Ferd van Gameren

Ferd van Gameren

Ferd is a teacher, avid cook, husband and gay father of three living in Toronto.

5-Year-Old Forces Gay Dad to Play With Trucks

My son loves trucks. Large trucks, the bigger the better. School buses. Fire engines. Big rigs. Snow plows. Delivery trucks and dump trucks. Telephone line repair trucks. Forklifts and bulldozers. And especially garbage trucks.

He doesn’t have many, but he keeps them all on shelves in the closet in his bedroom. He asks me to take one or two out each night, so he can play with them before he falls asleep.

My relationship with trucks used to be one of peaceful coexistence: I don’t bother them as long as they don’t bother me.

I don’t remember ever playing with any trucks when I was a kid. My brothers played with them all the time. Clearly, I must have repressed some bad memories. (I do, however, remember owning a Ken doll, Barbie’s boyfriend.)

 

Ken and Barbie, c. 1970

Ken and Barbie, c. 1970

In the past few months I had already shown considerable fake-it skills. I blinded him (and everyone else) with science. “Papa, what’s the fastest train in the world?” “Well, that would be the magnetic-levitation Shanghai Maglev, with a maximum operational speed of 430 kilometers per hour!”

How do I fare with aircraft? Glad you asked. Thanks to my prodigious web search skills, I know my planes. I even know how to distinguish planes by ear: “Why, that’s a Bombardier Q400 Turbo Prop, of course!” Thanks to Siri (“What’s flying overhead?”) I have all the answers: airline and flight number, altitude, angle, slant distance and type of aircraft.

Helicopters? Toy prototypes were invented before Leonardo da Vinci, thank you very much. My son and I have watched hours of footage of rescue, transportation and firefighting helicopters and even some Apaches (until he told me that it was “inappropriate” for him to watch an Apache attack).

Leonardo da Vinci helicopter

Leonardo da Vinci’s “aerial screw,” suggestive of a helicopter

I knew I had to get involved with trucks. I had started to read up on the topic, because if there’s something I’m good at, it’s studying. Last weekend he asked me to join him in truck play. That was a curve ball, truck play. That wasn’t something I had prepared for or could prepare for. “Just be cool,” I told myself, “just play along and all will be fine.”

In a classic bait-and-switch, he informed me that the trucks would be buses. I knew this about buses: A bus is something you take when you don’t have a car. And we have a car.

With a “I’m the 30, you’re the No. 7, Papa,” we began. I made him go first. He moved his bus along the road he had marked on the wooden floor with Scotch tape. I moved mine too, but a little too fast, apparently. “You just kind of speeded, Papa,” he remarked. “Sped,” I corrected him instinctively. He wouldn’t have any of it. “It’s dangerous.” I slowed down.

He stopped his bus at the first imaginary bus stop; I stopped right behind him. He picked up some Lego passengers. So did I. “Actually, Papa, people go in at the front and leave at the back.” Is that so? I wouldn’t know. I decided not to question his knowledge; after all, he had taken a bus a few times with a babysitter. He made me repeat this particular episode a few times, until I got it completely right.

He stopped at the next corner to pick up some more passengers. I pulled up right behind him. “Papa, the number 7 doesn’t stop there on Sundays.” How did he know? Was he bluffing? “This is not about you,” I had to tell myself, “it’s about him.”

Despite my good intentions, I was quickly losing interest in this pretend play. I ignored a stop sign. I forgot to make the bus kneel for a passenger in a wheelchair. And, most damningly, I ran over a dinosaur.

My son’s last comment summed it all up: “You’re not very good at playing with trucks.”

No sh*t, Sherlock.

The Most Special Girls in the World: Our Twins’ “Where You Came From” Story

On December 4, we published the story we tell our son Levi to explain how my husband Brian and I came into his life. Today we’re publishing the story we tell our 4-year-old twin daughters, who were born with the help of a gestational carrier: How we came to be their daddy and papa.

This next story is about two girls. Not just any girls, oh no. This is the story of the two most special girls in the world.

But let me begin at the beginning of this story too. Papa Ferd and Daddy Brian now had a son Levi, and they were even happier than before. But they wanted Levi to have siblings so they could all play together. They were really hoping to have a larger family, with more little kids they could take care of, watch grow up and love as much as any kids had ever been loved. How could they be so sure? That’s easy: they knew it in their hearts.

But, as you know, Papa and Daddy are boys, and boys can’t have babies growing in their bellies. So this time, they looked for a woman who could grow their babies in her belly for them. They looked and looked and looked and finally, they found her in West Virginia. The name of this very special woman was Annie*.

Annie said she would love to carry and give birth to Daddy and Papa’s babies. And so she did: for almost nine months (that’s how long it takes!) she had two little baby girls growing in her belly. And when it was almost time, she went to the hospital. Just a few minutes later two little girls were born.

Sadie and Ella a few days old

Sadie and Ella, a few days old

I told you, this is the story of two girls. Those two girls. Daddy and Papa arrived at the hospital, rushed to Annie’s room, and there they laid eyes on those two most special girls in the world. One was a little bigger, with lots of gorgeous dark hair, the most beautiful hazel eyes and the longest eyelashes; they named her Sadie Nel Rosenberg-Van Gameren. The other one was a little smaller, with the fairest hair and the clearest, bluest eyes; they called her Ella Judith Rosenberg-Van Gameren.

As soon as Daddy and Papa laid eyes on these girls, they fell in love with them. They knew they would love them forever and ever. How could they be so sure? That’s easy: they knew it in their hearts.

* Not her real name

The Most Amazing Boy in the World: Levi’s “Where You Came From” Story

On October 24, Gays With Kids star blogger David Blacker published “Once Upon a Time … A ‘How You Came to Us’ Story.” This brilliantly simple (or simply brilliant) piece showed me how I could explain to my son Levi how my husband and I came into his life. Here’s our story.

This is the story of a boy. Not just any boy, oh no. This is the story of the most amazing boy in the world.

But let me begin at the beginning. Once upon a time, there were two people, Brian and Ferd, who loved each other very much. How could they be so sure? That’s easy: they knew it in their hearts.

Brian and Ferd had loved each other for a long time and they were very happy. But in their hearts they knew something was missing. No, not something; someone. They really wanted a family. Little kids they could take care of, watch grow up and love as much as any kids had ever been loved. How could they be so sure? That’s easy: they knew it in their hearts.

Brian and Ferd are boys, and boys can’t have babies growing in their bellies. So they asked everyone they knew, and lots of people they didn’t know, if they knew of a baby who needed a family. They looked for weeks and months and years. It was taking so long they were beginning to think it would never happen.

But then, one day, Brian and Ferd got a phone call. A woman in Brooklyn had just given birth to a baby boy. This woman, Laura*, couldn’t take care of him, so the baby boy needed a family. Laura wanted to know if they could give this boy a loving home.

"... and there they laid eyes on the most amazing boy ..."

“… and there they laid eyes on the most amazing boy …”

Give the boy a loving home? Of course they could! For all these years this is what they had been hoping for! They rushed to the hospital in Brooklyn, and there they laid eyes on the most amazing boy, with the shiniest black hair, the softest caramel skin, and the cutest dimple on his left cheek.

I told you, this is the story of a boy. That boy. The moment Brian and Ferd saw that boy, they fell in love with him. They named him Levi, and they became his Daddy and Papa. They knew they would love him forever and ever. How could they be so sure? That’s easy: they knew it in their hearts.

* Not her real name

The Wondrous Language of Children

Kids learn all the time. They learn by observation, by imitation, by experimentation and by play. Our three children, by virtue of their own personal learning styles, interests and sets of strengths and weaknesses, provide us with a fascinating variety of ways to look at the world, organize it, and make sense of it. Language and logic are two of their most important tools.

Our eldest was an early talker. Even as a mere 4-year-old, he liked to bandy about such sesquipedalian words as episode, metaphor, and rhinoceroses. One of his first words was “bah-tee,” meaning “blanket.” Always eager to learn but loath to accept guidance, he continued to pronounce it like that for a very long time. Around the time he was well over a year old, I would, in a typical exchange, point to his blanket, then look him in the eye and say, annunciating all vowels and consonants slowly and clearly, “blanket.” In response, he would shake his head, look straight back at me, and say, annunciating just as clearly and slowly, “baaaah-teee.” This scene would repeat until one of us gave up. And when I say one of us, I mean me.

One of our twin girls remained wordless for a long time. Quietly she would play for hours with her collection of about 40 small but accurate Schleich animals. I’d tell her the names (“African elephant,” “snowy owl,” “giant panda”), mention something about their habitats (“Tigers live in India and Indonesia”), and imitate their sounds (“A frog says “ribbit.”) Side note: frogs say “ribbit” only in the English-speaking world. For example, Dutch-speaking frogs say “kwaak.”

Within days of her first uttering of a word, she had mastered the names of about forty animals, together with their habitats and sounds. She must have stored away all this information in her memory, to be released the moment her nascent speaking skills allowed her.

The many questions our other daughter asks are a frequent source of head-scratching. (Everything she says is in the form of a question.) With her language skills still in a rudimentary state, she calls our street “Apple Cracker.” (It sounds only a little bit like that.) She has been calling “dessert” “zuh-dirt” for months now, despite our efforts to correct her. (Joining what we couldn’t beat, we’ve all now taken to calling it “zuh-dirt.” I am seriously considering omitting dessert from dinner entirely, just to get that word out of our heads.)

She is thinking about concepts of past, present and future; baffling questions like “When is it going to be summer last year?” or “Is Nana coming over yesterday?” show that she hasn’t mastered the subject of time fully yet. More than once she has asked me, immediately after waking up early, “Are we going to eat dinner now?” Days of the week remain a work in progress: “Is today Tuesday?” No. “Wednesday?” No. “Tuesday?” No. “Wednesday?”

After I told her she’d grown too big for a particular T-shirt, she asked, “Can I wear it when I’m smaller?”

Topsy-turvy children’s logic is at work in her question “Is it raining because I’m wearing my boots?”

When she spotted a classmate’s very similar looking sibling, she asked, “Are you your brother?”

Speaking of brothers: she envies her older brother. Since he is older and a boy, she clearly expects one day to be older and a boy too. Last week, when I told her “No, you can’t watch TV,” she said, “Can I watch TV when I’m a boy?” Aware of anatomical differences between genders, she asked me yesterday, “When I’m a boy, can you bring me a penis?”

I know all this confusion is just a phase that will pass. I hope it won’t be soon, though. I’m really enjoying it.

Gay with Kids: the Gayest I’ve Ever Been

I tend to look at my personal history in broad categories: B.C.E. and C.E.

Before the Children’s Era is that now-mythical time of life before kids. I lived in the epicenter of Boston’s gay life, the South End. I have memories of a summer spent serving sex on the beach (that’s a drink) at über-gay Club Café. Sunday brunch at Tremont Ice Cream and then Metropolis. Rushing to get the steeply discounted $299 annual membership at Mike’s Gym, where I met my husband Brian.

Muscle-shirted bartending at Buzz on Saturday nights. The hills were alive frequently at the Front Porch, the venerable piano bar in Ogunquit, Maine. We went to see Ryan Landry in P’town. Got bi-weekly haircuts. Friday night manscaping. Glamour shots in Mykonos.

After the inevitable move to New York (every gay Bostonian did it), we first lived among fellow gay boys in Chelsea for a few years, then decamped to Hell’s Kitchen.

Our calendar was punctuated by over-the-top trips to South Beach, San Francisco, Chicago, Montreal. Dance parties lasting from dawn until dawn I-don’t-know-how-many days later. Lesley Mandel showing a potential Fire Island summer house. White Party. Black Party. After Party. After After Party. Bendix Diner. Manatus. The Dish. Food Bar. Elmo.

Lots of theater: Broadway Bares, Spring Awakening, Wicked, Altar Boyz, and anything with Audra McDonald.

Sip ‘n’ Twirl. Pavilion. Invasion. Junior. Low tea. High Tea. Folsom. Folsom East. Twilo. Alegria. Beige. G.

Somewhere along the road we became foodies and wine lovers.

Five years ago the Children’s Era commenced when our son Levi was born. A year and a half later, we had three.

When strolling with our three little ones, we often caused small traffic jams from all the onlookers.

Last year I was the only male member of the parent council at my son’s school. I was surprised at how often I brought up “my husband Brian” during meetings. (He’s got a fundraising background.)

Brian and I often drop off or pick up our kids from camp, school or daycare together. We talk with counselors, teachers, principals, and volunteers. In the afternoons, we watch them playing in the schoolyard or playground while talking with other parents, most often moms.

We take our kids to birthday parties, the farm, the zoo, the greenmarket, and restaurants. We host and travel to play dates. We accompany them to taekwondo, ballet, gymnastics and swimming classes; we help keep them calm during doctor, dentist, hygienist, and haircut appointments.

We explain our family make-up to receptionists, assistants, secretaries, and store clerks. To neighbors, other children, instructors, and passersby. To nurses, flight attendants, hosts, and waiters. I came out in 1983, but since becoming a father, I feel like I’m coming out again and again.

On weekend nights, we have dinner with friends, some gay, mostly straight. A few nights ago we had neighbors over for dinner in our backyard, who asked us why we moved to Toronto in 2009. (We had to leave the U.S., because foreign partners of gay Americans didn’t qualify for green cards.)

Before the Children’s Era? Pretty gay. No, super gay.

And all the things done in the wondrous Children’s Era are completely ordinary; some would say completely straight. Now, wherever we go with the kids, whatever we do as a family, we’re the gay dads. Publicly, unapologetically, unavoidably, in-your-face gay.

Raising kids makes me the gayest I’ve ever been. But there’s nothing I’d rather be than a gay dad.

Glamour shot on Mykonos, 1995

Glamour shot on Mykonos, 1995

You Know You’re a Gay Dad When…

  • you notice another dad’s sexy tushie.
  • your 6-year-old still can’t throw a ball.
  • you use feminine pronouns correctly.
  • you’re the only guy on your kids’ school council.
  • your kids watch the Tony Awards.
  • your 3-year-old son pretend-shaves his chest.
  • your party favors come in a gift-bag with a bow.
  • your kids call your babysitter mommy.
  • your kids can spell s-u-p-e-r-c-a-l-i-f-r-a-g-i-l-i-s-t-i-c-e-x-p-i-a-l-i-d-o-c-i-o-u-s.

And from our readers…

  • you have baby food, diapers, sparkling white wine, gourmet appetizer, and fresh cut flowers in your shopping cart – all in one trip. Shared by Petey Laohaburanakit via Facebook 
  • your pre-teen daughters are arguing about whether a picture of a boy is cute or not and they come to you for the deciding vote! Shared by Jt Struthers via Facebook 
  • you realize you don’t know what’s in or what the latest fashion is or whatever is trending and you frankly don’t care, you have better things to do with your kids. Shared by Toby Susse via Facebook 
  • when your kid asks you where babies come from and the conversation is about surrogacy and adoption. Shared by Orlando Gay Dad ‏@FLTomato  via Twitter 
  • when I used to feel bad my kids were bad at sports, then I realized I can buy trophies, now they’re good at everything! Shared by Orlando Gay Dad ‏@FLTomato via Twitter 
  • When you find yourself changing nappies. Shared by Vernal Scott via Facebook 
  • When you and your husband find yourself debating which cartoon character is the hottest. Shared by Paul Skippen via Facebook

Add to this list by commenting or tweeting #UKnowURaGayDadWhen

 

Yours Truly Mine

Dear birth mother,

Five years ago, on May 23, 2009, you went to Long Island College Hospital because you didn’t feel well. You were young, a single mother with an almost two-year-old daughter, living with your parents in Brooklyn. You knew you were pregnant, but you thought you had a couple more weeks before giving birth. It didn’t take long for a diagnosis: your water had broken two days before. A baby was delivered a half hour later. Apart from a little jaundice, for which he was briefly put on antibiotics, he was a healthy boy, even without any prenatal care.

Life was hard, so hard that you knew you couldn’t keep your newborn child. You knew this well before you gave birth, but you put off making alternative plans for the baby. You didn’t seek pre-natal care. Avoiding reality was a strong defense mechanism to avoid the pain.

So after giving birth, it was going to be foster care for your baby, until a doctor at the hospital suggested adoption.

Brian and I had been looking to adopt for a few years. A few months earlier, we had been in the process of adopting a six-month-old boy from upstate New York. We filled out all the paperwork. We met him, his mother and her boyfriend in person. There were some issues, the adoption agency told us, with the mother’s grandmother who wanted her to keep the baby, and the mother’s boyfriend who did not. After a while, the mother stopped communicating with the agency and with us, and we had no way to make contact with her. The adoption never took place. We never found out what happened to that boy. This pushed us to the front of the agency’s waiting line, just in time for the birth of your child.

As was customary, we made a brochure for expectant birth mothers to give them an idea of the life their boy or girl would get with us. It contained our personal story in carefully calibrated language, with attractive full-color photos of us, our relatives, our apartment, our neighborhood and our dog. Why we wanted kids. How much we understood the birth mother’s plight.

You asked the adoption agency if there was a family available to adopt him, a family like your own. Black, Baptist. There wasn’t. You said that a loving family was your top concern. You didn’t need to see any of the brochures, you’d trust the adoption agency to make the best decision. “A same-sex couple?” the agency asked. You said fine.

On May 26, the day after Memorial Day, we received the agency’s phone call about the little boy in need of adoptive parents. We were over the moon. And completely unprepared. For two days we were busy buying baby stuff, reorganizing our apartment, calling relatives and friends, planning his bris (Jewish circumcision ceremony), and searching for a last-minute baby nurse or doula to help us out the first few days.

Two days later, while we were getting ready to take a taxi to LICH, I came up with the first name of Levi: a beautiful Hebrew name that sounded like my dad’s, Leo. Brian had always liked the name Parlow, his beloved Nana Sid’s maiden name. And suddenly, the baby boy had a name, or rather, four names: Levi Parlow Rosenberg-Van Gameren.

We chose his first and his middle names, and we gave him our hyphenated last names. There was a linguistic version of the Heisenberg principle at work: as soon as we named him, we changed how we perceived him. We changed how we perceived ourselves. In an instant, we had become fathers. We named the boy after my father, after Brian’s maternal grandmother, and most important, after ourselves. The boy had magically become our son.

The agency’s instructions for the transfer were very clear: we should wait in the hospital lobby, in an Au Bon Pain, but we were not to go upstairs to the nursery. Further instructions: bring an outfit for the boy, a blanket, a hat, a car seat, and a camera. The picture our attorney shared with us provided us with a first glimpse: a tiny black boy with an oversized head, puffy eyes, and sleek black hair. We also received a photo taken of you, your mother and your adorable daughter while you were still in the hospital. (The family resemblance between siblings is striking.)

Levi knows he’s been adopted. For him that means that Papa and Daddy, who had been hoping for a boy for years, took him home from the hospital where he was born, to make a family. But sometime soon I expect that Levi will have more questions. He has already wondered why his sisters have white bodies while his is brown. He knows that a baby grows in a woman’s belly. When those questions come, we’ll answer them truthfully, in a manner he can understand, continuing the narrative we have already begun. We’ll also tell him that he has a biological sister. I hope that he will have the chance to meet you and your daughter one day. I imagine Brian and I will be there as well. I already know what I’ll say to him: “Levi, I’d like you to meet your birth mother.” And to you I’ll say, “I’d like you to meet Levi Parlow Rosenberg-Van Gameren, our son.”

Ours Truly,

Ferd

Nana Judy’s Zucchini Bread

Nana Judy’s zucchini bread has been magically disappearing from her kitchen counter in Massachusetts for decades. Kept under a plastic cake dome that could be lifted and put back oh so quietly, this treat didn’t stand a chance against the sweet-toothed scavenger looking for a quick nosh away from the public eye. Nana Judy never seemed to mind, and why would she? I’ve seen her wipe away a telling crumb from the corner of her own mouth many a time.

The real Nana Judy

Nana Judy, my mother-in-law

A bread like this is of a forgiving breed. Even a kitchen klutz can make it. And it’s delicious. But if you feel this pleasure needs justifying, here’s your defense in three bullet points:

  • Vegetables (it contains lots of zucchini)
  • Family time (your kids will love helping you make it)
  • Sharing (your proud kids will gladly hand a slice to siblings and friends)

If surreptitious snacking becomes an issue, just replace the plastic cake dome with a heavy and noisy glass version. That’s what we did.

Here’s the recipe:

3 large eggs
1 cup vegetable oil or coconut oil (or ½ cup of each)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups brown sugar
3 cups zucchini, peeled, grated, and drained
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
3 teaspoons cinnamon

Beat eggs until frothy, then beat in sugar, oil, and vanilla. Next, mix in the zucchini and the mixed remaining dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon). Oil and flour two loaf pans. Pour mixture into the two pans and bake for 60 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Ginger Soup (Tinolang Manok)

Ever since our Filipina nanny Kareen first made us this dish, tinolang manok, we’ve been hooked. She makes it in the same way that her father taught her: she starts by using the best possible chicken and the freshest ginger and lemongrass to create an intensely fragrant chicken soup base. After adding vegetables of vibrant green, orange and white hues, she simmers this tinolang manok until its delicious aroma fills up our entire house. Served over white rice, this concoction soothes the stomach and warms the winter-weary soul. Filipino penicillin.

The dish has a special place in the hearts of Filipinos, as it is mentioned in “Noli Me Tangere,” the first novel of José Rizal, one of the greatest revolutionary heroes of the Philippines. In that novel, Kapitan Tiago served ginger soup to Crisostomo Ibarra upon his arrival from Europe. Ibarra was given the best part of the chicken, the breast; the corrupt Spanish friar Padre Damaso received the neck, the least favored part.

Chayote Squash
Whole chicken, cut into small pieces
2 quarts water
Lemongrass, cut into 4 pieces
2 entire ginger roots, peeled and thickly sliced
4 carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
2 chayote squash (or 1 green papaya)
A few green onions
1 lb. baby bok choy, cut into quarters
White rice
Ginger powder, pepper, and salt to taste

Serves six.

 

Put the chicken pieces in a large pot with two quarts of water. (Be sure to leave the bones in; they add great flavor.) Add the lemongrass pieces and sliced ginger to the broth. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Boil the rice.

Peel the chayotes, cut them in half and remove the white seed in the middle. Cut the chayote into pieces. Wash and chop up the green onion. Add carrots,  chayote (or green papaya), green onion and baby bok choy to the broth. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add ginger powder, salt and pepper to taste. (In the Philippines, the bones are left in the soup. Feel free to remove them before eating the soup.) Remove the lemongrass (and the ginger slices, if you don’t wish to eat them). Serve over a small mound of white rice.

What’s That Smell Coming From Row 10?

It was a commuter flight; the passengers professionals with briefcases and other small personal items. The plane was small too; some would say tiny. But, in Brian’s defense, so was the restroom.

At the time, I thought we were an adorable family of five. Two dads, three very young children, beloved by flight attendants the world over. (See: “The Super-Friendly Skies.”)

Thirty minutes earlier, when we entered that diminutive aircraft with our noisy children and ample carry-on luggage, I had seen the sole flight attendant widen his eyes and wince. It was a sign of things to come.

Before takeoff, the frosty flight attendant comes over to explain the children’s safety procedures, perfunctorily. I call him Trevor. Trevor is an old-fashioned gay man. Does he like children? Not so much. Gay men with children? Not his thing. Suddenly one of our kids lets out a scream. Trevor recoils.

Soon after her bottle, one of our girls begins to groan in my arms. (I won’t say which one, to protect the guilty.) Next, she wriggles her little body for a good fifteen seconds. Finally, a smile appears across her little face. She is having what later I label an unusual intestinal event.

Reflexively, I pretend to be asleep. Out of the corner of my eye I can see that Brian grabs the diaper bag, lifts up the still-smiling baby from my lap, and carries her past the few remaining rows to the restroom. He opens the door. He assesses the situation. Too small for the requisite rigorous cleaning. He looks to the flight attendant for assistance. Again, Trevor recoils.

Brian spots a few rows of empty seats in the middle of the plane. “Could I perhaps…?” he asks Trevor politely but with obvious haste. Trevor clears his throat, about to object, but he’s too slow. Always thinking on his feet, Brian has already turned around and is making a dash for the empty rows.

What happens next I am not able to see, but ten minutes later he reemerges with our girl, all cleaned up.

While Brian walks back proudly to our row, Trevor’s voice on the P.A. system breaks the monotonous roar of the engines: “Everyone please turn on your fans to dispel the stench coming from the middle of the aircraft.”