Fathers’ Day: Celebrating the Straight Man who Made Me a Gay Dad

Steve Majors
Human Parts
Published in
7 min readJun 12, 2024
Photo by Steve DiMatteo on Unsplash

When she was small, I never bothered to correct the grammar on her homemade greeting cards. My oldest daughter didn’t need to ponder the placement of an apostrophe to understand that the third Sunday in June was Fathers’ Day in our home.

The special day of celebration once belonged exclusively to my husband and me, her gay adoptive dads. But this year, she’s welcomed a third dad into her life — her straight biological father. Now that she proudly proclaims herself as her birth father’s daughter, I can’t help but feel a twinge of possessiveness.

My husband and I had always been prepared for my daughter’s biological parents to play a role in her life. It’s why we had insisted on an open adoption at her birth. Within a few years, it opened the door for her to communicate with her birth mother. And we welcomed that relationship, knowing we could never fill that unique role in her life.

But the reunion and relationship with her birth dad took nearly 20 years to develop. Until recently, the only proof of his existence was a blurry booking photo and a name. Her mother had claimed for years he was permanently out of the picture. But I reassured my daughter that he might show up one day. In the meantime, I was content for my husband and me to have the construction paper cards from school and the celebratory brunches all to ourselves.

Still, from time to time, I’d scour the internet. Aside from an apparently abandoned Facebook page, I found no signs of him. When she turned 18, my daughter began her own search, starting with a DNA ancestry site. Although I had searched online for two decades, within a week, she’d located a cousin, then her birth dad’s location, and finally his phone number.

I remember listening from the next room as she spoke to him. I was ready to jump in at the first sounds of trouble — perhaps her accusations of being abandoned or maybe her tears of sadness or anger. Instead, I heard her talk to him in an excited and almost childlike manner, all the while calling him Daddy. It had been a long time since I’d heard her use that tone with me. And after years of listening to tween whining followed by teen tantrums, and now young adult arguments, it caught me off guard.

As their conversations continued, I got glimpses into their developing relationship. She called to get his advice about school, her friends, finances, and frequently her dating life. You don’t know anything about dating women, she playfully sneered at me. That was true, I conceded. But I couldn’t help but feel somehow emasculated. I knew it was ridiculous, but it was as if this mysterious man was not only challenging my fatherhood but now my manhood as well.

My husband and I decided it was best to step back and make room for him. But over time, it seemed impossible for me to stay in the background. There were a few times she and her birth dad bitterly disagreed about something, and she called to ask my opinion. When that happened, it felt like she was trying to play us off one another. Though sometimes I thought she was in the wrong, I felt I had to prove my loyalty, so I’d agree with her. At the same time, I also found myself waffling on handing out my own unpopular opinions on things. Ordinarily, in a moment of indecision, I might tell my daughter to “just go ask your dad” and that would send her to my husband for a final ruling. But now, I wasn’t sure where she might go for pleas and appeals.

For the first time in my life, I understood what it felt like to compete for the affection and attention of a woman. The most vivid example of that feeling came the time my daughter Facetimed her biological father and suddenly pointed the screen at me, asking if I wanted to say hello. I felt embarrassed and confused. What should I say? How should I introduce myself? Why did I feel like I was on display for him? Or was she showing him off to me? I mumbled a few words and then excused myself.

When she hung up, the angelic smile she held for him was replaced by a scowl. You were rude to him, she scolded. I tried to defend myself, but deep inside, I knew she was right. I’d been acting like a straight guy, jealous of someone trying to steal “my girl.” Equally worse, I’d been feeling as if he were some smooth-talking suitor who should have sought my blessing before talking to her; I’d wanted him to ask, “Can I be your daughter’s dad?”

Slowly I began to see that my situation was no different from that of many other adoptive dads or stepdads, gay or straight. We all wanted to believe that our years of unconditional love and support gave us a special claim on the hearts of the kids we’ve raised. It was natural for me to feel overprotective of her.

But I also realized this was bringing up something deeper for me. For years, I had searched, unsuccessfully, for my own biological father — a White man who’d had a brief affair with my Black mother. But when I was growing up, I didn’t have the internet to search let alone a name or picture to start. Because of that, I had to admit to myself that it might be possible that I was jealous, not of my daughter’s birth father, but of her, since she’d finally found something I never would.

When the time finally arrived that my daughter was ready to meet her biological dad in person, she selected me as the one to help carry her emotions on the cross-country trip to Ohio. I told her to keep an open mind and keep her expectations low and I reminded myself to do the same,

On the day of the reunion, her birth dad and I unconsciously circled one another and sized each other up, like boxers in a match. We were the same height, but he was leaner and at least a decade younger than me. I felt intimidated because he walked with the same confident swagger I noticed in most straight men. I saw he had my daughter’s eyes and that they shared the same medium-brown skin. Though I’m mixed race, for years I was self-conscious of the fact that my fair skin made me look far different from my Black daughter. So for her, for him, and mostly for myself, I puffed up my chest, lowered my voice, and expertly dapped his extended palm, keen to show off my “black bonafides.” My daughter rolled her eyes.

As we sat down in the restaurant, I watched them continue the easy banter they’d developed over the phone. They joked over their different menu choices and he proudly introduced her to a cousin and a long-time family friend who happened to work there. It suddenly occurred to me that this was to be his Father’s Day celebration. She’d brought him presents — copies of photos showing her growing up without him. And I, ironically, had insisted that I treat him to this brunch. Though he and I didn’t say much to one another, when we got up to go, he thanked me for the meal and for being the father that he couldn’t be.

The next couple of days, I spent most of the time alone in the hotel, as he squired our daughter around the town, introducing her to long-lost half-siblings and delighted extended family members. She returned each evening full of stories and an inner sense of calm I had not noticed in her for years. On her final night, she bounded into my hotel room, bounced on my bed, and hugged me, thanking me for not acting so possessive. At that moment, I came to see that she didn’t belong to me and my husband or to her biological father. She was her own woman.

She is growing confident in her own identity as someone with three fathers. And in the process of reuniting her with her birth dad, I have grown more confident in all of the identities I carry — gay man, adoptive dad, and yes, even a fatherless son.

In the weeks since our visit, the calls between my daughter and her biological father have continued, and there is talk of him visiting her this fall. I imagine I won’t see him. The few words we exchanged over brunch may be the most conversation we will ever have, and that’s okay. He has his own connection with our daughter. There is no need for us to negotiate the boundaries of our father/daughter relationships because we both understand the unspoken bond we have with her.

So, this Fathers’ Day, I will just be grateful for the daughter who claims us as her parents, for the straight man who made me a gay father, and for the love that now surrounds us all.

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Steve Majors
Human Parts

"High Yella” — At retailers or visit Steve-Majors.com | Works in NYT, WAPO, CNN, NBC, Boston Globe and more | Forthcoming: "Light Bright" and "Good Boy"