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When 'Mama' Is Her First Word

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As Father's Day came and went and my partner Bill and I celebrated our second year as Daddy and Papa to our sweet, beautiful, toddling daughter, and as DOMA and Prop 8 had their amazingly beautiful days in court, I realized that I am at that point in parenthood where I don't think I'll ever want the honeymoon to end; it's all been so perfect... really. Never do I scratch my bald head and say, "What have I done?" Making the decision to become a father and a parent with my best friend and partner was the best one I've ever made in my life, hands down.

Our little girl has been, as Bill calls her, a very "pleasant baby," and she is changing every day, hitting the 95th percentile in height and weight at her last doctor's visit, and her funky baby hair has turned into lovely blond, curly locks. And as we witness her physical growth, we also watch her vocabulary explode as she performs the awesome act of forming words, attempting to communicate with the world around her. It is such a joy to watch. Bill and I respond with jubilation, cheering her on as most parents do when their child reaches such an important milestone. There's not a word that exits her mouth that isn't met with a "yay!" or a "what a smart girl you are!" And while she can do no wrong in our eyes, she can throw us off periodically. And that is exactly what happened when she uttered her first word, a loud and proud "mama!"

Now, don't get me wrong: I am the biggest mama's boy there ever was. In my 20s I even had a T-shirt proclaiming so, but don't judge. My mother was a saint, raising five kids with my father, and she did it effortlessly, for nearly 30 years. They even welcomed us home after college as we "figured things out," and they couldn't have been happier about it. She babysat grandkids at the drop of a hat, could rock a baby to sleep with her famous "double-pump" sway, and never, ever complained. Not a bit. She was the goddess of mothers. She had no bigger fans than her children, and that's still true to this day, after her passing. So I have to say that I felt a little weird about being thrown off by my daughter's first word, especially given that it's a word that is so celebrated in families today, and rightly so: Mothers are the queens of awesome. But we just don't have one in this family.

After the "M" bomb went off, a barrage of questions entered my already crowded brain, questions I'm sure many gay dads have pondered: How are we going to explain our unique family to our daughter? How do we explain the concept of having a biological mother, a wonderful woman who gave selflessly of herself, but also make her understand that this person is not actually her parent? How will we know the timing is right to talk to her about it? Will she meet us with opposition and/or perplexity? Is opposition and/or perplexity inevitable?

Questions upon questions, but not many answers. In the end, I opted to trust our instincts, to basically wing it. And my guess is that this is probably how parenting unfolds out there: You put your heart and soul and a whole lot of love in to it, but in the end, winging it and saying a little prayer is often how it goes.

So in the spirit of winging it and going with our gut, Bill and I have begun the practice of announcing the arrival of Daddy or Papa, particularly when we enter the room and she hasn't seen us for a while. For example, I come home from work after leaving at 7 a.m., and Bill will say, accompanied by lots of pointing and motioning toward me, "Who's that, Cristina? That's Papa! Pa-pa! That is Pa-pa!" And vice versa when Bill enters the room. Yes, it may sound silly, but we're still working it out. So, again, don't judge just yet.

Our latest hunch, though, is that Cristina is onto us, and it's quite possible that the opposition may have come sooner than we expected. We think that after months of seeing Bill and me gesticulating and jumping up and down like a couple of clowns in the circus, she's mostly remembering our dog Chloe's name, as she seems to look right to the canine in the family when we say her name, in what might be an act of defiance.

So while "mama" may have become yesterday's word for now, it's looking like we've been replaced by a dog. But hey, I'm not bitter.