As an openly gay man in his early fifties who wants to adopt, I've certainly received my share of looks and pointed questions, the most frequent of which is why.
I often receive a tilting of the head and a raising of the eyebrows when this plaintive plea is issued.
From the moment I attended my first parenting class last summer, that question has followed me. And while I initially felt the need for some fantastic, utterly compelling reason, I've since come to understand it's a rather simple matter.
I like to love and be loved.
Nothing more. Nothing less.
Besides, it's not really about me. It's about children who need to be loved. Who need homes. Who need someone in their corner.
So ... why not me?
I'm already the proud father of a son who is now in his twenties and has just finished college. I know all about the joys and pains of fatherhood. I know what I'm getting into.
The matter was clarified for me last year when a friend announced he and his wife were expecting their third child. This news was greeted by the usual oohs and aahs, the normal excitement, the happy expectation of the imminent arrival of another member of the tribe.
My friend was not asked why. He already has two kids, yet he was not asked to justify the addition of a third. He was not asked to provide some compelling reason about wanting to help a needy child, or how so many children sit in foster care from Boston to San Diego waiting for a forever home. He did not face a barrage of social workers with endless forms to fill out and endlessly embarrassing personal questions to answer.
And he most certainly did not face a bevy of friends and acquaintances with tilted heads and raised eyebrows, all of them saying, Why?
Why does anyone have a child? We all know it's a difficult, time-consuming, sometimes frustrating, irritating and certainly very expensive endeavor. Why do we do it?
Do we feel the need to strengthen the tribe, add to our numbers? Are we looking for companionship, friendship, love? Are we looking for someone who will remember us long after we're gone? To help us in our old age?
Folks seem to be suggesting that gay men (and lesbians and other non-traditional sorts of folks) shouldn't want to have kids, that perhaps we're too busy with our "gay lifestyles" to be bothered, that we're not cut out for it, that it's not our territory, that we don't know what we're doing.
I hate to be the one to tell you, but queer folks are multi-dimensional people and what we do between the sheets is a very small part of who we are. We have jobs, careers, friends, interests, hobbies, passions, and yes, some of us want to be parents too. We pay bills and taxes. We obey the laws. We are brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. We go to church and book clubs and some of us even go camping.
Many of us lead full, rich lives and are not adverse to the idea of sharing our homes and hearts with a child or two left behind.
If I had to provide a compelling reason, I might point out that I know what it's like when your parents let you down, when you wander through life alone, when you're ostracized, shunned, shamed for being different, when you're disconnected and face all of life's challenges and hurdles alone with no one in your corner. I know what it's like to have parents who have failed and how painful it is to come to that realization and to forgive them for not being able to do things they simply could not do.
These are all things children in foster care deal with, and will continue to deal with long into their adult lives - and I believe I am well-equipped to help them climb this mountain and emerge on the other side. I want to hold their hands and help them become strong, emotionally and spiritually healthy adults.
I remember how, as a child, I used to daydream that someone would come along and save me. Someone would walk through the door and we'd discover there had been some mix-up at my birth and I'd been sent to the wrong family. This person would waltz in, would be the parent I had always wanted, would take me away, would give me a normal, happy life far away from fights and alcohol and ashtrays and trailer parks. I'd be in a home where I was wanted and loved, where I wouldn't be yelled or humiliated or beaten.
I know there are kids today, perhaps kids in the state of Mississippi where I live, who are -- as you read this -- sitting somewhere and dreaming the same dream. Sitting and waiting and hoping that someone will come along ...
I've got compelling reasons, if you need them, but I believe the simplest answer is the best.
I want to love and be loved. Like everyone else. More than that, I want to help with homework and attend baseball games and wipe noses and kiss boo boos and watch them grow up. I want to be the answer to someone's prayer.
I am fully aware that I may not succeed. After all, I live in a state whose governor just signed a bill making it legal to discriminate against gay people. Among other things, SB 1523 specifically gives those involved in the areas of foster care and adoption the right to turn away gay applicants. So I realize my chances, never very good to start with, are probably just about zero at this point.
While Mississippi does have its hateful legislation, it also has something else: It's home to the most gay couples raising children in America.
Whatever the outcome, I will at least be able to look at myself in the mirror and say I tried.