By: Anthony Romeo
He is also on Instagram @DevNewJersey
I wanted to take some time to stitch together the fabric of promises and dreams, to weave a family’s tapestry through the time-honored cultural tradition of storytelling for you. But I also just wanted to talk to you about Mickey Mouse.
You see, when I was a kid, it’s Fantasia that got its hooks in me. Even with minimal dialogue, it held my attention for hours, and my parents would rewind the tape and let me watch it again. And again. My Mom and Dad encouraged my love in classical music, and I eventually became a viola player in a symphony orchestra for several seasons. But it’s the Disney part of the equation that stuck with me longest.
My parents couldn’t afford to take me to Walt Disney World when I was growing up, they worked hard to support our family, but big Orlando vacations were certainly never an option. I always wondered what it might be like to be in the presence of the Mouse himself, or to be walking through Cinderella’s Castle. When my friends would tell me about the Haunted Mansion, I’d scour my mind for a memory that wasn’t there, eyes closed tight. I knew I had to go, that the ultimate sign of being a grown-up would be to get there on my own.
A decade ago, I was dating a very sweet boy named Brian, who was a huge Disney fan. I decided we’d go together, and it was every bit as wonderful an experience as I’d ever hoped. I was hardly an adult, having two feet just over the legal drinking age. I stood in line waiting to meet Mickey, and I had butterflies in my stomach, I was actually nervous and visibly shaking. It was the fulfillment of a boyhood dream, and while our romantic relationship wasn’t forever, our friendship certainly is, and I am beyond grateful for the experience of navigating several Disney afternoons for the first time with a true expert.
So when my husband Dominic and I started dating, the Disney countdown clock started, eventually becoming louder than Hook’s crocodile could ever have been. I knew what I had to do. I enlisted the help of my sister, a collegiate athlete. I said, “Lauren I want to surprise Dom and take him to Disney, can you help?” She was immediately on board.
We told Dom that my sister was running a track meet in Buffalo, on Valentine’s Day weekend, and that she really wanted us to attend. Buffalo is seven hours from us, so I suggested that we fly. Meanwhile, I had already booked our entire trip to Walt Disney World, airfare and all. The day before our flight, I took the day off from work, packed all of our clothes and supplies up, and loaded them into the car. We left for the airport, Dom having bought a book for my sister with a personal letter inside the cover, wishing her well. He’s sweet that way.
We got to the airport, and I let Dom print our boarding passes. He was in total shock, and we spent the next four days in Orlando together, navigating the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios. A family of two, but not yet three.
We have both wanted to be dads for as far back as we can remember. Our family planning took time, and a little more effort than a soft blanket and a bottle of wine, try as we might. And during our family planning and preparation, my Mom got sick. She got very sick.
Mom told us in November of 2014 that she had been diagnosed in Stage 4 cancer. In April 2015, I told her story (https://gayswithkids.com/2015/04/20/no-day-but-today-on-cancer-adoption-and-family/), to help give strength to other families who were experiencing something similar, to shine a light on the bravery of a woman fighting too hard against an indomitable foe, and to say out loud, clearly and finitely, that I was proud of her. She knew she would never meet her grandchild, but constantly told us what great Dads we were going to be, that she knew we’d get to Disney World, as parents, some day.
A week later, she left us, bound for a Magic Kingdom all her own.
When we were waiting in the adoption process, I wrote a letter (https://gayswithkids.com/2015/05/28/a-gay-dad-to-be-writes-to-the-mother-of-his-future-child/) to our future birth mother. Because to us, promises matter. Because without mothers, there would be no sons, no fathers. This is the promise we made.
“We promise that we will take this toddler to Disney World, to feel wrapped up in the happiest place on Earth, with two dads who are hoping to show this baby the most fantastic and magical world possible, because our family will be living proof that, with a little luck, the dreams that you wish do come true.”
And then in August, the phone rang. And we found out we were going to be Dads. It was a process that played out over the course of several months until November 9, 2015, the day I stood in the delivery room and watched a mother make the greatest sacrifice she could, for people with whom she was entrusting her child. Our son was born, and mine was the very first face he saw when he opened his tiny eyes that morning.
So on October 11, we are keeping our promises. We are boarding a flight to Orlando, bound for the happiest place on earth. And along with our luggage and bottles and binkies and toys, we are bringing with us the promises we made to women who made this possible for us, the mothers who made us fathers. We are partners, family, with people who are no longer here, but are expecting us to hold up our end of the deal. We are not wealthy Dads, we’re not staying at a fancy hotel with character breakfasts, we’re not springing for fancy meals, we’re not getting the $149 Memory Maker photo pass (unless you’re buying, in which case…).
But we are talking about the exact place we will set Gabe’s feet down in Disney World for the very first time. And we are getting Gabe’s first haircut at the Harmony Barbershop on Main Street, U.S.A. We are going to be in the presence of the Mouse, we are going to walk him through Cinderella’s Castle, side by side, and we are going to hold him in our laps on the Haunted Mansion, eyes open wide.
And in our small, small world, these two dads are going to do everything we can to be sure our son knows that with hard work, determination, love, and just a little magic, dreams really do come true, after all.