“All my life Eileen, my mom, always told me to do what I had to do, not what I wanted to do.”
In spite of this principled attitude, Eileen got extremely nervous when Greg and his partner Albert were approached to adopt two-month-old Allison, the child of an unwed teen and a distant cousin. It is not surprising that Eileen was doubtful. She had not planned on having Greg. She was thirty-eight years old and her other two sons were in their teens. She wanted to concentrate on her career as a photographer and travel with husband Carl without having to worry about an infant. Fate decided otherwise. Soon after Greg was born, Carl developed a fatal heart condition. After he died, Eileen would be a single mom who, after having led an unusually glamorous life, had to figure out how to make a living. She did so brilliantly.
When Eileen learned of the news, she thought it was crazy for her son Greg and his partner to burden themselves by becoming parents in their fifties. They were happily married, financially comfortable, living north of Santa Barbara. She also worried about whether “the little girl” would be physically and mentally fit.
Greg and Albert did go through with the adoption of little Allison. She turned their life topsy-turvy. When she was an infant she spent alternate days with each father in his respective office. Now at two years old she goes to daycare. Her two fathers adore her. At ninety-one Eileen is a loving but distant grandmother. Everyone wishes that she could get onto the floor and play with her, but as she says: “If I get down there, I can’t get back up.”
His father was long dead by the time Greg realized that he was gay. Even in hindsight, his mother was totally unaware of her youngest son’s sexual orientation. He finally came out to her when he was eighteen and she was entirely OK with it. Of the many gay people and parents that I have interviewed, both mother and son seem to have had less trouble accepting his gayness than almost anyone else. Perhaps it was because he had a rather solitary childhood.
Eileen, an only child, was born in Germany a decade before Hitler came to power. Being Jewish the family first fled to Holland in 1934. After the Nazis invaded that country they fled to France, and finally the United States. All her parents’ energy was needed for orchestrating their survival and making a living in various countries. Eileen understood that they did not have the strength left to deal with her own problems and anxieties. She learned to handle these on her own—at least until she married Carl, the love of her life, and shared his life to the fullest.
When Greg was very young, his parents were so involved in Carl’s affairs and then in his illness that they had little time to be close to him, and he too had to find his own way.
He left his mother’s house as soon as he could, went to college and after graduation established a thriving management business. Fifteen years ago he met Albert, who unlike Greg, comes from a very large, close-knit family that loves spending time with each other. These gatherings are hard on private Greg, unused to effusive family get-togethers.
Even though he does not see his birth family that often—he suspects that one of his sisters-in-law may be uncomfortable with him being gay—he identifies with them and their migratory past. “I look like my maternal grandfather,” he told me the first time we spoke, “and like him I try to be prepared for any unforeseen emergency. My partner is different, he does not worry.” Allison, no doubt, will profit from her parents’ opposite ways of navigating our complex world.
Albert says that he fell in love with Allison the first time he saw her. It took Greg a few months. Now the little girl has two devoted dads. According to Eileen, at two her granddaughter is a “true woman of the twenty-first century, who already manages to get what she wants.” No doubt Allison will discover that we don’t always, but she is very lucky indeed to have a solid, loving family.
Note: Names have been changed to protect privacy.