Tim Is My Daddy
I always knew I wanted to be a father – just like my dad. In the early 1980’s when I was coming out, this just wasn’t an option, so I got on with being ‘gay’. I’d moved to the ‘Big City’ and got to sample all it offered. I sampled a little much, and found out I was HIV positive in 1989. I expected to be joining the ranks of the mourned within a couple of years. A funny thing happened though - I didn’t die. At the same time, I was regularly walking past a building with a daycare, watching dads with their toddlers and pre-schoolers and feeling a tremendous envy and longing.
I became uncle to the five wonderful little girls of my sister and brother. It was great, but really tough to say goodbye to them at the end of each visit. Some friends adopted kids during 2001, which got me to really start thinking about the reality of becoming a parent. I’d had a couple of long-term relationships, but they had ultimately failed, and there was no prospect of a new partner on the horizon, so I was going to be doing this solo. I spoke with my family about the plan. They were all very supportive, and it also answered the question of who would take on the responsibility for a youngster in the event of my incapacitation or demise. My nieces were all very much a part of the journey, and it was often from them the question came, “when are you going to get your little boy?” Even with five female neices, and for no apparent reason other than cooler toys, I knew I wanted my child to be a boy.
The answer to the question took a bit longer than expected. I got into the process at the beginning of 2003. I followed a personal policy of full disclosure with the Children’s Aid Society (CAS) staff, as I didn’t want to be going along and suddenly find that there was a roadblock. I suppose this was self-preservation, I didn’t want my hopes to be raised and then dashed. Personally, I found CAS staff to be welcoming and supportive. The caseworker I dealt with was easygoing and it all went pretty smoothly, if a bit slowly. As a single male wanting to adopt, I was an anomaly in the CAS system – all of the forms referred to couples or single women. The homestudy was completed at the end of the year, but didn’t get fully approved until May of 2004. And then the wait began.
14 months later, I was presented with an 18-month-old little boy named Alex. Although I’d specified an age range of 3 years old to 5 years old on my forms, my caseworker knew me well enough to ask about this toddler. This happened right at Pride celebration time here in Toronto. Ever since then, our family Pride celebrations are more about marking the moment I knew I was about to become a dad than anything else. Two weeks later I met Alex for the first time - a very busy little red head. I bit my tongue as I watched his foster mom care for him in the two-week familiarization period, knowing much would change in his routine very soon. To be honest, I could hardly wait to get him home and into the ‘right’ routine – no more butterscotch pudding before bed!
My experience with CAS was that they are gay positive. Any trouble is more likely to come from dealing with foster parents or caseworkers that are sticklers for rules. CAS caseworkers also tend to focus on and are transfixed with statistics – if the child isn’t in the ‘normal/average’ range; you as the parent have to keep answering questions about the situation.
To say that Alex and I had to do some adjusting is quite the understatement. Alex had been treated well, but more like a baby, despite the fact that he was a year and a half. It seemed he knew that he was ready to go as a toddler, and much of what had been presented by his foster mom went right out the window. After a slow start on warming up to people, Alex quickly learned that he had a winning smile and personality to charm pretty much anyone. His hair is the envy of the ladies ‘of a certain age’ we often encountered while out shopping. His cousins in London (ON) were most eager to have ‘Alex time’ and teach him the necessities of life – slides, swings, swimming and climbing stairs. They were keen on the promise of $5 if they could get him to speak intelligible words. (Despite what our speech pathologist says, Alex IS a stubborn little guy and is taking his time telling us what he wants to.)
In the couple of years that I have been a parent, I’ve found that I have to keep ‘coming out’ as a single dad. Occasionally, Alex or I are asked about ‘mom’. With physical similarities in appearance between Alex and myself, I have to come out that he is adopted. And then, as a matter of choice in these situations, I often do let the other party know that I am gay. Just to make sure that ‘people’ see a happy, well adjusted ‘gay’ family.
I consider myself very fortunate to have made my parenting choice in Toronto. It took a few months, but we finally attended a monthly playgroup for young children of gay dads, Daddy, Papa & Me. This has been a valuable resource for information, commiserating and sharing life information. It has also provided a stepping-stone to a broader group of friends and playfriends for Alex. I admit my surprise when I speak with friends in other large urban centres that there is nothing similar where they are. While on parental leave, we made great use of the facilities at the YMCA. Alex took to swimming like a duck to water. The trampoline took a bit longer to master, but now it is tough to get him to wait his turn. The only problem was that it was mostly moms with their kids. Again, I was an anomaly. Alex could have cared less, and most of the kids liked having a ‘dad’ to play with. It really is tough as a man to break into the ‘mom focused culture’ – playgroups, daycare staff, medical professionals – where they are used to dealing with women as primary care givers and tend to discount men as interlopers. We’re doing our part to change this.
Alex is now at the daycare I used to walk by. Sometimes I wonder if other gay men see us, feeling a tremendous longing…thinking about the dads they could be.