My six-year-old still doesn’t know about his birth father

By Philip Langdon Ross

My six-year-old son had just asked for more screen time—I think Pac-Man was still chomping ghosts. When I said no, he appealed to my husband, who also said no. My son threw the tablet across the couch in frustration. “I want to have three daddies.”

Actually, he does.

I sometimes wonder what my son’s biological father would have said in that moment. His name is Dave. The fact that Dave studied video game design is not lost on me.

I’m a gay dad, raising two adopted kids with my husband. Since our children were born, we’ve been committed to the principle of ‘open adoption.’ We believe it is healthy for our son and daughter to know where they came from.

Photos of our kids with their respective ‘birth moms’ hang on a magnetic blackboard in their bedroom. The women are not strangers. They gave our children life. Then, they chose our profile from a stack of adoption agency applicants and asked us to parent their children.

We exchange photos, letters, and ornaments with the birth moms each Christmas. We say their names frequently and speak of them with reverence. But until now, we’ve left the part about any ‘birth fathers’ out of the narrative.

We’ve had good reasons to delay that conversation. There is my son’s emotional security to consider. There was the arrival of his baby sister, and preparations for a family move across the country. Plus, he’s only six. 

Explaining sperm to an inquisitive kid, one who asks a hundred questions a day about Minecraft, feels daunting. Especially if you’re inclined to avoid any land mines around the topic of ‘unplanned pregnancy.’

But surely a day will come when we’ll need to reveal that there are more dads to know about. And the thought of that terrifies me, because my son’s birth father is cool, and I suspect Dave knows things I don’t. Like how to conquer a Galaga Boss.

Four weeks before my son arrived, I met his birth parents for the first time. Dave was a college student then, perhaps not ready to raise an infant, but there was plenty to like about him.

I noticed how he held the door for his girlfriend, eight months pregnant, as she waddled into the Texas restaurant, an artisanal hot dog joint called Frank. Dave did most of the talking that day. I was charmed by his stories about growing up in Manhattan. He said he used to sneak up to the elevated train to play on the abandoned tracks, years before it was converted to the High Line.

As Dave nursed a craft beer and regaled us with stories of his rebellious youth, I studied him, wondering what traits I might later recognize in my son.

Seven years later, I know. Sloped shoulders. Broad forehead. Constant chatter. Passion for gaming.

My son has met Dave several times. I’m sure he’d be able to greet him by name and would probably recall things we’ve done together: the transit museum, kite flying, popsicles in Zilker Park. But I presume my son has always regarded Dave as more of a sidekick. Dave is the easygoing guy who joins us, sometimes.

Dave was at the hospital the day my son (our son?) was born. As his girlfriend pushed, we passed the time talking about Avatar: The Last Airbender, an animated television show. Despite being a self-described comic book geek, Dave was unfamiliar with the series. Children’s entertainment is my profession, so I knew the Avatar mythology from work and I enthusiastically educated Dave about the heroic Aang and the world of “benders.”

After fourteen hours—and still, no baby—Dave left the hospital. The next morning, he returned to meet his son. Dave admitted he’d stayed up late, binging Avatar episodes.

My husband and I were exhausted, too. For different reasons.

I like to think our son has inherited some of my passions, I take pride in his knowledge about art and activism. He knows the work of Cesar Chavez, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Vivaldi. He even asked Santa for a violin.

But I also know that I can never be everything to my son. I’ll never be Player One.

I keep waiting for the perfect moment to tell him about his true relationship to Dave. I hope he’ll understand; I hope that the kid with the long eyelashes and longer memory won’t see this revelation as a betrayal.

His mind may bend at first, but I hope our conversation will continue. Dave might know more than me about gaming, but there’s a lot I want to teach my son about Avatar.

Philip Langdon Ross is a writer who recently moved from New York to Seattle with his husband and two kids. He’s terrible at video games but great at coffee. When he’s not bending words, Philip enjoys binge-watching “Avatar” episodes with his son.

Note: Dave is a pseudonym.

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