Some of those fighting marriage equality these days want you to believe that there is only one right way to create a "real" family: by means of unprotected, unplanned, procreative sex -- or, as Nan Hunter calls it, "accidental procreation," which then warrants over 1,000 legal protections and benefits by means of a "bribe [for] heterosexuals" to get married. Only the biologically created family deserves marriage, they argue, and all the rewards for staying together.
This notion is insulting and absurd, not only for same-sex-coupled families but for opposite-sex families as well. Real families come together in a variety of ways, the best of which is when all the members love each other and deeply desire a lifetime bond.
That is what happened in my family.
My partner and I had pursued various options to expand our family beyond the two of us. We explored surrogacy, and we explored private adoption. All potential routes to family have pitfalls. As we were going through our evaluation process, I discussed the options with a total stranger at an airport. She saw me pouring through literature and shared stories of her numerous miscarriage heartbreaks on her way to having a family. "Whichever way you choose, just know it can be hard, but it will be OK and worth it," she stated as we said goodbye.
My partner and I ultimately chose foster care/adoption. Having come from recovery experiences ourselves, it was a great fit. We understood the situations of the birth parents without judgment, and we understood the real need of the children as well as the obstacles they might face. We committed, trained and waited for the call for a placement.
We got numerous calls for toddlers on temporary care. Those were great experiences. Then we got a call about a newborn baby, born six weeks prematurely to a heroin-addicted mother. He weighted 4 pounds and had heroin exposure himself. He was to be ours for the foreseeable future.
I carried him on a sling on my chest for the next few months. We had to make sure he got a sufficient amount of nourishment in each feeding to avoid brain damage as we went through the process of supporting his birth parents through possible reunification. When those efforts failed, we went on to full adoption. We named the baby, now ours, Jason.
As Jason passed his one-year birthday, we opened up our home for the potential of adding a sibling. We got a placement. She was a beautiful baby girl, and she looked just like Jason did when he was a newborn.
We had warm feelings and wanted to keep her, but we were equally enthused that her birth mother was responding well to the recovery program. We supported that momentum and looked forward to a safe mother-and-daughter reunion.
Meanwhile, good friends of ours, another foster family, had a 10-month-old little boy placed with them. He had been discovered abandoned in a trailer. My partner often did play dates with them, and the little boy in their care and our son Jason became very close and attached.
They seemed to speak a common language, playing well together. My partner called me at work one day, saying, "You have to come see this little boy and how he and Jason are. I told the other family that if anything was a problem with their placement, to let us know, and we would love to take him." I was all right with this, but a little guarded, as our plan had been to have a boy and a girl, not two boys. But plans change, and life takes over.
When I got home that evening, the play date was still going on. I will never forget the moment that I first saw Jesse. He was crawling around the corner, headed toward the dishwasher, as I was headed the other way... and we locked eyes. It was one of the most profound moments of my life. Here I was with direct eye contact with this toddler, and the look between us said it all:
"Hi, Dad. I am your son."
"Hi, Jesse. I am going to be your dad."
A week later it happened. The foster mom called and asked if we were serious about our offer. It turned out that her family had to move into very tight quarters temporarily, and she was much better equipped to care for the baby we were nursing than Jesse, the rough-and-tumble toddler. So, we called the authorities and made the switch. Jason and Jesse, new best friends, were now on the way to potentially becoming brothers.
However, being the working dad, I was worried that I might not get to bond with Jesse as I had with Jason. I did not get to carry him on me for months, and I only saw him in the mornings before I left for work and in time for a kiss goodnight when I returned. He was exposed to my partner, other foster care providers and others more than he was seeing me.
I wish I could say that the road to adopting Jesse was trouble-free. It was not. Jesse was still on a unification plan with a birth parent, and it looked like things in that regard might be successful, until one horrible weekend. Jesse came back from an overnight visit battered and bruised. We called the social worker immediately, and the reunification attempts were closed.
I slept by his crib for the next two weeks, and although he was normally a through-the-night sleeper, he awoke nightly, screaming and crying. Controlling my own anger and pain, I grabbed him and held him, as nightly the reaction grew less and less until he was again able to sleep through the night.
I don't know if being there for him in that way was a factor, but our bonding was not an issue. As he has grown, we are in lockstep and almost able to read each other's minds. As I look at my sons, I am filled with the awareness of a love for each that I could never have fathomed in my wildest imaginings. The love I have for each is unique, each powerful in its own right, but its own "color," if you will. Jason is the son of my heart, Jesse is the son of my soul.
Today they act as twins. Because Jesse is physically bigger, they have decided that he is the "big brother." Because Jason was born four months earlier, he has been dubbed, by mutual consent, the "older brother." We do not have a "little brother" in the family.
That is how two little best friends became brothers. It is how my gay family came together. We have a unique story, but we are not unique. All same-gender-parent families have a story. Though my friend at the airport was right that "all ways can be hard," all ways can also be miraculous, loving and intensely wonderful.
How our families come together is being judged today, and in the next few months. It will be judged by the U.S. Supreme Court. Our families are likely to be judged long after that as well, no matter what the results may be.
And regardless of the judgments on our value, I will always know the truth. I know how thoroughly real we are. I live it, and I have seen it. I saw it as I looked into a little boy's eyes for the first time in front of a dishwasher.
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