Every year just before Father's Day I get a call from a news agency wanting to interview me about how transsexual parents celebrate this annual celebration of dads. I certainly can't answer for all transsexuals - I can only answer for me. I have a 22-year old son, and they've been making these calls to me since 2003 when he was a mere teenager. I've gotten used to it, and in fact I'm comfortable with it to the point that I still answer their calls.
The crux of their questioning revolves around the inherent problem we have when language can't effectively articulate what's really happening in our culture. How do MTF transsexuals - women who at one point fathered a child - celebrate Father's Day? What does my son call me? Will he get me a Father's Day card? Am I uncomfortable with that? I acknowledge that these aren't the deepest, most pressing questions that we're facing. But I do believe they're important to discuss, or at least to highlight. The broad tapestry of human existance far surpasses our ability to use words to accurately describe or explain it. That is, the finite number of words we have don't effectively explain the infinite number of ways to be who or what we are.
I have absolutely no problem acknowledging that I was, am, and always will be my son's father. I don't pressure him in any way about what to call me - he's come to a point of what's comfortable for him and that's really all that matters. The most important thing in being a family isn't the words we use to describe our roles or our relationships. The important things are the relationships themselves.
I feel no need to usurp his mother's claim to motherhood by asking to share that role simply because it makes me feel comfortable. I can't do that. She's paid enough through all of this. She carried him. She gave birth to him. She nurtured him. I can't and won't ask her to share that. It's hers.
Ironically, one of the best parts of being a guy was the father/son bond that my son and I developed. I remember teaching him how to throw a football, and how to shave. I remember going to sporting events together, giving each other high fives, and generally just being "buds". Those are memories and experiences that I hope I never lose. In fact, one of the hardest parts of finally coming out to him was knowing that our relationship would fundamentally change the moment those words left my lips, and that we might never share those kinds of experiences again. The mere thought of it was enough to make me physically ill.
When he moved in with me in Texas after I transitioned I was his "mom" to all his friends and to the school. That was his choice. It was easiest because that way he didn't have to explain anything to anyone. Nobody questioned him so he was comfortable with it. Nowadays he'll call me any number of things depending on who's around. That's fine, too.
Many of us are living examples that not all families are so-called "traditional" families, made up of a female mom and a male dad, with happy little masculine boy and feminine girl children. There are as many permutations of that equation as there are families. That doesn't in any way diminish the value of the relationships or the bonds that hold our families together. Not fitting into the family binary doesn't invalidate how we feel about ourselves or each other. Indeed, our diverse families are testament to the broad nature of living and loving. Some people find that hard to accept. I find it hard to imagine that others could possibly believe otherwise.
Hallmark has done some remarkable work on "alternative" cards in recent years. Still, I don't believe there's a Transgender Parent Day card yet. I can see it now....it starts out "It doesn't matter what I call you: mom, dad, or something else...". When you open it it says, "Just Know that I Thank You, I Appreciate You, and I Love You." Now that's a card.
Still, I don't expect a card this weekend. In fact, I'd be surprised if he's even aware that the holiday is quickly sneaking up. Personally, I'm ok with that. I don't feel slighted. To be honest, I find the focus of the day in celebrating the life and memory of my own father; he passed away in 1998. Neither of us ever made a big deal out of Father's Day when he was alive, but the first one after his death blindsided me like a tidal wave. It's unfortunate that we often don't realize our missed opportunities until it's too late.
The fact that I was and remain my son's father is a source of pride, not a source of embarassment or something that I feel I need to justify or explain to others. The fact that I can still be a father figure in my son's life does not diminish me in any way. I respect the fact that others in my community may not feel similarly, or may approach their relationships with their children differently. There is no one universally right answer.
What my son calls me, or how we celebrate Father's Day, is immaterial in the scheme of things. The fact of the matter is that we love each other despite the fact that our relationship might not be simple, or easy to explain. It has been tested in unique and challenging ways and it has endured, matured, and expanded. If that's not the definition of "family", then I don't know what is.