Read an Excerpt
PRAISE FOR Gay Dads
“One thing that seems to unify the fathers in Strah’s book is the incredible sense of love they have discovered in their journey to parenthood.”
“Gay Dads reads like an adventure—so many twists and turns, ups and downs—and all the stories have happy endings for dads and babies. So many blessings for all concerned!”
—BETTY DEGENERES, writer/activist
“Gay Dads skillfully documents a quiet revolution taking place in neighborhoods, schools, and playgrounds across the county, as out gay men shake up popular perceptions of what constitutes the American family. These thought-provoking stories reveal the myriad faces of gay dads and their children, and the perseverance, commitment, and love that bind these families together.”
—JOHNNY SYMONS, director/producer, Daddy & Papa
“It’s rare in the history of human relations that we get a frontline report of a social phenomenon right from the start, but Gay Dads is just that: a panoramic look at the first decades of an entirely new kind of family. Neither a personal memoir nor a clinical study, it is instead the spiritual survey of a trend, encompassing not just the hard data but the yearnings, the impediments, the strategies, the joys, the costs, and the benefits of becoming a parent in a way almost no one has done before. As such, it is a valuable addition to the growing literature on the subject, whose relevance will only increase with time—not only for gay people but also for the growing majority of Americans being raised outside the white-picket, two-parent, two-sex, one-race, genetically related ideal (or was it a fantasy?) of some other century.”
—JESSE GREEN, author of The Velveteen Father: An Unexpected Journey to Parenthood
A CELEBRATION OF FATHERHOOD
with Susanna Margolis
who makes my dreams come true,
AND FOR ZEV AND SUMMER,
who are my dream.
It’s a pleasure to express my thanks to a number of people who provided inspiration, information, and numerous intangible forms of assistance in the creation of this book.
Special thanks to Michael Sheldon for laying the groundwork on which the book was built.
Thanks also to Maggie Drucker for her friendship and professional assistance.
To Kris Timken, whose photographs bring the people in this book to life, I offer particular thanks. Without her dedication, commitment, and enthusiasm, and without endless travel that took her from her family, this book simply would not have happened. She consistently exceeded expectations. To my agent, Sarah Jane Freymann, who believed in the project from the beginning and kept on believing in it through thick and thin, and to Susanna Margolis, who helped give voice to so many gay dads, I express deepest gratitude.
For this paperback edition of the book, I again want to acknowledge Joel Fotinos, publisher of the Jeremy P. Tarcher imprint, and to offer thanks to editor Terri Hennessy. Both have been unstinting in their ongoing support and encouragement.
To Kelly Groves, of Penguin’s publicity department, his assistant Katie Grinch, and PR gurus Chrishaunda Lee, John Murphy and John Tiffany, warmest thanks for all your efforts.
I extend particular gratitude to Sally Susman, communications maven extraordinaire, for her commitment and enthusiasm in spearheading the effort to get the word out about Gay Dads.
I want also to acknowledge the support and love—given both to my family and to this project—by my parents, Joyce McKelvey and Michael and Sara Penn-Strah, by my in-laws, Ruth and Ron Miguel, and by my sister Annie and sisters-in-law Melanie and Renée. I am grateful to you all.
For their friendship, as consistent as it is profound, I thank Mary Ann Deffenbaugh and Catherine Ryan. And for their continued support and enthusiasm for this book, thanks to Rob Levy, Dave Schutte, Mark Corpron, and Joe Vallo.
Special thanks to Kelli O’Donnell and Gregg Kaminsky for their help.
Thanks also to Terry Boggis, director of Center Kids, and to staff at COLAGE and the Human Rights Campaign for referring families to be interviewed.
To Maris Blechner, the executive director of Family Focus, the adoption agency for my own family, and to attorney Michael Goldstein and legal assistant Renée Franklin, endless thanks for helping to create my family and for their invaluable help in clarifying numerous points of information.
Dr. Stephanie Schacher, Psy.D., generously articulated the findings of her research and shared her own perspective in the matter of the “new gay dads.” Her pioneering research, articulated in her doctoral thesis, Fathering Experiences of the “New” Gay Fathers: A Qualitative Research Study, illumines a growing and important phenomenon.
Thanks also to researchers Lauren Hudecki, of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, and Nikki Cruz, of COLAGE, for prompt, thorough research—congenially delivered.
I want to express my eternal gratitude to the birthmothers of my children—and to all the birthmothers of all the children. Your sacrifice is our greatest gift, and you will always have a place in all our hearts.
Finally, thanks to all the fathers who agreed to be interviewed for the book—for their time and for generously sharing their experiences.
A New Phenomenon in the American Family
In our statistics-happy nation, there are as yet no precise figures beyond crude estimates that measure the number of gay men who have set out to have children and create families of their own. Perhaps nobody has yet been able to count these men, for they represent a new phenomenon in our society.
To be sure, there have always been men who married, fathered children with their wives, and only later—or perhaps never—identified themselves as homosexual. In the past, many such men probably remained closeted all their lives. More recently, many have come out of the closet and out of their marriages, while of course remaining devoted fathers to their children. But the phenomenon of men who identify themselves as gay, who openly and publicly live gay lives, and who then undertake to create families is still a fledgling trend.
When my partner and I, an openly gay couple, became fathers for the first time in 1998, I felt that my heart was going to burst with joy and newfound love for our son. But I also felt isolated as a gay dad. I couldn’t find anyone else like me in what was otherwise a vibrantly cosmopolitan city. I knew instinctively that there must be other families like mine, and I wanted to see them, hear from them, learn about their troubles and triumphs, find out what we had in common and what was different about their experience. I suspect that other gay dads feel a similar isolation, wherever they may live. It’s why I wrote this book.
In it, you’ll meet 44 of the “new” gay dads, fathers in 24 families. You’ll hear what they went through to form their families, how they feel about what they went through, how they view parenting as gay men in the twenty-first century. I hope the book gives readers a sense of being present at the beginning of what I expect will one day become a more common aspect of gay life.
To find these families, I alerted a number of national and local gay organizations. I received more than a hundred responses, interviewed more than 60 gay dads, and winnowed the number down to the 23 families in this book—24, including my own. I also sought out the assistance of a seasoned professional writer, Susanna Margolis, who helped with the interviewing, gave shape to the individual stories, and brought to the task the perspective of someone from outside the gay community.
Who are the men in this book? They are as diverse a bunch as you’ll find anywhere in our diverse nation. When Rosie O’Donnell famously “came out” on national television, she told Diane Sawyer, “I don’t think America knows what a gay parent looks like: I am the gay parent.” So are the men in this book. They are of different races and skin colors. Professionals, wage-earners, and full-time homemakers. Young and middle-aged. Deeply religious and mildly observant. Tall and short, athletes and couch potatoes, activists and homebodies. They come from all parts of the country. The 2000 U.S. census conclusively dispelled the notion that gay men live only in the well-known urban centers of both coasts—New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles. These profiles bring the census figures to life, especially, in my view, in showing the trend to suburban life. Evidently, gay dads seek the same two-car garages, tree-lined streets, and collegial neighborhoods that have long been a model of American family life. It brings home the real answer to the question of who these men are: whether you’re gay or straight, they’re your neighbors.
But the experience they bring to the neighborhood is a distinctive one. For while the diversity among these gay dads is striking, even more striking are the commonalities. Read through these profiles, and certain themes recur—page after page. I think of these common themes as the “findings” of my exploration into the lives of gay fathers and their families.
Perhaps the most moving theme—a persistent if not universal finding—is the sense of miracle so many of these men feel at being fathers. Profile after profile speaks of how the joy of coming out as a gay man was tempered by regret that it meant a public farewell to parenthood—or so it was assumed. If the life stories in this book tell you nothing else, surely they proclaim that it is possible for gay men to be fathers. It is possible, it is practicable, and it is our fundamental right as human beings.
But becoming a father can sometimes be a Herculean task. You will read in this book about adoption—public, private, domestic, and international; about surrogacy; about coparenting. You will meet men who became fathers as a couple and others who are single dads. You will read about the different processes each of these avenues to fatherhood entails—the waiting, the preparation, the often intrusive evaluation of the men and their homes, the bureaucracies that must be dealt with, the false leads, the very painful discrimination, the high price of seeing a pregnancy through, or of flying overseas to bring home an internationally adopted child, or of the surrogacy process. Yet in every case, the men in this book stuck it out, kept struggling, claimed their rights, and triumphed in the end. In my mind, they are heroic, and their heroism is a gift for their children.
Many of those children are multiracial, creating lots of families that transcend race. It is a situation not without controversy. But I think it is fair to say of these families that their gay fathers, having faced discrimination and isolation for their sexuality, possess resources for handling the situation that others might lack.
In that regard, another of the themes that threads through these profiles is the healing impact of fatherhood. Especially for those men estranged from their families and thus in a way cut off from their own childhoods, becoming a parent appears to be restorative, even therapeutic. If it does not remedy the estrangement, it is such an optimistic plunge into the future that it can overwhelm the pain of the past.
Ironically, however, fatherhood can “cause” another kind of isolation—this time from the gay community. Of course, it’s understandable that these gay dads suddenly feel more in tune with the straight parents of their children’s friends than with their old friends; after all, they have joined the Tribe of Parents. What is less easy to compute is the fathers’ sense that their gay friends are no longer interested in them, a recognition that becoming parents has so changed their lives and sensibilities that they no longer “fit” in that community—or at least, that the community doesn’t seem to think they fit. This is a phenomenon that is both puzzling and sad, but it is widely felt by the men in this book.
My partner and I have felt it, as I’ll relate in our story, and I have thought a lot about it. To me, the equivocal reaction to gay dads by many in the gay community—an indifference that sometimes approaches resentment—is just one more indication that parenthood signals a sea change in our community.
The details of the change are only now beginning to be studied—thus far by only a small handful of pioneering researchers. Dr. Stephanie Schacher, a licensed clinical psychologist practicing here in New York, is one of the pioneers.* Her findings affirm that the new fatherhood is having an impact not just on the lives of the gay dads themselves but also on the life of the gay community.
For one thing, fatherhood is stretching the lives and perspectives of the new gay dads beyond the gay community, Schacher says, “connecting them to the community at large.” It provides a bridge to the heterosexual world, is often the basis of “better relations with extended families,” and offers the men “a comfort and commonality they did not have before.” It is also, she says, “an important personal growth experience.” Her study found that gay dads felt fatherhood had unleashed capacities for giving and loving they had not known they possessed. It also made them “feel better about their own identity,” Schacher says, “helping eradicate any remnant of their own internalized homophobia.” There are similar revelations from some of the men in this book, men who say they feel more at ease with their own sexuality, more linked to the world at large through fatherhood.
At the same time, Schacher found that gay dads see themselves as “writing their own script” for parenthood, freed from ties to traditional gender roles. “They are generalists rather than specialists” in parenting, she says. “They blend the daddy and mommy roles into one totality, then split the totality into parental roles and allocate those roles by inclination or talent or convenience.” In so doing, she adds, gay dads are “redefining masculine gender roles, too, just by doing it. They are modeling a new masculine gender role of nurturing, empathy, caretaking, and expressing emotion.” And, I would add, we are doing this in a very public way—at school, in the playground, in community interaction. It’s why I am occasionally asked if I am my children’s nanny, or where my wife is, or if I’m the uncle. Some people simply can’t easily conceptualize a full-time gay dad.
What I found particularly intriguing was Schacher’s response to the results of her research. Having begun her study “neither pro nor con the idea of gay dads,” in her words, she emerged from the work with the sense that “this is how everybody should embark on being a parent.” For most straight people, Schacher goes on, becoming a parent “is like going to school. Everybody does it, but without really thinking about it.” Yet “parenting is one of the most important functions in life,” something for which people “should be emotionally, mentally, psychologically prepared,” something that “takes a lot of work, doesn’t happen overnight, and deserves some prior soul-searching.”
That, she says, is precisely what new gay dads bring to parenting: forethought, homework, exploration of their motives, consideration of how to carry out the parenting task, deliberate and careful and loving preparation. It makes the new gay fathers “a model,” Schacher says, “of what parenting should be about.”
The model creates a whole new role for gay men as well—and a whole new departure for the gay community. For as a community, we have not seen parenting as part of our milieu. Fatherhood has been a circumstance well outside the conditions of our lives, well beyond the tribal walls we erected for safety, security, and the freedom to live our lives honestly.
One of the men profiled in this book says that gay men having children is a sign that they are growing up. I agree with him. If coming out was the first step and forming a movement the second, then perhaps asserting our fundamental right to be parents is the third step in our evolution as a community. It’s a step out of the ghetto-like colonies many of us understandably walked into when we came out as gay men. Like any next step, that can be dangerous. It can be frightening. But as the men in this book make clear, fatherhood is worth it.
Naysayers, False Starts, and Works of Art
Sometimes “the whole process is fraught with naysayers,” says Larry Leon. He and his partner, Marc Salans, should know. Throughout their process of adopting children, they were confronted by negative attitudes, doubts, and would-be dissuaders.
Starting with themselves.
Salans and Leon had been together some six years when they began to talk about becoming parents. At first they couldn’t even get together on whether this was something they wanted or not. When one of them was up on the idea, the other was down. Then vice versa. Finally the pendulum steadied, and they were together in their determination to go forward.
There followed a year of research into what Salans calls “the options for potential gay dads.” A lawyer for the government, Salans is adept at such research. He “read everything he could get his hands on and talked to every person and every agency he could find,” his partner says. The result was “a stack six feet tall sitting in the kitchen,” but the work paid off. As the stack expanded, the men’s focus on what they wanted and how to go about it grew sharper.
They nixed the idea of surrogacy. For one thing, says Marc, “we lived in D.C. at the time, where surrogacy did not seem legal”; at least, Marc found, the issue was murky at best. Cost was another concern; their calculations reckoned surrogacy at twice the price of adoption. They also were uneasy about public adoption through a welfare agency. For one thing, “having an infant in the house was important to us,” says Larry Leon, and they would not necessarily be able to “order” a newborn if they went through the public system. They also had concerns about what Leon calls the “risk” of public adoption. In the management lingo that comes naturally to him—Leon helps run a large commercial landscaping company—he explains their view “that raising a kid was already a risk-laden adjustment with no guarantees. With public adoption, the risk would be even greater.”
They were leaning to the choice of open adoption, but when a gay parenting conference was held in nearby Baltimore, they went along to learn what they could. They “learned” that their “only option,” according to the social worker at the lectern, was “to adopt a special-needs child.” Marc raised his hand. “What about open adoption?” he asked. “Good luck,” retorted the social worker. “No one will turn over a baby to a gay couple.”
“That was 1996,” Marc remarks. “A lot has changed since then.”
Meanwhile, the men had signed on with an agency they were referred to by New York’s Center Kids, which advocates at state and local levels for the rights of alternative families. The agency, the Vermont-based Friends in Adoption, specializes in domestic open adoption and sponsored a weekend on the subject for prospective parents—gay and straight. As it turned out, Marc and Larry were the only gay couple there, but after all the naysaying they had been through, the positive things they heard at the weekend made it a “great experience.” What they heard was how psychologically healthy open adoption can be for both the birthmother and the child: the birthmother can both choose her child’s parents and decide whether and how much to develop or maintain a relationship with them, while the adoptive parents can find out what they need to know about their child’s birthparents.
Leon and Salans were sold. They “put together a brochure for the prospective birthmother,” Leon relates. “It had pictures of our life, an explanation of who we were and what we’re about, and our hopes and dreams for our child.” They also put the adoption brochure on-line, under the search term “seeking to adopt.” They got an 800 number at their house so they could answer the responses themselves, but after nightly harassing calls, they had all responses forwarded to the agency in Vermont. And they advertised in Rolling Stone, among whose hip and forward-thinking readership they hoped to find a sympathetic ear.
They did. But first there were two false starts. In both cases, they had prolonged involvements with the women, both of whom seemed intelligent, rational, and amiable. Yet one was “a total kook playing us like a fiddle,” says Salans, and the other turned out to be “a crazy woman who worked in a hospital and falsified medical records confirming her pregnancy.” There was no such pregnancy, and even though the men had been warned by their agency that these kinds of things could happen, the experiences brought them to their “emotional bottom.”
“By now we were two years into the process,” Larry says. “We were frustrated and beginning to think it was all fruitless. And we were at our wits’ end about what to do next. We were thinking about changing gears, maybe going the international adoption route, or surrogacy. We were just second-guessing ourselves all over the place.” They decided to go up to Vermont, meet with the adoption agency staff, and reassess everything.
“You’re never going to believe this,” the head of the agency said to them when they arrived in the southwestern corner of Vermont on a sparkling spring day. There had been a response to the Rolling Stone ad from a 17-year-old girl in Georgia. She was white, her boyfriend was black, and neither was prepared or equipped to take on the responsibilities of parenthood. What’s more, the expectant mother had been particularly attracted by the fact that a pair of “hopeful” gay dads, as the ad put it, “want to share their life with your newborn.”
Marc and Larry had been adamant that the ad make clear they were gay. That was “very important to us both,” Larry explains. One of the reasons they had ruled out international adoption, for example, “was that we would have had to lie about being gay, about who and what we are. And we refused to do that. We wanted to go through the process openly and honestly.”
To the 17-year-old pregnant girl in Georgia, their being gay was a plus. She lived with her lesbian mother and the mother’s partner and was comfortable with that. She also knew that gay couples had a harder time adopting than straight couples, so to her, “this was the right thing to do.” And perhaps also, like the staff at the adoption agency, she felt that a biracial child would do best with adoptive parents who were likely to have had personal knowledge of intolerance.
There was one catch. It’s what the agency head had meant when she said: “You’re never going to believe this.” The expected biracial child was actually twins—a boy and a girl.
Marc and Larry didn’t think about it too long. They had talked about having two kids—eventually. Now “eventually” would come right away; that was all.
But the men remained wary about the pregnancy. They had been badly burned before, so when “a couple of things didn’t add up” in their phone conversations with the Georgia teenager, the agency suggested they fly there to meet with her face-to-face.
In the poem-story Marc wrote to tell his children about their adoption, he speaks of the meeting at a Red Lobster restaurant, how they talked with the young woman
for two hours about things serious and funny.
They talked about (her) interests, like photography and crocheting,
About her plans for the future, about the options she was weighing.
(She) said: “I’m not ready to raise a child, let alone two.
I’m only seventeen, and wouldn’t know what to do.
Through adoption I can give them the life they deserve,
Full of laughter and joy, and love without reserve.”
Marc and Larry liked the young woman. They found her smart, pretty, and engaging—and they confirmed that she was pregnant. Six months pregnant. The men went home to Washington to wait.
The call came from their birthmother’s mother’s partner. By the time Leon and Salans arrived at the hospital in Atlanta, the babies had been born. “They were,” says Larry, “the two most beautiful babies you’d ever want to see.” Marc agrees.
They spent two days at the hospital with the birthmother and a number of her family members. It was “very intimate,” Salans says, “unique, different from anything we expected.” Yet the two men remained on tenterhooks. They knew that the birthmother could still change her mind. Their lawyer in Georgia had told them that many obstetric nurses tended to be “antiadoption” and tried to dissuade birthmothers from signing relinquishment papers. In fact, that’s exactly what was going on in their case. And the twins’ birthmother had plenty of time to listen. Because the delivery had been by C-section, she was still under the influence of painkillers, which meant that she couldn’t sign any papers lest they be legally challenged. Against the nurses’ importunings, the men felt impotent. All they had to counter the antiadoption argument was their yearning to be parents and the intense love they already felt for these babies.
It was like waiting for the jury to decide your fate. Tired of sitting by the phone in their hotel room, Salans and Leon headed for the mall, cell phone in hand. When it rang, they held their breath. It was their lawyer, telling them that the papers had been signed. In the middle of the mall, the two men hugged and wept. They were the legal guardians of Jonathan and Emily.
They also got a call from the birthmother as she was leaving the hospital. She wanted to say goodbye and thanks but broke down as she did so. Larry broke down too, “realizing the enormity of what she had done.” In the story-poem, the men thank her in these words:
“You’ve given us the most precious gifts we’ve ever received before.
Whenever we lay eyes on them, our hearts begin to soar.
We’ve only known them a few short days, but already we love them so.
Thank you for making our dreams come true, like some angel with a halo.”
Their dreams had come true, but so had the reality of being stuck in a hotel room with two newborns for 10 days while the adoption was processed. My God, Marc thought, what have we done? Overnight, life flipped 180 degrees. But in fact, the 10 days were “neat.” A sister of a coworker came to visit and brought dinners. They remembered that people they had met on a vacation lived in Atlanta. And rank strangers “were very supportive and loving,” including all the women who worked at the hotel who wanted to “see the twins.”
The one fly in the ointment was the grandparents—both sets. Although Marc’s parents are “enlightened and pretty liberal about most things, there is an ingrained homophobia there, an old-fashioned belief about what it means to be gay—namely, that all gay people are unhappy.” That “homophobia” surfaced early on in the adoption process when Marc wrote them about his plans to adopt and asked if they would be willing to help financially. They were not, and the reason, as Marc eventually elicited it, was their fear that a child of gay parents could not grow up happy, would not be accepted by his peers, and would be forever scarred psychologically. After an exchange of letters, the relationship was sorely strained, and Marc’s father began to ask what he could do to mend it.
Larry’s father, who originally claimed he found the adoption “no big deal,” made a number of objections once the reality loomed. These kids will have enough problems being biracial, he warned his son; their troubles will multiply if they have gay parents.
Both men communicated back to their parents that, in Larry’s words, “This is what we’re doing, and you’re going to have to accept it.” When the men returned home from Atlanta with Jonathan and Emily, Larry’s parents were there, and “the minute they set eyes on the kids, they were their grandparents.” Marc’s parents, who live in France, also came around. They loved the children sight unseen; when they finally did see them, as they do annually when the Leon-Salans family visits Paris, they waxed ecstatic about children who “could not look better or happier” and about the fine job of parenting by their fathers.
The kids are totally different from one another, says Larry. Emily is “very feminine and flirtatious. She loves to dress up and play the coquette. Jonathan is a rough-and-tumble bundle of testosterone. On the other hand, Emily is fearless and absolutely stoic, while Jonathan is frightened of the dark and cries more readily.”
The family lives a life that Marc describes as “pretty boring, pretty regular.” They have a station wagon and a golden retriever and are friends with all the other parents in the neighborhood. They’re the only gay dads in the neighborhood, and Marc says “it’s been a nonissue.” They take the kids to the playground and the swimming pool, read to them a lot, hope to expose them to a range of life’s possibilities. “They’ve been to France three times by the age of four,” Marc says. “That’s what we want to do for our kids. It has nothing to do with our being gay dads.”
Naturally, it isn’t all unalloyed joy. Larry remembers the “abject despair” he felt when the twins were misdiagnosed with a disease found in HIV-positive babies. “We went through 10 days of finding out what was wrong. It was horrible, stressful. Waiting for the results of their AIDS tests was agony.” It all turned out all right, but Larry says that the range of emotions he experienced was “eye-opening.”
“I grew up with a lot of angst about being gay,” Larry explains. “It was difficult coming to terms with it over the years, and I may not be totally at terms with it now. But having kids has been a healing experience. It has allowed me to recognize that I really am no different from everybody else. All the things you know intellectually I now experience”—all those clichés about parental love. “I am more at ease with myself, more at ease in the world.” For Marc, being a parent is harder than he expected—“not because I’m a gay man, just because it’s hard”—but it “surpasses anything” he ever imagined.
Sometimes, people ask if the kids have a Latino mother. “No,” one or the other will answer. “She’s white.” “Then who’s that other guy?” people will want to know. “What’s going on?” “That’s my partner,” they will answer. “It’s important,” says Larry, “for the kids never to sense discomfort about us being gay.” He wishes they had “more interaction with gay families,” and they’ve made a point of trying to find other gay and lesbian couples with children and of exposing the kids to African-Americans and biracial individuals. It’s a “conscious decision to show them other families like theirs and other people like themselves.”
And then there’s the time Marc was in the supermarket with the kids, and a woman walked up to him and said: “Your children are works of art.”
Even Better Than They Planned
When is the perfect moment to have a child? Fred Gabriel and Michael Deveau were pretty sure they knew. So sure, in fact, that they planned their lives around it.
At their first meeting in 1994, they talked about a shared dream of becoming fathers. Michael was living in Boston at the time, and Fred was in the New York area, but when Michael showed up in New York and the two had their first real “date,” it was at a meeting of gay parents. Says Fred: “It was strange to be sitting there with a guy I hardly knew. We learned a lot about each other.”
Five months later, they moved in together and began to lay out what Michael calls “a plan to prepare ourselves for becoming parents. First, we were going to move back to New England and buy a house. Then we would open a business together. Then we would start the adoption process.”
In 1994, the pair duly moved to a town some 40 miles north of Boston, buying a house that “needed work.” In 1999 they opened a candle and gift store, City Wicks; running a store, they reasoned, would free one of them to take a child to the doctor or drive him or her to an activity. Fred also worked as a financial reporter for Investment News, a job that could often be done from home. One by one, they were ticking off the agenda items on their to-do list for parenthood.
But “we kept adding things that should be done,” says Michael. “We kept waiting for the perfect moment to begin the adoption process.” Fred began to feel that they were “front-loading the situation to be perfect” and thus “pushing back the moment” of starting the process.
Doubts began to set in. Michael was nearing 40, a substantial milestone in its own right, and he began to wonder aloud if “maybe I’d be fine not having children.” Fred, four years younger, urged him to take the opposite approach: “You’re pushing 40, and if we’re going to do this, let’s do it.” At best, they were at different points on the same wavelength; at worst, the wavelength was diverging into different frequencies.
Then one day when Fred was surfing the Internet, he dropped in on a gay parents listserv and saw the following posting:
“Hi, folks! There is a baby boy in Cambodia named Veayo, born November 1999, who needs a home. He was born with a cleft lip and palate, just like my first son, also from Cambodia, and I’m eager to find him a family. Cleft palate repair surgery is routine in developed countries but unavailable in Cambodia. If anyone is interested, write me for more info. Thanks, Julie.”
Fred shot back a message to the effect that he and his partner were “very interested,” and he asked for “more info on the young boy in Cambodia.” In no time at all, Julie had put him in touch with the Seattle-based adoption agency with connections to the Cambodian orphanage. It was January 28, 2000, the start of a process that would take seven months to complete.