It takes Andrew 13 minutes to tell you how many kids he has. Kudos to you if you can keep your eyes dry that whole time.
And along the way, he meets a buxom necrophiliac (1:50), a doughnut dad (3:00), the love of his life, and the mother of his future childre — and he learns that even gay men can have shotgun weddings (7:00). Tissue alert starting at 9:30.
Speaker: When I was a small child, my mother used to sometimes say, "The love you have for your children is unlike any other feeling in the world, and people who don't have children never get to know what it's like." And I took it as the greatest compliment that she so loved my brother and me, and so loved being our mother, and that she thought so highly of that emotional experience.
At the time that I was growing up, there was an article in Time magazine about homosexuality which said, "It is nothing but a pathetic, second-rate, substitute for life, a pitiable flight from existence, and deserves no glorification as anything other than a pernicious sickness."
Reading that, and living in that world, I was sad as I began to think that I might be gay. And when I was a teenager, my mother would say, "The love you have for your children is unlike any other feeling in the world, and people who don't have children never get to know it."
And it made me intensely anxious. I thought, "I think I'm gay, but I want to have children. But I think I'm gay, but I want to have children." And I felt myself banging back and forth.
And at some point, I decided that children were the primary thing, and that I was going to change. And I read an ad in the back of New York magazine for sexual surrogacy therapy, and I went for a kind of training to change myself into somebody else.
It was a very peculiar experience; it involved women who were not exactly prostitutes, but who were also not exactly anything else. My particular favorite was a buxom, blonde, southern woman who eventually admitted to me that she was really a necrophiliac and had taken this job after she got in trouble down at the morgue.
When I was in my early 20's I decided that this had not all gone as planned and that I really was gay. And I told people that I was. And my mother said, "The love you have for your children is unlike any other emotion in the world, and if you don't have children, you'll never know."
And having first been touched, and then been made anxious, I was now made angry by this statement. And I said, "I'm gay, and I'm not going to have children, and I am who I am, and I want you to stop saying that."
Many years afterwards in 2001, I met John who is the love of my life. And he told me shortly after we met that he actually had been the sperm donor for some lesbian friends. And I said, "You have children?" And he said, "No. They have children, and I was the donor for them."
A few weeks later, we were out at the Minnesota State Fair, and we ran into Tammy and Laura and their toddler, Oliver. And I looked at them with fascination, and I thought how amazing that Tammy and Laura were gay, and they had children. And that John was gay, and in some sense at least, had a child.
Oliver had been told that he should call John "Donor Dad." But having a rough time pronouncing that, he came up with "Doughnut Dad."
So I looked at that and I thought, "There's 'Doughnut Dad,' there's me, who are we all to one another?"
A year later, John told me that Tammy and Laura had asked him to be a donor again. And they produced Lucy, so now there were two of these children. And we knew them a little bit, and saw them from time to time, and were warmly disposed toward them, and John said he promised to be in their lives when they were grown up if they particularly wanted him to be.
The idea of having children in some unusual arrangement was not entirely novel to me. I had some years earlier been at a dinner with my closest friend from college who lived at the other end of the country, and she had recently separated from her husband, and when I asked whether she had any regrets, she said, "Only about not being a mother."
And I said, and meant it, "You'd be the best mother in the world. And if you ever decided that you wanted to have a child, I'd be so honored to be the father."
I said that assuming, since she was beautiful and beloved and had lines of men eager to meet her and be with her, I assumed that it was just a statement in passing.
But on my 40th birthday, she appeared in New York for a surprise party that John and my father and step-mother had organized. And we went out to dinner the next day and realized that we really did want to follow through with this plan.
I wasn't ready to tell John right away, and then when I did tell him, he was angry about it. And I said, "John, how can you be angry at me? You have Oliver and Lucy, and now there will be this other arrangement."
And he said, "I was a donor for Oliver and Lucy. And you're setting out to have a child of whom you will be the acknowledged father, and who will have your last name."
And we struggled with it for quite a while. And then John, whose kindness usually carries the day, said, "If this is what you really need to do, then go ahead and do it."
And soon thereafter, he asked me to marry him. I had never been a big fan of gay marriage; I thought everyone should have the right but it didn't particularly preoccupy me. But after he proposed we began planning a wedding, and I thought he had gone along with what I wanted to do and I would go along with what he wanted to do.
And we ended up getting married in the English countryside, and we had a beautiful wedding, and I found that though our commitment had seemed to me to be permanent and declared and established before that, that the experience of having all of these hundreds of friends gathered together, witnessing our love, shored it up, and strengthened it, and gave it a new depth, and gave it a new resonance that I had never imagined or anticipated.
And I found the fact that we were celebrating that love in a ceremony that echoed in some sense the one my parents had had, and the ones my grandparents had had, and the ones that presumably went back generation upon generation, exalted the feeling between us. And it was very joyful.
Blaine [SP] was there, three months pregnant with our child, and John ventured that we had had the first gay shotgun wedding.
So six months later, our daughter little Blaine was born. And I was in the room when she was delivered, and I was the first person to hold her, and I had such a disorienting feeling of suddenly being changed. I thought, "I'm a father now. I am a father." It was as though someone had told me that I was still myself and also a shooting star.
And I held her, and I then had to go down into the basement of the hospital to sign the certificate for her birth where I was advised to get a paternity test before I signed for any love child. And I said, "You have no idea the planning that was behind this."
And John held her, and we all, I think, were enraptured as one is by the birth of children because it's so much stranger than even intergalactic travel that someone wasn't there, and now all of a sudden they are.
But when John and I got back to New York, I kept feeling in a way as though I was being highly supportive of something Blaine had done, rather than as though it was something I had done. And yet, I found myself thinking of this child all the time.
John fell in love with Blainey, [SP] he fell in love with Blaine, we were all in love with one another, we were trying to understand how everything fit together.
And sometime later, I said to John, "Don't you think it would be nice for us to have a child also? A sibling for Blainey who she might love to have in her life and who might grow up in our house all the time?"
John did not think that would be lovely. And so we had a year in which I kept saying how wonderful it would be and acting as the cheerleader for the cause, and through that year John kept resisting, and being unsure, and then finally my birthday rolled around again. And he said, "Your present is upstairs."
And we went upstairs and there was an antique cradle tied up with a bow. And he said, "If it's a boy, can we name him George after my grandpa?"
We then had to figure out how we were going to produce such a child. So we found an egg donor, and we were in the process of trying to find a surrogate, and we got together with Tammy and Laura and Oliver and Lucy one night, and Laura said to John, "You gave us our children and I'll never be able to thank you enough for that. But I could show you how much you mean to us by being your surrogate."
And so she offered to carry our child. And she got pregnant on the second IVF protocol, and nine months after that, George was born. And we held him in our arms, we called Blaine and Blainey, and everyone else in our circle, and we held him and we wondered at him.
And then we came home and we sent out birth announcements. And the birth announcement included a picture of John and me holding George. And many friends said, "I love that picture, I hung it on my refrigerator."
But one of John's cousins wrote back and said, "Your lifestyle is against our Christian values. We wish to have no further contact."
And I thought that world, the Time magazine world of my childhood, it was still there, and it was still going strong, and it made me very sad.
But in the meanwhile, we had spent a lot of time with Tammy and Laura and Oliver and Lucy through that whole process, and we had all fallen in love, I think, again, anew, more deeply with one another. And when Oliver and Lucy learned that little Blaine called us "Daddy" and "Papa John," they said they'd like to call us "Daddy" and "Papa" too.
And I suddenly found that in contemplating two children, we seemed to have four.
In the period that followed that, I kept thinking about the angry cousin and what he'd said. And I thought, it's not really a question of our kind of love being as good as, or better than, or less good than anyone else's love, it's simply another kind of love that we found as five parents of four children in three states.
And I thought that just as species diversity is essential to keep the planet in place, so there's a need for a diversity of love to sustain the ecosphere of kindness. And that anyone who rejected any bit of the love in the world was acting in a foolish way and from a position of falling.
About six months ago, we had gone to a park and I had climbed up on a stand with George from which you could view some animals below. And I held his hand, and I said, "We're gonna go back down the steps now. Go very carefully."
And I took one step and I slipped. And I fell all the way down the flight of stairs pulling him along behind me. And I remember when it happened thinking that I really didn't care whether I had broken my arm or my leg, as long as I hadn't injured my child. Turned out that I hadn't.
And when I felt it, I suddenly thought, "The love you have for your children is like no other feeling, and until you have children, you'll never know."
And I thought how, even in the periods when my mother saying that made me anxious, or made me angry, that it was her saying it so persistently that had caused me to pursue a family, even under such complicated and difficult and elaborate circumstances.
And that had led me finally to the greatest joys of my life.