Writer Sees Parallels In Life and 'The Kids Are All Right'
By Kathy Briccetti Posted Jul 16th 2010 04:20PM
Ever since my partner and I pored over the donor descriptions back in 1992, I've fretted about what this day would bring. Long past the questions about how to teach our sons to shave and have the birds-and-the bees talk, past the wishes for a Rent-A-Dad to wrestle with them and run out all their wild energy, like the two moms (played by Annette Benning and Julianne Moore) in the movie, I am still anxious about our kids meeting their sperm donor father.
For a long time, I've wondered if our donor, whose vital statistics I've memorized but whose photo I've never seen, is a good guy or a major loser. While handsome Ruffalo played the donor dad as charming and only slightly goofy, his presence shook the family to their epicenter.
Check out the film's trailer:
I've been tempted to simply avoid the topic, to keep my head buried deep in the sand, but I don't want my kids to have to go behind my back, like those in the movie, and make this huge step on their own. On the contrary, I want to be the gatekeeper for my children's emotional safety; I want to be the advance woman sent to check the guy out. Like Julianne Moore's character -- a crunchy granola California mom -- I want to help my kids "process their feelings." But how can one possibly prepare their child for something like this?
For a long time, too, I've known I cannot control this event. It is the kids' story, both in the film and in my life. It's their turn; it's time for them to control their own destiny. I've hoped we could postpone this day of reckoning until my youngest also turned 18 because, like the moms in the movie, I fear all hell breaking loose: Painful upheavals in our family coming from an unknown new person, whose role is not explicit, entering our lives. What is he to us? An instant dad? A big brother? A friend?
And, finally, I fear what it means for teenage boys, raised by two women, to meet their father, a stranger. I fear it means they will need me less, that they will reject me for some idealized vision of what they've been missing all these years.
But 18 is the age of majority whether we parents like it or not; it's the time when children are moving on to college or work, and it's the time when they most want to know who they are. They need to understand where they came from before they know where they're going. I recognize this yearning; when I was 16, I found the biological father I hadn't seen in almost a decade. My children and I share this search for fathers, but my kids' experience is unique. My youngest cracked us up when he changed Darth Vader's famous line, imitating the raspy voice and cadence, "Luke, I am your other mother."
See a 'The Kids Are All Right' clip:
Given my experience, it should be easy for me to let my sons take this path. But it's not. It was my decision to make them the way I did; now I feel a responsibility to ease their way. Maybe all good enough parents feel this way, too. When Julianne Moore's character said, "Marriage is hard," I wiped away tears. I wanted to say, "Yes, and parenting is super hard. For all of us."I need to remember how my mother drove me to the Greyhound station when I was sixteen and let me board alone, let me travel the five hours to my father's house.
I need to remember Annette Benning's character taking a stand near the end of the movie and drawing her family together again. When my kids ask to make that call to the sperm bank, whether it's in ten months or ten years, I will take a deep breath and hand them the number. Over the years, I've let go of the Rent-A-Dad fantasy -- a man like the donor father in the movie shooting hoops with the boy, modeling how to grow into a man. I know it's been unnecessary. Like the kids in the movie, mine have turned out more than all right.
Kathy Briccetti's essays and book reviews have been published in literary magazines, newspapers, and anthologies. Her first memoir, Blood Strangers, tells the story of searching for her place in her family's three generations of adoption and absent fathers. Read her blog on Red Room!
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