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6527212 May 29, 2009

Two Dad Deal: An Aberration Story

Moral hypocrisy also plays a heavy part in this particular dilemma.

One of the key goals of Aberration Nation is to evoke plain ole' thinking. It turns out that thinking is a much harder and scarier activity than I ever imagined. It must be because a disturbing amount of people form opinions based on what someone else told them to think once upon a time. Perhaps it was their parents, teachers, friends, or the broader culture squeezing in around them. Busting out of preconceived notions and small ideas can be overwhelming. For some, living like a programmed robot turns out to be a much more convenient option.

This inability to think for oneself has become a major thorn in my creative and intellectual side. I grew up being told exactly how to think and what opinions were the right ones to have. The consequences of questioning those directives created a dense barbed wire fence caked in misconception, guilt, and grief that I eventually had to fight my way through step by step. Now that I'm safe on the other side, I feel compelled to think through issues on an individual level, and I hope you will as well.

Going against the grain isn't easy, particularly in cultures where thinking in and of itself seems to be a crime. I still struggle to muster the courage after all these years. In fact, a sign in my laundry room has the word Courage written across it. Each day I take a moment to read it and remember why I hung it on the wall. There are many issues that I'll be contemplating for a long time; my decisions don't come quickly or easily.

What better topic to evoke down and dirty, gut-wrenching (and downright sinful by some standards) thinking than gay civil rights? My guess is that reader opinions are mixed on the issue. Today's post is about a gay rights topic that pulls at my heartstrings: adoption. You see, once upon a time, I got myself into a jam. Miss foot-loose-fancy-free-deep-thinking-Louisiana-college-senior found herself with a huge pregnant belly and the heart-wrenching option of giving up a child for adoption. Smart, determined, and full of spunk, I knew I could make it work. So I decided to parent the kid myself rather than risk handing it over to parents who might somehow love it less, mistreat it, or abuse it. I gladly sacrificed what I had left of my own youthful independence and late-sleeping M.O. to prevent that scenario.

Even then I knew that all parents are not equal. I came to the conclusion that one good parent is better than two bad ones, and that no matter what anyone (in my 1980's southern Bible-belt Junior League culture) thought or said about me and my situation, we would survive. I married my husband a few years later, and over the years, have come to realize that absolutely nothing but love truly makes a family.

If heterosexual parents are not equally capable of great parenting, why can't there be some good gay and lesbian ones out there? If I'd been forced to give up my child for some reason, I would have preferred that someone like my guest today, author David H. Burton, and his partner raise her rather than some of the heterosexual parents I've come across through the years. The bottom line is that every child deserves to be truly and honestly loved, protected, and cared for.

Perhaps reading about David and his partner's love for their three adopted sons will perpetuate additional thought on this critical cultural topic. I haven't stopped thinking about it since I read his touching responses to my interview questions. Does this thoughtful, creative man and the one person he loves most in the world deserve to be fathers? The Children's Aid Society and the Canadian government think so.

Forget what anyone has ever told you. Make your own decision and let us know your thoughts (leave a comment).

You are one of two fathers for three adopted sons. Why did you and your partner decide to adopt? Do you believe the motivation differed from traditional adoptive parents?

My partner and I have been together for 12 years. In the very early stages of our relationship we both knew that we wanted children and talked about it openly. After we had bought a house and settled into a quiet, suburban neighborhood (where there seemed to be a rather abnormally large percentage of gay/lesbian couples) we decided to begin the journey, as it were. We attended a course called Daddies and Poppas that explored the various options for gay men that want to adopt. Of the options that were available (i.e., surrogacy, co-parenting, international adoption, private adoption, adoption through the Children's Aid Society, etc) we decided to go the adoption route through The Children's Aid Society (CAS). As for the motivation, I think it differs for a lot of people. We both grew up with siblings and knew that we wanted children and I don't think it was any more complex than that, really. I know that factors like sterility/infertility are often a factor for heterosexual couples that adopt, but that obviously wasn't the case for us. :)

What was the process like? Did you and your partner encounter any barriers? If so, how did you handle them?

We live in Canada, so the actual process for adoption with CAS is the same as any married or common-law couple. I should mention, though, that as a result of being a same-sex couple we were barred from international adoption since only Canada and the U.S. allow same-sex couples to adopt. That limited our options obviously, but I'm glad that we went through CAS. There are a lot of children that need love and a good home, especially older children. I wrote about this particular topic on my blog. There's a special place in my heart for older child adoption. :) Back to the point. The process is lengthy, as once you submit your application to CAS you wait until they slot you into their orientation course. The wait can be upwards of 1.5 years. The course is about 9-10 weeks of classes and a simultaneous home study with an adoption worker. You basically have to divulge your entire life (relationships with family members, your spouse, financial status, etc.) as part of the home study. You have to be honest about everything, because it's not just about being upfront about your lifestyle, but also about what you are willing to accept in an adopted child. You have to be brutally honest since CAS's focus is to find the right home for each child. As for barriers other than international adoption, there are none in this country that I can think of when it comes to adoption for same-sex couples. I suppose that same-sex couples might be concerned around adoption where a birth mother gives up her child and wants to choose the adoptive couple. In this case, I'm sure there are worries that they might not be chosen, but quite honestly we know a same-sex couple that the birth mother chose over other couples. She wanted her child growing up in a progressive home!

Can you describe your family for us? What make it the same and what makes it different from traditional families?

Our family is as follows: we have 3 boys and they are birth siblings. They were between the ages of 6-9 when we adopted them. My partner and I are both in our 30's and we have a Basset Hound that the boys adore. Really, the only significant things that differentiates us from other families is that there are two dads. In the beginning, the boys called us by our first names, but after a couple of months they were quite ready to call us something more appropriate. Considering their ages, we let them decide and they came up with Dad and Daddy. The boys do tend to get a few questions around having two dads, but they are quite proud of the fact now. The other day, our middle son had a friend over at the house and he turned to his friend and said, "See, I have two dads!", as if the friend hadn’t believed him. The other parents and the school have been nothing but supportive, offering books and other resources to help if we needed it. We do have to correct some people when they mention having a mother, but we take it all in stride. People make a lot of heterosexist assumptions in general and you learn to correct people politely. I make a specific point of doing it in front of the boys since I want them to be proud of their dads and not to feel ashamed of it. I refuse to be ashamed of who I am. And they think it's great! I think the best statement they came up with was "I have two dads because they chose me." Enough said, I guess!

Can you describe a typical day?

Chaos! LOL! Just kidding. Although I do have to say that the change from just the two of us to house full of boys was significant. The biggest thing is routine. It starts with making lunches, breakfast, feeding the dog, getting ready for school, etc. We both work and I get home early to pick up the boys. From there, it’s homework, dinner, etc. We try to have dinner as a family and sit together and talk about the day. We also like to spend time with each of them at bedtime, reading to them, etc. We're big on having family time and individual time and the boys thrive on it. I think it helps to develop a stronger and faster bond with them. And laughter is huge in our house. A lot of it! We also try to set up routines on the weekend with special treats that the boys look forward to. We love our weekends!

Do your sons understand the nature of the love between their two fathers? How do you explain to this to them in a way that they can understand at an early age?

I think in the beginning it was a little foreign to them, but they adjusted very quickly. They completely understand that we are a couple and we emphasized that from the get-go. What's interesting is that it has re-shaped their own conceptions about having a partner. Our middle guy wants to marry Mario at the moment! (from the Mario & Luigi video games)

Have your children experienced any social issues due to having two fathers? If so, how have you helped them cope?

Not at this point other than questions around having two dads. We've prepped them ahead of time by having very straight-forward dialogue about the potential for issues to arise (i.e., name-calling, etc). We used a number of books that show diversity in families to show that there are all kinds of families and that having two dads is simply one variation. From what we have seen so far, they seem quite well grounded on this matter.

We all have concerns for our children as they grow up. What are your main concerns? What are the top three messages you hope to instill in them on their way to manhood?

We're really big on respect for women and ensuring that they see women as equals. We hope that our boys will grow up treating all people with respect, and not just tolerating difference, but celebrating it. We've also tried to teach them about non-violence and finding mutually acceptable means to settle differences rather than resorting to violence. We don't want them growing up glorifying guns. I think with some of these qualities instilled in them, they will grow to become wonderful partners and well-respected men in society.

There are always folks ready and willing to tell us how to live our lives—how did you find the courage to move beyond those barriers and create a rewarding life for yourself?

I grew up as the son of a Jehovah Witness, and then, when my father was ex-communicated, a born-again Christian. The church I attended was non-denominational, but filled with hypocrisy and judgment. I never felt right there and the messages of intolerance I received as a child and a teenager were anathema to me. At around the age of 16 I stopped going to church and never returned. My father continues to be a born-again Christian and has had to, himself, deal with the fact that I'm gay. He's actually been extremely supportive of me and my partner over the years, but I think it has been difficult for him. As for my own growth, I came out at the age of 20 while away at university. I've never looked back.

What do you feel are the most damaging misconceptions about same-sex adoption? Has this improved over the last five or ten years?

The biggest misconception about same-sex adoption is around the "influence" that we, as same-sex parents, might have over our children. I've never bought into it. My parents are straight, yet I turned out gay. That said, I've heard that children of same-sex parents grow up to be more accepting of differences in people, which is always good. As for improving over the last decade, I think that society's views, in general, have become more tolerant towards LGBT people, in addition to same-sex adoption, but I think there is still some ways to go.

Love is love is love. I get so frustrated by some of the push-back same sex couples get about adoption when I know how many crappy parents there are out there, and how many children just need someone to love them. Why is it that people fail to support providing that love to these children?

Fear - plain and simple. We fear the unknown. And what we fear we try to control. Moral hypocrisy also plays a heavy part in this particular dilemma. People pick and choose from their religion to try to force others to live their lives a certain way. And that goes for a number of issues throughout history - slavery, the subjugation of women, etc. There is a really good article posted by Libba Bray over at livejournal. Her father was gay. And as she says, "They are scared. And fear breeds mistrust and intolerance. Often, when people feel that the times are uncertain and they are uncertain of their place in that shaky world, when they feel powerless over the economy or random violence or gender roles or their children, their spouses, etc.—what I call the Talking Heads moment: “And you may say to yourself, Where is that beautiful house? And you may say to yourself, My God, what have I done?”—they feel genuinely threatened in the way that a child who feels threatened will dig in his/her heels and refuse to cede ground because it feels, in that moment, like ceding the self. It is their fear of themselves, really, of their tenuous grasp on an unpredictable world, that is writ large in such legislation. “Well,” they might argue. “At least I can control this.” They need an enemy to fight. A dragon to slay so that the world will be put right again. A sacrifice to offer the gods that they might be spared."

For those of us who may have same sex couples or families living in our communities, what’s the best way to explain what can be quite confusing to our kids? I have my own methods but would love to hear your thought on this?

Explain that there are different kinds of families. Right from the start. There are children that are raised by: one mom and one dad, a single parent, a grandmother or grandfather, two grandparents, two moms, two dads, an uncle or an aunt, etc. Get books from the library on different families and on ones that show gay and lesbian parents. One of my favorites is AND TANGO MAKES THREE by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson. It's the true story about two male penguins that raised a chick in New York's Central Park Zoo. For a lot of kids, if an animal can have two dads, then it's okay. And if you hear your children using terms like gay or fag, correct them. It's no different than using a racial slur.

If you could say anything to the world about your family and the love you have for your children, what would that be?

Wow. Well, nothing can take the place of the love I have for my children or for my partner. As each day goes by I love them more. Their antics make me smile, their jokes make me laugh, when they say "I love you, Dad" it brings joy to my heart, when they come home from school and see me at the door and yell out, "DAD!" my heart leaps, when they ask me to keep reading to them at bedtime I love to indulge them, and when they give me a hug and kiss goodnight my day is complete. I live for my family. They are my life. What else is there, really?

What do you think?

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