Editors' Note: Guest blogger Jeff Buppert's work has appeared in Frontiers, Drummer and The Family Business Report, as well as BuzzFlash and on stage at the Powerhouse Theater in Santa Monica; his story on gay adoption will appear in the upcoming anthology series Cup of Comfort, due out this spring.
Who said we don't get to choose our family? I was adopted at birth, I went through another adoption as an adult, and I'm a gay man. Trust me, we absolutely get to choose our family.
Families come in all shapes and sizes. There are biological families and adoptive families, and as gays and lesbians know, there are often friends who step in to fill the void and become our families - families whose love is unconditional and whose doors, like their minds and their hearts, are always open.
We all have a choice. We can choose to stay in a family (or a relationship) that is abusive and toxic and judgmental, or we can grow a pair and choose to put ourselves first. We can lead unhappy lives, pretending to be what others want us to be, or we can surround ourselves with people who encourage us and accept us just the way that we are - web feet, warts and all.
My father and his first wife adopted me when I was born; they divorced when I was ten and he married the woman who would become my mother when I was in high school. I was sixteen years old, and twenty years later she was my mother. That's when I adopted her. I went to court and I adopted her, legally, officially, and most importantly, by choice.
I chose the parents I wanted, and in the process, I created the family I never had.
My mother was a teen beauty queen; she became the music director of her Southern Baptist church, wore those prudish black cat glasses usually reserved for someone's spinster aunt, and sported a blond beehive that single-handedly kept Aqua Net in business for years. Fortunately, the cat glasses and the beehive were gone by the time she met my dad.
My dad was also a looker; he was modeling underwear in print campaigns well into his fifties. He was suave and charming; he loved martinis and he loved beautiful women, but when he found himself faced with an ultimatum from my mother-to-be, he had his own choice to make. To his credit, he gave up the martinis and chose to settle down with just one beautiful woman. She brought out the best in him, and he became a better father than he had ever been.
My parents met at an airport in Washington, DC; my dad, twice married but single, was on a business trip; my mother, still married to an abusive first husband, was on her way home from a teachers' conference.
Just before heading to the airport, in the quiet safety of her hotel room, my mother mustered the courage to tell her husband she was divorcing him. He told her she was stupid; he said she would never go through with it and that they would discuss it when she got home. But she wasn't stupid, and she did go through with it.
I sometimes wonder what sort of impact my mother might have had on me had she been in my life since I was born, but you can't rewrite your history. Besides, part of what makes my mother so incredible - what brings out her truest and brightest spirit and encourages it to soar the way that it does - is my father, and quite frankly, he would not have appreciated her if they had met when he was younger. Their paths crossed at exactly the right time.
When I was in college a disgruntled former employee put out a contract on my father and had him stabbed; Dad was in ICU for over a month while Mom got phone calls threatening the rest of our family. She battled Stage 3 colon cancer and 52 weeks of hardcore chemo; he did anything he could to help get her through - a year later he had cancer and she was his caretaker. A few years after that, in Costa Rica, they were attacked by masked men with machetes; they were beaten and robbed, bound and gagged, and thrown into a swamp. But they survived, and our family grew stronger.
When my parents and I are together someone always comments on our resemblance; they say I look, and act, like both of my parents. There is not a drop of blood between us and yet there is no greater compliment I could receive.
My mom and my dad and I all chose new families, it just so happens we chose the same one.