After my son's third birthday party, his best friend began to cry. When his mother asked him what was wrong, he said, "I want two dads just like Isaac has!" He said he had so much fun at the party because there was always one dad to have fun with while another dad does the work.
That was the first moment when I realized my family was unique.
My partner Randy and I moved to Minnesota from California to be closer to our extended families. We have supportive, loving families, and we wanted to raise our families in America's heartland. Upon our return, Randy and I had intentions of adopting a child and building a family. I knew the nine-year foundation of our relationship would enable us to love, care for and have children.
I grew up with a family who believed in adoption. My parents adopted my brother, Phun, from Cambodia in the 1970s. So I was surprised when Randy and I started the adoption process and discovered that Cambodia was one of only five countries from which a male partner could adopt a child in 1999. I knew we would help a child from Cambodia.
My next step was to research adoption laws. Surprisingly, I discovered that no country outside the U.S. will permit a same-sex couple to adopt a child. As a result, we knew one of us would need to adopt as a single parent overseas and then apply for re-adoption in Minnesota.
We traveled to Cambodia and visited an orphanage in Cham Chou. The poverty was unreal, and the hope was inspiring. We knew our goal was to help a child who lost his mother by a tragic death. Isaac was a happy baby from the very first moment we held him. I don't think either Randy or I slept a wink that first night in our Phnom Penh hotel. We nervously watched our son's every breath as he slept and worried about how much or how often to offer him a bottle. Despite being college-educated, it took us several days to master the art of an efficient diaper change.
After we adopted our second son from Vietnam, international adoption laws changed. Cambodia closed its borders to international adoption, and Vietnam was soon to follow. In addition, there were rumblings questioning the validity of same-sex parenting.
Today we have tremendous love and support from our families. After 13 years in an "unconventional family," I never felt different. Now, popular culture is embracing same-sex adoption with television programs like Modern Family and The New Normal. I have the same hopes and dreams of other families: good health for my children, a strong education and a bright future.
I would not change a thing and often reflect on that 3-year-old's perspective from so many years ago. I doubt my sons' now-teenage friends would cry aloud anymore about not having two dads, but I know how lucky I am for the privilege of parenting two sons like Isaac and Jason.
Elliott is the author of Retrieving Isaac and Jason, the heartwarming story of the adoption of his sons. Visit RetreivingIsaacandJason.com for more information.