Beyond Blood

Families of our making.

Gay Dads: Transitions to Adoptive Fatherhood

My new book examines how gay men are both ordinary and extraordinary.

My book, Gay Dads: Transitions to Adoptive Fatherhood, came out this week. The book cover, a photograph by Gretje Ferguson, captures a very ordinary moment in the life of a gay father: helping his toddler son put on a shoe. The lives of gay fathers, as this book reveals, are both ordinary and extraordinary. In turn, this book examines how gay dads interact with societal ideals of fatherhood and masculinity, alternately pioneering new ways of fathering and accommodating to heteronormative “parenting culture.”

Below is an excerpt from the beginning of the book. It provides a glimpse into the lives of two gay fathers whom I interviewed, and some of the key decisions and experiences they encountered during their transition to adoptive fatherhood.

Carter, a 37 year-old teacher, and Patrick, a 41-year-old associate professor, lived in a Michigan suburb. They had been together for approximately 10 years at the time that they began to consider parenthood. Prior to meeting Patrick, Carter had been unsure of whether he would be able to become a parent. He felt that he might have “abandoned that dream” when he came out. In contrast, Patrick had never considered not becoming a parent: “As a gay person there are so many things you can’t do and you just have to work around it. It is just one of those things. I knew that if I want[ed] to have a family, that is just what I am going to have to do.” Meeting Patrick and also being exposed to other gay parents led Carter to rethink his initial hesitations on gay parenthood. After 10 years together, and a move into a larger house in a family-friendly neighborhood, the couple finally felt ready to take the plunge. They had a large, supportive network of family and friends and they therefore felt well-supported in their quest to become parents.

In deciding what route to take to parenthood, both men briefly considered surrogacy but then concluded, largely based on cost, that it did not make sense. Their interest in an infant—which had initially led them to consider surrogacy—influenced their decision to pursue a private domestic adoption. They were also drawn to the philosophy of openness and honesty inherent in open adoption, which is characterized by contact pre- and/or post-placement between the adoptive and birth parents. As Patrick observed, “It is obvious that there is no mom in the picture. We just decided that open adoption was a good way for children to know where they came from.” Both men described actively researching various adoption agencies because they hoped to circumvent, or at least minimize their exposure to, heterosexism in the adoption process. As Carter recalled, some of the agencies in their area made them feel somewhat “uncomfortable,” in that “we were being asked to be a little on the deceitful side and that was not what we were willing to do to start a family.” Both Carter and Patrick were firm that they were unwilling to closet themselves in order to adopt a child. This meant that the process of finding an agency that would work with them took many months—a cost that they preferred to incur rather than sacrifice their personal integrity.

Carter and Patrick ultimately adopted Arianna, a biracial female infant. They were thrilled with their daughter—and so were their families. As Carter laughed, “My mom doesn’t call to talk to us anymore. It’s ‘How’s my granddaughter?’ I’m like, ‘I’m fine mom, thanks for asking.’” Interestingly, some of their friends had responded less positively—particularly their gay male friends, all of whom were non-parents. As Carter observed, “for them, it’s so far from their realm of reality to even want a kid that they don’t understand why we did this.” He added, “[we now] kind of connect with some of our coworkers [more] than some of our friends.” Both men noted shifts in their support networks in that they spent less time with their non-parent friends (who were mostly gay), and more time with their friends who were parents (and who were often heterosexual). Their support network had therefore become increasingly straight—and their lives “more mainstream.” They were aware of the irony that, at the same point that their sexuality was suddenly more on display (in that they were more readily recognized as a couple, as opposed to just “buddies," in the presence of a child), they suddenly felt “less gay than before,” in that parenthood, not their sexuality, was the defining feature of their identity. Further, although both men had described themselves as “workaholics” prior to parenthood, and were highly identified with their careers, parenthood had caused them to “seriously rethink [their] commitment to work,” such that their work lives now took a clear backseat to their roles as parents.

Having adopted a girl, both men had encountered questions from family members, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances about what they were going to “do ... about female role models.” Yet they both minimized this issue as a personal concern. As Patrick asserted:

"Truthfully, the people we see on a regular basis, whether it’s at work or school or socially, it’s a mix. We’re not going to go out and arrange play dates with female friends just to expose her, because the social engineering aspect of parenting is sometimes a little ridiculous. Good parents expose their kids naturally. So, I don’t think we are going to say, 'Oh, she has only had ten percent female exposure this week.' I don’t think we’re going to do that."

For more information about the book, including reviews and author information, visit NYU Press. To order the book, visit Amazon.com or your local bookseller.

Abbie Goldberg, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at Clark University.

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