Slowing down to enjoy the simple things in life was just one step on the road to becoming parents for teacher and non-profit management consultant Doug Kerr (left) and husband Michael Went, a senior financial advisor for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. So their move into a chic, urban two-storey townhouse wasn’t so they could be the envy of their friends. It was all to make room for their their Elmo-loving little man Malaki, who has turned their home into one big playroom.
Let’s start with your two-storey townhouse. How did you wind up here?
DK: We used to live at College and Bathurst, but we wanted a bigger place because we knew we were going to have a kid.
MW: So we moved here in 2010, the first occupants of this condo.
DK: We’re walking distance to the downtown core, St. Lawrence Market. We go to Sugar Beach all the time. We have a BBQ and patio. We love it here.
When did your beautiful son Malaki complete the family?
DK: He’s been with us for a year. He came into our family as a foster child through the Children’s Aid Society and then we adopted him. He’s now our little boy who has two daddies: Daddy Doug and Daddy Mike.
You guys met at Toronto Pride in 2001 before marrying in 2008. When did the conversation about having a child come up?
DK: I’m adopted, so it’s always been part of my story. I always thought that if I did have kids I’d adopt. I started talking to Mike about it a couple of years after we married.
What was your reaction, Michael, when Doug popped the question?
MW: My first reaction was, “Really?” I didn’t know any other gay people at that time with kids. There was certainly fear around the question, “Can I be a parent?” I needed to learn a lot. We started taking a course called “Daddies & Papas 2B” at The 519 where I could talk to more gay dads. It was then when I realized this was the time and place for us to have a child.
What was the adoption process like?
MW: We had to go through lots of different interviews. Police check, medical check, reference check. The whole thing took about a year.
Did you have a choice in terms of what kind of child you wanted?
MW: Sort of. It’s a matching process. You have to identify all the characteristics you would or would not be able to accept in a child. Not personality-related. More like background and medical conditions.
Didn’t that feel superficial?
MW: No. On a check list, there were questions like, “Would you be willing to accept a child who is HIV positive?”
DK: Or a child who has been sexuality abused.
That’s a tough call.
MW: Extremely. You have to think hard about how much you’d be willing to change your life, which means you have to research every scenario.
What was it like when Malaki finally arrived?
DK: It happened very fast. From the time we actually met him to the time he was in our house was less than two weeks. We didn’t have anything ready.
MW: The Children’s Aid Society advises not to get things ready just in case you don’t wind up getting a child, but we got approved very quickly. We had to put out a quick Facebook note to friends and family saying we had a son coming in a week, asking what they could provide us. We got inundated with clothes, toys and books, and advice. We were overwhelmed by support from day one.
DK: He came to us at two years old and was our foster child. But there was a hope that we would eventually adopt him.
Which you did five months later.
DK: Yes, but before that he was diagnosed with leukemia. He just stopped walking one day. We thought it was a hip problem. He started chemotherapy drugs and steroids. It was a complicated routine, but he’s a really strong little kid and responded well to the treatment.
How did you feel when you got the news?
DK: But you deal with it. The way we looked at it was that we had the skills to help him get through it.
MW: We were so thankful it happened when it did because we had three months to get to know him a bit and knew what things made him comfortable, like his tricycle, his Toopy and Binoo DVD and lots of Elmo.
What else does Malaki love?
MW: He loves to run and hug.
DK: We were having breakfast at our breakfast bar and Mike was on one side, I was on the other and Malaki was in the middle. Malaki took my hand, and Mike’s hand, and said, “Two daddies.” He then leaned over and gave me a kiss and Mike a kiss.
You’re going to make me cry.
MW: Oh yeah. We can make ourselves cry. We can make people on the TTC bus cry. He can just do these moments that will melt your heart anytime, anywhere.
Do you ever experience the opposite in public?
DK: Not that often. We sometimes get looks if one of us is pushing him around or going to the market. Sometimes people talk to him because he’s so cute and ask, “Where’s his mommy?” That’s happened to me a couple times.
What do you say when that happens?
DK: I just say, “She’s not here.” It’s really none of their business, but I’m not going to get into an argument with a stranger.
Does that bother you?
MW: I flinch, but not because we’re gay. There are so many families that are different; mom could have separated; mom could have died. There are so many things that could have happened, so why ask?
What other challenges did you face when Malaki first arrived?
DK: We had to re-adjust our schedule because everything is about him. We’re both very busy in the community.
No kidding. You guys seem to be involved in everything.
DK: It’s important to us. I’m vice-chair of the Sherbourne Health Centre, co-chair of the LGBT Giving Network and chair of the Human Rights Program for World Pride. These are things I’ve committed to do throughout this.
MW: We’re also part co-owners of Glad Day Bookshop (hence why we have lots of books in our house). I’m still involved with the Ontario Public Service Pride Network and helped found the Out On Bay Street business conference. I’m also involved in city building, specifically around bicycle lanes. I think about Malaki. He might want to cycle one day.
Speaking of re-adjusting your schedule: Doug, according to your Facebook you had to miss this year’s Pride parade.
DK: Pride is very important because Mike and I met at Pride and we always go back to the same party we met at. This was the first year where we had to think about Malaki. I watched the parade on TV because it was during his naptime.
What has Malaki taught you about yourselves?
MW: He’s taught us how to live in the moment. Appreciate the smaller things: Parks, going up the stairs, granola bars. But we could do with more babysitters next year at Pride so we can have more time to ourselves.
DK: Next year is World Pride so we’re definitely getting a babysitter!