The day my son turned one, his two moms and I took turns standing behind him, holding his arms up and keeping him balanced as he stiff-gaited his way across their living room. He’s a lucky kid: three parents, zero divorces. His moms are lesbians. Two-and-a-half years ago, they asked if I’d want to be a participatory birth dad. I said yes; Louis (not quite his real name) is the little magic that resulted, and now we’re thinking about doing it again. We are a family, extended.
He’s fourteen months now, my little Louis (made of chop suey). He’s skinny but tall, bright-eyed and extroverted, able (if willing) to walk across the room to get a ball or a hug, and the loquacious employer of a five-word lexicon. Ma-ma we know, and they both get called it. Na-na is grandma (maternal), who comes by frequently. I seem to be Da, though da-da is in more common use and clearly means dog (they have one), cat (three), and ball (innumerable). Sometimes I get lumped into that category. Lately, when throwing the da-da to da-da, he has added a non-ahh sound to his arsenal, an apt response to most human endeavors: Uh-oh. Perfectly articulated, as if he knows already how things turn out. That’s my boy.
Happy as our rhomboid family is, we don’t all live together. I’m a bachelor in New York City, galavanting away the last years of my thirties. His moms are an eleven-year committed couple 100 miles away. “Kristin” (let’s call her), the biological mom, is two years my junior; “Bess,” mom prime, two years my senior. I spend a day a week with them, maximizing my play time with Junior, giving the gals a little time off, delivering the odd milk bottle and changing a diaper now and then. Part-time as I may be, free – truly – from most of the responsibilities and headaches of infant-rearing, open as I am to accusations from other fathers of “getting off scot-free,” I still feel like a dad, kinda. The way the Sunday angler still calls himself a fisherman even as the tradesmen laugh in their nets.
So now the three of us are considering doing it again, and here is where the other shoe drops. I said I’m an un- and never-married man, but I can’t help wondering to what extent (and his future sibling, if extant) is either cause or effect of this fact. Cause is somewhat clearer to assess: my last girlfriend and I were six months in when Louis was born. She knew he was coming, but she couldn’t foresee the emotions that would come with him. Again and again, she would say “The first time you . . . ” this and “The first time you . . . ” that “. . . won’t be with me.” I’d try to explain how different it would feel having a child with her, in the context of a romantic relationship and having him home with us. Post-birth, I pointed out how different it was – how I wasn’t even there for Louis’ delivery – but she imagined that the wonder would be lost to me, old hat, by the time we had a child together. With all my heart, I knew she was wrong, but I couldn’t blame her for feeling the way she did.
Now, it might be easier for a potential wife prospect; Louis lives and breathes. A girlfriend could meet him and take her emotional temperature on the situation from the get-go. Of course, if there’s no hot prospect by the time that Kristin, Bess and I do have another child – and we are going to start trying again soon – who knows how much harder it might be on this hypothetical fianc’e. There’s that old saying: once, you’re a philosopher; twice . . .? It will depend a lot on the woman, but I doubt it will be easy.
That, then, is how Louis contributes to his Daddy staying single. But, in a way, my singleness contributed a lot to Louis too. In the years prior to agreeing to try to make him, I dated plenty, but I was becoming more and more despondent and fatalistic about human relations. I suffer from a sizable slice of Weltschmerz, meaning that I have a hard time keeping idealizations out of my head and then end up being dissatisfied with the real. When Louis’ moms asked me the momentous, marvelous question, part of me – not all – had clearly stopped believing I was going to have the normal, nuclear family I had always imagined. Now, two-and-a-half years and a broken-off engagement later, I’m not sure I’m much more optimistic.
And so we begin to plan for our next. Kristin takes vitamins, keeps track of the calendar, and goes to see an acupunturist who specializes in fertility; I practice my part of the process, though I kind of think I have it down by now. Really I try to imagine how a second child would change things. I loathe those double-wide strollers that take up the whole sidewalk (thank god for the front-and-back ones), and I see the beleagured moms trying to change one while keeping the other from running into oncoming traffic. It’s fatiguing just to watch. Plus, I know from experience that two boys a gang do make, with all accompanying mischief. Are two lesbians ready for that? Am I? The practicalities seem a little daunting. With my private visitation time, will I always take them both? Can I do it? (I still really don’t know how effective a parent I am.) And will Kristin, Bess and I be even more fused than we are now? Could that be a good thing? I’m not ready to live in a commune; I’m not ready to give up on getting married myself. But doesn’t my son deserve a sibling? They said they won’t do it with anyone but me, so it’s my decision to make. And, as much as I already love him, don’t I still feel I have a ton of love left to give?
The little outlaw beams when he sees me – or so it seems to this proud dad. People say we look alike (yes, he’s rather lithe of limb and capacious of cranium), but I don’t really see it. To me, he’s just enormously adorable, too cute for words, almost too cute for emotions. It’s hard to feel worthy of such a blessing (especially considering how few diapers I’ve changed), but Kristin and Bess keep welcoming me back, and Louis is always willing to roll the ball back and forth. That’s why I have no regrets. My life isn’t exactly full, but it’s a lot fuller than it used to be. And soon, I hope, our loving, happy, slightly irregular but highly workable family will, once more, extend.