I'm in the car, and my 7-year-old daughter is fighting with my 5-year-old son over a game on my iPhone called "Subway Surfer," which I made the mistake of surrendering to them in order to break up another fight that started when she told him that he's "not handsome, just cute" -- ironic given the fact that she'd spelled "cute" with a Q on her last spelling test before the holidays. His ego bruised, tears exploded from his eyes. Apologies were demanded and resisted.
"I didn't say a bad thing!" said my daughter.
"She hurt my feeleeengs," said my boy.
They were both right. And wrong. And hateful. And, OK, they're "qute." And this hideously interminable winter break from school -- like Richard III, I feel, this winter of our discontent -- is chugging way too slowly toward its end. The question pops into my head for the eleventy-millionth time: "Really? You had to have kids?" Why?
At some point in late 2000 or 2001, my partner Don and I came across a book that changed our lives. It was called The Kid: What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Go Get Pregnant, by sex columnist and activist Dan Savage. The book was the hilarious, heartbreakingly honest and frank, first-person chronicle of Dan's and his partner Terry's journey to adopt their son. Don and I read the book voraciously. Even though it scared the shit out of us at times, it was ultimately so compelling and inspirational. These guys were doing what I'd never before seen or heard anyone do. Two men. Two gay men in a long-term relationship, talking openly about their desire to become dads. Dan exposed every conceivable societal and bureaucratic obstacle -- not to mention all the personal ones, the internal ones, the fear and self-doubt one has in oneself or in a partner. And it was all done with frank, unapologetic humor:
How did people raise kids before plastic came along? "Everything for Baby," said the sign over the aisle we were in. It should have said, "Everything for Baby Is Made from Molded Plastic in Ugly Primary Colors."
It made the whole thing feel so possible. So human. So normal.
A few years later, armed with the inspiration we soaked up from Dan's groundbreaking book, Don and I finally mustered the courage to start our own adoption journey. Now, years later, I've run with the torch, chronicling that journey in my own book, Does This Baby Make Me Look Straight? Therein lay the extent of my connection to Dan Savage -- or so I thought.
In the fall of 2010, when my kids were already 3 and 5, Don and I traveled to New York City with our business partner, Lisa Kudrow, to be a part of digital media's own version of the Emmys, an awards gala called the Webby Awards. Our own successful Web series, Web Therapy, had expanded to cable television, and we went to the event. There, sitting three tables over from us, was fellow nominee Dan Savage, who was representing his It Gets Better campaign on YouTube. It Gets Better created a groundswell of awareness and activism on behalf of out LGBT and questioning youth, a group whose suicide risk is among the highest. If his own personal stories hadn't been enough inspiration, Dan had now created an important platform that was sprouting new role models by the thousands, role models who could communicate their message of courage and support to LGBT youth. For many of us gays, the prospect of ever being able to get married and have kids seemed like an impossibility when we were younger. Dan has helped give us the opportunity to let the next generation know how far we've come.
I went over to introduce myself to the man I hold responsible for inspiring me to become a father. Dan was gracious and warm, but beyond that, he confided in me his deep appreciation for The Comeback, a show I did with Lisa in 2005. Unbeknownst to any of us, we had captured Dan's attention, inspired him, even, to want to create television content that could, in its own way, help things "get better." We promised to keep in touch and maybe even share a meal when we were in the same city.
A few years later I had the good fortune of being cast in an episode of Grey's Anatomy as the tortured, gay husband of a dying opera singer. It was the first time I would cross paths with the show's creator, Shonda Rhimes. Shonda has spent the last decade creating shows with complexly layered, honest characters who think and feel and relate in ways we never thought possible on network television. It is political by spouting no political agenda. Nobody comes out of a closet in a Shonda Rhimes show. They just are out of the closet. They live in the world as it should be -- without comment -- which is why she blazed a trail when introducing the romance and ultimate marriage of Grey's characters Callie and Arizona, two outstanding surgeons who just happen to be gay (and the parents of a little girl). Shonda has made television "get better" -- and, lately, even better still.
Last year Shonda created a new series called Scandal, which has, in effect, reinvented the genre of 1-hour television. OK, I'm biased, because I'm on the show, but few would argue that Scandal isn't a deeply layered, razor-sharp, lightning-fast, romantic and political thriller. I auditioned for several roles on the show, and we seemed to hit it off, for reasons that were visceral, unspoken. A shared sensibility, perhaps? I was fortunate enough to be cast as James Novak, the husband of Cyrus Rutherford Beene, the gay White House Chief of Staff. James is a political journalist and an aspiring father; his passion for his work as a writer is rivaled only by his passion for adopting a baby. When Shonda and I started chatting at a screening of Scandal before its premiere, we realized what we shared in common: We had both become parents by way of adoption and are both fierce advocates for everyone's right to become a parent -- and for every child's right to have a family. But this was the kicker: She confided in me one of her inspirations in deciding to become a parent. "It was that book The Kid by Dan Savage," she said. My jaw dropped. And then I couldn't stop smiling.
Inspiration can come from anywhere, but most often it comes from someone confiding something honest and true about themselves, something that makes you feel like you're not the only one out there wondering how you woke up one day with a husband and two kids singing Lady Gaga in the bathtub at the top of their lungs, or, really, how the hell any stuff happens in life. It's people being inspired to tell stories, which leads to more stories, and more inspiration, like a chain. And it is in this way that I came to be a father, twice, and it is in this way that I came to be friends with and work with Dan Savage and Shonda Rhimes.
I look back at my kids in the rearview mirror doing some weird version of "Miss Mary Mack." I wonder how all this happened. Well, they say it's just that "one thing leads to another." Yes, I find that it usually does.
This Saturday, Jan. 12, I will have the honor of engaging in a conversation with Dan and Shonda about adoption and the role it played in our lives, as part of the Fertility Planit Show conference in Los Angeles. For more information, visit www.fertilityplanitshow.com.