Monday, March 13, 2006

Winning the lesbian parent marathon

[I hadn't intended to post this today, but then I surfed over to the Big Gay Picture and discovered that they had used a photo of my family to illustrate a post about gay parents. That was a tad surprising, but also OK, and it does give me an excuse to write about my family, so here's the tale. ]

The day my son turned 18 was routine, as birthday's go. I went to work. I made jokes about how I couldn't possibly be old enough for him to be turning 18. A high school senior, Tony played trumpet in the marching band, and his friends from the trumpet section surprised him with an impromptu concert on our front lawn. They stayed for cake and ice cream and then jammed in my living room. My son was delighted. I was thrilled

It was a good day, but it was also odd. As much as I enjoyed it, I felt strange all day. It wasn't that I felt bad, though, I felt relieved. I simply couldn't figure out why.

I had been blessed. Tony had always been healthy. Even though he was and is a normal, rowdy teenager, I never feared that he wouldn't live to see 18. Why was I so relieved?

I couldn't make any sense of the feeling until the next day. I think it came to me in the shower. I was relieved because my son had reached the legal age of adulthood. There was no longer any danger that someone could rip him away from his family.

I'm a lesbian. My son is the biological child of my late life partner Patty, who died of breast cancer more than a decade ago. As the co-parent, particularly as a co-parent in the very red state of Kansas, I had been a legal non-entity.

I was there when he was born and marveled at how perfect he was. I held out my hands for his first step. I heard his first words. I sat up all night with him when he had his first cold. I went to every single parent-teacher conference. I helped pay for his doctor checkups, his school fees and kept him in shoes. I held him when his biological mother died when he was just 7. I love him more than I ever knew you could love anyone. Despite all of that, I didn't have the legal right to be in the same room with him, let alone to be his parent.

We were incredibly lucky, though.

I was able to legally adopt him not long after Patty died, largely because Patty's family supported the adoption. I am firmly convinced that if they hadn't, I probably couldn't have gotten custody of him.

Why did they decide to support me? At my son's high school graduation I found out from Patty's brother that they only decided to support my adoption because he talked to a friend of his who is a psychologist. The psychologist -- bless him -- told Patty's brother that taking my son away from me would mean that he would lose both parents, and not just one, in this tragedy.

Even though Patty's brother had seen me with my son for years and knew how close we were, it had never occurred to him to think of me as a parent. It never occurred to him that my son might think of me as his mother. To his credit, Patty's brother saw the truth of what his friend said and supported the adoption.

Think about how close that was. What if Patty's brother hadn't had the ability to see the wisdom of his friend's words? What if he had talked to a different friend?

My son and I were blessed. Despite the tragedy of Patty's death, our family was able to stay together. We were together when so many other lesbian and gay parents and their children are forced apart.

It wasn't until my son turned 18, though, that I realized that despite the fact that I had legal custody, I had always been afraid. I never knew whether the people who find my family so appalling -- and believe that my own existence is evil -- would find a way to legally remove my son from the only family he'd ever known. They'd do it for his own good, of course.

This is just one small taste of what it is like to be a lesbian or gay parent in the United States today. My son and I were the lucky ones. We won the gay-parenting marathon. We made it to the finish line of his 18th birthday, and now, my son is the one who makes the decision on whether or not to see me. He can base his decision on his relationship with me, on whether he thinks I'm a good parent, a horrible parent, or just a pain in the rear he doesn't want to see.

Many other families aren't so blessed. With the religious right agitating for laws banning adoption by lesbians and gays, families are being attacked and children are being taken from the parents they love and the only homes they have ever known. If those laws had been in effect when Patty died, it would have been impossible for me to to adopt my son. What a tragedy that would have been.


Lan Whu said...

Must... Resist...

1:26 PM
Anonymous said...

Umm . . . yeah, undecipherable strange comment there at the end of quite a moving story. You'd think if the commenter bothered to write, he or she would come up with something discernible.

Thanks for sharing your story. Nice handling of coming across your long lost picture--I hope I would be that cool, given a similar circumstance.

10:54 PM
Anonymous said...

The first anon comment was from LuAnn--as is this one. Forgot to attach that.

10:56 PM
Austin Cline said...

What a great story, thanks for sharing. I've included a link and quote as part of a larger post on gay adoptions here:

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