Comedian Alec Mapa and his filmmaker husband, Jamie Hebert, expected to keep traveling even after starting a family. Among the pages and pages of questions during the screening process for foster parenting, they indicated they wanted a boy age 3 to 5. “I never wanted a baby. I wanted someone independent,” Hebert says. “We travel so much, our lives are so mobile, so I wanted someone who could just grab on and go.”
“We hit the ground running with Zion,” Mapa remembers. “He went all over the world before he was even adopted.” The couple will regale you, as proud fathers do, with stories about their son’s wit. Like the time Mapa lectured Zion, now 7, at a Whole Foods and heard back, “And the Oscar goes to…” Or after moving too slowly, Hebert gets “And now…I’m 70.”
The latest incarnation of Mapa’s stand-up act, Baby Daddy, is devoted to his life as father. Zion can’t possibly be separated from his parents’ careers. Hebert just finished work on Family Restaurant, a short film in which Zion lends voice to one of the characters. But their lives are changing — starting with all the traveling.
“What we learned was he actually can’t, even though he was 5,” Hebert says. “It was like, Oh, wait, we were living in the fast lane.”
“We became parents instantly,” Mapa says, “so we didn’t know that kids have meltdowns, we didn’t know that they can’t stay up all night.” Mapa is maybe only half serious. You can never be sure. The real challenge, they discovered, is that foster children are sensitive to change, which often meant danger ahead.
When Zion first arrived, Mapa says, he and the couple instantly became a family unit, but when the doorbell rang the boy would hide under the bed. Zion claimed not to like people, even if he hadn’t met them. The dads spent a lot of time assuring their son he’s part of “a forever family.” Now they prep him weeks ahead of a trip by talking about the itinerary.
But what happened during one of those early jaunts has stuck with them. And it’s a reminder that society isn’t 100% prepared for gay dads to create “the new normal.”
The busy new family was returning from a trip to Mexico when a customs officer delivered a reality check. “He was really brusque — he said, ‘You know we don’t recognize this federally, it’s the United States,’” Mapa remembers of being told his California marriage wouldn’t be recognized, not that day. “He was being really shitty about it, and then he looked down and he saw Zion.” Their son was only 5 and still couldn’t see beyond the countertop. “And he goes, ‘Who’s that? Is that your son?’ Yes. ‘You adopted him?’ Yes. And then all of a sudden he became so embarrassed that he had been rude to his fathers in front of this little boy. Then he was backtracking and he was like, ‘It’s not me, it’s the federal government, I just have to follow the rules.’”
“It’s little things like that,” Hebert adds, “that demean our relationship.”