Friday, October 9, 2009

Fatherhood Friday post: Telling our folks

Once again, the Two Dads page on Facebook offered fodder for their Question of the Day. This was actually written back in January in preparation for THE BOOK that I am writing on this whole experience. This was the first chapter I wrote, and remains (at least to me) one of the most powerful pieces written in my creation of the book. While the plans to publish remain in line, the pages aren’t flying off like they were when I was on sabbatical and had only one kid to deal with.
This is an excerpt from the chapter on telling our friends and family:

When we first began talking about starting a family, our intentions were kept under wraps for a few months. I will admit that both Tod and I are pretty focused on what we do and what we want. And as teachers, we tend to over think most everything we do. Not that doing that is necessarily a bad thing. We decided to keep our desire for a family in the closet for a few months, as we wanted to test the water and see how things would float with our immediate circle of friends. We also wanted to make sure we could actually do this and make it happen before we got everyone excited and involved.
We also felt it was necessary to tell our parents together, as we didn’t want either one to know before the others. You know how grandparents get. We purposely put off telling our parents because we wanted to tell them in person, and we wanted to make sure that they both found out at the same time. The logistics were a little daunting at first, but we finally found a weekend when both of them could make the trip to Jackson for the weekend. We couched the weekend as a chance to relax and visit and nothing more. Tod and I hadn’t really discussed the actual telling; we just got busy with getting them settled and getting started with dinner. It was early spring, so it was right in the middle of Lent. My folks had given up alcohol for the season and were happy chatting away with water and soda as we nibbled on appetizers and snacks. The time came for another bottle of wine to be opened (it was a family visit after all), and as the classes were filled my Dad proposed a toast to family, and I blurted out, “And to extending ours!”
If you remember any sketch comedy from the seventies, often times there would be a sound effect of a needle being pulled off of a record to simulate a break in concentration/conversation/etc. In my mental soundtrack that night, after I said that, my sound effects team supplied that sound bite in my head. The room became quiet, and I glanced at Tod who was staring at me with wide open eyes. As mentioned, we hadn’t really discussed HOW we were going to tell them, but this seemed like as good of time as any.
The questions started a second later as glasses were raised to drink. When the parents realized that they would not be grandparents to yet another dog or cat and that this was an actual human child, hoots, hollers, and tears started to flow from all of us as this revelation was processed. The wine flowed as well, as my Dad mentioned that God probably wouldn’t mind he poured two glasses for him and my mom breaking their Lenten vow to abstain. As you can imagine, there were thousands of questions to be asked and answered and as we settled in to eat, we did our best to get them caught up on our plans. They were a little upset that we had not told them earlier, but were pleased that we had provided such a family centered forum for the disclosure. We told them that once this started, we were implementing our own “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, and it was one that served our sanity well. We told them that we would keep them posted with any news, and that we didn’t want a constant stream of emails and phone calls asking how we were doing, and what we were doing to start the family. All of the advice books had told us to set boundaries with our friends and families, as the questions can get overwhelming at times, especially if there isn’t any movement towards a child.

As the night unfolded, there were many sidebar conversations throughout the house. Photo albums and memories were brought out and dusted off as the news of this new chapter in our lives sank in. We began calling our parents Grandma and Grandpa, and they all seemed pretty pleased with that title. My mom retreated to the kitchen to do some unnecessary cleaning, but I think it was actually a chance for her to process the information and how she was going to deal with my brother and his wife who were adopting as well. As I came in to the kitchen to check on her, she came over with tears in her eyes and gave me a big hug, the kind of soul grabbing hug that is given at funerals, births, or weddings. She looked up at me and told me that I would be an excellent Dad and said that our yet born child would be damn lucky to have me as a parent. She held back some tears and quickly asked me if I had told my brother yet. I told her that I had not, as we wanted to tell them first. She steeled her jaw and said used her best sotto voce to say “you need to tell him.” As with much of Anna’s birth and adoption, there was good and bad to be dealt with. The issue of my brother was one that would haunt this entire process and remains an issue to this day.