the Daddy they were hoping for, they made their displeasure known.

My kids will turn 4 this summer, and already, they’re pros at differentiating between their two dads. Their favorite way is to use modifiers like “Silly Daddy” or “Funny Daddy”, and in those cases, we all know instantly who they mean — not me. When they take the extra effort to throw in a compliment like that, they’re always talking about Drew. I’m just plain old “Daddy.” Some days, Papa doesn’t sound so bad to me anymore.

I want to plead my case: “Remember when I sang Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’, but I changed every word to ‘poop’? Didn’t we have a lot of laughs then?” But I don’t want to end up as “Desperate Daddy,” so I keep my hurt feelings to myself.

I’m the stay-home parent, so while the kids and I do have fun together, I’m also the guy who enforces naptime and who makes them take off their dress-up clothes while they eat their healthy dinners. At night, when Silly Daddy is at his most uproarious, I’m groaning and trying to rush them to bed, because I’m exhausted from all the unfunny things I do all day.

… which brings me to the one distinction that hurts more than Silly Daddy vs. Just Daddy. At some point, my kids started calling my partner “The Daddy Who Goes To Work” and I became “The Daddy Who Stays Home”. Was that how they saw things? Drew was defined by his job, but I was defined by my location, by the fact that you could usually find me within 20 feet of the bed where I slept last night?

These kids didn’t know me before I was Daddy. I used to have a career, too, one that I enjoyed, and that allowed me to live a lot more comfortably than I do now. I took vacations. I saved for my retirement. I saw movies in the theater.

I thought I was trading that in for something better, a more interesting and adventurous life path. I was going to be a dad — a professional dad — and a gay dad at that. Take that, status quo!

Instead, I’ve ended up like most stay-home parents, the clichéd unappreciated house-spouse. I’ll find myself cracking privately to friends, “You know what they should be calling me? The Daddy Who Gave Up His Life for Us!”

It turns out that deciding who I would be to my kids wasn’t as simple as choosing what they would call me. I still love being referred to as “Daddy,” but I’ve come to accept that that term doesn’t mean the same to them as it did to me when I was growing up. For my kids, “Daddy” is an ever-evolving designation, one that requires adjustment at times, complete overhaul at others.

Recently, they decided that “The Daddy Who Stays Home” wasn’t quite working for them anymore. Without notice, they gave it a subtle twist, one that probably seemed minor to them but which brought me instantly out of my funk. It materialized as my daughter drew pictures of two men’s faces, which looked very similar except that one had spiky purple hair and one had a red crew cut. “This is the Daddy Who Goes to Work,” she said, pointing to the first one.

“And this,” she said, holding up the other picture proudly, “is the Daddy Who Takes Care of Us.”

"The Daddy Who Takes Care of Us"

“The Daddy Who Takes Care of Us”

*****

OK, you saw the asterisks. You know what that means. This is the part of the post where I shamelessly ask you to share this post (or my blog in general) on your social networks. Facebook me, tweet me, surprise me. If you like something I wrote here, help me out by spreading the word. If you hate it, then you can still share it, because hey, traffic is traffic, and your friends might have better taste than you. Also, follow me on Facebook, Twitter and wherever else you can find me. I’m not the type of guy who plays hard to find.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting… and Gay

deliveryroom-1So you’re going to be a gay parent? Congratulations! No doubt you’ve been through a lot to get to this point, whether you’ve traveled the path of adoption, IVF, artificial insemination, surrogacy, fostering or whatever. Now, you have a lot to do to get ready.

Don’t worry. This isn’t going to be one of those typical posts that tells you to stock up on diapers and learn CPR. Most gay parents are overachievers on that front, I’d guess, since we’ve been planning our families for so long. I know I couldn’t wait to sign up for baby classes.

I wanted to write this post specifically for you, though, the expectant gay parent, because there’s a whole lot of important parenting stuff they’re not going to cover in those baby classes that applies directly to you. There are some special things you’re going to experience because you have a non-traditional family, and I’ve encountered them, so I wanted to give you my tips on how to deal with them.

1. Your kids will need perspective.

familybookNo matter where you live, it’s very likely that your kids will grow up feeling at least slightly out of the mainstream. They’ll see that most families have a mom and dad, and that their family is different.

In my opinion, the best way to handle this is to embrace it. Celebrate who you are from day one. Always talk about what makes your family special, and make sure you do it in positive terms. There are some great kids’ books about LGBT-parented families. (I call the books about gay dads “Papa-ganda”.) We love to read “The Family Book” by Todd Parr, and when we get to the page that says “Some families have two moms or two dads,” I ask the kids. “Who has two dads?”, and they cheer, “Me!!!”

When they meet other kids, they probably feel that their friends are the ones who are missing out on something special by not having a family like ours. Yes, my kids are still young (3 1/2 as of right now), so they haven’t asked a ton of uncomfortable questions, and the Mommy issue hasn’t come up too much. But when that time comes (and I know it will), I’ll be able to talk about our family structure as something wonderful that makes us who we are, because that’s what I’ve been saying all along.

Moms are great, too, but if we had one of those, we wouldn’t have two dads, and we wouldn’t be us.

2. You’ll constantly be outing yourself.

Unless you’re always walking around in your rainbow-striped Pride t-shirt (and good for you if you are), you’re probably passing for straight most of the time, whether you mean to or not. As a childless person, this is not a big deal. You’re going to the supermarket to pick up a loaf of bread, not to discuss your private life with strangers, right?

Well, once you have kids, people will be even more likely to assume you’re straight. A baby practically announces to the world, “I had intercourse with someone of the opposite sex!”

I can’t tell you how many times a stranger (usually a woman, presumably a mom herself) has seen me pushing my kids in the double stroller through the aisles of Target or changing a diaper in a family restroom and exclaimed, “Your wife sure is lucky!” (Side note: many straight women apparently have terrible husbands.)

Even when my whole family is out together — me, the kids and my very obviously male partner — people find ways to force us into their preconceived notions of family structure. Then, the typical comment we get is, “I guess it’s Mom’s day off!” The assumption here is that my boyfriend and I are platonic buddies whose wives are off on a spa date or something. Hey, I take the spa dates in my family, thank you very much.

Your natural inclination in these situations might be to play along, not out of any kind of self-loathing but just for social expediency. From most people, these comments are the equivalent of, “Hey, nice weather we’re having!” All they’re looking for is for me to respond, “Yup!” Or “Hey, it’s only fair. Mom works hard, right?”

But whenever I’m tempted to do that, I’ll remember two very good reasons I can’t… my kids. They love their dads very much, and I’ve been telling them constantly what an amazing and incredibly special family we have. What message would I be sending to them if I suddenly pretended our family was just like everyone else’s? That we need to lie about who we are? That they should lie? That I’m ashamed of being gay? That the opinion of some stranger in a supermarket is more important than the respect of my own children?

So I say it. Regardless of what the situation seems to call for, I out us. “There is no mom. There are two dads in our family.” Or “I don’t have a wife. I have a partner. A man.”

Then I brace myself, because my real fear is that this person will turn out to be a member of the Westboro Baptist Church or the Boy Scouts senior leadership, and they’ll go all psycho fire and brimstone on me in front of the kids. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened yet. Sure, some people are taken aback, because like I said, all they wanted was polite chit-chat and now they feel forced to say… well, something. Usually, what they say is “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have assumed,” because they’re embarrassed. In that case, I just smile, because that person is probably very nice and will never make that mistake again.

Remember, your kids come before strangers. Don’t worry about what some lady at the supermarket thinks. And if you’re in a hurry to get someone to the potty or to pick Other Daddy up at the train station, just correct the lady at the Stop-n-Shop and keep on moving. She’ll figure it out eventually.

Oh, and be prepared to do this with little kids, too. We sometimes get the question, “Where’s their Mommy?” and have to reply, “They don’t have one. They have two dads.” It usually ends there… for us, at least. If the questions get any trickier, we can always fall back on, “Go ask your parents.” Not my kids, not my problem.

3. You will now be an activist for non-traditional families.

As a childless LGBT person, it’s entirely possible to live your life in a supportive bubble. Move to San Francisco or LA. Work for GLAAD. Join a gay softball league. Surround yourself with people who know you and accept you. I’d guess many of us spent the years after coming out doing just that. Well, if you’re going to have kids, you’re going to have to venture outside your gay-friendly bubble. Constantly.

Your kids will be going to school and playing Little League primarily with kids from mom-and-dad-headed families, and you’ll be interacting with people who won’t always be 100% on board with the whole gay thing. Even going to IHOP on Family Night can feel like you’re Making a Statement, because some people will figure out immediately exactly what your family is all about.

Hi, welcome to the cause. What’s that? You’re not a political person? Well, good, because this isn’t about politics. It’s about your family, and being a good parent means doing what’s best for your kids. You want them to grow up in a better world than you did? Great, then get ready to fight for them.

horsefamilypic-1

“Thanks for the carriage ride. Would you mind taking a picture of our family?”

The good news is that most of the time, you can do this by pushing back gently. When I filled out my kids’ preschool applications last year, the forms had spaces for “Mother’s Name” and “Father’s Name”. I could’ve just written our names in those spaces. I guess I also could’ve called up and complained or raised a stink. Instead, I simply crossed out “Mother” and wrote “Father #2″, then submitted the forms as normal. Why assume that the school was homophobic? It was far more likely that they just hadn’t had any gay parents there before (or any who cared about the forms), so the forms had never been an issue.

You know what? When I filled out their applications the next year, the forms had been updated. There were now two lines labeled “Parent Name”. A subtle change other parents are unlikely to notice, but that meant a lot to me. Best of all, I didn’t have to be someone’s pain in the neck to accomplish it.

But you can’t be silent. You don’t want your kids to get to school and have the teacher asking them about their “Mommy” or “Daddy” (or whichever parent your family doesn’t include). You never know when a clueless teacher might insist, “Oh no, you have to have a Mommy. Everyone does!” So don’t make your kids do the hard work.

To be honest, though, once you get past your initial anxiety, being an activist is kind of fun. It can be very empowering to apply for a family membership at the children’s museum, to hand a tourist my iPhone and say, “Excuse me, can you take a picture of my family?” or to call in an order to the pharmacist and then add, “But I’m going to have her other dad pick it up.”

4. People will generally be very nice to you (at least to your face, and that’s all that matters).

Before I had kids, I assumed I’d meet a lot of resistance from the anti-gay crowd as a dad. I worried that preschools might turn us away, that other parents would refuse to set up playdates with my kids, that we’d get sneered at or harangued in public. What can I say? I was stung pretty hard when Prop 8 passed, and I took it very personally. I may even have had a tiny bit of a chip on my shoulder.

But here’s the good news. While I’m sure some of that ugly homophobia is out there, I have yet to face it head-on. I wrote a piece for this blog a while back called “The 5 People You Meet as a Gay Dad“, wherein I discussed the reactions I’ve received from people who’ve met my family. And I admitted at the end that the worst thing I’ve dealt with is polite discomfort. That piece generated a ton of comments, and almost all the other LGBT parents who wrote in had similar experiences. Even those who lived in much more conservative areas had been pleasantly surprised at the support they’d received.

feeding-1So you can feel good about your decision to have a family in this world at this time. I’m constantly touched and encouraged by how accepting and friendly most people are towards us. They want to learn our story, or to tell me about other gay parents they know. I constantly hear things like, “My sister and her wife are trying to have a baby. I’m so excited for them!” Sometimes they treat us like celebrities, like the nurse when my son was in the hospital. She told us she’d always wanted to meet gay dads, and she jogged around the kid’s hospital bed to give us hugs.

So my ultimate advice is the same thing you probably figured out when you first started coming out: be yourself and be proud. Assume the best of people, and very often, that’s what you’ll get.

Now go read those other parenting books and learn about feeding, diapering, swaddling, bathing and all that. Being a parent, gay or straight, is the most amazing, rewarding and totally freaking difficult thing you’ll ever do.

You’ve got a lot to learn.

*****

I wrote this post in honor of Blogging for LGBT Families Day over at Mombian. If you’re looking for other blogs for LGBT parents, that’s a great place to check. And if this post helped you out, entertained you or you know some prospective gay parents who might enjoy it, please consider sharing it using the buttons below. If you’re new here, welcome, and I hope you’ll consider subscribing by entering your email at the upper right of this page (no spam, just an email whenever I update), and/or  following me on Twitter, liking me on Facebook or just leaving a comment below. Thanks!

Gay Dads Have All The Answers…

selfportrait

Her first self-portrait

“Daddy, when I’m an adult, I’m going to grow a baby in my belly.”

“That’s great, Honey, and if that’s what you decide, then yes, you can.”

“But Daddy…?”

“Yes?”

“How does it get in there?”

“How does what get in there?”

“The baby… how does it get in my belly?”

“Um… well…”

“How does it get in there, Daddy?”

“Well… um… actually, for Daddy and me… we had a doctor put you in.”

“Oh. OK.”

Giant sigh of relief.