This 70-year old man is not my father.
He’s raised me since I was a few weeks old, I share his surname, I call him Dad and the state legally recognizes him as my parent. But we share no genetic material, because I am adopted.
Does this matter? To some people, it matters a great deal.
Professor Nick Tonti-Phillipini, for example, Associate Dean and head of Bio-Ethics at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family. In writing for The Sydney Morning Herald last year to decry same-sex marriage, he said:
A child’s relationship to both mother and father is inherent to marriage. Children conceived by other means may find themselves with people in parental roles who are in a same-sex relationship, but such relationships are not the origin of the child. It is likely for children to be loved and nurtured in such a household, but however good that nurturing, it will not provide the biological link and security of identity and relationship that marriage naturally demands and confirms.
I am a gay man, and I found this paragraph deeply insulting. Not because of the claims about same-sex couples and parenting—I am used to hearing such ignorance—but at the implication that, as an adopted child, I have had an inferior upbringing because I am not biologically linked to my parents.
It was the man in the picture above who sat with me, lovingly drawing and labeling objects from our home when I got my first packet of felt-tip pens.
It was the man in the picture above who cheered from the sidelines in the one and only season of rugby that I played for a local club, telling me how well I’d done when he knew damn well that I didn’t measure up.
It was the man in the picture above who calmly drove me to hospital and held my hand when I overdosed on sedatives during an episode of mental illness.
We didn’t always get on when I was growing up. Finding out his only son was gay was a dreadfully difficult time for him, and I remember hearing him crying from the other end of the house when I told my mother I’d met a man and was in love with him.
But when we married five years later, it was the man in the picture above who helped us blow up balloons and decorate the reception hall, and laughed at my shaking hands as I put the ring on the finger of my husband-to-be.
I don’t know who deposited the sperm into the woman that gave birth to me. I have met her, though. Fed on the fantasies that people like Professor Nick espouse, I was expecting a genome-shaped hole to be filled in my life, that everything I didn’t understand about myself would suddenly make sense because my blood relative would instinctively know me.
I’d been jealous of the physical family resemblance between the boys I went to school with, and their brothers and fathers. They look like a family, I thought, and I could imagine them all going on fishing trips together like something out of a cheesy American sitcom.
Those illusions were shattered when I met my birth mother. She was nothing like me.
Had she decided not to put me up for adoption, I wouldn’t have had a father at all, as he was well off the scene by the time she found out she was pregnant.
I don’t know if he’s aware of my existence. I know nothing about him, and when Father’s Day comes around he is not on my mind. I suppose if I ever met him I would thank him for being horny and deciding to have sex in the back seat of a car one random night in 1977. But for everything else, I know where my gratitude truly lies.
Truth is, I choke on my opening sentence. The man in the picture is my father, because true fatherhood is a lifetime commitment of love, not an ejaculation.
For seven years my father waited, along with my mother, to find out if a child would become available for them to adopt. His devotion to parenthood was a true choice, and not a mere circumstance that he had to adapt to.
I am 34 years old now and feel more connected to my dad than at any point in my life. Children don’t get to choose their fathers, and most fathers don’t get to choose their children—but mine chose me.
And today, I am the man that he helped create.
We are partnering with Salary.com to ask the question “What’s a Dad Worth?” Check out their interactive polls and surveys as we approach Father’s Day. You can also head to Salary.com’s Dad Salary Wizard to find out how much dads are worth, and even print out a paycheck for yourself or the dads in your life!
—Photo credit: Christopher Banks