I've always wanted to have kids. And that desire has never wavered, even during the days in California when gay men and lesbians were prevented from adopting. I knew, intrinsically, that I was meant to be a dad and often found myself contemplating what parenting might be like. I gave much thought to how I wanted to raise my children, the example I would set, and the values I wanted to impart.
In truth, the life that I wanted to give them was only slightly different from the one I was then living -- just better. I wanted my children to eat better, to exercise more, and to live life more fully than I had, without fear. I wanted them to never doubt my love. I wanted them to discover their own potential and embrace themselves, whomever that led them to be. And once I did have kids and began parenting, I found that I was surprisingly successful in achieving most of these goals.
Today, we eat healthfully, largely vegetarian, and most of what we buy is organic and all-natural. We exercise regularly, attend church, volunteer, talk about the issues of the day, and discuss ways in which we can not only improve ourselves but help make this world a better place.
Still, there have been challenges.
Our eldest son, Mason, was diagnosed at an early age with a condition that, if not treated immediately, could have left him with stunted growth. We took him to specialists, ruled out possible causes, and did every test under the sun. His endocrinologist recommended an unproven, off-label drug for him, which we easily agreed to. It was the only option available and, happily, still seems to be working.
For our younger son, Marcus, the road has been much tougher. We first met him at age 2, and he'd already been through more hardships than most people experience in a lifetime. While initially sullen and withdrawn, once placed in our home, Marcus opened up, evolving into a sweet, active, and chatty boy. We were aware of how challenging his hyperactivity could be, but given his checked-out demeanor when we first met, all we could focus on was how much better he seemed. Once in school, however, this manic inability to focus became an issue.
It also seemed that, once set off emotionally, Marcus could not be stopped. While most parents find ways to combat a temper tantrum, with Marcus, it was more like a temper tornado. He simply could not control or calm himself, and it was scary to see how helpless he felt.
At other times, you could watch him and literally see quick flashes of impulses flood his being. He was at a loss as to how to handle them, and so were we.
When he was old enough to be screened and received a diagnosis of ADHD, we were fully prepared. We knew the pros and cons of potential drugs, and had researched all the possible treatments. We had tried various alternatives, such as dietary restrictions and natural supplements, but found nothing that was effective in curtailing his behavior, which was getting more and more difficult to handle.
We finally decided to try the pharmaceuticals available, only to be met with warnings from countless well-meaning people, none of whom actually had children with ADHD. They warned of the dangers of medicine, of him becoming a zombie child, and of side effects -- all of which we were fully aware. In both their warnings and disapproving looks, I began to feel as if, in some small way, they were judging our parenting skills and finding fault.
What was interesting for me in all this was my sudden reticence to do what I thought was best for our child. In Mason's situation, I'd had no hesitation about pharmaceuticals. Why, then, did I suddenly find myself second-guessing? We'd tried everything we could with Marcus, and his behavior was beginning to negatively impact both our family and his educational future. But there was something about having my parenting questioned, something I took such pride in, that really bothered me.
Many gay people have been told time and again that we are not good enough, that there is something wrong with us. And being judged by others in such a way fed into that messaging. Still, they didn't have to deal with Marcus every day.
We bit the bullet, and once Marcus was on the medication, we saw an immediate improvement -- both in Marcus and in our family unit. Some semblance of normalcy was restored to our lives. Marcus began to improve in school. The kids fought less. And it brought a bit more peacefulness to our home, which we desperately needed.
Let me be clear in that I am not advocating pharmaceuticals as the best or only treatment for ADHD. Others have found success with alternative therapies. For us, though, it was the right call.
The other day, we discovered some videos Marcus had made on his new iPod Touch. He'd recorded 20 videos of himself in just a 15-minute car ride. These were taken late in the day, which is when his medication begins wearing off. While Marcus is cute and charming, the videos give a glimpse into the enormity of impulses his brain sends to him and the fractured storyline they create.
The drug may be helping my son, but its effect on me, and our entire family, has been immeasurable.