As far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a dad. Raggedy as they may have been, Ann and Andy were under my charge and were well taken care of. And with a few years of adolescence under my belt and fully indoctrinated in 1970s afternoon TV, my play took on a more nuanced family style. If the Brady’s and the Ricardo’s could take cross country road trips, surely my Weebles could take imaginary jaunts to the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, and some incredible Frank Lloyd Wright homes along the Great Allegheny Passage. Even as a very young kid, I knew that I had what it took to be a great father.
To quote Lucille Ball as Helen Beardsley in Yours, Mine and Ours, on what it took to raise a happy healthy family, “… a great deal of love, a little discipline, and a husband who doesn’t criticize.” I knew I had all that, mostly. Kids and family were always a part of the equation. And in the coming years when I would begin to question my sexuality, it never dissuaded me from the dream. Being the overachieving Virgo that I am, it just enabled me to figure out a solution to the problem.
Fast forward 30 years and a few failed relationships later, I still held fast to the idea of becoming a father. If that meant doing it on my own, so be it. Not having a vast amount of disposable income like many of the “monied gays” I knew, surrogacy was out of the question. I tried some other options. But after a completely strange evening at a wacky speed dating event, where they threw single ovulating women together with gay men in the hopes of procreation, I had to take a step back and come up with a plan that was a little more my speed.
So I decided to investigate good-old-fashioned adoption. Once again, somewhat priced out of the more costly private adoption, I chose to go with the state public adoption. The process required lengthy weekend hours in a community room of a local church, complete with stale donuts, carafes of coffee, and a room of 15 or so Foster-to-Adopt attendees. My fellow comrades ranged from couples dealing with fertility issues, to the bleeding-heart empty nesters who just wanted to provide a safe place for a child in transition, to an older single woman who had turned fostering kids into a lucrative business and needed this class to get licensed to take in more children. Then there was me, the representative for the gay population at large.
From the taboos of shaking babies to fetal alcohol syndrome, the six-week class covered pretty much any parenting topic. Throughout the training, the one thing that really stood out to me was the effort in which the facilitators took to try to convey to our predominantly white group, was that we would have to open our hearts and minds to the very real reality of fostering/adopting children of another race. That, and the many different ways to overcome the intrinsic biases “we” all held.
As one of the two black people in attendance, I’d sit, chin resting in the palms of my hands as I’d watch Caitlyn and Josh come up with 25 different ways they’d welcome 10-year-old Tanisha from the Southside, who hoarded food and had a propensity for pyromania, into their home. They would proudly retain the rich elements of “her culture” as they established traditions such as Kwanza, while making weekend jaunts to local Soul food restaurants as well as the Baptist Church, rounded out with a library of books on Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman. As they’d wind down their lengthy soliloquy, I’d smile and nod in agreement (as they’d always make eye contact with me) and think to myself Lord these white folks ain’t ready.
Because I’m black, however, I just considered this one less hurdle I’d have to go through. Given the fact that the majority of the kids in the system were black and brown. And with the rare commodity of gold standard white babies being few and far between, and typically ending up in the more costly private sector, this was absolutely nothing I gave much thought to, as I’d sit there in a kind of superior stupor.
I’m not sure if it was the same day or a few days later, after I’d received my Certificate of Completion, that I started having doubts. Did I really have what it took to go it alone? Was I made of that sterner stuff needed to do the single most difficult job on the face of the earth?
The analogy is warped, but all I could think about was the stranger at the Ponderosa Steak House who told my eight-year-old self at the buffet, that it seemed my eyes were bigger than my stomach. And these many years later, that growing pit in my stomach was much more than adolescent indigestion. It didn’t help that whenever anyone heard I was contemplating adoption, that they’d get all watery in the eyes, clutch their chest, and tell me what a wonderful gift I was giving to a child. I would ultimately come to feel more like the Grinch when I decided not to do it. But I decided I just did not want to be a single dad raising a child on my own.
Fast forward a few more years to me meeting the love of my life, marrying said love, and starting the baby process all over again. This time after two years of non-productive private adoption, the husband and I opted for the state public Foster-to-Adopt route and I found myself in the same church community room with the same substandard coffee and donuts.
Discussions of shaking babies and fetal alcohol remained the same too. And Tanisha was still looking for a home. And I was even more ready for her than I had been before, and so was my super woke white husband who knew at his core that our already diverse household would become even more so.
We’d both grown somewhat militant in the past few years given our country’s stance as to the relevancy of black and brown bodies. I was aiming for the gold at becoming the best black dad ever. I was already making flyers for my run for the school board. I vowed to be involved in as many PTA meetings and bake sales as possible.
I was already in a mental back and forth with some dimwitted guidance counselor that, yes… Dartmouth, Princeton, and Stanford were our top three choices and not the junior college he was suggesting. I envisioned our kids riding high atop our shoulders as we marched for police reform and the end to Qualified Immunity. We’d construct the type of environment where our baby would never even question her naturally kinky hair and curvaceous body. And I’d of course give him “the talk” of survival – a reality of living in a world that would see them through their own skewed lens. We’d board planes to faraway places, giving them audacious license to move around the world at will, because it belonged to them as well. We’d prepare them to confront micro-aggressions big and small, especially those that began with, “No offense, but…”
This all took on a new relevancy in the past year, as we began watching day after day, the fabric of our democracy not only starting to come undone, but to be torn to shreds. The urgency in which to pour everything possible that was enriching, positive, and strengthening that we could into our unborn adopted children became that much more dire. Tanisha, we are ready, we prayed.
Fast forward to today and I sit here, the proud adoptive father of the most beautiful 16-month-old baby boy, who embodies a purity and love that is indescribable. Sitting here giggling in his highchair, as he stuffs his favorite pasta shells with marinara sauce into his little mouth. His big blue eyes beam out such joy and contentment, as he inadvertently coats yet more sauce onto his wavy blonde hair.
Never in my wildest dreams did I ever expect to become dad to a little white boy. I have to admit when I first looked at his placement photo and saw his little face staring back at me, my shoulders slumped in that way they do when you tirelessly prepare for the big game and the other team suddenly cancels. Sadly, I thought… what will there be to fight for? All these years I’d been preparing and gearing up to raise the strongest, most self-assured, most loving, insightful, and independent thinking little revolutionary that I could. A beautiful human that was so proud to be in the skin they were in, despite what the world may think.
But this little fair-haired boy before me has made me slow way down, as he drools on my face in an attempt at a kiss. He’s made me realize that the rallying cry is not gone, but targeted to something much more important — his health, safety, nurturement, and wellbeing. Nothing more, nothing less. And as I put more pasta and sauce on his tray and kiss his messy face, I know that just the right child came into my life.
And so my hope for my son, this adorable and amazingly curious little white boy, is that he will always have patience with his overachieving militant black gay Virgo dad, as I undoubtedly continue to fill him with facts, figures, fables, and finger foods —and a whole lot of love. And because the Universe corrects all wrongs, I humbly hope that somewhere Caitlyn and Josh may read this and find joy in all that I have shared.
Scott Brown lives in Studio City, California with his husband and son. He is a screenwriter with a penchant for world travel, classic cinema, and Little Debbie snack cakes.