MY 2 DADS
JJ has 2 daddies. Let the wackiness ensue.
I want to preface by saying that I find articles titled “An open letter to…” a bit pompous and self-important. So with that, please enjoy this pompous, self-important open letter to the makers of holiday photo cards — in particular the four companies (un)fortunate enough to have me on their mailing lists.
One of my favorite and longest-running holiday traditions is designing our family’s holiday card. I first created a card for Papa and myself in 2001, and haven’t skipped a year since. With the onset of daddyhood, a requisite family photo has been incorporated into now dominates the design
. However, a couple of years ago, I was forced to use <gasp!> an online photo card company. I was not a happy Designer Daddy. It’s like if Santa had to send all the presents FedEx. This was due to restrictions set by the photographer we used, yet it ended up being a relatively pleasant experience, even if I couldn’t claim it as an original DD creation.
As this year has had an above-normal level of stress, it crossed my mind to save some time and sanity and browse the photo card catalogs we’d received. Whenever I came across a layout I liked, I tried to picture our goofy mugs in place of the picture perfect families smiling back at me. But as I turned page after page after page, I found myself growing disheartened, searching in vain for a photo of a two dad or two mom family. I guess it shouldn’t be surprising, considering very few companies of any kind feature same-sex couples or LGBT parents in their marketing or advertising. Even the ones that are historically inclusive rarely show gays or lesbians outside of LGBT publications or broadcasts.
So I did a little experiment. I went back and scoured each of the catalogs I’d gotten, tallying up the families, couples and kids featured in all their glowing, photogenic glory, in order to get some concrete(ish) information. While I was at it, I also took a look at how people of color were represented.
families/couples: 100% hetero; 85% Caucasian, 9% Asian, 6% African-American
children (alone or w/1 adult): 86% Caucasian, 8% African-American, 4% mixed race, 2% Asian
totals: 100% hetero; 85% Caucasian
If you’re an LGBT parent, you are statistically more likely to travel with your children than your straight counterparts. Okay, that statistic is based on no actual data, but on my well-traveled stint as one of two fathers of an adopted son. Yet even if your kids aren’t adopted, we gays LOVE to travel. Think having kids will slow us down? Are you kidding — and pass up a chance to sport matching outfits at Disneyworld, win over hearts and minds at a family reunion, or show our younguns the world in style?
So mark your calendars: Join me Wednesday, November 6 at 9pm EST, as I’ll be a panelist for a Twitter party all about LGBT family travel!
We’ll be chatting up these topics:
- Legal/practical aspects of travel, both interstate and internationally
- General tips for traveling with kids
- Extended stays out-of-state or internationally during the adoption process
- Hilarious and harrowing tales of tot-travel
Please come join the fun with all your questions and/or ideas to share!
And yes, THERE WILL BE PRIZES:
Register early at TravelingMom to win
one of two signed copies of Iron Chef/lesbian mom Cat Cora’s cookbook, Classics with a Twist: Fresh Takes on Favorite Dishes.
Grand Prize: a $250 Residence Inn gift card
Party time: 9pm – 10pm EST • Wednesday, November 6, 2013
How to join: Follow hashtags #TMOM and #RIFamily
To be eligible for prizes: RSVP at TravelingMom’s party page
Personal note: Okay, who in the world gets sentimental about being asked to participate in a Twitter party? This gay dad, that’s who. Residence Inn has played an important role in our family’s history. We flew cross-country in order to be there the night JJ was born; we spent two nights in the hospital with him, then were released into the wild. Yet we had to remain in Oregon until our ICPC cleared and we could cross state lines with our cute little contraband. So our first two weeks together as a family were spent in the Residence Inn Portland Downtown/RiverPlace.
It was also where the photos used on JJ’s birth announcement were taken, which were featured in Designer Daddy’s very first post.
And we stayed in the same hotel during our most recent, memorable trip back to visit JJ’s birthparents. So to Residence Inn, here is my sincere, personal note…
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
[Disclaimer: I am being compensated by Residence Inn for this post and participation in the Twitter party. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. All opinions are mine and/or JJ's.]
WARNING: SPOILER ALERT!
We’ve been watching Modern Family since its debut in 2009, because A) It’s pretty darn funny and B) Mitch & Cam.
Papa and I have been compared to TV’s quintessential gay dads quite a few times over the years. (My trainer at the gym once told me “You’re like the big guy, because you’re so, um… funny!”) And their milestones have mirrored ours on many occasions. Like when Lily dropped the F-bomb. And when they thought she dropped the M-bomb. And when their adoption fell through.
The show’s fifth season premiere (“Suddenly, Last Summer”) began with a date stamp of “June 26, 2013,” then proceeded to weave the Supreme Court’s eventful decision of that day into a plot about Mitch and Cam each planning a surprise proposal to the other. Of course hilarity and calamity ensued, with both sets of romantic scenarios being botched. They ended up with a blowout in the Hollywood Hills, overlooking the light-filled city below and stars overhead. While replacing the tire, the couple reminisced about various mishaps and adventures they’d shared in their decade-long relationship. As they both knelt down (on one knee, natch) to attend to the tire, it dawned on them what each other had been plotting. They looked into each other’s eyes and simultaneously said, “Yes.”
And simultaneously, Papa and I both sniffled and said, “Awww.”
While the characters of Cam and Mitch are not without fault (they could certainly stand to be more affectionate), and stereotypes abound, I do appreciate the significance of this storyline on an Emmy-winning, Nielson chart-topping, major network show.
Yet what really made an impact was not just a gay couple proposing to one another, but the genuine portrayal of how this moment might play out between a couple that had been together for so long. A couple that would have gotten married much sooner (had it been legal), yet remained together and built their family their way. Not a lot of precedent for that on TV or in popular culture in general.
Like Mitch and Cam, Papa and I and many other same-sex couples have committed to one another for the long haul, forming our relationships and our families as best we knew how. Often without any support from government, church, family or society as a whole. These hindrances are swiftly falling away, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. And I’m thrilled for the new(er) couples that are meeting, falling in love, and able to get married just as God and Hollywood intended — while they’re still young and hot for each other.
So why is it significant that this TV couple has been together for so long? To the straight, married readers: can you imagine, having been with your partner for 10, 15, or 20 years, planning, hosting and paying for a wedding at this point in your life? Between work, paying bills, caring for a house and raising kids, just setting a date would be an achievement. Am I right?
So I really appreciated how Modern Family’s writers and producers showed this long-together couple — in the midst of a busy, chaotic, and deeply entrenched life — struggle and scheme to make this moment as historic and romantic as possible. And as would be in the real world, they had to take the time life gave them and make it their own, in their own way.
My partner/husband/Papa and I will have been together 17 years in October. (A common joke amongst gays might go, “That’s 34 in straight years!”) In the fall of 2003 we had a commitment ceremony in a lovely Unitarian church, nestled in some woods, surrounded by over 100 friends and family. It was the closest thing to a wedding available to same-sex couples at the time, and it was truly wonderful.
However, we are going to have a legal wedding (albeit much smaller this time around), come hell, high water, work, school schedules or extended family shenanigans. And why are we being wedding hoarders and having another ceremony? Because we can. And because we deserve to. And because the first time around we had family members who chose not to come, who are clamoring to be here this time around. And of course because of JJ. But mostly because we love each other. (And because we can.)
A wee bit ago, I got my all-time oddest product review request. It was for UBBAS bath toys, which are essentially rubber cups — somewhat people-shaped — that can hold hands, hug, and pee. They come in four varieties: Papa, Mama, Brother and Sister. Did I mention the peeing part? Because Papa and Brother UBBA pee straight out, while Mama and Sister UBBA pee straight down.
Yup, a gay toy that pees. I told you it was odd.
I OF COURSE SAID YES. Who better to review a cleverly-designed toy for kids with gay parents?
UBBAS Bath Cups were created by designer Rob Spalding as a tool that offers a fun, loving representation of family for kids of same-sex parents. Each is sold separately, so I got 2 Papas and 1 Brother, natch. It’s also meant to open dialog with your kids about their bodies. You know, because of the peeing.
Now I’ve been griping since before JJ was born about the lack of books, toys, shows, etc. that portray kids with same-sex parents. It’s a large part of what motivates me to blog or do any of the advocacy I do – to make sure JJ sees other examples of families like his, so that he’s confident and well-equipped to answer questions or deal with conflicts he might face because of his unique family makeup. But I’ll admit to being a little weirded out by this toy. I’m a fairly liberal guy, but the thought of mixing same-sex parents, bath time and peeing just sounded skeevy. Not to mention a tough sell to mainstream America.
I jumped out of a cab and into the sweltering DC heat. I jogged across the street and joined the other 100 or so men in red polo shirts standing across the sidewalk from the US Supreme Court Building. It was June 26th, and less than two hours before, DOMA and Prop8 had been struck down, giving significant momentum to same-sex marriage, and LGBT rights overall. This was more momentum — and public, official support — than gay America had ever experienced.
The guys in red were my friends family and fellow members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington. We had been on call for a couple of weeks, awaiting word for when SCOTUS would read their rulings on these closely watched cases. The call had come, the rulings had been read, and we were there to sing — thankfully not in protest, but in celebration.
It was our time — so like a big, sweaty amoeba, we squeezed through the crowd of camera crews, ralliers and a grumpy passer-by or two. As we neared our designated spot, a cheer rippled through the group and I spotted Barney Frank trying to make his way in the opposite direction. I snapped a quick photo, then leaned in for an overly eager hug and a too loud “Thank you for all you’ve done!” in his ear. I may have even kissed his cheek.
We finished forming our rows in front of the steps; our director raised her hands to lead us in the first of our two songs — “Make Them Hear You” from the musical Ragtime. Written from the perspective of African-Americans at the turn of the 20th Century, the lyrics are universal in their admonishment of maligned people to protest peacefully, yet loudly. We reached the final verse…“Go out and tell our story to your daughters and your sons,” and I thought of my own son and the ever more tolerant world he’s growing up in.
We then began to sing the national anthem. I’m amazed at how incredible it feels — both musically and emotionally — to sing this. It’s a powerful thing to hear a host of men’s voices blending together, marginalized citizens showing pride and passion about the country slow to embrace them fully. I’ve had the privilege to perform it with GMCW several times at Washington Nationals’ games. Being behind home plate, hearing our voices echo up into the cavernous stadium full of fans, catching a glimpse of myself on the jumbotron — the experience is always exhilarating.
But that day in front of those steps, it was different. More momentous, yet more intimate. A shift had occurred, and we’d been brought one step closer to equal with our heterosexual neighbors, families and fellow citizens.
If you haven’t thought about the lyrics of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in a while, take a moment to do so:
Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
We all know the anthem is about our flag, surviving a brutal battle during the War of 1812. It remained intact, waving proudly amidst the turmoil, giving hope and speaking of bravery and endurance.
And that’s how I felt as we sang in the hot, midday sun. That we as a community had endured so much turmoil and discrimination, merely because of who we love. Yet we had only grown stronger, given greater visibility and resolve by the glaring rockets and bursting bombs all around us: Stonewall. Harvey Milk. AIDS. Matthew Shepard. Westboro Baptist Church. The countless victims of rejection, bullying, excommunication, suicide and murder.
As we neared the end, I choked up, unable to sing. My heart filled with pride for my country, my community, my chorus brothers, my family. My thoughts filled with anticipation and relief. My eyes filled with a mixture of sweat and tears.
We finished the song, and I hugged several of the guys and took a few more pictures to capture the day. But it was a swampy summer afternoon in Washington, and I’d had enough. I walked back across the street to hail another taxi for an impromptu trip to my husband’s office. I wanted to share and celebrate the moment with him before heading back to work myself.
As I cooled down in the air-conditioned cab, my thoughts went to the pile of work I had waiting for me, and the fatherly work after that feeding, bathing and putting my son to bed. I thought to myself how much time it had taken out of my day, traveling by subway and cab and on foot, the time it was going to take me to get home and the unavoidable stress… but then I stopped myself. I had experienced the struggle of gay Americans in a microcosm that day. Working so hard, traveling far, enduring the searing heat, then one moment of communal triumph… then back to work.
Time to get back to work and family, and all the day-to-day things that make up my life. The only difference was that my relationship and my family were now just as protected and supported as every other American… and that made all the difference.
The reception of our performance has been pretty astounding. It has been featured on PBS NewsHour, The Washington Post, Business Insider, NPR, MSNBC and most local news stations. Oh yeah, and even Glenn Beck’s web site. If you saw/heard it anywhere else, send me the link and I’ll add it to this list.
If you’re on Facebook, you can view my photo album from the performances here.
(P.S. That’s me in the yellow Superman visor, far left.)
I owe you all an apology — I plum forgot ’bout the My Two Daddies T-shirt Photo Contest I put up over on the Facebook page, what with all the Fathers’ Days, Pride parades, meeting superheroes, interviews, trips across the country and Supreme Court shenanigans going on.
But Designer Daddy keeps his promises, whether they’re on time or a couple’a weeks late…
Here’s the winning photo!
This post has been a long time in the making, but I’m super stoked to finally introduce “My Two Daddies (Can Beat Up Your One)” — the single, the finished product, the labor of love. And oh yeah, the fundraiser…
Y’see, I had such a blast writing, performing and recording this — yet I know it’s not going Platinum or winning any Grammies (CMA award, maybe?). It’s pretty much a vanity project wrapped in a love letter to my son (with a smidge of me working through my insecurities as a father). But I figured while I’m sharing it with the universe, I’d try to raise some money for a good cause. And I’ve found no better cause that supports other families with Two Daddies (or Two Mommies) than Family Equality Council.
But before I prattle on too much about my own benevolence… THE SONG!
I originally wrote the lyrics as part of a copywriting workshop. I was attending a design conference in the Texas hill country, and our assignment was to write a country song using our own life as the subject. JJ was about 18 months old at the time, and already I was pondering worrying what trials he might face as the adopted son of two gay men. I pictured our little fella getting picked on by some mustachioed, homophobic toddler (I know, my imagination runneth over) and in response, JJ puffs out his chest, chubby fists on his be-daipered hips, the theme from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly playing in the background…
…and thus was born “My Two Daddies” — the mock battle cry of a picked-on kid who’s unequivocally proud of who he is, where he comes from, and that he’s dang lucky to have “the two best daddies that you’ve ever seen.”
NOW ABOUT THAT FUNDRAISING BIT…
All the profits from song sales will go to Family Equality Council, so please mosey over to iTunes or Amazon and pony up your 99 cents. Our family (and others like ours) sure appreciates your contribution!
And if you’re feeling a might more generous, please consider making a donation directly to my fundraising page at Family Equality Council, where I’ll be tracking donations made from song sales as well as what’s contributed on the fundraising page. Since the month of June includes both Father’s Day and LGBT Pride celebrations (for many cities/states), my goal is to raise $500 by the end of the month. But I’d be pleased as punch to raise and/or extend that… more here >>
While last week was a monumental one for marriage equality and its supporters, it was also quite eventful for our little family. A quick recap:
I was coming off a “theater high,” having performed the weekend prior in Xanadu with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington. However, re-entry into real life was rather bumpy. I hadn’t been around for JJ’s nightly routine in almost a week, and he acquired a few new tricks in my absence: finding new (and unending) reasons to get of bed, coloring on walls, and a higher register in his screaming voice chief among them.
Our family dog baby girl was recovering from her third surgery in as many months — and she’s still not out of the woods.
Papa and I had our first date night in months. It was about as romantic as you’d expect between toddler parents (i.e. sharing stresses, trying to stay awake, drinking). Yet the real high point was me kneeling over the toilet at 4am, and then either parked on top of it or in bed for the next three days.
It wasn’t all screaming and sickness. An interview we’d done with NPR (not about gay marriage, but remote controls) aired on Morning Edition. While they used very little of what we recorded, and apparently I wasn’t miked well enough so can only be heard muttering in the background, it was great to hear Papa and JJ get some airtime!
Add to all that, ongoing struggles with money, work, eating/exercise habits, potty training, pacifier addiction, too much TV, not enough family time… It’s not surprising the Supreme Court hearings about Proposition 8 and DOMA snuck up on me.
I’m sure I’d gotten a dozen emails from various organizations I follow, and had even seen some chatter about it online. But with everything going on in my life, I was in a bit of a bubble… and not the cool Glinda the Good Witch kind.
So I was genuinely shocked when I logged onto Facebook late Tuesday morning and saw a sea of red — dozens and dozens of friends had replaced their profile photos with equal signs to show their support of same-sex marriage.
I was also genuinely moved. I not only felt accepted, but advocated for. And I felt a sense of community I’d never experienced on Facebook before. And it wasn’t just my LGBT friends — but a number of my heterosexual friends. It was having so many of them mixed in that made it feel more real, like more of a change had taken place.
As the day progressed, the numbers of red avatars grew. People (yours truly included) started creating their own versions, which ranged from the politically clever to the absurdly silly. Several friends who’d made it to the rallies started posting photos of the crowds. Various news sites and blogs started uploading recordings from the hearings. And by the second day of hearings, there were already stories about the profile photo phenomenon happening on Facebook. All told, nearly 3 million people changed their profile pics to some variation of the red and pink equal sign.
I want to acknowledge all those straight friends in particular: I felt and appreciated the love. It didn’t just make me feel equal, it made me feel like I was being carried around on your shoulders at the end of Rudy.
Now before I get too sappy (too late?), I need to answer the question posed in the title.
What are we really fighting for?
While the show of virtual support was wonderful, and indicates in a small way how things have shifted, that’s not enough in itself. And the court battles are not just so we can get married. Gays have been creating their own weddings (commitment ceremonies, civil unions, beach parties) for decades. The same goes for building our own families, whether it’s through biology, adoption, surrogacy or circumstance. We’ve also learned ways to circumvent the walls blocking us from healthcare benefits, visitation rights, inheritance issues and parenting restrictions, so that we can protect these self-made families the best we can. We’re an industrious bunch.
But being a family is hard, regardless of who has what parts. And legal marriage makes all the stuff I’ve described — both the personal stories and the general issues — a little bit easier to manage. So to answer my question: We’re fighting for all of it. For marriage, for equality, for our families, for our lives.
Because when one week finds you dealing with food poisoning, dog surgeries, remote controls, temper tantrums and crayon graffiti, you’ll take all the legal/societal/spiritual/financial/emotional help you can get.
An abridged version of this article also appears on The Good Men Project.
I created this disturbing little Photoshop masterpiece on Valentine’s Day, probably the first or second year Papa and I were together. It features my much-less gray (but still gigantic) head on Papa’s bare-assed baby body. We always joked that this would be what our children would look like. Thank God we were wrong.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Victory Speeches, Birthday Wishes & Wedding Bells
Exhausted from a very trying week and a half, I stayed up as late as I could to watch election (and Question 6) results last night. I gave up around 11 and trudged upstairs to get ready for bed — and when I came out of the bathroom, the election had been called for Obama. I went to sleep happy about that, but stressed knowing the votes for Question 6 were uncomfortably close.
I woke up around 1am to pee, checked Facebook and started tearing up reading all the posts about the victory for marriage equality in Maryland. And not just general “Woohoo!” posts, but status updates from several friends announcing their intentions to get married in 2013, as well as many, many posts, emails and messages to me personally congratulating our family.
After my 1am nature call/sigh of relief/internal jump for joy, I updated my Facebook status:
Woke up to pee and am now tearing up after checking Facebook and seeing that same-sex marriage will finally be legal in Maryland. Can’t wait to tell Jon in the morning (on his 3rd birthday) that Daddy and Papa are gonna get married!
But at 6:30am (after a very un-fitful night of non-sleep) I was awakened by JJ turning on our light and then loudly whining because Papa couldn’t play with him because Papa had to plunge the toilet and couldn’t find said plunger, so then I had to get up and help hunt for it, as well as appease the cranky (now) 3 year-old and change a very wet diaper. Needless to say, there were no birds chirping sweetly, flitting about and putting wedding garlands in my hair.
But as I was changing JJ’s diaper, I wished him Happy Birthday and told him I had a special birthday surprise for him: Daddy and Papa were going to get married! His reaction was to stare in mild confusion and disinterest. I reminded him he had been to Uncle Baby’s and Aunt Amy’s wedding (which he was too young to remember)… still no reaction. I told him, “You get to be the ring bearer!” <Blinks>
A few minutes later when Papa came downstairs, I asked JJ to tell Papa what I’d told him. I of course had to jog his memory about the whole marriage thing, but when I asked him to tell what he (JJ) was going to do at the wedding, he declared proudly, “I”m get to ring the bell!”
We already have rings, so we don’t technically need a ring bearer. And besides, the image of JJ running around ringing a big, loud bell after his Daddy and Papa say their legal “I Do’s” seems just about perfect.
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Here are a few of my favorite congratulatory messages:
Congrats to Marylanders! Brent & Nick, I am so there when (and if) you decide to get married. Whether it’s a big blow-out like last time or a quiet city hall affair, I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Love you both!! And your little boo-boo too!
My old friend Brent is just one of many citizens of Maryland who can finally get married to the person he loves! Let go of prejudice! Gold bless America!
My [Facebook] feed is pretty good for now. A few people have been negative nancies, but not too bad. I have one friend in Maryland who made me teary this morning because he got up to pee in the middle of the night and saw that gay marriage is now legal in his state… he was so happy that he could tell his son today, on his 3rd birthday, that his dads are going to get married. That made me happy.
HUGS!!!! Yay to your family!!!
CONGRATULATIONS my friend!!! Happy happy joy joy!!
I just found out that my brother and his partner of 15 years are now allowed to get married and have a “legal” family with their son. I love and look up to them both so much. They set such a wonderful example and inspiration not as gays but as people who love and make it work every day. They’ve taught me so much over the years and guided me out of my naiveté, to prevent heartache and prolonged drama that plague so many in our community. They deserve the best life and happiness. When I grow up, I want to be just like them.