Wake Up and Smell the Fingers


By Dan Bucatinsky

When I adopted my first child, everything changed.

It took about a year for Don and me to get on the same page. After all, our options were limited. We couldn’t just “forget” to take a pill. Don kept waiting for someone to leave a newborn in a basket on our doorstep. Our close friends Michael and Mary urged him to be a tiny bit more proactive. “That’s bullshit!” I remember them saying. “Nobody is going to leave a kid at your feet. If that’s how you really feel, go out there and get your baby!” It was all Don needed to hear, apparently, his “aha” moment. Because, after that, we started making the necessary calls.

I don’t like to admit it, but I was petrified about my own ability to bond with an adopted baby, a child with no genetic ties to me. It was lack of experience, really. Maybe ignorance. Fear? What will it smell like? I’d think. How will the baby know I’m its daddy? Let’s face it: I was an idiot. That was until the day of the birth. The second Eliza was lifted into the air, like Kunta Kinte in Roots, I fell in love. And I mean that second. Which made the road to get there worth every gut-wrenching, nerve-wracking, tear-squirting moment.

The process of making an adoption plan isn’t easy. For anyone. But for same-sex couples, it’s even more of a challenge. Foreign adoptions for the “gays” are impossible these days. Homophobia is more the rule than the exception. In most parts of the world, like China and Guatemala, the words “I’m a man looking to adopt a baby” must be the same as “Sociopath seeks naked hugs and finger fun!”

No. Our best bet was something called open adoption, where we’d be chosen by a birth mother and then keep in some contact so that our child would have a healthy understanding of who she is and where she came from. At least, that was our hope. We needed information. And courage. So we talked to other couples who had adopted and read every book we could find. We derived not a small amount of inspiration from Dan Savage’s book The Kid -- a wonderfully funny and honest account of his and his partner’s journey through the adoption process.

After a meeting with an adoption lawyer, background checks, fingerprinting, and registering with a family services agency, the very next step was creating a “birth mother letter.” It was more of a brochure where we described ourselves, our relationship, and our life together as a way of enticing birth moms to call us. Smile till it hurts. Don and I struggled with this process for several weeks. I mean, how could we paint an accurate picture of ourselves in a way that communicates what perfect parents we thought we could be without sounding immodest or entitled or, you know, not gay-gay?

The key was to understand what kind of person our birth mom might be. Our lawyer told us that the majority come from Vegas and usually fall into one of two categories: the college coed or the stripper. Believe it or not, he said we’d be better off with a stripper. The coeds, he said, often had multiple partners, were binge drinkers, and were in denial about being pregnant at least until after finals. Strippers, he said, were more responsible and used fewer substances. I guess it’s not so easy to swing naked from a pole on crystal meth. Naturally, Don and I were all about tailoring our brochure for our particular exotic-dancing birth mom. But where would we start? How much should we let her know?
We had no strategy, which highlighted the fact we had no real idea who our birth mom was.

Don thought he knew: She was a 38-year-old mother of two who did volunteer work during the day and only stripped at night to put food on the table. Yeah, OK. Uh-huh. I was convinced I knew strippers better than Don. After all, I was the one who went to a Vegas bachelor party for my friend John a few years back and saw, much to my horror, a girl named Phenomenon pour ginger ale through her vajayjay and into John’s mouth. I was pretty sure she wasn’t wrapping up her gig at Nude Awakening to race home and put the kids to bed so she could finish her thesis on Chaucer.

“We should write that we like the outdoors,” I said, as we opened a blank page on the computer to write our BML (birth mother letter).

“No. We’re not writing that,” Don argued. “We may as well say we’re Navy SEALs or circus clowns.” Don hates the outdoors. He likes big, dark hotel rooms, room service, and 24-hour HGTV.

“Put down water-skiing!” I said.

He rolled his eyes. “You haven’t water-skied in 20 years.” He wasn’t wrong. But what version of “me” did I want the stripper to know? I mean, I do love water-skiing. That was the truth. So what if I hadn’t done it in a long… long time? Better than what Don wanted to put in the letter:

“Hello. My name is Donald. I’ve always been a movie buff and an avid reader. I love Jane Austen. And I don’t know how to throw overhand.”

“No way!” I argued. “May as well write, ‘Your baby will be a class-A nerd, destined to be stuffed in lockers and toilets.’ No. Even I wouldn’t give my baby to that.”

“At least it’s honest,” he defended his position.

“So? Are you trying to have a family or give a deposition?” I said, self-righteously.

If we went with the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, we’d have to say we preferred malls to museums, we worshipped at the altar of TiVo, and while we loved movies and documentaries, who were we kidding? More often than not we could be found watching The Amazing Race, Project Runway, and Intervention, a show with gut-wrenching stories of young people shooting up in a Taco Bell bathroom before being forced to get clean! Now that’s entertainment.

Next came the grueling task of picking photos to include in this brochure. Dan in front of Harrods in London. Don on a quaint street in Rome. “See, birth mom? With Don and Dan, your baby will get to see the world!”

Here’s an actual quote from our BML:

“Dear Birth Mom: First of all, we want to thank you. We know there are many couples asking you to consider them and so we want to say how much we appreciate you taking the time to read our letter.”

I read it back, horrified by how we sounded: We know you have a choice when it comes to air travel. Thanks for choosing Dan and Don Air!

Whatever we did, it worked. Twice. First, with a young woman from Las Vegas who was three-months pregnant and picked us to adopt her baby. It didn’t ultimately work out. But on my birthday in September of 2004, we got a call from a plucky-yet-sweet 19-year-old, already a mother of twins, from Wisconsin, who did want to fly Dan and Don Air. Her name, let’s say, was Monica. And she wasn’t a stripper. And she didn’t care about our brochure. She picked us because she and her mom were fans of the television show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and thought we’d make “ahh-some dads.”