Tuesday, February 24, 2009

One wedding I will always remember

For many, weddings are an exciting time. But for me, they were a reminder of my second-class status as a Gay man living in the US. Many of the dreams that are readily available to our Heterosexual counter-parts don’t come easy for those of us who are Gay.
When I first came out to my family back in the 80’s, some of the first comments and criticisms from my folks were that I would never have a family, nor give my parents the coveted grandchildren they so desired. It would seem that by being Gay, my life was going to be one big orgy of self indulgence and debauchery. I will admit that for a young man without many role models in my life, their rather glum forecast did indeed seem to be my destiny. I knew a few older men who were Gay, many of whom became mentors and role models in my life. Some, however, never made it out of the 80’s and died or committed suicide.

But let’s get back to the whole wedding thing. I would hear of a family member or a friend getting married and I would flinch at the thought of sitting through yet another thoughtful ceremony full of all the trappings that make up the perfect day: horrible music, hot churches, bad dresses, and the receptions. Oh sure, you could usually score some free drinks, but the whole concept of a reception makes me dizzy with disdain. While the wedding party is off getting their pictures taken or driving around town in a limo consummating their marriage, you are hustled down to a church basement, K of C Hall, or some ballroom in a hotel off the freeway.
It’s like every junior high dance ever held… those first few moments in a reception hall… no one knows what to say or what to do with themselves before the bridal party arrives to the strains of Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll Part 2”
“Ladies and Gentlemen, give it up for Mr. and Mrs Joe Blow!”

Uh, we already gave it up for them by coming to the wedding and buying a gift, what more do you want from us?

Sometime between the opening strains of “Celebration” and the “Chicken Dance” a group of kids, many of whom were in the ceremony will start running amok around the dance floor fueled by their sheer boredom and all the free pop at the bar. Gaggles of adorable flower girls and junior attendants, along with the unruly ring-bearer and his cousins will start screaming and sliding across the wood floor, diminishing the hopes for any kind of return on their rented outfits’ deposit. Tempers will flare as the moms are left to corral these little miscreants while the dads are at the bar, sucking down all the free hooch they can stomach. At some point, a great aunt or some other matriarch will shepherd them all over to get cake or mints, adding more sugar to their ADHD frenzy.
For those of us who were without kids, or the ability to legally marry, these events can cause great strain and stress. The stress is caused by the desire to strangle all the kids running around and the wish to choke the DJ to death with his mic cord. Really now, would it kill you to play some Madonna? The strain comes from clutching the chair legs every time one of the parents chirps about how cute the kids are and then tucks back into their drink or third piece of wedding cake, oblivious to the carnage those little monsters are bringing to the hall.

So why all this venting you might ask. Oh yeah, that was me, and to a certain extent it still is even though I am kind of legally married and a parent now.

Our friend Michelle invited us to her nuptials east of Detroit one weekend, so Tod and I had a lot of time on the lengthy drive over to discuss a whole host of subjects. One thing I love about Tod and our relationship is that we can talk about anything for any amount of time, or we can say nothing at all, and be completely comfortable with the silence. The discussion turned to children after the ceremony and to me; this was the defining moment of when we decided that this would be a possibility for us. For so long, we had been told that we’d never get married, find love, or start a family. But thankfully times have changed, and with patience, time and money, we were able to find all three.

A generation ago or so, this was an unattainable dream, and many men and women found that in marriages that were a lie. Thankfully we didn’t have to go that route for ours.

Monday, February 23, 2009

A step in the right direction

Passed on from our good friend Julie:

Mich. court recognizes Ill. adoption by gay couple
(02/20/09 17:20:21) Michigan courts can oversee a custody dispute between lesbian parents who adopted in Illinois even though Michigan doesn't formally recognize gay relationships, the state Court of Appeals said Friday. The court ruled 2-1 that the U.S. Constitution requires state courts to recognize Diane Giancaspro and Lisa Congleton as adoptive parents. It reversed a trial judge who said Michigan's 2004 voter-approved gay marriage ban kept her from enforcing the women's parental rights. "The only relevant consideration in this matter is each individual party's established relationship as an adoptive parent with the children, not their relationship with each other," Judges Alton Davis and Stephen Borrello wrote. Judge Kurtis Wilder dissented because he said Giancaspro didn't show documents authenticating the Illinois adoption. "My concern is the well-being of my children. I want them to live in a place where their rights are protected," Giancaspro said in a statement released by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and the New York-based gay rights group Lambda Legal. An attempt to reach Congleton was unsuccessful because her phone number was disconnected. The couple's three children were living with Giancaspro, the ACLU said. The couple adopted from China while living in Illinois, and the children began living with them in 2003. But the couple's relationship ended in 2007 after they moved to southwestern Michigan. Giancaspro sued for custody under Michigan law, but Congleton said the case should be dismissed because neither parent has rights since the state constitution doesn't allow the recognition of domestic partnerships. The couple never married. Berrien County Circuit Judge Mabel Johnson Mayfield ruled for Congleton in September 2007, recognizing the validity of the adoption. But the judge said Michigan's amendment banning gay marriage kept her from enforcing either woman's parental rights. The appeals court disagreed with the trial judge and sent the case back to her for a child custody hearing. The ruling Friday prompted American Family Association of Michigan President Gary Glenn to call for a ballot measure that would ban gay adoptions in the state. "What's best for any child is to have both a mother and a father who are married," Glenn said. He said Florida, Arkansas, Mississippi and Utah have bans against gay adoptions. The ACLU said it was thrilled with the appeals court's decision. "Today gay parents and their children can rest easier knowing that they again have access to Michigan courts," said Kary Moss, the Michigan executive director of ACLU. Gay couples in Michigan were allowed to jointly adopt children in Washtenaw County but the practice stopped in 2002 after the county's chief judge said such adoptions violated state law.

Of course the Fundies here in MI are already freaking out about this, especially since the courts ruled it as a constitutional issue.

God bless those Activist Judges!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

An open letter to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger

February 19, 2009

Dear Governor Schwarzenegger,

I hear things are tough out in California right now, and your budget talks aren’t going very well. Things are rough here in Michigan too, and, as a point of trivia, we have a Governor from another country as well. But that’s a different story. I was recently going over my credit card statements in preparation for my yearly tax appointment, and we shocked to see how much money my partner (now husband) and I dropped in your fine state back in August. Yes, we came to California with the express intent on getting married. Our week long trip to your fine state ran us about $2500 when all was said and done. It could have been more if we didn’t have family and friends there to stay with during our visit. Thankfully, we had a great place to stay with a cousin and her family which gave us not only free lodging, but a playmate for our three year old daughter as well.
Word on the street is that over 18,000 couples tied the knot in your fair state during the window that we were allowed to do so. Some probably had very simple courthouse ceremonies; others had very elaborate and expensive weddings, some, like my family, traveled to California to make it happen. I am not a mathematician, nor am I an economist, but if each of those 18,000 couples spent what we did, $45 million was spent on weddings, flowers, venues, and what not during that brief window.
Yes, I know that Proposition 8 was the will of the people, but sometimes common sense wins out over hatred and bigotry at the ballot box, especially when it comes to finances. Please work with your courts and Attorney General to overturn this ridiculous ruling, and ignore any calls for boycotts should that happen. The Gays got your back on this one, trust me. Plus, you have some of the best vacation spots in the whole country, so when Focus on the Family calls for a boycott, laugh and send them tickets to Disneyland.


Tom, Tod, and Anna Laura
Jackson, MI.

Monday, February 16, 2009

A special day indeed

There are two sides to every story they say, and I believe it.
So, with that said, it was 13 years ago today that Tod and I met. There were many things going on in our respective lives, but the stars aligned that night 13 years ago and we’ve been together pretty much ever since.

Oh sure, I was hopped up on pain pills from my recent wisdom teeth extraction, but that’s another story. Things were not well with my old boyfriend, and he was a little pissed that I chose to have my teeth pulled on his birthday. Frankly, I didn’t care, I just wanted a long weekend to recover and let the swelling down (for the record, all four were yanked, with only nitrous and local anesthetic). The ex and his friends decided to go out and left me with the cat and the phone. I was doing okay, the bleeding has stopped, and I was shocked that I didn’t look like Marlon Brando. The phone rang, it was my friend Doug calling to invite me to a party. I thought it over, took some pain pills and headed out the door. The night is a fog or faces and a dull thudding pain (kind of like the night Sarah Palin was nominated), but one face stood out and it’s the face I wake up to each morning. People knew that I was still with the Latino-who- shall- not- be- named, so they were a little irritated that Tod and I left together that night. While it would have been fun to run off into the cover of night for some romantic escapade, it was really pretty mild. We went back to his house and talked until late into the evening. Since it was Presidents’ Day weekend, we both had Monday off and the ex had to work, so we spent the day in Ann Arbor walking around, eating Korean food (mental note: not the best choice for your first solids after oral surgery) and watching “Mr. Holland’s Opus” at the movie theatre (hey, what else would you expect two teachers to go see on their day off?).

As the weeks went on, we spent more and more time together, and I realized that it was indeed over with the Latino-who- shall- not- be- named, so after some discussion, we decided to start dating once I had officially called it off with the ex. Surprisingly, the talk with the Latino-who- shall- not- be- named went well, it was no big surprise for either of us. I moved my stuff out of the bedroom and took up refuge in the back bedroom. After “the talk” I went to Tod’s and we officially started dating that day. Fast forward to August, and I am moving in with my few possessions and a very pissed cat. Things weren’t easy those first couple of years together, they never are, it’s called reality. But they helped us get ready for all the stuff that came our way with Miss Anna and all the craziness associated with starting a family.

So yeah, there are two sides to each story, and I am certain that Tod will weigh in with his side if I give him a few moments to collect his thoughts.
But in the meantime, here’s to 13 years of fun, family, and lot’s of love.

Here’s to many more my man.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A comment from Live Journal

I cross post a lot of my entries from this site to my Live Journal site. Some comment here, some comment there. This comment came from my bud Scott, a fellow Michigander, on my recent post on our second parent adoption. His comment hit home, so I asked him if I could share it all with you... he obliged.

So I have been following your other blog and reading the chapters, and it has been very emotional (I know, how gay). See one day I would like to be able to adopt (Gerry hasn't totally agreed, yet) but after reading your post it makes me more and more interested in it. My parents have told me that I would make a great father one day, this was before I had come out to them. I haven't brought the idea up of adoption, because my parents are 50/50 on the process. My dad is for it, my step mom not so much. Plus I feel like getting ready to start school again, this isn't the right time to worry or think about it but I feel like life is short and I have goals I want to accomplish and being a father is one of them.
Last night at dinner, my friend Brieanne brought her daughter Lily who is usually terrified of guys with any type of facial hair but is fascinated by tattoos, so I was kind of scared to see how she would react. It turns out when I had her in my arms, she was the happiest she has been all night. Playing with my beard, tracing my tattoos, and trying to play with my food. One of my friends looks at me and asked when Gerry and I were going to have kids? I just replied when I graduate college and have a decent career that I can support the child.
So hopefully one day I will be able to be in your shoes and share that same fatherly smile as you and Tod do.

Daddy/Papa and Daughter Dance

The Daddy (Papa) and Daughter Dance went off without a hitch last night. Oh sure, there were meltdowns and drama, but Anna actually did okay. The meltdowns and the drama came from two different Dads fighting over a space at the various tables set up around the hall. We walked in on said altercation just as our friend Kelli was refereeing the fight. Kelli was the woman in charge and couldn’t believe that these two asshats would actually bring the drama to this event. Note to parents: Leave the drama at home. Oh sure, you have issues, but really, do you want to share your angst and embarrass your kids in public?

Anna and her daycare BFF Chloe and her Dad Gary

Okay, on to the red carpet details… We all got dressed up, wearing our vests and ties from our marriage in San Fran. We added black sports coats, and I wore my black Utilikilt. Anna looked amazing in her dress with the addition of a black velvet Bolero jacket. My kilt was either loved or laughed at by the kids. The Dads seemed to like it, but the girls giggled and pointed. I thought we all looked pretty darn good. The kiltThese girls were doing their best to get a picture of me, so I turned the lens on them and got their pic... they ran away screaming and giggling when I snapped the pic

I never thought I would actually be out on a dance floor running amok with my kid to the likes of Mylie and Avril, but we had fun. There will be more on this subject in a bit, as it was a catalyst for the whole discussion on adoption. Really.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Becoming a parent

I was sharing this day’s events with my mentor and cooperating teacher from my high school student teaching experience and she told me that I HAD to make this a chapter in the book. I met Sue a few months prior to my high school student teaching time at Libbey High School in Toledo. She was, and remains an amazing woman. Almost 20 years later, we still email and meet up to chat about art, life, and teaching. We had lunch in Ann Arbor the other day and I updated her on all that had transpired since Anna was born. She wanted to know more about how we were both parents, so I shared this with her:

Several years have passed since we became an official family, a day that I will never forget. On September 26, 2006, our second-parent adoption for Anna Laura became finalized. We drove north to the courthouse, met both sets of our parents, and waited anxiously as our lawyer was stuck in traffic coming from Ann Arbor.
I took the day off, as I knew I wouldn’t be able to concentrate. Tod’s adoption was finalized on June 6, 2006 (yes, that was 6/6/06!) but we couldn’t do mine until his was done, so we had to wait another three months for mine to come up again and to generate more lawyer fees and paperwork. Thankfully, the lawyer that handled Anna’s Mom’s side (at $500 an hour thankyouverymuch) was NOT involved in this process.
Some argued that I had nothing to worry about and that the adoption was really just a formality. I didn’t trust anything. I had heard too much, and seen too much, and I was genuinely concerned that something might indeed happen and that I wouldn’t be able to be Anna’s official parent along with Tod. Our lawyer reassured us and told us that the only thing that could possibly derail the proceedings would be an attack from Hezbollah. But still, in true Doubting Thomas fashion, I worried.
The meeting with the judge, a kind older man, (hardly the flaming liberal activist judge I expected) was quick and to the point. Tod had to give up custody of Anna to the state for an eternity that was in actuality only a few minutes. My Mom said that my neck and then my ears turned bright red as the judge declared Anna a ward of the state.
Anna never left our laps, as she was busy trying to move around, oblivious to all the drama unfolding in front of her. After she was turned over to the state, and Tod relinquished all of his rights, the judge then declared that Anna was now the proud owner of TWO Dads, and that we were both her rightful parents. I have shared this aspect (the relinquishing of parental rights) with many parents, and some have laughed and jokingly suggested that they wished that they had that option presented to them when their kids were evil. There has also been talk of the State of Nebraska and their child abandonment law that pretty much made the state a landfill for any unruly or unwanted child. A child craves security, a child craves stability, and a child craves a family.
For a brief moment, Anna had neither. She was officially a ward of the State of Michigan for the minute or so it took the judge to reassign us a both parents. I can’t imagine ever having that happen to me. My worst fears as a kid were that my parents would leave me somewhere and drive off never to be seen again.

You could hear a collective sigh from the galley where our parents sat when all was said and done. Hugs and tears abounded as we celebrated a huge milestone for us both. I felt like that character in the chick flick “Waiting to Exhale” as I did just that. She had held her breath, waiting for that special man; I had held my breath, waiting for that moment when Anna was officially mine. Our family has many milestones to celebrate and remember: birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, but none are as important as our Family Day, September 26th. That moment, and our heart stopping day in court will forever be a defining moment in my life. I became a guardian of Anna the day she was born; I became her Papa that afternoon in September.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Teach your children well

On the way home from the grocery this afternoon, I put in a CD of a “Kiss the Future” mix from our buddy Jeb in San Francisco. Anna asked “what’s that noise” and I told her that it was Jeb’s mix. She then responded, “He’s the guy that married us right?”

It was a little hard to drive as I was both laughing and kind of getting choked up at her rather mature, but yet toddler-esque observation of what happened back in August. We talked about San Francisco and how we did indeed get married out there and Anna then asked “what is Jeb’s husband’s name again?”

I think it’s great that she has no issues with gender when it comes to marriage. This comment from her was not provoked or coached, but is rather the product of her upbringing. While some may be upset that we are pushing our agenda on her, the truth is, we are not. We are simply living our lives and she is reacting to what she is witnessing.

And, for the record, Jeb’s husband is Thomas, and he’s a great guy!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

No place like home

A previous post from Live Journal, now a chapter in THE BOOK:

It was two years ago this week that we finally made it back to Michigan with Anna. Due to the various legal issues involved with interstate adoption, and the fact that she was born close to Thanksgiving made the whole process slow to a crawl. Throw in the fact that November is also National Adoption Month, and you get a whole judicial system that was clogged with en masse finalizations and other celebrations that put our little situation on the back burner. We were lucky to be able to stay at my parent’s house during this time. Yes, it was stressful, but we have heard tales of people holing up in cheap hotels for months on end while their adoption is finalized in a foreign country. We at least had free WiFi, and cable at my folk’s, and safe drinking water.
I had ventured back to Jackson a couple of times after Anna was born to check on the house, get mail, and check in at the college. Tod had not, since he was Anna’s guardian at the time. We didn’t feel comfortable having him out of the state should anything happen. We could go ANYWHERE in the state of Ohio with her… all the way down to the West Virginia border, over to the Pennsylvania border, or down to the Kentucky border… we just couldn’t cross any state lines with her until the papers cleared both states. Our lone trip away from my parents’ house was to visit Tod’s brother and his wife over the Thanksgiving weekend. Since they also live in Ohio we were good to go.

Each day we waited in hopes of returning to our home to start our new life with her. I will go on record as saying that time did indeed stand still for us for those three long weeks. Our families were busy getting ready for the holidays and we were stuck sitting on the couch watching day time TV and playing with Anna when she was awake. I have never longed to be home so much in my entire life. It was difficult to establish any kind of routine, as it wasn’t our place. We didn’t know how a baby would fit in to our home. We had conceptualized it in our minds, but we really had no idea.

How will a two storey house work with late night bottle feedings?
Will it be warm enough?
Do we have her in the right room?
How will the pets react to her?
About a month after she was born, we decided to both go back to Jackson for the night together without our daughter. Tod had a professional development workshop he was supposed to attend and was eager for the change, and I had to get back to work as it was coming up on finals week. We packed up my car to the roof and headed north after begrudgingly leaving her with her new grandparents. We were both nervous, as this was the first time we had both been away from her together, and the nervousness showed in our voices and our chatter as we headed out of town.
As we entered the city limits of Jackson, Tod’s phone rang. It was Monica, our lawyer. She asked where we were, and we told her that we had just pulled into Jackson. She quickly asked if we had the baby, and we assured her that we did not. Sure as shit, not even two minutes after we entered the city without Anna, we were finally cleared to bring her back to Michigan. The paperwork was finally done.
We both cheered and immediately called my folks to have them start packing up Anna for her journey back to Jackson. In retrospect, it was a good thing that we did make this trip without her, as the month down in Ohio had generated a lot of stuff for us. Dirty clothes, new baby gear, gifts, and other items associated with new parents. I don’t think we would have had room for her if we wanted. I had visions of the Joad family heading west from Oklahoma. We weren’t Okies looking for work, we were two new Dads without a clue.

We pulled in to our house, quickly unloaded and went to drive back to Ohio. Oscar, Tod’s dog, would not leave his side. He followed Tod each time he went to the car and demanded his attention. His behavior was a little needy, but we understood his missing Tod and packed him up in the car for the trip back to my folk’s. Little did he know how his life would change as this new source of fun and never ending food came into his life. When we arrived back in Perrysburg, Oscar ran in, gave their dog Darby a quick sniff and then went straight to Anna to size her up.
We had promised Hillary, Anna’s Mom that we would stop by on the way home. I wasn’t looking forward to this last goodbye, as the day we took Anna home from the hospital was a bleak and depressing day for all involved. What was supposed to be a joyous and happy day for Tod and I was filled with tears and sobbing. We called and let them know that we would be stopping by for a brief visit. We picked up our daughter, said a tearful, but thankful goodbye to my parents and headed out to see her Mom. The visit went well, as Hillary had some of her friends over to meet Anna and her new Dads. The sadness that prevailed at the hospital was replaced with joy and happiness as Anna moved into her new home in Michigan. It wasn’t a final goodbye, but a goodbye for now.

We pulled into Jackson late in the evening. I had imagined a cheerful photo for her baby book with Tod and me holding her on our front porch as we went in for the first time as a new family. Instead, under the cover of darkness, we snuck our new little bundle into OUR house, locked the door and went to bed exhausted but happy. The first few days and weeks back in Jackson were wild. We attempted to retain some sense of normalcy in our lives, but we quickly realized that there was a new sheriff in town and she was callin’ the shots.
My most vivid memory of those first few days back was the insanity of us trying to get our Christmas tree in the front door while Anna cried in the background. Our friend from church stopped by and saw that we were both out on the porch struggling with the tree. She immediately asked where the baby was and climbed over the tree to go see her, shaking her head and muttering under her breath. I think she was questioning the Judge’s decision to place this little baby with two complete morons. She took care of Anna for us for a moment, and we began to set up the tree. When I was in college, I worked for Jacobson’s, so I became pretty adept at setting up trees and decorating for the holidays. Not so much anymore. What used to be an afternoon of intense work turned into several weeks of “can I get it done in time?” insanity.
During our time in Ohio, we became very close with Hillary and her family and friends, but we desperately wanted to be with our friends back home. That first weekend home, we took Anna out for her Jackson debut. We met our friends at one of our favorite restaurants for dinner and a celebration of some kind. I don’t remember what we were celebrating, but I do know that Anna stole the show and stole everyone’s hearts.

We had become regular members at Hillary’s church in Toledo during our time in Ohio. We found many similarities to their church and ours, as they are both United Methodists, the one big difference being the Rainbow flag on their altar and the mostly LGBT congregation in attendance each Sunday. Their church was a fully welcoming and reconciling church, and we were accepted as a new family with open arms. We weren’t sure what to expect with our church, as it was an older congregation and we had heard that folks were a little concerned with us adopting. Never mind the fact that we were Gay… ADOPTING???

That first Sunday at Trinity was a whirlwind of smiling faces, hearty handshakes and hugs. Anna was whisked from our arms the moment we walked in the door and was passed from person to person during the time before the service. We went and sat down in our regular seats in the back of the sanctuary, this time with Anna sleeping on Tod’s shoulder. During the announcements, our minister, Pastor Bea came over to our pew and took Anna from Tod. She walked around with Anna in her arms and passed by each pew, introducing her to the congregation and charging them with her care and upbringing. Bea drew a line in the sand for us, challenging the congregation to accept and welcome this little girl into their lives without prejudice, living up to the UMC’s motto of: Open Doors, Open Hearts, and Open Minds. We’ll never know for sure who was against us coming to the church and adopting a child, and at this point, it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that we were home, physically, spiritually, and emotionally, and in the immortal words of Dorothy Gale, “there’s no place like home.”

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Getting ready for skool

And so it begins tomorrow morning at 7:30. I will drop off the myriad of forms/permissions and assessments to enroll Anna in the great experiment known as the American Public School System. If all goes well, and rumors of her meltdowns and temper tantrums don’t get to the office, she’s start half day preschool next fall and Kindergarten in the fall of 2010.
We are a little worried about the amount of paperwork required for preschool. Holy shit, the stuff we had to cough up filled up half of our dining room table.

I can only imagine what college will bring.