By Rob Watson
Recently, author Jennifer Finney Boylan commented about her transgender experience, “After all these years, my own identity has wound up less altered than I had expected. It should not have been a surprise, perhaps, but the most shocking revelation after 10 years in the female sex is that mostly I am the same person I always was, gender notwithstanding.”
Even without being trans gender, I relate greatly to Boylan’s comment, especially when it comes to being in a male body during the holiday season of Mothers and Fathers Days. While I identify with the physical description of being a “gay Dad”, the truth is, I am actually a Parent who mothers and fathers. I do not make an automatic assumption on characteristics or abilities based on the gender of the parent. I know there are others, even in the LGBT community, who see things differently. They see two holidays, one that honors physically female gendered parents and one that honors physically male gendered parents. This viewpoint was dramatized in a Normal Family episode when one of the fictional gay dads has a hissy fit over being perceived as “the mommy”.
In the book An Anthropology of Mothering editors Michelle Walks and Naomi McPherson state, “Through the consideration of the experiences of grandmothers, au pairs, biological and adoptive mothers, mothers of soldiers, mothers of children with autism, mothers in the corrections system, among others, it becomes clear that human mothering is neither practiced nor experienced the same the world over – indeed, even a single definition of what “mothering” is cannot be formed by the contributors of this anthology. Instead, while ideas of ‘good’ mothering exist in every culture, the effects of colonialism and migration, as well as different understandings of and relationships to food, religion, and government play prominent among many other factors, including age, relationship status, and sexuality of mothers themselves, to affect what is understood as ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ mothering.”
I would add gender to that list. As a parent, I am as Boylan describes “the person I am” and my parenting qualities are really not genderfied. I seek to be the full range parent to the best of my ability on all fronts.
As an LGBT parent, I felt disenfranchised this morning when I got a cheery email from an LGBT advocacy group I support. I want to make one point clear—the disenfranchisement does not bother me for myself. I am confident in who I am, and my kids are phenomenal with the love they express towards me. I am a lucky guy, amongst the luckiest on earth.
My concern here is for my kids and others like them in gay dad only, or lesbian only, led families. They are the ones left out in the planning, conversations and excitement over one of these two holidays. They are perceived as the “oh you don’t have one, and never had one…” crowd. They get the message that their family lacks something. It is not true. Most are mothered and fathered, nurtured and as adored as any other kids. They need to be appropriately included in the celebration of all that is motherhood, and in the subsequent celebration of all that is fatherhood, and the people that do each.
The email I received stated “In preparation and celebration, we and the makers of (Corporate Sponsor) are excited to announce the release of Mothers’ Day e-cards that are inclusive of lesbian, bisexual, and transgender moms.” This campaign struck me as odd on two levels, the first being the exclusion of male mom figures in the gay community, and the marginalization of a set of moms who are likely to be recognized anyway, by calling them out by their orientations. I wrote a quick note pointing out my concerns and received a pleasant but confusing note in return, “Thanks for your feedback. We have a similar e-card campaign coming up for father’s Day as well, since these are two widely acknowledged holidays where LGBT families sometimes don’t feel included. You are welcome to use cards from either’s campaign (Mother’s day or father’s day) and to share them with customized messages to reflect your own family.”
I wrote back: “I think you have some good-hearted intentions, but are missing the mark significantly. You are correct that these are widely acknowledged holidays where LGBT families don’t feel included, however, in my opinion, your campaign intensifies the exclusion. I do not believe my bisexual and lesbian mom friends feel excluded on Mothers Day… they are moms who rightly get the same recognitions that heterosexual Moms do. The families that feel excluded are the ones like mine where there is no female parent, and my kids are guided in school to make a gift for some more distant female relative instead of the person they actually come to for nurturing, love and warmth. We have a community where the concepts of mothering and fathering are larger than physical gender characteristics — your campaign, unfortunately, doesn’t diversify the status quo, it magnifies it, and seems to further marginalize women who already qualify for recognition on the holiday. Speaking from this gay dad perspective, on Father’s Day, I really do not want a “Gay Dad” card. I am not ashamed of being a gay dad, but I am proud on Fathers Day just to be a father among all fathers, even ones who are biologically female. I would be thrilled to see you come out, for that day, with cards celebrating my lesbian sisters who bring strength, power and fatherhood into their families, and recognize them on that day as well.”
I don’t have to explain any of this to my kids. They already get it. Recently, my son Jason was running from his brother and into my arms cheerfully screaming “Mommmmmmmmmy!”. I looked at him quizzically and asked, “who are you calling for there, Boo?” He looked at me in a matter-of-fact way, “No one. That is not what that means.”
“Oh?” I asked curiously. “What does it mean”
“It means that I need help right away, “ he explained.
“Got it, “ I replied. “And who do you go to when you need that?”
“You,” he said. And then planted a big kiss on my cheek before running off.
On Mothers Day mornings, my other son, Jesse leads the way in bringing me breakfast in bed with flowers. He got the idea on his own three years ago at the age of 7. “You do everything their mothers do,” he explained at the time. This is your day too.”
So with that, I would like to offer you an open Mothers Day Card for ALL LGBT parents, including gay/bisexual/transgender dads. I offer this up also as a Fathers Day Card for all lesbian/bisexual/transgender moms as well.
Dear Parent of the Heart and Soul
“Love is the only freedom in the world because it so elevates the spirit that the laws of humanity and the phenomena of nature do not alter its course.” Kahlil Gibran
You personify a Love that overcomes all obstacles, biases and inequities.
We enter the season that honors the two aspects of your parenting and the love that you bestow to the world. That love becomes realized when you give yourself to your children.
You are mothering when you nourish, nurture, and shower affection. You sow the seeds of confidence, vision and creativity.
You are fathering when you protect, guide with principle, instill values and inspire. You sow the seeds of morality, leadership and personal power.
During two days in the current months, we honor you, not as the perfect parent, since that entity is truly a myth, but as one who still wants to attain that status no matter how unrealistic it is. We honor you for the days when doing your best, with all good intentions, has to be the way it is.
You are magnificent. You are doing the most important work of which Humanity can ask. You hold in your hands our future, and you deserve nothing less than dignity and respect at your back.
To quote the song, you are “the wind beneath the wings” of life. We thank you. Happy Mothers Day. Happy Fathers Day. Happy You Day.
By: Rob Watson
I really don’t know why I can’t seem to see these things coming. I blog about them. I write about prejudices, I have argued with countless anti-gay people, and I have diligently parented to the best of my ability. And yet, these situations emerge and again, I am caught like the proverbial deer in the headlights, unsure which path to take, and positive that all choices lead to certain destruction.
The latest happened during a casual conversation with my ten year old son, Jesse. We were talking about our day’s events when suddenly he remembered something he had been meaning to ask me. “Oh…DAD!” he blurted out interrupting me, “I wanted to ask you. If we don’t have camp this summer, can I join the Boy Scouts?”
The Boy Scouts? Really? Not Young Republicans? (These days the latter might be a much better alternative, actually.)
My mouth went dry and I knew that if I tried to use it, the best that would come out would be a stammer. “Blah blah blah blah..” Instead, Jesse continued, “They are really neat. They do all these different things and help people. You get these badges every time you accomplish something. It is…SO COOL!”
The Boy Scouts have not taken a lot of my head space, honestly. We don’t know many in the area. It did not appear to be a pressing issue. I shared the outrage of many against their public policies and found their treatment of gay scouts and gay parents to be offensive. I had even made some notes in January for a possible blog when they decided to delay their decision on the anti-gay policy until May.
“Well,” I started slowly. “Let’s talk about that. I do think all those things are great. Really great. The problem I am dealing with is having you in a group that would not allow me to be one of its leaders and participate with you.”
“Why wouldn’t they let you?” he asked baffled.
All the anti-gay rhetoric that I had read over the years from the Boy Scouts came washing through my brain like a tidal wave. I could not repeat all that to him. I could not tell him that I had tried to research the standards they expected from leaders only to find that their website was more about marketing and economic values than moral ones, save endorsements from hate groups like Focus on the Family. I also could not tell him aboutthe survey the boy scouts had recently sent out asking respondents to react to the idea of someone like me having access to their children as if I was a potential pervert.
“WHY?” he said with a look of absolute shock. It was obvious that it had never occurred to him that anyone could not like his Dad.
“Because I am gay,” I answered.
His bafflement did not wane. “So what?” He asked, clearly not having an iota of an inkling as to why that might be an issue.
“They don’t like gay people.” I responded.
“So they would not let the kids of gay dads in?” he asked.
“No, I think they would be fine with you being there,” I said, not quite sure I was correct. “It is me that they don’t like.”
He shook his head. “That is just weird,” he concluded. His attention deficient disorder (caused by his drug exposure in the womb) kicked in and he was suddenly off chasing down legos. I was glad for the distraction.
As he ran off, I was left with a feeling of frustration, anger and shame. I felt violated that the spirit of Boy Scout bigotry had descended on my home and that I was forced to explain to my son that I was not as universally loved as he supposed. Instead, I had to expose him to the fact that like Washington state senator Kevin Ranker’s recent account of his family, ours too had to deal with some misperception in the world. In his article, Kevin discussed the view of his own gay dad: ““When my father came out, many in our community refused to accept it. Each day I saw my classmates, my friends, my educators and even family members questioning my father. Quietly questioning his ability — and even his right — to be a parent. But mostly, people dealt with my father’s life … by ignoring it. This quiet shame, this silence, was worse for me than outspoken hatred. My journey and my challenge was growing up knowing that society saw my father as unequal.”
This has been a state of affairs that my sons have been blissfully unaware. Until now.
Later, as I went down to tuck my sons in and kiss them goodnight, the residual Boy Scout taint still weighed on my mind. Jesse, it turns out, had processed it much more efficiently than I had.
I leaned down to kiss him. “Good night Pal. Sweet dreams. I am sorry about the Boy Scout thing.”
“That’s ok Dad. It’s no big deal. They are just jerks.”
I want to start by giving you all an idea of how the world was when I was in high school. I graduated in 1983. We didn’t have cell phones, and our computers looked like this:
Madonna was still a virgin, the Brat Pack and Molly Ringwald ruled the screen and BIG hair was the look. Along with acid washed jeans, parachute pants, leg warmers and banana clips.
My memory of high school has never been great. I wasn’t the kid who had a “bestie” all through school that I still keep in touch with. In fact, I didn’t even have a best friend who lasted throughout my entire high school career. I had some good friends in 8th grade who were still my friends in high school, but we drifted apart, and weren’t such good friends by Sophomore year. I had different friends in Sophomore year than I had in Junior and Senior year.
I wasn’t particularly pretty or athletic. I was in the band, and in theater. I definitely was not part of the popular crowd. They sat at the lunch tables right next to the doors leading out of the cafeteria. I sat FAR from those tables.
I don’t remember hanging with the same crowd during the four years I was there, nor do I remember really having a great time. I was full of angst, making my mother crazy, getting into trouble and always pushing the limits.
There were “cliques” in high school, the jocks, the brains, the stoners, the cheerleaders, and the whole earth kids. I didn’t belong to any of those groups. In fact, I never really felt like I belonged anywhere. I tried to fit in, but never really did.
After high school I went into the Navy, left the town I grew up in and never really looked back. My parents lived there for a few years after I joined, so I would go back to visit them and would occasionally run around town, but I never reconnected with the kids I went to school with. Then my parents moved from Connecticut, and I haven’t been back since.
Of course we had high school reunions I knew about, but I never felt any desire to go. High school was not a fun time for me. Kids were mean to me. I was called names (I was large breasted and “two ton tittie” was a favorite of some). I was shunned and teased by my some kids in my homeroom class (thanks to one of my older brother’s girlfriends), and in my mind a reunion just meant more of the same.
As the years went by, technology changed, the internet was born, and a website called “Classmates” emerged. Of course I checked it out. I suppose it was my voyeuristic need to see what “everyone else” was doing. These were the early years of the internet, and unless you paid for a “gold” membership you really couldn’t see anyone’s profile. I did reconnect with a girl I had been friends with in 9th grade. I even went to visit her in Kentucky when I was driving through to go to an Amway conference. (Yes I did Amway, but that is a story for another day).
Fast forward a few years. The internet has grown, and Facebook was born. Of course, just like everyone else I jumped on the Facebook bandwagon, and got started. I reconnected with dozens of people from my years in the Navy, and then started slowly reconnecting to people from high school. Remember this was 2004, and by this time I was in my 39, as were all the other people I had graduated with. I have to admit I was surprised by some of the people who wanted to “friend” me. These people were not my friends in high school that I remembered. Some of them had not been very nice to me. Why did they want to be my friend now? It made me start to think that the kids who were mean to me didn’t remember being mean. I remembered.
Then a strange thing happened. Facebook started changing my memories. People would send me messages like, “when we were in high school you were always so friendly and always said hello to me. You were so nice.” Or, “I remember you talking to me when I was having a hard time, and you really helped me.” I even had someone send me a message that was, “I know you don’t know this, but high school was really hard for me, and you were one of the only people who was really nice to me. I will never forget that, You meant a lot to me. Thank you!” That one really floored me because I had no recollection of that event, but it solidified my belief that we don’t always know the impact we have on people, positive or negative.
I once described myself on Facebook as an “average Jane”, to which a classmate said my perception of myself was funny because she would describe me as anything but an average Jane. That surprised me as well. In fact recently I reconnected on Facebook with a classmate who is a successful author, blogger, freelance writer and radio show host. I had made a comment about the negative comments on the Huffington Post article I was in, and she said that she really liked the article and thought I always had something interesting to say! I was floored. I couldn’t believe she had even noticed me. She was a popular girl in school, and is a bestselling author today!
It made me realize that I wasn’t the only one who struggled and felt alone, or awkward. I was a nice person in school who had a positive impact on people’s lives. I am sure I probably had some negative ones also, but nobody has come forward to yell at me…… yet.
So this year when a 30 year high school reunion was announced, I decided to go. I have to admit I am a little nervous. The crowd I “hung out” with in school isn’t going, and I wonder if anyone will sit with me or talk to me. Just because they seem to like me on Facebook doesn’t mean they will want to talk to me in real life. Will they all be too busy with the high school buddies they have stayed friends with all through the years? Bluebell is going with me, and surprisingly my two teens want to go for the weekend as well, to see where I grew up, and hang at the beach.
Reconnecting with people on Facebook has given me the courage to go check it out and I think I will have a good time. It changed my perception of high school and the other people who wandered those halls with me. Now I will go see if my changed perceptions are true. Wish me luck!!
By – Trey Darnell
A very hot topic for individuals going through the adoption process is what to do about the nursery. Get the nursery ready? Wait until being matched? Wait until the baby is home? Will working on the nursery jinx adopting? What if it is a boy? What if it is a girl? Why are there so many questions?
There are many people that have told us not to worry about the nursery until after the baby comes. A common theme is family would have everything ready when you return home with the new baby. No offense to our family, but Matthew and I looked at each other and quickly determined that we wanted to work on the nursery during our wait and make it exactly what we wanted. Being able to walk into what has transformed from an empty room into what will one day be filled with rocking, changing diapers, feeding, laughter, crying and a little spit up, we could not be any happier. Would you like to see the result?
Colors – Choosing a neutral color usually means picking a shade of green, tan or yellow. In my opinion, there is nothing exciting about any of those. Matthew and I are fond of the color gray, and when all else fails, it is the color of choice. Valspar’s Colonial Woodlawn Gray has the record of our go to color. Our two favorite colors are gray and white. So it would be easy to guess that the nursery furniture color would be white.
Glider – The glider is by far my favorite piece of furniture in the room. From the very first moment we talked about growing our family, we would visit Pottery Barn Kids and relax in the various rockers and gliders. In the process of constructing the nursery, we have easily tested over 50 different rocker/glider combinations. Nothing ever seemed perfect. On a recent trip to Las Vegas, the first stop was not to In-N-Out Burger (surprising I know) but rather to Pottery Barn Kids. We vetted all of the options available and shared our adoption story to the staff and everyone helped in making the choice. What an excellent decision it was? Looking back, we should have gotten two.
Crib – The crib was also a result of the visit to Pottery Barn Kids. We had looked at various different baby and furniture stores locally. Everything was exceptionally specific to gender or a certain traditional style. Pottery Barn Kids had that special crib that matched the color, look and style that we had pictured.
Bookcases & Dresser – The bookcases are a neat feature of the room and hold a little personal sentiment. They are identical bookcases from Ikea with a twist. Instead of using the particleboard backing, we repurposed twenty year-old lumber that belonged to my parents. This completely changed the look of the bookcases. With the addition of a little lighting it helped finish the room, once bolted to the wall.
Accents – The accents in the room are neutral and have a variety of different textures. The side table next to the glider is a repurposed telephone pole. We have children’s books that Matthew and I both read in our childhood. We also added books that help show the positive message of adoption and having same-sex parents. Birds have become a popular theme in the room. Maybe it has to do with my love of flight. There are two accent pieces that will have a new color once we know the sex of the baby. A baby boy would produce the color blue, and if a little girl we would repaint purple.
The nursery has become my favorite room in the house. I used to think of the nursery from Father of the Bride II. It was beautiful, soft and warm. I could be biased, but our nursery has all of those feelings and then some. There are days that the door to the nursery is open, and we sit and enjoy what will be. There are days the door remains closed. As I mentioned in the last blog, we are expecting a little one in late summer. This is an exciting time for us and allows us to add the pops of color to match the gender of baby T-Rex.
To see other photos showing the creation of the nursery visit our Pinterest at pinterest.com/mattandtrey
My son Devin is turning six years old this month, and I couldn’t be more proud. The calendar shows that there are about six more weeks of kindergarten left, and he seems ready for first grade. He’s reading and writing. He does his math homework. He’s learning Spanish (he’s already fluent in Armenian thanks to Papa and his side of the family.) While he tolerates his violin class, he really enjoys his karate class, his Glee class, his dance class, and his yoga class. He has progressed well in swim lessons, where now he can swim freestyle and backstroke across the entire pool. And yes, as I’m writing this I am realizing that he may be a tad bit overscheduled, but that’s a different story.
Above everything else, Devin seems to be in love with basketball. He’s hoping one day to be as good as “The Kobe”, but for now he plays in a league at our local YMCA, where we have a family membership. He has a strong desire to improve his game, and he has asked us to find him a basketball camp this summer. Although he is already enrolled in Camp Daddy, which will start promptly after school lets out and we return from our annual two-week summer vacation (the location of which is still being determined but last year was the first annual in Costa Rica), I think a one or two-week basketball camp might be really fun for him. A few of his friends have expressed interest as well. It’s not like there’s a lot of time in the summer break; school’s out June 11th but starts right up again on August 22nd.
So back to me being proud. It’s overflowing, bursting at the seams, and all that kind of stuff. He never ceases to amaze me, and I’m so thankful of the day that his birthmother, with six weeks left in her pregnancy, chose Alen and me to be his fathers. Our adoption journey had been a long and painful one, but for it to end with Devin in our lives made it so sweet.
Of course, our love for him is unconditional, and we constantly remind him of that fact. You say you want to be an actor instead of going to college? We will be supportive. You say you want to be a priest? We will start going to church. You say you’re gay? Let’s talk.
We want Devin’s life to be a smooth road, but let’s face it: the gay life can be filled with an above average number of potholes, especially if one has to spend most of it in the closet, where life becomes a string of lies that seem so real that even the liar starts to believe them.
Which brings me to Jason Collins. He’s the black professional basketball player that just made history by being the first athlete to come out of the closet while playing in one of America’s big sports. Martina Navratilova did it 32 years ago, but I guess tennis is not big enough. Ian Roberts, the incredibly big and incredibly macho professional Australian rugby player, did it in 1995, but I guess he’s not American. And Billy Bean (baseball) and John Amaechi (basketball) are two athletes who have come out, but they waited until they were safely retired before making their announcement.
Jason has twelve NBA seasons under his belt. He’s not even on a team roster for next year as of yet, since he is now a free agent, so he potentially has a lot to lose by coming out. But he has so much more to gain. The respect and admiration of millions of gay men and women around the world. A more stress-free life that naturally comes when the lies disappear. The knowledge that in all likelihood he is saving the lives of young athletes who are struggling themselves and need a role model to know they are okay being gay (and that it gets better, which was last year’s catchphrase.) Best of all is the freedom to be himself and love whomever he wants. Here’s hoping we hear wedding bells soon. And that he’s in a state that allows them to ring. And that Devin can, if he so desires, follow in his footsteps. Or The Kobe’s. Either way, Papa and I will be right there cheering him on. And loving him. So much.
By Tanya Dodd-Hise
It’s April first. The day after Easter, where we spent a nice weekend out of town visiting with Erikka’s extended family, like we do every year. Like I hope to continue to do for many years to come. Today is April Fool’s Day. I was SO hoping that when I woke up, all of this cancer business would have been a dream or some bad April Fool’s joke. But no. Today brought me no joking or pranks. Today brought me an 11 AM appointment at the surgeon’s office; the one whom I already knew from previous procedures with loved ones.
We loaded up and went to Dr. Carolyn Garner’s office right on time this morning, where I was filled with anxiety, ready to see what was coming up for me next. After the obligatory blood pressure reading, weight report, and listing of meds that I take, we waited a few more minutes for the doc to come get us. Soon she was there at the door, with greetings and catching up, going on about how big the baby has gotten since she had last seen her (Harrison was 4 weeks old when this doctor performed surgery on Erikka). She then ushered us into her office-slash-examining room. This is where she does minimal exams, but mostly consults with patients; we had been in there twice before.
Her first questions were mainly wanting to know how and when I discovered the mass – was it found on a routine mammogram or did I find it myself? So I told her the details of how I found it, and what transpired from there. She said, at that point, that “today, unfortunately, we don’t have anything good to talk about.” Yeah. I know. I handed over the large envelope that had pathology reports from my biopsies, reports from mammograms past and present, and two CDs with mammogram images from 2008 and 2013, for comparison. I told her that I have had the genetics testing done, and that they had put a surgical rush on it, so hopefully the results would be back by the end of the week. I then told her that regardless of the results, I wanted her to take both breasts off. She nodded and said, “Okay. I agree.” I was a little surprised that she was so agreeable so fast! I proceeded to tell her that I understand, being a Medicaid patient, that there are stipulations based on the genetics testing to what will be paid; but I don’t care. I don’t ever want to go through this again. She said that given my family history, it will probably be paid for, but in the case that it isn’t, they will have me sign a form that basically states that IF it isn’t paid by Medicaid, then I will be responsible for the difference. Fine. I will sign it. My next question: When can we do this? She said, “Well, I can’t do it today.” Ha! Funny lady. “I do breast surgeries on Wednesdays, so I can do it this Wednesday, if you want. Or I can do it next Wednesday.” So after a moment of thinking, I said, “Next Wednesday it is.” Within a few minutes, my surgery was scheduled for Wednesday, April 10th at Denton Regional Hospital: a Radical Modified Mastectomy on the left side, and a Simple Mastectomy on the right side.
I then went on to tell her that I do not want reconstruction. I am not interested in having fake breasts, as I am not a girly-girl who really cares about my curves; to which she responded, “I understand.” From there we discussed the details about the surgery: how she will remove the breasts (how the cuts will be done), the fact that she will be removing ALL of the lymph nodes on the right side under my arm, and what the scars should look like, given the fact that I am not doing reconstruction. I will basically have scars across each side of my chest, and no nipples.
I can either have them tattooed on, or I can have other cool looking tattoos done if I don’t want to leave it plain. We discussed the time frames: length of stay in hospital, recovery time, visit to oncologist, and approximate time for chemo to begin. Radiation will probably not be necessary, unless the cancer has invaded the chest wall. She said I should be in the hospital for one night – what??!! One night?? Her response to my surprise? “Welcome to drive-thru surgery.” I’m not sure if it is a Medicaid thing or just an insurance thing. When my mom had her mastectomy and reconstruction, they tried to send her home after one night; to which I bitched and told them that I REFUSED to take her home that early….so they kept her a second night. So the plan is one night, however, I typically get a fever every time I have surgery, and end up having to stay an extra night. She said that recovery time is about two weeks, but I find that highly optimistic. I’m betting it’s more along the lines of 2-4 weeks. That’s 2-4 weeks of trying to recover a range-of-motion in my arms. That’s 2-4 weeks unable to drive, raise my arms above chest level, pick up my sweet baby girl, work out. She said that after that time, I can go back to cardio activities, but no weights for a while. I will have to find an oncologist and plan to go a week or two after my surgery; and will likely begin chemo 4-6 weeks after surgery, depending on how the healing is going.
After that, she took a few minutes to examine the “affected breast.” She barely touched me and responded, “Oh wow. That really IS big.” Um, yes, I know. After her exam, she told me again that she thought that mastectomy of both sides was definitely the way to go, and she would tell her own sister the very same thing. Soon we were on our way out with paperwork to take when I go to register. By the time we reached the Jeep and got loaded up, we were both in a much more somber place. As I tried to discuss some of the details of surgery day (who can keep kids, etc.), my beautiful and strong wife became a little overcome by emotion. This was the first time that I had seen her show anything but positive words or strength through all of this. But yeah. It hit us both. This was overwhelming for her – for us. And as the day went on, it became way too “real” for me. This is really happening. I REALLY have cancer.
And I’m not going to wake up and it just be a dream.
Why make things more stressful than they have to be? I ask myself this question nearly each and every day, as I face the challenges of raising three sons. My three sons – how I love thee but oh how it might be the death of me.
I have always had to fight my natural tendency to procrastinate. Most people that know me might find that hard to believe (except for the editors of this blog who I apologize profusely to as the hours go by after deadline), but it’s true. If I’m faced with a challenge or project that’s difficult, boring, or time-consuming, and I feel the desire to put it off until another time come creeping into my head, I dive into the project head first and don’t come up for air until it’s all over. For example, we decided literally the night before to begin renovation on our garage the next morning. This garage, and its accumulation of 20 years of disaster, was filled to the brim and needed to be emptied. Literally without thinking I grabbed some items from the garage, placed them in our shed, and repeated until a couple of hours later it was empty. It felt so good to have completed the work. I try to remember this feeling so I can use it for motivation on the next project.
My housework and daily duties of daddyhood can be dull at times, so I try to use the feeling to push me through those activities too. I use it to empty the dishwasher, fold and put away the laundry (my least favorite job), and clean the turtle tanks (the boys have little turtles but pay almost no attention to them, so I’m stuck with their daily feeding and cleaning which I knew would happen and this is why I say no to a dog until they’re older.)
Some duties are not so bad, but I have learned to do them in advance to make my life easier. For example, to make the one hour pre-school morning easier (from wake up to out the door is about an hour), I will place the boys’ clothes in neat piles the night before, complete with underwear, socks, and the appropriate attire after a quick weather check on my iPhone. I will prepare the lunch box for my kindergartener as soon as it makes its way home empty, wet, and with a few crumbs, so that all I have to do in the morning is grab the box and stick it in the backpack, and then stick the backpack on my kindergartener. I will get the diaper bag of my five-month old restocked and ready for the next day and put it in its place in the minivan so it’s one less thing to think about in the foggy (brain) morning. I’ll put my keys on top of my wallet and these both go on my desk to be retrieved as I’m walking out the door.
I’ll even go as far as placing two empty cereal bowls and the accompanying spoons on the kitchen counter with two cups ready to be filled with their morning milk. I pack the minivan with all the necessary supplies, including karate wear, swim wear, a violin, yoga mats, water bottles, snacks, Spanish workbooks, and coupons to Yogurtland. I’m constantly checking supplies including the thickness of my wet wipes and the state of my diaper supply. The worst is to run out of diapers while on the road.
The boys don’t even notice the work that goes on behind the scenes to prepare for a single day, and my husband and friends get perhaps a slight rise from it. But this is not for any of them. This is for me, and it makes me happy.
By: Shannon Ralph
Shannon climbed under the covers next to her eldest son and smiled at him. “I think we need to talk.”
Lucas was ten years old and had long ago adopted the habit of slipping upstairs with his mama after his younger siblings were sound asleep in their own beds.
It was their time. It was time Shannon looked forward to every night. Often, Lucas did nothing more than lie on her shoulder and watch her play Sudoku on the iPad, occasionally offering advice on where she could place her next 4. Other times, they snuggled and talked about their day.
Lucas’ other mom, Ruanita, worked evenings. She got the kids when they were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the morning. Shannon got them after a long day of school and work when all four of them—mama included—were exhausted and crabby and whiny and hungry. She got her three children when homework needed to be completed and bodies needed to scrubbed of the day’s dust and muck and arguments over “gross” dinners needed to play out in their entireties. Bedtime stories had to be read. Goodnight kisses had be doled out. And then given again. And one more time, just for good measure.
When all the work of the day was complete and Shannon finally dragged herself upstairs to climb into the memory-foam-covered bed she so adored, her quiet time with her oldest child was a welcome respite. A bright point of calm in an otherwise harried day.
On this particular evening, Shannon decided the time had come to have the talk she had been putting off for weeks. The talk. Tonight would be the night.
Everyone had been telling her for months she needed to have the talk with Lucas. “He’s ten years old. He’s talking about these things.” “Do you want him to get his information about sex from his buddies?” “You need to talk about sex before he’s having sex.”
Shannon could not even fathom her ten-year-old child thinking about—must less having—sex. He still slept with a stuffed “doggie” every night, for God’s sake!
Shannon and her partner, Ruanita, had decided some time ago that Shannon was better equipped to have the talk with their children. Ruanita was a mental health therapist. A professional psychoanalyst—a vocation that came in handy as she navigated the day-to-day trials and tribulations of marriage and parenthood. Though she had the very best of intentions, however, conversations of the kind that was about to unfold were not exactly her forte. She examined things in minute detail. She tended to lecture rather than discuss. And she talked a lot. Much more than was necessary. Much more than a ten-year-old could comprehend. After sitting through some lengthy and rather uncomfortable conversations in the past, Shannon and Ruanita came to the mutually agreed upon decision that Shannon alone would handle the talk.
“Well, um,” Shannon began. “I want to talk to you about something. Something you are old enough to learn about.”
Lucas’ face lit up with a dimpled smile. He liked being told he was old enough for anything and everything. “What?” he asked.
“Well, um, let me ask you a question first.”
“Well, um, have you ever heard of the word sperm donor before?”
Lucas fiddled with the blanket lying on his chest. “Umm…not really.”
“Well, um.” Jesus Christ, do I have to start every sentence with ‘well, um’? “Let’s back up. Have you ever had anyone tell you that you can’t have two moms? That it doesn’t work that way?”
He shook his head. Shannon saw a flash of fear in his brilliant blue eyes as he appeared to comprehend the direction their discussion was headed.
“Well, um.” Shit, there I go again. “You know that it takes a man and a woman to have a baby, right?”
Lucas nodded mutely, his mouth hanging open in thinly-veiled terror.
“So maybe you’ve wondered how it is that your mom and I were able to have you and your brother and sister?”
Lucas shook his dishwater-blonde head. “Not really.”
“Well, it takes a male part—the sperm—and a female part—the egg—to have a baby. When those two come together, they make a baby. Well, um… (I’m a writer, for God’s sake! When did I become so freaking illiterate?) When your mom and I decided we wanted to have you, we didn’t have any sperm, obviously, so we went to something called a sperm bank. Have you ever heard of that?”
“Umm…no.” Lucas smiled. He always smiled when he was nervous. “Do we have to talk about this?”
“I just think you’re old enough to know some things. Do your friends ever talk about where babies come from?”
Shannon envisioned Lucas’ bespectacled group of 4th grade cronies. Geeks. Nerds. Whatever noun you chose, they were your typical science-loving, Star Wars-quoting, video-game-adoring, fart-joke-rendering, girl-repelling, lactose-intolerant, asthmatic group of highly intellectual, socially inadequate boys. Three of the four, Lucas included, sang in the Metropolitan Boys Choir. Four of the four were competing in their school’s completely optional, non-obligatory, doesn’t-affect-your-grade Science Fair.
“Do your friends ever talk about…well, you know….sex?”
“Do we have to talk about this?”
“I think we should.”
“No, mom, we don’t talk about sex or babies.”
Shannon believed him. This was the child who, just the day before, had said to her, “Hey mom, Sully and I have a theory about how water molecules are held together…” These were the things he and his buddies discussed on the playground at recess.
“Okay. Well, when two women want to have a baby, they go to a sperm bank and borrow sperm from a man who donated it. That man is a donor. You have a donor out there and your brother and sister both have donors. It’s all anonymous, so we know very little about your donor aside from medical history and some basic description.”
“Okay,” Lucas responded anxiously. “Are we done?”
“Do you want to be done?”
“Okay, we don’t have to talk about this now.” Perhaps having your first conversation about sex while lying in bed with your mother is not ideal. Perhaps, just maybe, Shannon was scarring him for life; essentially dooming all his future sexual encounters to miserable, soul-crushing failure. As she considered the bill for her son’s lengthy and expensive future psychoanalysis—she wondered briefly if Ruanita’s connections in the mental health field could secure them a good deal—Shannon said, “I just want to say one more thing and then we can be done.”
Lucas groaned. He rolled over on his side and pulled the cover up to his chin, bracing himself for whatever verbal vomitus his mother intended to inflict on him this time. “Okay,” he muttered. “What?”
“I just want you to know that you can always come to your mom and me with questions.”
He nodded vigorously, obviously hoping that the harder he nodded, the quicker the conversation would come to an end.
“If you ever have questions about sex or babies or donors or…anything…I want you to come to us. You know you can talk to us, right?”
Lucas nodded again, much more earnestly than before. Shannon was concerned he would dislocate something that would prove vital to his future as a Pulitzer prize-winning physicist living in his parents’ basement, so she decided to put him out of his misery and end the conversation there.
She grabbed the iPad from her nightstand and turned it on. “So,” she said. “Should I play sudoku or mahjong tonight?”
“Sudoku.” Lucas smiled, relief evident in his blue eyes. “Definitely Sudoku.” He laid his head on Shannon’s shoulder. “Mom, can we never talk about that again?”
Shannon breathed a sigh of relief. She had done it. She had broached the topic with her eldest son; had introduced the word “sperm donor” despite his mortification. It was not done perfectly–or perhaps even remotely adequately–but she had done it. Shannon had done the bare minimum required of any responsible parent. And she found herself oddly content with the bare minimum. Like parents the world over, it was now time to sit back and observe the fall-out from her less than stellar parenting.
“Sure, honey,” she relied. “We’re done.”
By Tanya Dodd-Hise
It is very odd to lie flat on my back these days. If I do, and I put my hands behind my head, then it makes the tumor in my breast very prominent and noticeable, even if just to me. It is fairly large in size, so whenever I lay down, it is a constant reminder of what lies just beneath the surface. Do you know how strange it is to walk around knowing that there is this thing with me, all the time, that I can touch and feel…a thing that has the potential to kill me? I will tell you. It is the most peculiar, uncomfortable, uneasy feeling that I have ever had in my life. EVER.
As the days pass by, waiting for things to start moving and happening, it gives me a lot of time to think. I have yet to have the inner dialogue of, “Oh God, why ME?? Woe is me and why would you do this to me, Lord??” No, that hasn’t happened. But I HAVE wondered what I could have done differently over the course of my previous 42 years to prevent this. Did all of those years of smoking contribute to my cancer? Did my miscarriages also raise my risk of developing this particular cancer? I know that both of these things are supposedly risk factors that can increase a woman’s chances – but did they in my case? I will never know that. Did being overweight for so many years increase my chances? Or being sedentary for so long? Or perhaps the deoderant that I use – did using a rollon instead of a spray do it? Yeah, there are all kinds of wacky theories out there. But seriously, I have to sit and wonder what I did to contribute to the development and discovery of cancer in my body – and will I develop it somewhere else, too?
There is also the possibility that I inherited the gene that producees breast cancer. After all, my mother has had it. Her only sister has had it. I think they had maternal aunts with it. One of my father’s sisters has had it. I got whammied on both sides on the gene pool.
Tomorrow (Wednesday), I go back to UT Southwestern to have genetics draw blood and begin the process of testing me for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. My part is simple – they draw a vial of blood and send it off. The hard part is waiting for the results – 14 days. This, however, will help the surgeon determine if she should take just the affected breast, or preventatively take both (which is what I want). Even if I don’t test positive for the gene, I want to have both breasts removed, so that I don’t ever have to go through this again. For those who do not know, the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are known as tumor suppressors, and are linked to hereditary breast and ovarian cancers (according the the National Cancer Instiitute). I read some interesting information regarding the genes and testing, which helped me understand it more.
Both men and women who have harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations may be at increased risk of other cancers – NOT just breast or ovarian. Women who inherit a harmful mutation has an increased risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer at an early age (meaning before menopause). Men who inherit harmful BRCA1, in particular, also have an increased risk of breast cancer, and possibly, pancreatic, testicular, or prostate cancers. Lovely.
I believe that the foundation is covering my genetics testing, or they will bill to Medicaid once I get coverage. I was, however, encouraged to hear that if I am positive for either the BRCA1 or BRCA2, then there is a chance that the foundation will also bring my boys in and perform the test on them. It would be very beneficial to know if either of them are also positive for these genes, so that they can be proactive in their health to do whatever they need to prevent getting an active cancer diagnosis. Plus, Nicholas already has a baby girl, whom can also inherit this gene if her daddy is positive for it; something that I would HATE to see happen!
So I guess that if the tests come back as positive for this, the “breast cancer gene,” then that can pretty much explain the cause of my cancer. If not, I guess I will never know what caused it or how I possibly contributed. All I know is that it is here now, but I want it gone. Soon I will begin the fight for my life, and I am so truly grateful for every well wish, every email or Facebook message, every prayer, every offer for help and/or babysitting, and every dollar that has been donated to help during this time that I won’t be able to work. I truly believe that together we can and will triumph over this horrible mutation, and live to write about it all!
By: Rob Watson
George Bernard Shaw once described straight parenting as having ”no test of fitness”. LGBTQ parents are beyond the “test” In recent scrutiny by representatives of the Catholic Church and a group of authors speaking at the Heritage Foundation, the raking LGBTQ parents have received has been unfounded, ridiculous, untrue and frankly, bizarre. At best, it is bitterly unfair. At the Heritage Foundation, authors Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson and Dr. Robert P. George compared LGBTQ parenting to straight parenting and declared ”We should get rid of the idea that mommies can be good daddies and daddies can be good mommies.” They declared the heterosexual sex act sacrosanct and placed it as the core of the parenting structure. It is the same theory that the Pope and his team espouse, that the ability to physically make a baby is directly related to one’s ability to effectively parent it. They would have us believe that the act most parents fear their sexually-able teens might do irresponsibly is somehow transformed into the very factor that would define them as knowledgeable responsible parents.
The theme of straight parents being innately better was also the basis of a study a number of months ago by Mark Regnerus, a sociologist at the University of Texas, who called biological straight parents “the gold standard” of parenting. His study was incredibly weighted and biased in favor of attempting to make straight parents look superior to the point that even he himself had to acknowledge, ““I’m not claiming that sexual orientation is at fault here, or that I know about kids who are presently being raised by gay or lesbian parents. Their parents may be forging more stable relationships in an era that is more accepting and supportive of gay and lesbian couples.”
As a gay dad in the real world, I can assure Mr. Regnerus—of course we are. To compare stable heteronormative families of the last 20 year to ones in which gay members were persecuted, vilified, ostracized and rejected is obviously…. unfair. It was unfair to attempt to construct a comparison. In the present time, motivated gay people, thrilled for the opportunity we thought was denied us, are becoming parents. Higher percentages of us are adopting needy kids than our straight counterparts. A comparison between us will be unfair to a percentage of straight parents of today participating in the status quo who will come off badly. There are ten factors that make this so:
1. We have to live up to scrutiny We are not seen as “just” parents. We are the LGBTQ parents. Any mis-step is an indictment on all LGBTQ parents.
2. Prospective LGBTQ parents have less external pressure Straight newly weds apparently start getting pressure to baby up within months, weeks and hours of their nuptials. Most LGBTQ couples do not. We are given the freedom to decide on kids when we feel we are ready.
3. LGBTQ parents step up to challenges more readily I know many heroic parents, LGBTQ and straight. One lesbian mom couple took responsibility for a foster baby girl whom they had to rush to emergency and spend sleepless nights a dozen times in her first weeks of life. The birth parents asked just to be informed on how it all went. Meanwhile, as I held my newborn son and chatted with an acquaintance, she remarked, “My sister almost adopted, but it did not work out. The baby was ethnic, you know, and there was drug exposure involved” She then looked down, and her face went red . She had just described the son that I adored beyond measure who was asleep in my arms. LGBTQ parents step up and we invest more than biological parents do.
4. LGBTQ parents are not tied to pre-determined roles There are a million things that need to be done in the course of parenting. In straight households, these are often divvied up by gender, tradition and assumed roles. In the LGBTQ household, they are generally done by the parent best equipped and interested.
5. Maturity LGBTQ couples tend to come into parenting later in their adulthood in their 30s and 40s. Parenting can be emotionally, financially and intellectually challenging. I know that I was not as prepared for it in my 20s as I was in my 40s. Personal wisdom is a handy asset.
6. LGBTQ parents more readily invest in their children’s uniqueness We know what it is like to be forced into someone else’s pre-conceived box
7. We are compelled to communicate more with our kids We prepare them for what they might hear, what the truth is, and what they might respond.
8. We are compelled to communicate more with our co-parents We talk about who does what, as we blaze new trails.
9. LGBTQ parents plan for children It Is virtually impossible for there to be an “unplanned” gay “pregnancy”. This is an important factor according to Dr. Irving Leon, PhD , University of Michigan . He states, ““More than half of all pregnancies are unplanned. While unplanned does not inevitably mean unwanted, when parents are not prepared or motivated to parent, their children suffer. … One study (Golombok et al., 1993) suggests that adoptive parents and biological parents who experienced infertility demonstrated significantly greater parental warmth, maternal emotional involvement, and parental interaction than their peers…Parenting is such a daunting task and such an important responsibility, not having sufficient motivation is a recipe for disaster. .Adoptive parenthood chooses and wants to parent first, a propitious beginning for all parenthood.”
10. Children in LGBTQ families are wanted While the traditionalists decry gender “role models”, they obscure the single most important factor in raising a physically and emotionally well equipped children… whether or not that child was WANTED In straight families, at least 34% were mistimed and accepted, and 5% were unwanted. LGBTQ parents want their children and we are willing to fight a barrage of indignities in order to have them.
Adriano Pessina, director of bioethics at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart recently stated that no one has the “right” to children. He was misguidedly trying to compare LGBTQ and straight parents due to physical procreation standards. This is not only unfair, it causes him to miss the bigger point. He is correct that no one has the right to children. The US foster care system represents several million children whose procreating straight biological parents are learning that fact first hand. They do not have the right to abuse and neglect the children they have made.
Rather that demonizing the gay families looking to help, as well as plan children from other means, he should be praying for more families like ours to come forward. Love not only makes families, it sometimes saves lives. it is only fair to recognize that fact instead of spending time on insipid comparisons that help no one.