A friend of Jeffrey Roach and Ken Manford once told them that, as the first gay dads many people had ever seen, “you’re ambassadors whether you like it or not.” Roach’s new memoir, “PopDaddy: Boy Meets Boy Meets Baby,” might thus be considered a sort of ambassadorial communiqué, but with a hefty addition of humor and heart.
Roach gives us an approachable, down-to-earth look at his and Manford’s path to parenthood via international adoption. The two were living in Texas in 2001 when they decided to start a family, motivated by the pregnancy of their straight friend Marti. Manford always wanted kids, but had thought being gay meant he had to give up the “white picket-fence dream.” Roach convinced him they could have a baby — “well, I mean we can’t have a baby. There’s no way I’m putting on all that extra weight” — and while surprised at his own willingness to consider fatherhood, decided “this was the right thing at the right time.”
The road to adoption, however, “was long, complex and paved with paper.” In an attempt to add some humanity to the impersonal process, Roach joked and quipped his way through the home study, the difficult choice among three eligible children, meeting with a lawyer, several trips to Guatemala and interminable delay before they finally brought their son home.
The book takes us through the emotional ups and downs not only of waiting for a child to become available for adoption, but of the hurdles in bringing him home after that. “The bottom line is that adoption is one long act of faith and devotion,” Roach says. Their own devotion was tested not by animus towards gay dads, but because the Guatemalan judge who was assigned to their case took a sudden leave of absence when his father died, putting their case on indefinite hold.
Roach also shows us how he and Manford navigated the systemic bias that meant only one of them (Manford) could be the legal father of Jackson when they adopted him from Guatemala in 2002. (Roach then had to do a second-parent adoption once they brought Jackson to the states.) Manford made one solo trip to visit Jackson while they waited on the Guatemalan judge. They made another together and then Manford made a final trip alone to bring Jackson home.
Throughout the book, the support of their family and friends shines through. From their decision to adopt, to their trips to Guatemala, through the first year of parenting and the epilogue of their wedding in 2011, Roach makes it clear that the proverbial village was at work. Even before Jackson arrived, they joined a group of other parents, gay and straight, who adopted from Guatemala. Each of their mothers later accompanied them to visit Jackson in Guatemala; their sisters provided constant support; and Marti remained a helpful presence in their lives. Both sides of the family threw them baby showers, and descended again for Jackson’s first birthday.
Even the extended family members whom Roach feared may be closed-minded were friendly toward the new dads and their son. “I wonder if the parent card somehow trumps the gay card?” Roach speculates. “Before, I think people assumed our lives were a lot more exotic.”
His is a “show me, don’t tell me” approach to why we need equality. He does not dwell on political or legal issues but raises them when they impinge on his parenting journey. He also shares how becoming a parent led Manford to activism on behalf of other LGBTQ families, becoming involved with the Family Pride Coalition (now Family Equality Council) and eventually taking a board seat.
“PopDaddy” is self-published, but Roach is a good-enough writer to pull it off, with a knack for dialogue and an eye for the unintentionally funny moments of family creation and early parenthood.
The book is a good complement to previous gay-dad memoirs about adoption. Emmy Award-winning actor and writer Dan Bucatinsky’s “Does this Baby Make Me Look Straight?” (2012) is more about raising kids than starting a family per se, with insightful observations about parenting and gender assumptions. Sex-columnist Dan Savage’s “The Kid” (1999) has a blunt and often racy style, which, while amusing, means you might not want to share it with your own relatives to give them a glimpse of life as adoptive gay parents. (But if you do, more power to you.) Both involve domestic, not international, adoptions, and are set in liberal states (California and Washington, respectively), rather than the Texas of “PopDaddy.”
“PopDaddy” is a memoir of gay parenthood that takes readers to new places. It should find fans among same-sex couples hoping to follow in their footsteps. As an ambassadorial missive, however, it should also delight readers of all types looking for insight into the variety of families today.
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (mombian.com), a GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBTQ parents.