Jerry Mahoney’s new memoir about becoming a dad through surrogacy is a laugh-out-loud funny, insanely perceptive look about what it really takes to build a family.
Ever since I became a dad, I have to admit, I’m a sucker for birth stories. The whole birthing process is just such a weirdly exhilarating and traumatic experience that, for parents, trading stories about how their kids emerged into the world is a lot like war buddies marveling that they ever made it out of Saigon alive. And, while I’ve heard some jaw-dropping birth stories in my time, everything from thirty-minute labors to three-day homebirth ordeals, I have to say, few have made me laugh harder than Jerry Mahoney’s new book Mommy Man: How I Went From Mild-Mannered Geek to Gay Superdad.
For those unfamiliar, Jerry Mahoney is a stay-at-home dad, a writer, and the mind behind the fantastic Mommy Man blog. (Full disclosure—His writing has been featured on The Good Men Project before.) And, in his new memoir, Jerry breaks down exactly how he became a “mommy man,” giving us a glimpse into how an awkward gay teenager grew up and one day found himself with a long-term partner exploring their options for how they could become parents. The stories from Jerry’s geekily closeted adolescence are both hysterical and insightful—I’d never really considered how devastating the offhanded use of the word “fag” in popular ‘80s movies like Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Lucas must’ve been for young gay teens at the time—and it’s hard for your heart not to break a little when Jerry states, with all honesty, that “being a gay teen, like totally sucked, dude.”
However, the real insanity begins after the grown Jerry meets his partner Drew, a man who shares his love for Coral on MTV’s The Real World, and the two men decide to start a family.
Now, no matter what your situation is, starting a family is always a daunting proposition. But, as a gay couple looking to have a child, Jerry and Drew’s situation presented some unique obstacles. Do they become foster parents? Do they try to adopt? (Even though, to quote Jerry, “There tends to be an inverse relationship between the size of a country’s orphan pool and their tolerance of gay rights.”) Eventually, Jerry and Drew land on the less-common gestational surrogacy option, which involves finding an egg donor, finding another woman to carry the child, months and months of uncertainty, and an unfortunately large amount of money.
I found Jerry’s adventures in surrogacy to be fascinating. I just haven’t read much about gestational surrogacy in the past, so Jerry’s warts-and-all walkthrough of the process really opened my eyes and destroyed a lot of preconceived notions I had about what exactly surrogacy involved. But, I will say, I felt a real kinship with what Jerry was going through, even with my lack of surrogacy knowledge, because what his memoir gloriously highlights is the all-too-ridiculous amount of mindless bureaucracy that comes with trying to have a kid. It doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight or biological or adoptive parents, EVERY parent knows that the process of bringing a child into your life is just a hellish symphony of red tape and clerical nightmares. Many birth stories gloss over that fact, choosing to focus on less soul-crushing aspects of the process, but Mommy Man won me over by reminding me about the neverending purgatory of paperwork and diminished expectations that assaulted me every time my wife and I stepped into a doctor’s office or birthing class.
Even if you know nothing about surrogacy, the sheer universality of what Jerry writes about in Mommy Man—the absurd realities of becoming a parent mixed with the thousands of tiny selfless acts that make the whole thing possible—will make any person with kids sit up and say, “YES! YES, EXACTLY!” (Jerry and Drew’s experiences with a surrogacy agency called Rainbow Extensions had me in tears.)
Jerry’s path of fatherhood in Mommy Man has more twists and turns than a particularly good episode of This American Life, ranging from getting dumped by surrogate candidates to Drew’s sister stepping up to become their egg donor, and, even though I knew how it ended (he’s not called “Mommy Man” for nothing), I couldn’t wait to see how Jerry eventually got to his final destination.
Mommy Man is a spectacularly well-told story. More than once, Jerry’s handling of his both hilarious and occasionally sobering subject matter reminded me of the deft storytelling chops that you can find in comedic one-man shows like Mike Birbiglia’s My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend or Sleepwalk with Me. It’s just an epic birth story, the kind that, if encountered at a dinner party, would make you cancel your plans for later and open another bottle of wine. Even if you know nothing about surrogacy, being a mild-mannered geek, or being a gay superdad, Mommy Man is a book that anyone can enjoy. It’s well worth your time.