Clayton thought for a moment, nodded his wish, and blew out the birthday candles.
My brother Ted, spouse of Clayton, mused, “I already got my wish.” He looked down at the baby stroller by his side at this restaurant in Washington, D.C. “I made the same wish every year.”
The cheery 7-month-old, nicknamed Tabo, simply peered out from his bright brown eyes.
“For how long?” I asked.
“Ten years,” Ted said. “Maybe more.”
Now, after years of hoping, these two dads have their baby; through a facilitator and on the basis of an open letter, they were chosen by Tabo’s birth mother, who saw in them an interesting life for her child, a chance for travel—both Ted and Clayton are in the Foreign Service—and an education. Blessed with this healthy, happy baby, the new fathers feel like they’ve won the biggest lottery in the world.
It’s a happy time, and things are also bit different when a baby has two daddies.
For one thing, as my older sister, Meg, observed, the earlier three babies in this youngest generation were each attached, by nursing or illness (chronic ear infections), to their mothers. In this case, the good-natured Tabo moves continually among a forest of reaching, adoring arms.
“He’s everyone’s baby,” my mother said.
Meg on her visits often helps the fathers by taking Tabo overnight. He has even visited her at her home in New York.
When she, who travels extensively for work, recently told her travel agent she might return home from her latest trip via D.C. to see some clients, he busted her.
“I know why you want to go there,” he said. “You just want to see that baby.”
In fact, finally meeting Tabo last month, while traveling East with my son Roy, 18, I could barely get a chance at him.
As Roy put it, chuckling, “Everyone hogs Tabo.”
My other sister, Lucy, said, “We all have to wait for him.”
Roy and I were visiting Maryland, where I grew up, and the mid-Atlantic, to see family and colleges. We flew back to Colorado on a Tuesday, and my stepfather, who had long been ill, passed away that Saturday evening in the home he and my mother shared. They were two months shy of their 20th anniversary.
On Sunday, my brother drove the hour from Washington, D.C., to her home in Annapolis, bringing the baby straight into his grandmother’s arms. Ted told me when I called, “Tabo was probably the most useful person in the house.”
He added, “Tabo came into our lives at a good time.”
There’s nothing like having a baby around in a time of loss. Thirty years ago this year, with my parents two months away from their 30th anniversary, my father died suddenly. Among my clearest memories of his service is of a baby’s thin wail—not, in that sad and quiet assemblage, irritating but rather a comforting sound of life. The crying baby was the daughter of my father’s cousin Dick and his wife, Kate. They now often help my brother and Clayton with Tabo; they, too, take him overnight.
My brother has reached a turning point in his life, though it is also a waiting point. A career diplomat who has served in many countries, he has been nominated as ambassador to Vietnam. He completed his testimony before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and was approved, but still needs a full Senate vote, a process fraught with delays.
Though the Senate has since gone on recess, at the time of my visit there was a push, Ted said, to consolidate processes for “the non-controversials”—nominees who are career diplomats as opposed to from the private sector.
“Isn’t it something,” he said, “that we’re the non-controversials?” Indeed, acceptance of same-sex unions is one of the most sweeping social changes I have seen in my life.
My brother and Clayton have now invited our widowed mother to come, if they go, to Vietnam. “Think not in terms of weeks,” he advised of her stay, “but months.”
She accepted. Having cared for her spouse for many years now, she is suddenly able to travel. The presence of Tabo would give her stay a natural purpose and focus, and benefit the baby.
One person leaves the world; another begins a life.
“Femaelstrom” appears on the third Friday of each month. Alison Osius lives in Carbondale, where she is a climber, skier and magazine editor. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.