Feature Article for The Next Family
By: Mark Hagland
My name is Mark. I am 51 years old. (GULP!) I am a member of the first wave of Korean adoptees. I came to the U.S. in 1961 at the age of eight months and was raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin by parents of Norwegian and German ethnic heritage. I’ve been very active in the KAAN Conference, an annual conference focused on Korean adoption. KAAN is truly unique, and over time its leaders (among which I am now one) are looking to expand its scope to include those outside just Korean adoption. (Certainly, anyone with interest or involvement in transracial and/or international adoption is very welcome.) Our annual conference this year will be held in Albany, New York in July. So there’s one slice —my Korean adoptee slice.
Here are a few more:
I attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and, after receiving my B.A. in English, came to Chicago to get my master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern. I’ve been a professional journalist since 1982 and in the health care publishing field for 23 years as a reporter, editor, author, and speaker. Journalist -another slice!
I came out as a gay man while a freshman in college, and have been socially open for a number of years. I’m blessed to have a wonderful life-partner of over 26 years. Another slice!
Eleven years ago, I volunteered to be a co-parent with a female, unmarried friend. I now have a wonderful ten-year-old daughter, who lives with her mother. Another slice!
In choosing to become a parent, which has been one of the great blessings in my life, I knew that my identity as a gay man would change, and it absolutely did. Nearly two years ago, I became involved in a wonderful group called Gay Dads Chicago, and have gotten to know a number of other gay dads locally. But even in that group, I’m in an extreme minority with regard to the way in which I became a father. Most in the group married, had children, and discovered they were gay later on. Which basically describes how things have worked out for me my whole life: I’ve always been the only asterisked person in any group I’ve been in.
Certainly, growing up as an Asian-American, transracial adoptee in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin of the 1960s and 1970s was a marginalizing experience, despite having wonderful parents and a loving family. As I like to say, I grew up feeling like a Martian and then when I finally became part of the huge actively participating Korean adoptee and transracial adoptee community at age 40, it was like happening upon a convention of Martians in spaceships!
So… how many Asian-Americans do you know who are partnered gay men, biological fathers, Korean adoptees, and journalists, all rolled into one? Sometimes I feel as though I have more prisms going than a world-class crystal paperweight collection. And it can get very confusing for many people, because they keep getting reminded (hopefully gently) as they get to know me how complex my identities and perspectives are. It reminds me of a comment I read in an interview in an LGBT newspaper years ago. An African-American gay activist was being interviewed about her sense of identity; she was black, female, and gay. And she was asked, which are you first? Black, female, or lesbian? And naturally, she said, well, it’s not like I can go out my door and leave any one of my identities behind! That’s exactly how I feel, too, of course. Being Asian, being an Asian-American, being an adult transracial adoptee, being a gay man, being a parent—they are all me!
There is a richness in having so many prisms through which one sees the world. Often, being the only person of color in a gay male gathering, or the only gay person among an Asian group, or the only parent among a gay social gathering, or the only gay person among a bunch of parents, or the only adoptee among a gathering of adoptive parents (and on and on) offers me unique perspectives.
Isn’t that part of what makes life so rich, anyway—that we can all share our individual experiences with one another, and be made the richer for doing so, and for our mutual support?
By: Mark Hagland
When I was growing up it was often said that there are three things one should never discuss in “mixed” company: religion, sex, and politics. Now that I’m a parent, I strongly disagree with trying to shield children from politics. In fact, I see this through the same lens I use as a person of color, with regard to the realities of race and white privilege: it is in fact important to begin explaining politics to your children (in an age-appropriate way) in order to prepare them to move out in the world and to help them see the world as it is, with all its complexities and issues. It only makes sense to me.
This being an election year, there’s really no escaping politics, even if one wanted to. After all, the choices facing our country are enormous. And it’s a wonderful opportunity, I think, to talk about more abstract issues like values. My daughter is ten years old now, and though she isn’t yet interested in politics per se, I can already see that she has some societal consciousness—which I am absolutely trying to help cultivate and guide—and that she’s beginning to be interested in the wider world.
Of course, I want to teach her my values -of inclusiveness, compassion, and progressivism. We recently had a conversation about the homeless lady on the street to whom we gave an apple a year and a half ago. It was a cold December day in downtown Chicago, and my daughter, troubled at the sight of this tiny, vulnerable lady, asked if there was anything we could do. Fortunately, I happened to have an apple in my book bag with me, and asked her to hand it to the woman. She did, and the woman seemed very grateful. I knew as it was happening that it was a great teaching moment.
In the middle-class suburb where my daughter lives with her mother, there are no panhandlers or street people, and every time we see one in Chicago, I know it disturbs my daughter. What’s great is that she asks good questions, like why are those people asking for money? do they have homes? I explain as best I can and suggest compassion and understanding as responses.
I’ve widened the conversation to include issues about how to deal with the reality that, on a broader level, our society has a lot of poor people, and that that is partly what this whole “politics” thing is about; it’s about how grown-ups view the world around them and what values and priorities we have for our society.
She has asked me why some people are Democrats and some are Republicans. Both her mother and I are progressive, and I make no secret of my own politics. She once asked me, “Are all Republicans bad?” to which I replied, “No, of course, not, Honey. They just see the world differently.” I express confidence in my political views, and explain why I hold them, but quickly add that “Good people can disagree on what they believe and why they believe it.”
My daughter and her mother live in a very, very Republican area, so while I definitely want to get my own political views across, I have to do it in a careful way in order to help her navigate the social community in which she’s living, a community very different from the Chicago she visits a few times a year.
Inevitably, race comes into the discussion, not only because we have an African-American president, but frankly, because of the racism directed at him and his family. I’ve been open in explaining to my daughter that, while some good people oppose President Obama, there are a lot of people -racists- who hate him just because he’s black. “That’s so dumb!” she exclaims (and she’s right). But I’ve tried to put all this into a historical context for her. After all, Obama was elected president in 2008, when my daughter was just six years old, so he’s been president long before she was even vaguely aware of politics.
In the end, I’ve not only found it a good experience to explain some basics to my daughter, but also to use the opportunity to talk about broader values such as compassion, inclusiveness, community, responsibility, and aspiration. I think it would be bad parenting if I weren’t explaining some of these things to her now, because in 2020, she’ll have the opportunity and responsibility to vote in a presidential election herself.