The Moment it All Changed

April 25, 2018 in inQueery

I began my process of becoming a gay parent in the early 90’s.  By 1998 I had met the lesbian couple that I felt would be the best match for co-parenting.  It took a long time to find the right partners partly because there were not a lot of people openly discussing the topic of gay parenting.  Some, but not a lot, were seeking others to venture into this new paradigm where we parent as a team. There were quite a lot of resources for sperm bank referrals or adoption services.  The notion of parents who wanted active parenting from both fathers and mothers seemed way out in left field.

After a year of negotiating a parenting agreement and many attempts at insemination, our son was finally born.   Although it was the turn of the century (2000) the medical system was not ready for us and had no idea how to handle four parents who all wanted the ability to see their newborn immediately.  The NICU had a strict security system and you could only enter with a security bracelet.  They gave one to his biological mom and one to his other mom.  The system only allowed for two per family and both moms were recovering in post op.  My son was alone in the NICU and I had to fight for the right to hold my son.  On what was supposed to be a day full of joy, I literally had to throw a fit to get to my child.

The legal system was stymied by us, because all of the legal work was primarily around protecting lesbians who were working with a sperm donor.  I am not a sperm donor and struggled to explain this every time a lawyer got wind of what we were planning and wanted us to have me sign away my rights as a father.

The school system was not really prepared for us and we spent a fortune on a private Montessori type elementary school so that we could avoid fighting to have our needs met.  We felt it was worth it to avoid any potential discrimination to our son and to us as parents.

It just felt like so much fighting.  It was also worth the fight. When I held my son against my chest on that first day of his life I was the first person he bonded with.  I sat in a rocking chair with my shirt off and he slept against my chest and I wept with joy and relief. That is an experience no parent should be denied.

That sense of fighting stuck with me for years.  We live in the suburbs about an hour east of San Francisco and at the time it was still a fairly conservative area.  I was constantly struggling to explain our family dynamic to people. The folks I worked with exhibited a mix of supportive, amused and quietly horrified reactions to our family make up.  My boss took my coworker aside and told her, “He just does not understand what they are doing to that kid by bringing him into a family like that.” Even our liberal school environment was difficult and required that we struggle to explain we are all EQUALLY involved in decisions pertaining to his education.

I had moments of perceived threats as well.  I had spent several years just fighting to have this kid.  It was hard to leave those feelings behind me and just relax into being a dad.  I thought the Jamba Juice guy was looking at us with confusion and disgust when we walked in as two gay dads with an infant.  I thought the local soccer moms were giving us dirty looks on the playground. I was just seeing threats everywhere.  I grew up as a child of the 70’s and being different or gay was a risk to my very safety.  I carried my own history with homophobia into my adult years and this definitely influenced my parenting experience.  I took my own baggage and carried it along with the new baggage I was picking up from a system not ready to handle me as a gay parent and added even more baggage from a list of perceived threats.  It was just so much to carry.  It made parenting scary and dark.

I remember very clearly the day it all changed.

I remember the day I started letting go of all this baggage.

We would spend afternoons playing around the outdoor fountains in our town.  My son loved to splash at the edges of the water and let the drizzle fall on his face.  He would beam up at the water as it cascaded around him.  Playing around the fountains was some of the most joyful happy times I can remember from his childhood.  

There was one hot and sunny day when an elderly man and his wife approached us.  I had never seen him before and had no idea who he was.  He said, “Excuse me, can I talk to you for a minute?”  I just knew this would be one of those moments I had prepared for.  I took a quick look around to see if these people had any backup.  I had my aggressive and defensive dad responses ready.  My eyes got wide, I puffed up my chest and I said, “Sure,” just waiting for some ignorant conservative diatribe to spew forth from this walking example of a heteronormative dream couple.  

He said: “I have been watching you two dads with him (pointing at my son) for a while now.  I just wanted you to know that you are doing a wonderful job and that you are great fathers.”  I stood in shock because that was the last thing I had ever expected to hear from a stranger.  Here we were in the heart of the suburbs and I was being treated with the kind of kindness I did not even know I could dream of.  I blinked back tears and said thank you.

To this day I have no idea who the man was.  But, he opened up the world for me in a new way.  I began to realize that most of my fear and defensiveness was in my head.  I had been viewing those around me through the lens of past experiences as a gay child of the 70’s.    I realized that a lot of this angst was related to the trauma of my kid’s creation and the circumstances of his birth.  The kind words this man shared allowed me to see the truth of this and to begin letting all of this baggage drop away.

I have not had any of these negative experiences since that day.  I could have gone many more years without realizing that what I expect to see in the world is often what I get back.  I now expect kindness and acceptance and I can share that 15 years later I have only been met with kindness and acceptance.  My son is now getting ready to graduate High School and head off to college and I am so grateful that the last 15 years have been free of the difficult and defensive stance I held on to for the first few years of my parenting experience.

I wish I could thank him again.  I wish I could let him know how this changed me. He took away so much pain in just two sentences and in doing so made both my life and my son’s life all that much lighter.

 

 

Carter Serrett is a Visiting Writer at InQueery.