Gay men have always had complicated relationships with women. Whether it's the first girl's heart we break, the best friend's boyfriend we steal, or the mothers we disappoint -- even without the complexities of a physical relationship (although those do happen from time-to-time), our interaction with the opposite sex can be rather difficult to navigate.
This is particularly true when it comes to gay dads on Mother's Day.
As one of two fathers of an adopted son, my thoughts about Mother's Day -- and my son's lack of Mom -- have ranged over the years from gut wrenching to indifferent and everything in between. When our infant would make the sound "mama," we would quickly and (half) jokingly correct him, "No... it's 'O-bama!'" Wasn't there a way we could keep him from ever learning "the M word?"
He came to us through an open adoption, which meant our son would be raised knowing who his birthmother was. It also meant it fell to his Papa and I to communicate with the birth mom several times a year, and even plan annual family visits.
The first couple of visits were some of the most difficult days of my life. Every bit of my insecurity was on the surface, watching and waiting for this woman to do or say something I would take as a sign she hadn't let go. Or worse yet, that she was somehow planting seeds that would someday cause my son to want her back.
By loving my son and simply being his Dad on a daily/weekly/yearly basis, those fears have dissipated. And while I'm sure there are challenges ahead (my son's not yet five), I now stand secure in the fact that I am his parent and nothing can change that. This confidence and security has allowed me to help him know of and celebrate his birth mother in new and ever-evolving ways.
So while she is certainly his biological mother -- and we are eternally grateful to her for choosing us as his parents -- she is not our son's "Mother."
So do we celebrate Mother's Day? Do any gay fathers celebrate Mother's Day?
The answer is a resounding "YES." And also, "kind of." And sometimes, "not yet." And for some, simply "no." The ways gay fathers celebrate Mother's Day are as varied (and creative) as the ways we form our families.
So in honor of the mothers and motherly types in our lives and in the lives of our children, here are some of the ways real gay dads have made this maternal holiday their own.
My kids have, on their own, decided that I am the one who mothers them, so they will be doing a breakfast in bed and give me things they have made. We then will take my Mom and Dad out for brunch and honor her. And since my parents also see me as a mothering figure, they will likely do something recognizing that.
- Rob Watson, Santa Cruz, CA
We celebrate with the many moms we know -- mine, my husband's, our sisters and sisters-in-law -- and go out for a special, fancy brunch. Our 13-year old daughter sends a card to her birthmother.
- Jeff DaPuzzo, New York, N.Y.
We plant a perennial in our shade garden with our sons in honor of their birthmothers. We call it the Mother's Garden.
- Robert Cullinane and Todd Brown, Harvard, MA
We rock it on Mother's Day. We celebrate my role, our mothers and women in general. We didn't start out that way, due to my awkwardness and discomfort -- but after the first five years, I realized it was about giving love in a special way. Unfortunately there isn't a lot of diversity here, in terms of different kinds of families. Mother's Day is a big deal where we live, and my kids didn't want to miss out on it. Now I embrace all the mothering that I do and realize it is just a label that will change as our children get older. Our kids get that we do things differently than most other families, but they want to celebrate anyway. They are so sweet that they want to honor the love they get. Father's Day is especially sacred, though. We acknowledge my partner more on that day, and celebrate that our family is unique.
- Christian Jüssen, Marietta, OH
We don't celebrate Mother's Day, but because we have a surrogate and egg donor who we consider family, we like to take that time of year to thank and honor them. So we've made the day before Mother's Day "Surrogate and Egg Donor Day." That way, the kids have someone to celebrate when other kids are celebrating their moms, and they have someone to make cards for in school, etc. Plus, because it's the day before Mother's Day, our surrogate and egg donor still get to spend Mother's Day with their own families -- so they get spoiled for a whole weekend.
- Ierry Mahoney, New Rochelle, N.Y.
We have the great benefit of having Rich's parents and grandmother living nearby. We celebrate Mother's Day with the whole family by going out to a fancy dinner. In addition, we Skype Mark's mother to wish her a Happy Mother's Day. But most importantly, we do our best to celebrate all of the women who play a role in our kids' lives every day. Mother's Day is a great day to celebrate and appreciate what these women do every day for our family.
- Rich Madaleno and Mark Madaleno Hodge, Kensington, MD
I'm a single gay father who has raised kids on his own, and they always celebrate Mother's Day by giving me beautiful presents and lots of roses. Very touching knowing that they accept me as I am. Their ages are 26, 24, 20 and 17. Love them with my soul.
- Memo Rivera, Philadelphia, PA
We celebrated our kids' grandmother until she passed. Our children's teachers have always altered the Mother's Day craft to be inclusive of two dads. We now refer to it as Parent's Day. Our church refers to it as Caregivers Day.
- Keith Riley-Spillane, Rohoboth Beach, DE
I'm a single gay dad. I was married for many years, so I encourage my kids to visit their mom and I give them money to get her a card or flowers and make her a nice dinner. Unless a mom was abusive or neglectful, she deserves to be honored in some way.
- Don Miller, San Francisco, CA
We generally spend one day each with the grandmas. Any gifts made at school in the past would be for them. That works well for us.
- Mitch, New York, N.Y.
Mother's Day is becoming a bigger holiday for us each year. Now that we have two kids with two different birthmothers, we have more people to celebrate -- 5 special women now. Since both of our own mothers live in other states, we just send cards and gifts to them through the mail (my grandmother included). For our kids' mothers we send cards (created by our kids) in the mail and make phone calls. We always make sure to tell the daycare teachers to not leave our kids out when making crafts for Mother's Day. We usually send those to their birthmoms. With our older son, we will start using this day to teach him about adoption and his mother and who she is. We don't really celebrate each other on this day -- we just celebrate twice as much on Father's Day!
- Brad and Brad, Silver Spring, MD
We don't really celebrate it. When Ben was in daycare they helped him makes cards for his dads on both Mother's and Father's Day. Now that I'm a stay-at-home dad, he will not really have to deal with it on a class level. However, as he gets older (he's only 2 ½), if he expresses the desire, we will happily celebrate Mimi's Day in honor of his grandmother.
- Henry Amador-Batten, Durham, NC
Last year I went to my son's school for their "spa day" for the moms. He was so happy when I walked in the door. He jumped up, grabbed my hand, led me over to the nail polish station, and polished my nails with beautiful pink polish. I was the one with the hang up. I am so glad I went.
- Doug and Matt, Lambertville, N.J.
Mother's Day is Papa's Day for our son. When they do a project at school our son tells the teacher he wants to make it for me. My husband gets Father's Day.
- Luigi Shiraga, Hacienda Heights, CA
Last year we sent the card Riley made in class to our adoption agency to have on file in case her birthmother were to contact them. Riley also wanted to get her mother some flowers so we took her to a nursery to pick out something to plant instead. She chose an Eastern Redbud because of the heart-shaped leaves.
- Jim and Robbie, Indianapolis, IN
We give flowers to the childless women who are influential in our child's life. We have about six. They always cry.
- Brian Copeland, Nashville, TN
With an open adoption, we spent the majority of those early Mother's Days with our daughter's birth mom. It was a very intentional and dedicated time for us, as we wanted her to know her mom and understand what took place with the adoption. We were never fearful of this day, as some adoptive/step-parents are. We didn't look at her as competition, we looked at her for what she is, our daughter's mom.
As our daughter has grown older and her mom has another child whom she is raising, Mother's Day got a little stickier. Due to some issues with our daughter's sense of reality (thanks Disney!) we have had to curtail our visits and contact with her mom. What used to be an open relationship has shut down, but the results are for the better. Our daughter is focused and has a truer sense of who she is and where her forever family resides. But as the day looms, ads will be on TV and I am certain a precious project will be sent home from school. In the past, a few of her teachers (and day care provider) have adapted the gifts for her two dads. We'll see what happens this year.
- Tom and Tod McMillen-Oakley, Jackson, MI
Our sons were adopted out of foster care and their mothers were abusive and neglectful. None of them choose to do anything to celebrate [their birth mothers] and we aren't going to push it. Neither my partner nor I have mothers that are involved in our lives. Our kids have an aunt -- who is wonderful -- but does not play a primary "mothering" role. So we celebrate Mother's Day like any other Sunday -- just by being together.
- JD Ledford
We talk about his birth mom, give her a call, and talk about the other great females in his life. I think the hardest part is the school projects that revolve around Mother's Day. He feels a bit left out.
- Peter and Jay, Minneapolis, MN
This is going to be our first time and my partner's mom is coming to celebrate, so it will be all about her. Our kids are too young yet to understand, so it is not much of a concern for us yet.
- Juan Luque, Tampa, FL
I show Isabel pictures of her birthmother (there really hasn't been much contact), and talk about when she was born. Then we talk about "mommies" in general. It's actually a good time to chat about adoption. With Gabrielle, we haven't yet established what is going to happen as far as contact (on this day, anyway).
In our house, it seems to be more of a "Grandmother's Day." The grandmother's will come over and we'll take them out to brunch, then let them spoil their grandkids. It's a celebration of our mothers while still acknowledging theirs. This year will be more of the same.
In the future, it would be nice to have coffee or brunch with one or both birthmothers (seems odd to say "birth mother" since neither one of us is a "mom"...though, some might say I'm the mom). We'll see.
- Earl and Sean, Wheaton, MD
We love Mother's Day and celebrate that we all have a mother that helped us come into the world, even if she didn't parent us -- and that itself is something to be grateful for. Who among us had a perfect mother anyway? The day is not to worry about what she wasn't, but to celebrate what she was (or is), even if it is only symbolic. Plus, we celebrate the grandmothers and aunts in our lives.
- Andy Miller and Brian Stephens, Austin, TX
We have no interaction with our daughter's birthmother in relation to Mother's Day. We send pictures to her a few times per year per our [open adoption] arrangement.
This year, we're doing it a little different and having a larger family get together at Michael's cousin's home. His great aunt lives there and she's in her mid-90s. Bonita gets her middle name from Aunt Ruth. So all of the cousins will be there to celebrate Aunt Ruth, but also to celebrate all of the moms who will be there. While I don't expect that Michael or I will be celebrated as a "mom" (nor do we want to be), we will enjoy the day feeling very welcomed and a part of the family.
- Guy and Michael, Hyattsville, MD
I take my daughter shopping.
- Mark Corpron, Columbus, OH
Mother's Day is usually spent with the grandparents who live relatively nearby, so Grandma gets lots of love and goodies from her son, son-in-law and grandson. As Grandpa is a minister, we also go to his church, where the ladies in the nursery and Sunday School are always very accommodating to make sure Jon makes a card or craft for his Grandma while the other kids make something for their mothers.
Later we make a long-distance call or Skype to wish Nonna a Happy Mother's Day --though she usually reminds us they don't celebrate it in Italy!
As our son gets older, we might have to expand our Mother's Day celebration to include his birth mom, but that will be up to him. The important thing is that he knows he's loved and cared for, and that he has the freedom to express his appreciation for that however he likes, whether the day is for Grandma, Nonna, his birth mom or his fathers.
- Brent Almond and Nick Pirulli, Kensington, MD