By Stewart Lewis
My parents were in a bluegrass band. For as long as I can remember, there was four-part harmony around the fire in our living room, among sleeping Labradors. We were a modern-day Partridge Family, and someone threw me a tambourine around age three. The fact that I became a singer-songwriter and novelist was not a stretch, but it felt liberating to be the first of any of my WASP-y cousins to come out. When I did, my mother’s face darkened.
“Does this mean you won’t give me grandchildren?” she asked.
“No! I’ve always wanted to be a dad, you know that.”
It’s true. In the back of my mind, I often always wondered how I would do it. One day, when I was about to turn thirty-six, I saw a father and daughter walking through a park and I started crying. Was there a male biological clock? Was there a gay male biological clock? I’d been blessed with some success in my thirties. Two novels published, a record deal. Could I make it work? More importantly, would people be accepting of it?
I had considered possible mothers. A groupie of mine who had also become a friend, Katrina, had actually approached me about it (I know, I know: let’s have a kid with a groupie! What could go wrong?). I was on tour, and we were backstage in some dingy green room. She just said, “I could have your child,” like she could make me toast or something. She was beautiful, and kind, if maybe a little sycophantic. During that show, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Most gay guys adopt as a couple, but this would be something entirely different.
Hours after I saw the father and daughter in the park, Katrina messaged me: The time is now. I typed a simple okay, but my hand hovered over the keyboard before I hit send. It felt like I had just slipped off a precipice. I was dizzy with possibility, knowing that this would change everything, but also fueled by some uncontrollable impulse. It was like taking a drug, but instead of saying, “There goes the next few hours,” it was “There goes the next eighteen years.” Though a lot of people tried to talk us into it, Katrina and I never signed an agreement. We simply shook hands on a child support number and how much custody I would have. She agreed to be the primary caregiver.
Katrina preferred to go about it the old-fashioned way, but I wasn’t up for an awkward Big Chill moment. During a long weekend at her friend’s beach house, she whispered to me that they were unaware of our plan. She hadn’t seen them in a while and didn’t want to be like, “This is my gay friend and he’ll be impregnating me in your house this weekend.” But the ovulation window was closing quickly. I excused myself during dinner with the little plastic cup bulging in my pocket (are you donating sperm or are you just happy to see me?).
I stood in the unfamiliar bathroom that smelled of cheap soap and mildew, and balanced the cup sideways on the sink so I could aim into it. I tried not to concentrate on the faded floral print shower curtain in a hideous shade of orange. When I was done, giddy and thrilled, my first martini kicking in, I looked in the mirror. Is this the face of a dad? I returned to the dining room and discretely passed the cup to Katrina under the table. She faked a yawn and excused herself to complete the process. While talking with our hosts, I wasn’t even hearing their words. This was happening.
We were crazy lucky enough that it worked the first time. She texted me a picture of four wands in a spiral, each one showing a pink line.
At that moment, images flashed in my mind. A beautiful child with Kat’s dark hair and my blue eyes, singing with me, like in one of those viral YouTube videos. The child would be musical, and athletic, just like me and my siblings and cousins. I’d watch her talent shows with pride, cheer at her games from the sidelines, chatting with the other parents. I’d get a reality show called something like Dad Reinvented.
The day Rowan was born was also my fourth date with Steve, my now-husband. He drove the three hours from New York City to Western Massachusetts and even brought a Chanel knock off baby suit. I came out into the hallway to hug him and he had a look on his face like all of this was completely normal, which was the first sign that he was a keeper.
“Is this a bit much for you?”
“I think it’s great you’re having a kid. I think everything about you is great.”
He kissed me, and a nurse walking by blushed.
“You can say it’s great in two months when she’s projectile vomiting.”
When Rowan came out, I cut the cord, my hands shaking with excitement. It was miraculous. But when I dedicated my forthcoming book to her there was a typo. It said, For Roman. I wondered if that was a sign.
The beginning was blissful, and she brought so much joy to our lives, as babies do. But in the back of my mind I was thinking, is this right? I’m a single guy who decided from the get-go to be a part-time dad. When I explained it to people, it would sound horrible coming out of my mouth, like Rowan was my “side project.” Or like I had something to prove to my family. Not only will the gay guy have a child, it will be a mixed race child! Take that WASPs! I was conflicted.
The first time I was alone with her, she was teething and I couldn’t get her to stop crying. Hysterical myself, I called my mother. She said I should turn on the vacuum. “That’s how they raised children in the seventies,” I told her. But it worked.
The next ten years, twenty percent of which I spent with Rowan (as per our handshake agreement), taught me a lot. At six, she was the flower girl when I married Steve, and to her it was an entirely natural thing. Of course, not many kindergarteners know about the years of struggle to legalize gay marriage, but still, she’s an evolved child. She has two siblings on Kat’s side, and two siblings on Steve’s side, and no, nothing about her life is conventional. She picks my brain sometimes to try and work it all out.
“So, you and my mom are just friends?” she asked once.
This seemed to appease her. When I think of all the kids affected by divorce, it appeases me too. She’ll never have to live under that cloud.
“Is Steve my stepdad?”
“And now I have four brothers and sisters?”
“Okay. Can I have a cookie?”
That was it. If only we could all have the pure outlook of a ten-year-old. It got me thinking. If Rowan was okay with it, why wasn’t I prouder when telling people about the whole situation? I felt judged by people, even when they were going out of their way not to judge. The whole gay-guy-with-a-child thing was still new. I was a pioneer of sorts. She wasn’t officially adopted by Steve, and a lot of the duties (although part-time) rested on me. There was no comparison I could find to my situation. But I couldn’t really find a comparison for my own parents either, who were always acting like life was a big musical.
I started to accept my unique situation, but I still struggled with the picture I had seen in my head and the one that was unfolding before me. Rowan’s not athletic, has brown eyes, and is kind of tone deaf. But she’s funny and gorgeous, does trapeze school, and raps Hamilton songs. And honestly, if I wasn’t conventional, why should I have conventional expectations? It’s become about giving up my expectations and simply loving her, and everything that makes her who she is.
Someone asked me recently if I feel that love they say mothers feel when they garner super human strength to lift a car off their child. I wasn’t sure. But Rowan and I have a lot of fun together. We do improvisational dance to Bjork and Imogen Heap, and we make up our own languages. I laugh harder with her than anyone else in my life.
A few months ago I took her on an errand with me to the jeweler. I have a bracelet on which I engrave a small star every time I publish a novel. When she saw that there were six stars, she said, “Dad, you’re gonna need another bracelet.”
It was the sweetest thing anyone’s ever said to me, and my love for her swelled, like maybe I actually could lift a car.
Rowan does this thing when we’re walking down the street together. She veers slightly into my path, like a toddler, or a goofy Labrador. It used to drive me insane, but recently I just thought, let’s swerve. She didn’t start in a straight line, in fact, neither one of us are straight line people. We’re swerving our own path.
Stewart Lewis is a singer-songwriter and novelist based out of Washington DC and Nantucket MA. If he’s not swerving on boogie boards with his daughter Rowan, he’s probably eating at the bar of some trendy restaurant with his husband Steve. Explore more at www.stewartlewis.com.
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