Monday, June 13, 2011

Fathers' Day: A holiday of gratitude or yearning?

Fathers’ Day is a holiday that is so visible you can’t miss it! Advertisements, greeting cards, gift ideas, restaurant (or home grilling) choices… everywhere is filled with the importance of this holiday. But fatherhood is complex. Some of us can genuinely express gratitude to our father on this holiday. Others may have several fathers or father figures, with each representing a unique relationship. And then there are the men who yearn to be fathers but, because of personal or partner infertility, lack of a female partner or singlehood, cannot easily attain that coveted role.

So for those readers who have a positive relationship with a father, this holiday is just one day to express your love and caring to this special man in your life. It’s easy to focus these feelings on a holiday, but it’s important to know that spontaneous expressions of gratitude or sharing special memories can occur whenever the spirit moves you. Count yourself very fortunate to have this father in your life.

For many readers, Fathers’ Day is a time to weigh the differing relationships you have had with fathers and father figures. Complexity can be a challenge when a highly visible holiday suggests one father, positive feelings, and a life of shared experiences. If you have had various father figures in your life, this holiday is a time to decide how (or, perhaps, whether) to connect with them. Whatever you decide, aim to be genuine in your expression of what each relationship has meant to you over the years. This may include references to your differences, disappointments and difficulties, but even with the challenges, you may have emerged at a place where your gratitude is genuine. Relationships with fathers are an evolving experience, so hopefully you can capture some recollections to share even if the relationship may have become distant over time.

Likewise, fathers themselves may use this holiday to renew ties with birth children, adopted children, foster children, adult children and other folks of a younger generation with whom you have had a special relationship. If these relationships are ones that are valued, then think about shared meals, shared time together, or shared plans for getting together in the future that both of you can look forward to. There’s nothing magical about the holiday itself, but if it serves as a reminder that you would like to be more connected, then go for it!

But it is the men who yearn to be fathers for whom I have a special empathy on Fathers’ Day. They are the forgotten guys in the shadows of elusive parenthood. They are the ones who don’t yearn for cards or gifts but, rather, for a son or a daughter to cherish. And they feel invisible, except to their partners, on this day when their incapacity to father a child reminds them sharply of this missing role in their lives. So how to turn Fathers’ Day into something other than a day of yearning? That question will depend somewhat on your circumstances.

If infertility is the barrier between becoming a father or not, hopefully you and your partner are being diagnosed and treated at an infertility clinic, where each couple is assessed carefully by a team of health care professionals. That team should be sharing with you a timeline and a game plan for treatment, so that you don’t linger unnecessarily in the same treatment and can move to another level as medically appropriate. However, be careful with your finances, since infertility treatment can be enormously expensive and, for some couples, reduces their savings so that other choices, like adoption or surrogacy, are not an easy option economically.

Lack of a female partner is another barrier to fatherhood. For gay men wanting to become fathers, adoption and surrogacy are the major options to pursue. The “Resources” section of my recent book When You’re Not Expecting has listings of agencies that gay men will find supportive and informative in their quest for parenthood. The challenges posed by surrogacy are finding a reputable agency, handling the expenses, and deciding whose sperm will be used to conceive the baby. Some men request that their surrogate to use sperm from both of them to fertilize her eggs, while others will be more specific about which man’s sperm will be used during the insemination procedure(s). Men who choose surrogacy as an option usually identify genetic connections as important, prefer to adopt an infant, and may wish to use the same surrogate for future pregnancies, so the siblings would have a genetic connection. Adoption, which is likely to be a less expensive option than surrogacy, also should be pursued using a reputable agency. Many gay partners say that healthy infants are more likely to be matched with heterosexual couples, whereas older children, children with special needs and sibling groups are likely to be available for adoption by single parents and same sex partners. International adoption may widen the availability of adoptable infants and children, although some countries are very strict about such issues as marital status and heterosexual couples when releasing children for adoption. It is good to inquire about the average waiting time from application to adoption, learn whether travelling to the country is expected by the agency, and to understand fully any hidden costs or requirements associated with an international adoption.

Many of the same issues will pertain to single men wishing to adopt that I have indicated in discussing the challenges and rewards of gay couples adopting. However, there is one caveat I will offer. If you are a single gay male wishing to adopt, do not present yourself as heterosexual in the hopes it will enhance your chances of being matched with a child. Complete truthfulness is essential in the adoption process, in order not to risk voiding the adoption if later there is proof that deception occurred. This sounds harsh, I know, but any lawyer would tell you the same information. As with any single parent planning to adopt, you will want to assess your financial security, as well as your emotional support network who will join with you in loving your child and providing experiences and a sense of “chosen kin” that will be so important to both of you.

For further reading on the challenges of Fathers’ Day faced by men who are trying to become parents, I encourage readers to view the website of RESOLVE, the national infertility association ( This week there is a focus on Fathers’ Day that is both sensitive and encouraging for men who are yearning to become fathers.

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