All posts by Linda & Christopher Drajem

About Linda & Christopher Drajem

Linda Drajem taught English for over 25 years to secondary students in the Buffalo Public Schools, and taught for nine years in the English department at Buffalo State College. In addition, she is a local writer, published in The Buffalo News, Trees of Surprise, and other publications, as well as in a recent volume of poetry, InnerSessions, along with two other poets. She continues to teach writing classes as a visiting poet to young people in local schools. The proud grandmother of four grandchildren, she travels often with her husband Robert to Seattle to be with her son Christopher, his husband Patrick and their children. In addition they also visit often their other son Mark, his wife Barbara and their children in Maryland. Every year the extended family tries to meet for an extended reunion since family “matters” to us all. Christopher Drajem currently teaches high school English in Bellevue, WA. He has been out to his parents since March of 1994. In January 2013, Christopher and the love of his life Patrick were legally wed in the state of Washington. This was merely a formality, as they had marked their commitment in a August of 2001 ceremony in front of family and friends, many from Buffalo and Long Island, their respective hometowns. In 2003 they adopted their daughter, and in 2007 the family was complete when they adopted a son. As a family they travel frequently from Seattle to the east coast for family vacations, birthday celebrations, funerals, weddings, and engagement parties. In the spirit of cementing the ties that bind, Linda & Christopher started working on this blog and are happy to have found a way to continue to strengthen their relationship and make sense of their modern family.

The Quiet Activism of Truth

Dear Christopher,

Recently I was at Spot Coffee with friends.  There was a big sign on the wall for Pride Week, which started earlier this month.  It made me think about how many years we have been celebrating Pride Week in Buffalo and nationwide.  Gay rights activists have made this happen. Their decades long efforts contributed mightily to the current state of gay rights now.

pride flag

One example is the proliferation of Pride events throughout the nation. To see the expansion of our own Pride Parade from the early days of the 90’s to now is amazing.  In addition, when I was teaching high school then, there were no Gay-Straight Alliances in schools.  Now there are 63 from schools all over our region.  Many march in the Pride Parade. Activists helped to make this happen. Thankfully activism works, perhaps slowly and not always in a straight line. And I count you as one of those activists.

When you told us you are gay we were changed. Since you were so honest, Dad and I knew we could not be silent either.  It spurred our activism, albeit in quiet ways. I wrote op-ed pieces for our local newspaper, joined PFLAG, hosted gay-friendly events at the college where I taught.  Dad told his jock friends at the high school where he taught and raised their consciousness so that even the new physical education director became more aware of LGBT students and teachers.

So many achievements are due to the many gay rights activists, from the Stonewall drag queens to the Act Up marchers, to the Pride Parade founders. But also there is the quiet activism of telling the truth about your life.  That is what you did back in 1993.  That is what thousands of gay people did over the last several decades.  That truth telling activism caused a societal shift that led to marriage equality as well as the new visibility and rights for the LGBT community. Even staunch church goers had to change when they knew they had family or close friends who are gay.  Even Republicans, who used gay rights as a wedge issue for voters in the 90’s, changed when they knew they had gay sons or daughters.  A prime example of that is former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Of course that does not mean bigotry is dead.  After this past presidential election it has reared its ugly head.  Unfortunately, our current Vice President, Mike Pence, has promoted anti gay legislation when he was in congress and when he was governor of Indiana. Even though we have so many Gay-Straight Alliances in our community, it took the threat of a law suit by the ACLU to get one local principal to allow one.  But the inroads made both legally and culturally will not change (I hope).

Last month I had breakfast with both my granddaughter Zoe and my grand niece who made that clear to me.  Both girls told me that no one cares if someone is gay or straight or trans.  No one cares about that anymore.  It’s up to the person, they said. (I love the wisdom of teenagers!) But I think polls have shown that attitude is true among most young people today.  So I have to hope that society will continue to evolve.

Scan 1CRD and Dad

Your honesty has had many branches.  Besides your family and friends, your students know who you are on the first day of your high school classes.  To be sure that everyone knows you have photos of your husband and children for all to see. I am sure you are a powerful role model to any gay students.  Something you did not have as you were growing up! Now across two coasts and in the middle of the country your extended families are gay affirming and very proud. There is your brother Mark’s family in Maryland, your husband Patrick’s family in Long Island as well as Philadelphia and Orlando.  And us, in upstate New York, trying to be sure our friends and colleagues are aware of gay issues.

Telling the truth has it’s own important activism.  That is not to discount the more voluble activists.  Their work is vital.  But quiet activism can speak loudly too.

Love & Happy Father’s Day,

Mom

Fostering Fathers

Dear Isabella and Jordan,

On June 15th, your papa and I will celebrate the 20th anniversary of our first date.  We met at a café for brunch not far from where we currently live.  After that we went roller blading.  Can you picture that? I wish we had cell phones back in the day so that we could have captured selfies of that moment!

It was Father’s Day, but neither of us spent any time with our dads that day.  Pops was in Buffalo, probably crying over his grill because neither of his sons were there to celebrate him.  Papa’s father had died almost 10 years earlier.  Our talk, however, did turn to fatherhood.  We both talked about our dads, and about our childhoods, and about how we both knew that someday, somehow, we wanted to be dads ourselves.

This is not usually first date conversation. This was especially true for two gay men in 1997.   Having children was the farthest thing on the minds of many gay men then—in fact it still is—and neither of us knew any gay men, single or coupled, who were raising children.  But the idea that I had met someone else who wanted children as much as I did was very attractive.  Well, that plus Papa’s beautiful smile and his great sense of humor (and by that I mean he laughed at my jokes).

I knew from that day that Papa was the man for me.  I’m not sure if it was that instantaneous for him; you’d have to ask him.  What I do know is that every Father’s Day since then, Papa and I remember our first date and how we started on that day envisioning the existence of our family.

This year I’m also remembering how challenging it was to actually make that family become not just a dream, but a reality.  As you are both well aware (now that Jordan has graduated from the 5th grade sexual health curriculum), it’s not possible for your dads to bring children into the world in the way a mom and a dad might.  You get my meaning here Jordan? Not something you want to think about?

After getting married, we spent time thinking about other options.  We could find a woman to be a surrogate. We could go overseas and adopt a child.   The option we decided on, the path to fatherhood that felt most comfortable to us, was to become foster parents and eventually adopt children who needed a forever home.

When I was interviewed by Gays with Kids earlier this month about our experience with the foster adoption process, it brought back many memories of the long and rewarding process.  In the bedtime story we told both of you when you were little, we glossed over the details: “Papa and Daddy decided we wanted to be dads, so we went to Amara, an adoption agency that said ‘You will make great dads!’ Soon, we were matched with you. We fell in love instantly!”

Before the instantaneous love part, however, there were a good many hoops we had to jump through.  There were long and often boring training sessions that we had to attend.  We were interviewed by staff at Amara. Then we were interviewed again. We wrote answers to more questions they had; my answers took up 10 pages! Then they came to check out our house. Even the house had to be interviewed!

We set up a crib.  I learned how to change diapers.  We talked to Grandma and Grandpa and Mimi and Pops and all your aunts and uncles about the big changes coming, and what we might name a little munchkin if we were given the opportunity.

Oh, also we went to see lots of movies and slept in on the weekends.

All that changed on October 31, 2003 when an Amara caseworker delivered Isabella to our front door.  She cried! She giggled! She pooped! Man that pooping just didn’t stop. I was convinced we would never sleep again, and I spent many sleepless nights worried about the variety of ways that our precious little baby might get hurt.

Jordan, when we met you in 2007, your smile—even through all that drool—and affection convinced us right away that you were the perfect addition to our family.  Mimi told us that we had a millionaire’s family.  We certainly felt like we had won the lottery, blessed and rich beyond belief.

Now don’t get me wrong, we have our challenges as a family.  We yell. We get frustrated. We cry.  We are all good about apologizing and trying harder.

Some of our challenges aren’t with one another.  Each of you, when you were young, experienced loss and trauma not fit for a human of any age.  Although Papa and I would like to squeeze and love all of the hurt away, it’s not something we can do.

But every family has it’s challenges. And every family has it’s blessings too.  I can’t speak for Papa, but I know that being a parent has been the most difficult and simultaneously most exceptional and rewarding experience in life.  The blessing of you two—when it wasn’t clear if or how we could make that Father’s Day dream from twenty years ago become a reality—has transformed me.

I’m so glad we dreamed you two into our lives.

Love, Daddy

Gays With Kids: Then and Now

Dear Readers,

The amazing thing about the website Gays With Kids is that it exists.

It’s also pretty cool that they chose to profile me and Patrick, and our journey from dating to marriage to kids.

GWK Patrick and Christopher

CLICK HERE to see our profile

Continue reading Gays With Kids: Then and Now