Every week or so, one of us will post a new question related to parenting, gender, and being gay, and then each blog a response, aiming for around 500 words. (Sorry, this time I’m way over.) If you’re a blogger and have something to say on the topic, we’d love for you to join the conversation. You can post your answer on your blog and then link to it in the comments of the original question post.
Here’s Question 3:
For queer couples with kids, there is a necessary third figure in our children’s lives. How do you plan to explain or acknowledge this person?
Back in August I blogged about mentally preparing to host Miles’ birth mom for four days in our home. I mentioned my anxiety about how she’d react to the way we had named her and the way we were telling Miles his story so far. What I didn’t mention was my anxiety about the issue of Miles’ birth father.
We hadn’t yet introduced this figure to Miles, and we needed Mama M_____ to know. Would she mind that we hadn’t yet told Miles about him?
It turned out fine. She didn’t have a problem with our decision to wait until he’s older. However, Miles’ joyfully irrepressible sister clearly wanted everyone to know that she and Miles have the same daddy. It didn’t seem to register with Miles, but she mentioned it a few times. And also countered talk of Miles’ having “two daddies” by insisting, “No! Miles has three daddies!”
The visit, much like Gretchen’s pointed question, forced me to confront the reality that Miles has a fourth and instrumental figure in his life. It’s good to dig down into this matter.
But before I do, though, I have to start with a preface. There are some details about Miles’ birth father that are a part of this story but don’t feel right to share, at least not until we’ve shared them with Miles.
I think it’s safe and fair to describe the following for now. Miles’ birth father, V., has not been present in our lives at all in the same way as Miles’ mom. Although he and Mama M_______ were a couple at one time and have two children together, they were no longer a couple when Miles’ was born. However, V. was physically present at Miles’ birth, at Mama M______’s request.
Mama M_____ still has a relationship with V., but I don’t know its precise nature. I do know he plays a role in his daughter’s life, spending time with her at least once a week, possibly more.
When it came to the decision about Miles’ adoption, V. was not involved with us and, as far as we know, didn’t seek involvement. Although we met several times with Mama M_____ before Miles’ birth, we did not meet V. Only once did Mama M____ present us with the opportunity to meet him. Unfortunately, I was out of town for work at the time, but Travis and Miles (16 months old) met him together at Miles’ sister’s dance performance.
I give this context to help explain why I tend to forget that Miles has a birth father. We’ve had multiple visits with his mom. She carried Miles, gave birth to him, sobbed when she placed him in our arms, and continues to stay in touch. To me, she is clearly some kind of parent—not Miles’ everyday, primary parent—but a parent both by birth and deep, lasting solicitude for him. V., on the other hand, is in another category. Current family terminology fails to make this distinction.
However, I’m aware that such distinctions are little more than academic exercise when compared with how Miles will feel as he gains greater consciousness about who he is and how he came to be in this world. There’s a very good chance he will spend at least a part of his life preoccupied with a yearning to know more about and connect with the man who helped make him. This is unsettling, and I recognize it’s something I cannot control. It goes to the heart of the radical nature of adoption and maybe other forms of alternative family(?): we share our children with others and do not wholly possess them.
Some of his curiosity will likely stem from the general curiosity experienced by any child with genetic ties that don’t link back to the parents who are raising him or her. But I’m betting Miles’ curiosity will also stem from a burgeoning sense of his racial identity.
When he’s old enough to start understanding how babies are made—not just where they come from—it will be time to start explaining the concept of a birth father. When we begin to speak in more nuanced ways about the reality of race—not just skin color—V. will figure more prominently.
Already, we’re talking lots—and facing some challenges about—skin color difference. Miles will soon have the capacity to wonder not only why his skin color is different from ours but also why his skin color is different from his Mama M_____’s.
Although some people clearly see Miles as multiracial—his mom is Mexican American and his birth father is African American—he will likely be perceived by most white people, especially here in Ohio, as black.
As Miles reaches his teenage years and begins to more actively explore his racial and ethnic identity, I imagine he’ll look to his birth father and his birth father’s family to know more about this part of himself. After all, his blackness comes from his birth father.
Before then, I’ll need to find out more about V. and his family, and I am pretty sure Mama M____ will help us with that. I have some concerns about what this contact and potential influence on Miles could mean, given some of what I know about V.’s past. So I envision an initial visit, all together, giving Miles a chance to meet his birth father and us a chance to gauge the dynamics for potential further contact, if possible.
I want to say we’ll take all of this one step at a time, but that’s not quite true. I want to do my best to be one step ahead—to imagine what a slightly older Miles will feel and what he might want to know, so that we can be as informed and emotionally prepared as possible.
I also know—and have learned—that we can never truly know what’s next. Like when Miles’ sister raised the issue of “three daddies.”
What’s irrefutable is that this “fourth figure,” his birth father, will matter very much to Miles, and so he matters to us too, with all the complexity and difficulty that entails.