The Day That Hallmark Forgot

Grappling with Rituals

Moving as the finalizations were, to honor that date as special would be to honor the day I finessed a bad situation and was altered by the law. I would rather honor the day the law is altered by me. For there is another wrinkle here: although the adoptions are permanent and unimpeachable, the state in which the boys were born has declined to acknowledge (as they would automatically do in any heterosexual adoption) the new legal reality. Refusing to alter the boys' birth certificates to include my name, that state's Department of Health responded to the court order with a pleasant "Dear Customer" letter:

Health & Safety Code 192.008 states the supplementary birth certificate of an adopted child must be in the names of the adoptive parents, one of whom must be a female, named as the mother, and the other of whom must be a male, named as the father. It will be necessary for you to designate one father to be shown on the birth certificate.

Though we were told to expect this, it was no less shocking; we are exploring a class action lawsuit against the state. If we win, or if someone else does eventually, that will seem like a day worth celebrating. In the meantime, are there to be no Father's Day celebrations, no things in boxes, for my family? Must those of us who are only grudgingly and incompletely included in tradition abjure it like Grinches?

Before I became a parent, my answer was a defensive yes. With only my own fate in my hands (or so I thought) it was easy to assume I would never want what was not willingly given. The failed world was rejectable, and with it its ridiculous ceremonies. When asked if I wanted to be married I always answered that I wanted the Calphalon. That I cried at weddings anyway, and brises and christenings when I was forced to attend, might have been a clue that some sort of ambivalence was at play. Indeed, it was at my younger son's bris -- performed, appropriately, by a female mohel who was herself a convert to Judaism -- that I for the first time fully felt the power of even imperfect observances. Trembling not before God, but before my own life, and my child's life stretching deep into the future, I realized that in rejecting all rites I had given them as much power as if I had blindly accepted them. People whose lives are based entirely on dreams of other worlds never find them, if anyone does. The real work of the imagination is not to build false realities from false premises, but to see what is true and somehow make it meaningful.

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