It’s been nearly a year since Daniel and I began the journey toward adopting a son. It has not been an easy year, and we do not have a son yet, but we are continuing to be optimistic and move forward.

I would like to share some tough lessons we’ve learned so far. If you’re thinking about adopting in the U.S., you may not like the things I’m going to say. My intention is to give the honest, unfiltered truth and not sugar coat it. But don’t be disheartened, please. I believe the best rewards in life are the ones you have to work for.

The child’s race: It really is a black and white issue

I would estimate that 80% of the children available for adoption in the U.S. are black. I would also estimate that 80% of the couples looking to adopt are white. If you are a white couple hoping to adopt a white child, I’m here to tell you that your options will be limited. When you do find a white child that you are interested in, be aware that a dozen or more other white couples are also pursuing him or her.

Be upfront about what race you feel comfortable adopting. Don’t beat around the bush and say you might be open to a black child if you really won’t be. I can’t stress this enough. Be honest. Case workers are overworked and underpaid. You are wasting everyone’s time if you aren’t honest, so if you want a white child, just tell them you want a white child.

The softie in you is going to contradict this. A part of you is going to say, “Well maybe I could adopt a child of another race.” If you feel this way, I strongly encourage it. There’s obviously much more to a child than the color of his or her skin. But again, if you don’t feel you can honestly see yourself with a child of another race, don’t do it. Adoption is not the time to solve all the world’s problems. Focus on what kind of child you really see yourself with.

There are quite a few children of Hispanic descent, particularly in Texas, so if you can at least broaden your horizons to include them, you will have more options.

The age range will change

There are two groups of children for you: 0-12 and 13-17. In the beginning, you will think it’s 0-2. Everyone can spot a couple who’s new to this when they say they want a cuddly new baby, fresh from the womb. Forget about it.

If you want a “younger” child, your options are 0-12. To be more specific, it’s really 8-10. That’s what it’s going to boil down to.

You see, it’s all part of a cycle. These children weren’t just born into adoption. They were part of a process. From 0-4, their crackhead mother was trying to take care of them and possibly flying under the radar of child protective services. But once the child is old enough to start pre-school, they are in the public more. Teachers observe that they are neglected, abused, underfed, and that’s when they report the parents.

During the ages of 5-7, the mother will go through a little song and dance where the child is taken away temporarily and the mother is told to get her act together. She will get sober for a few months, get the child back, and then the cycle repeats a few months later. Finally, by age 8, it becomes clear the mother isn’t fit to be a parent and she isn’t going to change. Parental rights will be terminated and the child will be available for adoption. That’s where you come in and that’s why the child will probably be between 8-10.

Foster care is a slow moving machine, so the children may be stuck in the system for months, even years. It’s very sad. I don’t have an optimistic spin to put on it. The best I can say is that the foster family is doing its best to give the child love and attention while they wait to be adopted.

If you’re looking for an older child, a teenager, you’ve hit the jackpot. There are many, many options for you! Actually that’s sad too because it shows just how many kids have fallen through the cracks of the system. Sorry. But there are some really wonderful children out there who just need someone to give them a chance.

By that stage, they’ve put up some walls and it won’t be easy to get close to them. But it can be done, and once you establish trust with them, and show them that you aren’t going to give up on them, you can receive their endless love and devotion. You may even have a tighter bond with that child than some biological parents have with their teenagers. This is a child who knows how bad things can be, and how good they have it now, so it really opens up an opportunity for a special relationship with your adopted child.

The bottom line is to not get hung up on age. You may find an older child who you really connect with. Our case worker once pointed out that older kids and young teens have an identity and you really get a sneak preview of what kind of person they are becoming. A baby is a wildcard.

Out of state adoptions are sometimes a joke

When we first started out, we were very excited to have access to numerous databases of children in all 50 states. But we eventually discovered that this is mostly just for show.

Have you ever worked at a company where you knew someone was going to get promoted internally, but the job position was still posted online for the public? Same concept. You know those people sending in their resumes don’t stand a chance.

Most of the out-of-state cases we’ve been involved with ended up choosing a family in that child’s region. It’s not impossible to get chosen, but it’s significantly more difficult. You’ll really need to be a great match for the child to get case workers to consider you.

Homophobia is alive and well

Most states allow ONE single person to adopt a child or TWO married people (legally recognized marriage, that is). If you’re gay and live in Tennessee like we do, only one of us gets to adopt the child. The other person gets listed as an occupant of the house, which gives no legal protection at all. Classy.

Later on down the road, we will have the option to go to court and file a second parent adoption. It’s possible, but the whole thing is complicated, maddening, and unfair.

Also, even though some states can’t technically discriminate because we’re gay, we do get passed up often. Kentucky is one of the worst. They can’t even be bothered to acknowledge us when we inquire about a child.

Utah will flat out write you back and tell you “NO” because their state ONLY adopts to couples who are legally married. That means even a man and woman can’t adopt unless they are legally married.

If at all possible, consider the foster route

Foster care seems to be the most consistently reliable way to get matched with a child for adoption. The problem is that it’s horribly unpredictable.

9 times out of 10, the child is just going to be placed with you temporarily. You’ll bond, get attached, only to have to that child taken away and returned to their drug addict parent. If that parents falls off the wagon again, the child may once again be brought to your home 6 months later. If you’ve had the child once, you are more likely to get picked again since you know their history.

Of course there are some perks to fostering. You get to take care of a child who is going through a difficult time and be their safe haven. So it’s not all bad. However, if you’re looking for something permanent, it can certainly be a bumpy ride.

We are seriously considering it ourselves in order to expedite the adoption process. We’re not certain. We’re still talking about it.

In closing

I’ve shared the ugly, painful truth that we’ve learned about adoption after one year. Some people would throw in the towel and give up, but raising a family isn’t about quitting when times get tough. We’re committed to adopting a child and we know our patience will be rewarded. When it is, we will have so much love to give.

Next time you meet someone who has adopted a child, or provided foster care, you may think he or she is just a regular person. But look closer. That person is someone with a huge heart, an incredible spirit and strong backbone. That is a person who has been through hell and back, all because they wanted to be a parent. You should give them a big hug and thank them.

There are so many children out there who come from broken homes. They need safety and security, and kudos to any person who’s willing to give that to them. The greatest heroes in the world are the ones you don’t hear about.

Adoption Sadness

Dec 20, 2012 / Filed in Daniel, Family / 6 Comments

There’s a special kind of sadness when an adoption doesn’t go through. It’s something that dominates your thoughts and feelings, soaks into your skin, through your bones, and you feel it swimming in your blood. It’s inescapable and painful, and seemingly relentless.

I haven’t given an update on our adoption process since last spring. Part of it is due to privacy reasons. While it’s going on, I can’t write about it. And then when it fails to happen, I’m just too disappointed and upset.

Daniel and I have had two failed adoptions this year. Everyone who’s ever gone through adoption will tell you that it’s a certain type of hell. I didn’t understand, but now I do.

Over the summer, we began the process to adopt a little boy. We were finally approved for him in September. It was an amazing day, with a pure and powerful happiness that I wish we could have captured in a bottle and kept with us forever. That was a good day. I’d never felt happiness like that before; knowing that we would soon be fathers.

In the days that followed, we began the paperwork process and were granted access to his private case history. It turned out this boy we’d been working on adopting for three months wasn’t anything like what the agency had described him as. He had extensive problems, psychologically and emotionally, and the depth of these troubles were more than we felt prepared to handle. In fact, earlier this year, a psychiatrist had evaluated him and concluded in her notes that he wasn’t ready to be adopted. He needed extensive therapy and until he’d worked through some of his problems, he wouldn’t be in a healthy state of mind for a change in his environment.

(We hadn’t met him yet. You never meet the child until you’ve been matched with them and all the paperwork is ready. Otherwise, the trauma and uncertainty would be too much.)

For reasons we don’t understand, the agency chose to push through the adoption anyway. There hadn’t been a follow-up evaluation, and according to the records, he hadn’t improved at all. I almost feel as if they’d just become burdened with the poor guy and were trying to push him off onto a family. We’re not sure.

Nonetheless, we felt we had to cancel the adoption. We talked extensively with our case worker and she agreed. We were heartbroken, but we continued our journey and began working with another child’s agency that we’d found.

Over the past three months, we’ve learned a lot about him. He had a much better support system, and this time, we did feel we authentically knew about him and understood the child we were adopting. In fact, he seemed like a perfect match for us. He loved music, computers, singing, and the arts. If you could clone a mini version of Daniel and me, this child would be it.

At the beginning of this month, they’d narrowed it down to four families, including us. We were very excited. The next phase involved interviewing each family at length to decide who they felt was the best match for him as parents. Today was the final meeting. They chose a different family… But liked us very much… For what it’s worth.

We’re disappointed, but that’s how the process goes. You find out about these children and begin a lengthy process of interviews, paperwork, sometimes photos and videos. This helps build an overall picture of what that child would be like and how he’d fit in with us as a family. We tell ourselves not to get attached, but of course we do. How can we not? We’re humans, with emotions, and if we didn’t feel anything for these kids, we wouldn’t be very good parents. Plus, I think it would show in the interviews. Enthusiasm and emotion is what makes us stand out as potential parents. They want to know we will love and care for these children.

I told a friend today that the only pain I can compare it to is when a couple suffers a miscarriage. You go through a period of excitement, telling family and friends that a child may be on the way. You start dreaming up these imaginary scenarios in your head of the future with this child. Birthdays, holidays, summer vacations. And then if you end up not being matched, it feels like those dreams die, and a little part of you dies too.

Daniel and I are sad, but I know we’ll feel better. Eventually we’ll start looking again, and we know our son is out there. I think the length of time makes it difficult too. Anytime you are considered a potential match, the process usually drags on for months before a decision is reached.

It was very cold and rainy today. I went to bed at about two in the afternoon; turned on the electric mattress pad and hid under the comfort of our bed sheets while the rain pounded on the window. Our dog Mrs. Madrigal cuddled up to my chest and took a nap. I could feel her tiny nose breathing against my hand. The top of her head smelled like Christmas sugar cookies. She’d been to the groomer and they always spray her with this scented perfume for dogs. I rested my face next to her and smelled her little cookie head, and slept the rest of the day away until Daniel got home from work.

At least we have this baby, and she’s all ours.

Justified Cruelty

Dec 11, 2012 / Filed in Family, Life / 3 Comments
    “I was able, for the first time in my life to say the exact thing I wanted to say at the exact moment I wanted to say it. And, of course, afterwards, I felt terrible, just as you said I would. I was cruel, and I’m never cruel.”

    โ€” Meg Ryan’s character, Kathleen Kelly, in the movie You’ve Got Mail

I feel bad about something I did today. It really bothers me, even though I know it was justified.

There’s someone very close to us, who Daniel and I both love and could never replace. But he shares very different views on politics than we do. Daniel and I have had numerous talks with him and tried to find common ground, to no avail. Finally I just gave up and told him I don’t want us to discuss politics around each other, ever. Daniel echoed these sentiments too and kindly asked him to please focus on the things we have in common, and not our differences.

Today we received an inflammatory anti-Obama email from him. It really, really upset me, and worst of all, nothing in it was factually true. Not by a long shot.

The subject line was the dreaded, “Fwd: Fwd: Fwd: Obamacare,” and you always know there’s going to be trouble when you receive a message like that. He sent it to a list of his closest friends and family, and made certain to include Daniel and me as well.

I talked with Daniel before replying, and he said it was okay. So I went off the deep end. I didn’t call this person names or anything like that. But I did point him to several facts, including links to references. And I tried my best to separate myths and facts, although I’m sure he won’t take anything I say seriously. And then I clicked “Send.”

Now I feel awful. The tone of the email was overwhelmingly angry and intense. And even though I didn’t really say anything specific that I’d regret, I do regret the overall “meanness” of it.

He pushed my buttons one too many times. He knows, without any amount of uncertainty, how Daniel and I feel. And we’ve asked him to not send us these emails. But he did anyway, and he got a response.

No matter how satisfying you think it’s going to feel to give someone a piece of your mind, it never quite does. More often than not, you end up feeling disappointed in your own actions.

We can justify it any way we want. “He had it coming” or “he should have known to not provoke me.” But in the end, we are responsible for all that we say, and all that we do. And it makes me sad.

Things will be fine and we’ll move on. I suspect this person will delete my message without reading it entirely, and probably won’t ever mention it. That’s fine. I kind of prefer it that way.

But I hate this momentary ugliness. And I just wanted to say that justified cruelty is still cruelty, no matter what verb you put in front of it. I was cruel today, and that’s something I never like to be.

My mother was my first true love.

The earliest memory I have of childhood was the summer of 1985, when I was three years old. My mother went to New York on business and was gone for a week. I cried incessantly for her to return. I didn’t understand the concept of distance or work. All I knew was that I must have done something terrible for her to be gone and I begged for her to be back. I believed that if I cried long enough, and wished hard enough, she’d return to me.

It was the beginning of a long and unhealthy attachment to my mother, a woman who loved me as much as I loved her. She was self employed and worked from home. I was the baby. My brothers were 5 and 9 years older than I was, so they were off at school, gaining their own independence. My father worked all day, then was gone during the night involved in political activities and side jobs. I felt like he was never around and my mother was very unhappy with him being gone all the time.

With all these people coming in and out of the household, brothers who were off doing their things and a father who felt unavailable, it left my mother and me to fend for ourselves. Clinging together for love and attention. And I liked having her attention. In fact, I wanted all of it. There’s a story in my baby scrapbook that I used to pull her hair when I thought she wasn’t paying enough attention to me. And this was very young. The baby years. Before I even had the coordination to really verbalize my frustration. Even then, I knew I wanted to be the center of her world.

As Norman Bates famously said, “A boy’s best friend is his mother.” My mother was certainly mine.

Our relationship became turbulent when I was a teenager. I knew deep down that I was gay and I knew how mother felt about gay people. She wasn’t a bigot. She never used derogatory words about gay people. It wasn’t like that. But she was critical of them. She said they would go to hell. In some ways, that’s even more traumatic for a young man to hear. Who wants to burn for all eternity?

I came out on Christmas, 1997. I was 16. My mother was so disappointed in me. I felt like I’d let her down. Her opinion truly mattered to me. I wanted her to love me and accept me, but she didn’t.

From there, and ever since, our relationship has been topsy turvy. She’s never disowned me. In fact, we’ve still remained close on many levels. We’ve gone through spells where we talk every couple of days and share our secrets and fears to each other. It was just like when I was little.

But I knew she looked at me differently. She always has. She claims that’s not true. What can I say? Kids are perceptive. They know when something has changed and their parents see them differently. Parents can deny it all they want. Christmas 1997 began a new era and she has never loved me the same since.

We have fought about this many times of the years. She doesn’t understand what I want. And for the life of me, I can’t quite find the words to explain it to her. I want her to love me like she once did. I want her to support me, unconditionally, and fight for equality along side me. I want her to fend off anyone who may try to hurt my feelings, just like when I was a little boy. Back then, she would come to my rescue.

Part of it is just the pain of being an adult. We all reach a point when we realize our parents can’t protect us anymore. But I can’t tell you how much easier life would be if I had a mother who supported me. Something would change for me. A new found hope. Confidence. I don’t know the exact words. I just know it would feel so nice to have my mother on my side.

We had the most ugly fight on Sunday. Three hours of non-stop arguing at my parents’ house. Dad was at work, Daniel was with me. I was just so tired of her using the bible to justify her beliefs. So I went through it, passage by passage, breaking down all the hypocrisy. Demanding explanation.

It took hours of chipping away, but she finally admitted it. She agreed to throw out all her biblical philosophy. At the core, she simply did not believe gay people should be married. That was it. Cut and dry. It’s how she felt, regardless of religion, it’s what she believes. We’re different.

And it hurt so much worse. At least with religion, I can blame ignorance. I can find some solace in knowing my mother is just another misguided sheep following the herd. But now all those walls are down. She just doesn’t like homosexuality. And that’s all there is to it.

I cried like a child. I really did. Bumbling, lips quivering, tears flooding out, couldn’t complete a sentence. And she cried too. I don’t know what for. But she did.

When Daniel and I left, we didn’t really know where things stood. She said she loved me, I said I loved her too. I’m sure we’ll stay in touch, but I’ll always be haunted by the memories of my first love and the way things once were.

We’ve been approved to begin the adoption process!

Everyone warned us that it’s a long and tedious process. They sure weren’t kidding! But the good news is that we’ve been approved as adoptive parents and we are actively seeking a child for placement.

It may take weeks, months, or years to find a match. But somewhere out there is a child for us. ๐Ÿ™‚

Where Do We Go From Here?

Mar 5, 2012 / Filed in Family, Life / 2 Comments

Last week, my hometown in IL was mowed down by a tornado with 170MPH winds. The house I grew up in, the house my parents lived in for 30 years, was busted to pieces. Thankfully my parents moved out a few years ago and now live in an area that was unaffected. The current owners got lucky and made it out alive with only seconds to spare before the roof came off and chimney collapsed where their 3 year old daughter had just been sleeping. If you look closely, you can see the pink bed in the picture.

A few days later, Daniel and I found ourselves surrounded by danger as dozens of tornadoes swept through our surrounding states. It bypassed our home in Nashville, leaving only minor wind damage to nearby towns.

Tornadoes are nothing new to this area of the country. But in the past 4 years, it’s become an annual event, getting more destructive each time. In 2009, a tornado came up the main road right by my house and struck 4 miles away, demolishing a community. I’ll never forget the terror of hiding in the closet underneath the stairs while the nightmare unfolded outside.

You can say a lot of negative things about where I live. We have homophobic politicians and deadly storms. But that’s not the whole picture. We also have thousands of open minded and forwarded thinking people who love and support us. We have the most beautiful seasons, the most wonderful scenery, and some of the most amazing food. There’s a reason Blanche Devereaux always spoke fondly of the south.

I feel torn and conflicted. I have for many years. My husband and I have built a life here. We own a house, we have jobs and friends and family nearby. Sure, it’s possible to move somewhere else and start over. We can make new friends, get new jobs. Maybe live somewhere with less bad weather and more equality. It’s certainly appealing and it’s certainly been discussed many times.

But then again… You can make all these changes, then walk outside and be hit by a car. It’s true.

I suppose we can never really escape problems. And there is no beginning or end to this rambling. I just felt like saying that I’m scared. I’m worried. Seeing the house I grew up in torn apart was a sobering reminder that we are never safe from harm, no matter where we live. I just wish we could at least have a little less dramatic weather to help us along the way.

I just wanted to take a minute to get something off my chest.

When somebody dies, they deserve our respect. I lost a nephew to a drug overdose several years ago. Burying a 23-year-old with his whole life ahead of him is more painful than I could ever explain.

People had plenty of crude and judgmental things to say about his death. And what good are poison drenched words spit from the acid tongues of strangers? I’m the one who lost him, not you. So shut the fuck up.

The endless stream of hateful commentary about Whitney Houston’s death is nauseating. We built her up so we could tear her down, didn’t we?

Maybe if we’re lucky we can do the same to another celebrity. How about Adele? She’s at the height of her fame and everybody seems to loves her. Maybe in 20 years she’ll develop a drug or alcohol dependency and we can tear her apart until all the seams of her spirit come undone. Oh wouldn’t that be delicious? Another scandal. Another bright star burning out. It would make such a wonderful story on the evening news.

Both my nephew and Whitney Houston had a profound impact on my life. Obviously for different reasons. I’m a better person because of their presence in my life. It makes me sad that they died from drugs but it does no good to say unkind things about them. It certainly doesn’t help their family.

If the things we say don’t bring any good to the world, perhaps it’s best that we sew our mouths shut so we can do no damage, and saw our fingertips down to the bone so we write nothing that harms others.

Just a thought.

Graduation Day

Jan 9, 2012 / Filed in Daniel, Family / 3 Comments

Over the weekend, our dog Anna graduated from obedience training. She celebrated this momentous occasion by promptly taking a shit in the middle of the floor, right in front of her instructor. Then, to make sure she left a lasting impression, she got into a slapping fight with her classmate.

That’s our girl.

Cuddle Bug

Jan 4, 2012 / Filed in Family, Humor / 1 Comment

I’ve turned our dog into a cuddling monster.

Before Daniel leaves for work in the morning, he sits on the side of the bed and tells me to have a good day. Then he gives me a kiss and says he loves me. Depending on how lucid I am, I either carry on a conversation with him or just mumble “you too.”

Our dog Anna is sleeping quietly in the crate next to the bed. She was crate trained from the day she was born, so she has a very positive association with it. At night, we just have to say “go to bed” and she’ll voluntarily get in the crate and go to sleep.

One morning, I looked over at her, all curled up in a warm Schnauzery ball, and decided I wanted to cuddle. So I took her out of her crate and put her under the covers with me. Then I did the same thing the next day. And the next day.

Eventually that became a habit and she started looking forward to our cuddle time in the morning. Now when Daniel leaves for work, she thinks that’s her cue. As soon as he walks out the door, she sits in her crate and whines. I open it up and she jumps into the bed and goes to sleep next to me.

It’s a terrible habit and you should never reward a dog for whining. But on the plus side, she only does it in the morning, and as soon as she gets into bed with me, she goes back to sleep and doesn’t cause any trouble. So I’ve decided to let this habit stick.

Becoming Bad Nathan

Dec 9, 2011 / Filed in Family / 11 Comments

I sat at my desk chair, sweaty and flushed. My shirt was soaked and clinging to me uncomfortably. My head was dizzy, my stomach was empty.

The phone conversation started with good intentions and rational expectations. I always map out conversations in my head before having them. I’d given it a lot of thought and felt my requests were fair. The yearly Christmas itinerary with my family made me unhappy and I wanted it to change.

As it stands, Daniel and I are welcome in the family, but there’s an established rule that we “don’t act gay” around the children. It’s a horrible rule that was stated long ago when I was younger, and dumber, and not very good with words. I’ve grown up a lot since then and I feel very comfortable in my own skin. The days of playing Bert & Ernie are behind us.

So when I told my parents that I no longer wanted to play these roles, I thought they would be sympathetic. Perhaps explaining why and how it hurt me would humanize my struggles as a gay man. They say they love me. So if you love someone, and realize you’re hurting them, you should make efforts to fix things, right?

Apparently not. My family’s not having it. They “love” us, they want us around. But if I want to acknowledge that Daniel is my husband, and be our normal selves, that’s not going to fly. I was called “selfish.” I was told I’m just trying to be “controversial” and “difficult.” My parents told me that if we weren’t going to “act like we usually do, we should just stay home.”

Fine. Fuck it then. We’ll stay home. I’d much rather spend Christmas curled up with my husband by the fireplace, watching Miracle on 34th Street (the black and white version, not this technicolor bullshit), and enjoying some nice Appletinis while our puppy and cat nap nearby. Sounds grand.

So in summary, my parents don’t want us to come around if we’re going to be ourselves at Christmas. If that’s not painful enough to hear, they went on for another full hour about how “horrible” I am to not agree to their terms. What a terrible, terrible person I am. So not only am I basically kicked out of the family, but then I’m told that I’m a bad person for standing up for myself.

I guess I’m the villain. No amount of ration or reasonability can be had with these people. And I do love them. I love them deeply and genuinely. But their behavior is wrong. They’ll never see it that way and I guess I’m the outcast son now. But all I did was stand up for my true self. If they don’t love that person, then they can’t really say they loved or even knew the real me.

I hate being pinned as the bad guy. That’s how everyone in the family will see it too. Nothing gets under your skin like the disapproval of your family. We can act like it’s easy to walk away, and many gay people have done it. But it’s one of the worst pains in the world.

And yet they try to extend that olive branch to me… Like they are the good guys. “Just be something you’re not and you can come back to us. Don’t you want to come back to us, Nathan? Don’t you want to spend Christmas with us?”

No. Not like this.

About Nathan

I'm a happily married gay man, writing about my life as a new father and sharing our adventures with a side of snark.
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