The three of us had settled in and were dozing off on the flight from San Francisco to New York. A month earlier, our daughter, Julia, had been born to a surrogate in a small community just outside of Fresno, Calif. David, Julia, and I had spent an idyllic September in San Francisco, and now we were all headed home to New York. "Excuse me," said the tall male flight attendant, leaning over our seats, "I have to ask. Where did you get that baby?" I must have looked alarmed as I mentally searched our carry-on bags for the temporary birth certificate that would allow us to claim our daughter from the federal marshals I imagined boarding the plane to take her away. (We had been warned about this sort of thing.) "Sorry," he continued, now embarrassed. "I don't mean to intrude. But you two are together, right? And this is your baby, right? I'd like to have a baby someday ... "
When we decided to have a child, David and I decided that even though we were both instinctively private people, we would try to be ambassadors for gay dads everywhere and make an effort to come out in situations when it might otherwise be easy to avoid the subject. Mostly, opportunities for two-dad diplomacy happen when one of us is out alone with her, and somebody, almost always a woman, approaches with an icebreaker like "Did Mom get the day off today?" or the slightly more pointed "Where's her mother?" The conversations that have followed have been usually pleasant, occasionally surprising, and often very satisfying.
Open hostility has been very rare. Most people who seem uncomfortable or disapproving just keep their distance or, after we tell them, politely end the conversation and back away, leaving little opportunity for diplomatic outreach. When reproach has come, though, it's been from unexpected quarters, and it's been pretty fierce.
Just before Julia's first Christmas, we were all invited to a dinner party peopled mainly with New York media, fashion, and entertainment types. (Julia worked the room during the cocktail hour and then retired to an upstairs bedroom.) I was seated next to a handsome Englishwoman with a husky voice, a hearty laugh, and a theatrical manner, all perhaps enhanced by her enjoyment of the evening's refreshments. I was optimistic about dinner conversation.
Over soup, though, she turned to me and demanded, with surprising force, "That baby of yours, who's her mother?" I offered my well-rehearsed reply that Julia had two fathers and, since we'd had her with a surrogate, didn't have a mother. "Nonsense!" she boomed, "Everyone has a mother! Who is she?" as if we had some poor soul locked in the attic. Over dinner I struggled to understand the source of her indignation. Did she just not understand our relatively new model of conception and birth, where the sperm, egg, and womb are each provided by a different, unrelated person? Or did she think that my answer showed a lack of appreciation for two women who had the generosity and courage to help us have a child? I settled on the latter explanation. Since then, when I tell the story of Julia's birth, I try to give more credit to these women to whom we are forever indebted.
Some opposition is much tougher, though. At another dinner party, another sophisticated European mother we'd never met before (this time an Italian) read David the riot act about how we were systematically ruining Julia's life, condemning her to a lifetime of unhappiness, psychotherapy, and failed relationships. I can't think of any argument that would break through this kind of prejudice.
Conversations with supportive people can also require some diplomatic skill to balance their natural curiosity with our need for privacy. "Whose sperm did you use?" is a question we get a lot. Aside from the fact that I get red-faced talking to total strangers about sperm, I don't want to discuss this because we feel strongly that the exact biology of Julia's paternity is a private matter: We're both her fathers, and that's all the world needs to know. "How much did she cost?" and slightly less crass versions of that question also pop out from time to time, most distressingly in her presence.Most "coming out" conversations, though, are pleasant. People are generally congratulatory and supportive, sometimes in delightful ways. One of our favorite exchanges happened when David was taking Julia on a stroll in the village of Southampton, N.Y., near our weekend home. A crisply stylish Hamptons matron bent over Julia's stroller and told her, "You tell your mother that you have the cutest shoes!" Ambassador David interjected that, in fact, Julia had two fathers. Without missing a beat, Julia's admirer added, "And that's why you have such great style!"
I think the most satisfying aspect of ambassadorial efforts is that the "coming out" portion of the program is usually pretty short. Often talk quickly moves from the novelty of a two-dad household toward swaddling tips, sleep habits, first words, play dates, and preschools. We show that we love and care for our daughter, seek and give support and advice, and, I think, show that in the most important ways, we're just like all parents.