This piece first appeared in The Advocate.
The first time I ever saw a sign that read “Mommy and Me” was outside a movie theater in Los Feliz, an extremely liberal enclave of extremely liberal Los Angeles. On Wednesday afternoons, this movie theater hosted “Mommy and Me” screenings. I imagined a theater filled with mothers nursing their newborns as they watched the latest art-house film, and as a father-to-be, I immediately felt excluded.
Since having my children, I have run into the phrase “Mommy and Me” time and time again. The Pump Station, a Los Angeles destination for all things baby, declares on their website that “the support and friendship of other Moms who will be part of your world for years to come! You can’t put a price on that!” They offer not only a series of “Mommy and Me” classes, but also the chance to be one of their “Mommy & Me Friends with Benefits,” a hilarious branding faux pas. Some of my favorite yoga studios offer “Mommy and Me” classes, while making a point of adding that fathers are welcome too. Kundalini studio Golden Bridge’s class list reads “Mommy and Me (Daddies Too!)” while SilverLake Yoga includes the following in their description of their “Mommy and Me” class: “Daddies are welcome too!” In both cases, fathers are an afterthought, and in both cases, we are followed by an exclamation point, as if a punctuation mark could make up for being an addendum.
Here’s the thing: My children will never have a Mommy. Sure, there’s an egg donor out there whose DNA runs through them. And yes, there is a wonderful surrogate who carried them and still stays in touch with us. But anytime someone asks me where their “mother” is, I have to explain that our children don’t have one. And apparently we’re not alone. According to an analysis of Census Bureau data by the Pew Research Center, there were 2.6 million single-father-led homes in the United States in 2011. And single-father-led homes are growing twice as fast as single-mother-led-homes. Is it too much to ask that the phrase “Mommy and Me” be retired in favor of “Parent and Me” or some other catchy phrase? Is it too much to ask that “Amazon Mom” be renamed “Amazon Parent”?
This subtle negation of single-father and gay male homes extends beyond movie outings and yoga classes. When it came time for me to choose the formula to feed my children, recommendations came from Mom friends far and wide, and the consensus was that I should go with Baby’s Only, an organic brand manufactured by Nature’s One, “the leader in organic medical nutrition.” There was only one problem: Baby’s Only didn’t make formula for newborns. Their formula was intended for children one and up, and their website proclaimed this was because they believed breastfeeding was the best option for children (their site has since changed). The message was clear: This company didn’t believe in meeting the needs of single fathers or gay fathers (or adoptive mothers, or mothers who couldn’t produce enough milk). My friends told me that this was just marketing, that in fact the formula was perfectly fine for newborns, but I didn’t really care. Why would I support a company that made a point of excluding my family? I did question the decision. Was I depriving my children of superior nutrition because of my stubborn moral principles? Shockingly, two and a half months after my children were born, it was revealed that Baby’s Only formula had arsenic level at six times the federal legal limit allowed in water. As sad as this news was, I couldn’t help but be struck by the symbolism of it. Ultimately, exclusion is poison.
I believe it’s time to include single fathers and gay male couples as equal members of the parent club. And I believe it’s time to stop sending subtle messages to children that their family is deficient if it doesn’t include a Mommy. I’m hoping that by the time my children are old enough to read, they don’t have to see the phrase “Mommy and Me” everywhere and feel the exclusion I have felt.