On the Families We Want

There’s an urban legend that Ernest Hemingway once won a bet among fellow authors over whether he could write a six-word story.  As the story goes, he won the bet by passing around the table a napkin upon which he wrote: “For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.” No proof exists to substantiate the tale and it’s almost certainly completely untrue, but it entices, in part, because the six words evoke such a strong reaction in the audience.  We don’t know if the infant in the story died or never came to be at all, but the pain and anguish are universal.

More than three years into our adoption wait, I frequently think of Hemingway’s story, especially as I walk past the nursery or contemplate buying baby baubles. Every adoptive parent struggles with the wait and fears that it won’t happen. Most stories end happily, but the very real possibility that some don’t is the sad fact that makes Hemingway’s story so potent.

As I wonder when my son will arrive, it’s uncomfortable to consider the bad luck my family has encountered when it comes to meeting sons. My great-great-great-great grandfather, John Hargis, was murdered by pirates while on a trading cruise down the Ohio River on October 17, 1838. Eight months after his death, his twelfth and last child was born, John Arnold Hargis, my great-great-great grandfather.  History would repeat itself two generations later in 1904, when my great-grandfather, James Arnold Hargis, was born one day after his father, James A. Hargis, died. Hence, I’m exercising, eating healthy, and avoiding pirates.

I wonder if my great-great-great-great grandfather would find it fascinating that, 179 years after his murder at the hands (and hooks?) of pirates, his great-great-great-great grandsons met for the first time in a small restaurant in Huntsville, Alabama. I imagine he’d still be pretty upset at the whole pirate-murder thing, but he might find some solace in two strands of the family tree coming together.

When I met my cousin Ryan for lunch over Labor Day weekend, it wasn’t actually the first time we had ever met, but it was the first time I had seen him in over thirty years. I had vague recollections of meeting him when we were both very young, and so, meeting as 40-ish men, I think it counts as a first meeting. Now, we sat at a table next to each other, significant others in tow, sharing nothing but a common ancestry and a meal.

Over the next two hours, we covered travel, work, obscure movies, and our hopes for our children, including those present and those hoped for. I had a fantastic time; I think we all did. And I hope we get together again soon. Ryan’s wonderful girlfriend Lindsay said she could see the family resemblance in our eyes. I’m not sure I saw that, but it was enough for me to enjoy the feeling of growing my family. Hubby and I still wait patiently but eagerly for our little bundle of joy to bounce along, but the prospect of a new cousin with interests in common is pretty awesome too.

The sad vendor of Hemingway’s story didn’t get the family he or she wanted, or so it appears. And none of us do. It’s just not guaranteed; life isn’t fair. That said, moments like my Labor Day lunch remind me that family can be, to some extent, what we make it. That’s a hopeful thought and something to build on. Just stay away from the pirates.

On Mitch and Cam

On the evening of April 30, 1997, I sat on my dorm room couch with tears running down my cheeks. It may have been the only time in my life I’ve actually cried tears of joy. I had just watched Ellen DeGeneres’s character, Ellen, come out on her self-named television show. It was network television history, and, more than that, I knew it was a cultural moment that would affect my life for the better.

Pop culture moments like Ellen’s coming out were important for a variety of reasons, but for many like me, closeted or semi-closeted in small towns, it held out the promise of a better, more honest future. And that future has, thankfully, been (mostly) realized. Less than 20 years later, we have marriage equality nationwide, the right to serve our country in the military, and, in many (but not all) places, legal protections from discrimination. More importantly, the hearts and minds of our families, friends, and fellow citizens are changing for the better.

Despite the legal, social, and personal victories, gay couples still have few role models and rarely see their lives reflected in popular culture. Wonderfully, that’s changing too, spearheaded for the last six years by Modern Family’s Cameron Tucker and Mitchell Pritchett, played wonderfully by Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Tyler Ferguson.

Mitch and Cam hold down normal jobs (usually), struggle to raise a daughter, experience the awkwardness (and occasional homophobia) of family, and generally just try to be happy. In other words, they’re a normal gay couple. Most importantly, they aren’t a funny supporting character relegated to the perimeter of the “real” story, and they aren’t stereotypical queens…not that there’s anything wrong with that.

In its best moments, Modern Family has invited people to see the boring, hilarious, warm, frustrating, awful, wonderful normal-ness of a gay couple. And we needed that. I’ve never understood when people tell me they can’t “relate” to gay people, as I can never figure out why it’s hard to understand that I love someone…who just happens to be of the same sex. I have no problem relating to straight people, after all. Nevertheless, for many out there, they need an “in,” and Mitch and Cam have beautifully provided that. And, for that, I’m thankful.

A few years after I started watching the show, my husband and I attended a concert. As we sat in the church pew enjoying the a cappella performance, I looked around to notice many families with small children. I enjoyed watching them fidget and toss about, and my mind began to wander and wonder about having that in my life. I had always been resolute in proclaiming that children were not in my future, but, the next day, when my husband and I admitted to each other that we both were thinking about adoption during the concert, we took it as a sign. And, now, we wait for the third member of our great team to come along.

I often wonder whether watching Mitch and Cam on Modern Family contributed in some way to my desire to adopt. After all, it has not been lost on me or my friends that hubby and I resemble Mitch and Cam in more ways than one. In the end, I’ll never know, but it surely didn’t hurt to watch a positive (and hilarious) portrayal of a gay family. And, when our own family grows a little bigger, maybe, just maybe, I’ll experience those tears of joy again.

So, thanks Ellen and Mitch and Cam, and Ellen and Eric and Jesse. You’ve been funny, but, more importantly, you’ve been meaningful.

On an Anticipated Son

How can I long for you,
how can I miss your face?
When I do not know, after all,
your time, your smile, your place.

You are but a dream today,
A song so sweet in my heart,
that, even now, I so fear
from that love to be apart.

You dance warmly in my dreams,
coming and going as you please,
breaking my heart when you fade,
slipping my hands with ease.

You came with a whisper,
choirs singing so sweetly,
but now you roar like a lion,
unchallenged and deeply.

I confess I am not ready,
and I will confess much more,
if you will only show yourself,
and erase the ghosts of before.

But I am left with only this love,
this love of something not known,
all my faults and sins and wrongs,
those I will gladly for you own.

If you hear my cry and prayer,
do not think me weak,
for it is a terribly great love,
a great reward that I seek.

I will stand here and wait,
I know not where to search.
It is you who must find,
and claim us from this perch.

On the day you find me,
do not mind my gentle tears,
for you will be here, my love,
my son, my child, my dear.