Dolce & Gabbana gate: families matter

We were contacted by The Sun newspaper today to ask whether we had an opinion over the whole D&G thing – whereby they flippantly claim that “The only family is the traditional one” in an interview with Italy’s Panorama magazine. They go on to say “We oppose gay adoption….no chemical off springs and rented uterus. Life has a natural flow there are things that should not be changed.” Dolce adds “You are born to a mother and father – or at least you should be. I call children of chemistry, synthetic children. Uteri for rent, semen chosen from a catalogue…”  Gabbana states “Family is not a fad…”

Do we have an opinion? Too right we have an opinion!  We work bloody hard, every day, proving to people that we’re exactly that. A ‘normal’ family.  So when people of such influence so carelessly and publically share their somewhat limited and unpalatable personal views, with apparent disregard to the damage and offence they are, without doubt, going to cause it really does piss me off a little.  Just as it seems society takes a step forward, who are they to risk causing it to take a step back? Who the hell do they think they are?!  Ironically, as both gay adopters and having had a child through surrogacy D&G have managed to doubly offend us!

We started our journey into fatherhood with thought and consideration. We knew that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together – and we knew that we wanted to share that with our children.  We knew that we had a lot to offer a child. Sure we weren’t perfect – chances are we weren’t going to get it right every time. But we were willing to give it a bloody good go.  After all, what does a child need. To us it was simple; they need opportunities to learn and grow. they need to be kept safe, but learn how to take risks. They need to be fed and cared for physically and emotionally. They need someone to pick them up when they fall and to kiss away their tears. They need someone to love them unconditionally and to have someone whom they can love back. They needed us.  What part of that dictates that it is a mother and a father who can provide that? Or a father and a father or mother and mother or any combination or singular that you can suggest. All it takes is someone that is doing it for the right reasons to the best of their abilities.

We started our family back in 2009 through surrogacy. There was nothing forced or contrived about it. It was a natural extension of our love for each other, my sisters love for us and her knowledge, as a mother herself, that we would make great parents. It certainly wasn’t born of some fad or fanciful idea. I ask you D&G. Would it have been better if we’d fallen drunkenly pregnant without thought or consideration of the consequences? Or decided to have a child for the financial or material gain as some seem to do? Or perhaps you’d rather we’d had a child to use as a pawn in a bigger game? That seems quite ‘normal’ to some.  No thanks. We’ll stick to doing things our way.

Having successfully started our family we wanted more. Not only were we proving to ourselves that we could do this parent thing, we were actually quite good at it! Wil was thriving under our love and care.  We decided to expand our family – this time we chose to adopt. We considered surrogacy again, but ultimately decided that we wanted to offer a home to a child that was already out there – that through no fault of their own needed the secure, loving home that we could offer them. Ironically a child that may need a home due to the actions of its ‘traditional’ birth parents – perhaps a mother and father who had made some poor decisions in life that put that child at risk. Wasn’t the case for us in reality, but even so. Who cares. In reality it didn’t make a difference – we wanted to offer that child the home that, for whatever reason, its birth parents could not offer. And that’s the point. We could. Sure, it might not be ‘traditional’ but who gives a fuck! What’s traditional anyway – no two families are the same – nor should they be. Life moves on. Things change. People adapt. Except apparently D&G who choose to demonstrate their archaic and limiting views so publically. We are family. We are our children’s world and they are ours. It doesn’t matter one iota how we created that family – what matters is that we continue to strive to always be the best parents we can.

So what’s my opinion?  My opinion is that D&G can keep their thoughts to themselves – they’re perfectly entitled to think what they like of course, just don’t trash us and all the others like us in the process. I really am annoyed at them and feel stupidly let down by them – people I don’t even know. Without a doubt they have caused some damage with their recklessness. Drawn a bit of bad-light on the situation of ‘gay’ parenting. But you know what – it won’t last. It’s really only the haters that listen anyway – one’s that want backing to their thoughts no matter how ridiculous – and I genuinely think they’ve done more damage to themselves than to the future of gay people parenting children.

So while D&G are busy picking through the ashes of their spring collection, myself and my husband, with our three wonderful children – who are doing rather well despite their upbringing – will be out there showing the people who matter that we are a normal family. Proving to the old couple in the supermarket, the parents and teachers at school, medical professionals, friends, family…..most of whom need no proof at all because when they see us all they already really see is just another normal family. Dribble and all.

So up yours D&G. We are family and family is what matters.DSC_0098_20140517163154278

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Mothers day twist: Pugs and kisses

“Daddy”

“Yes Wil”

“You know mothers day?”

“Yup”

“Can I send Aunty Lorna a card?”

“Of course you can Wil”

Now that might seem like a strange conversation to some…unless of course you’ve been following our story and then you’ll realise it’s not quite as odd as it seems.  You see our son Wil’s Aunty Lorna is actually his birth mother.

Being gay, my husband Ivan and I can’t have kids the usual way. I mean don’t get me wrong. We’ve tried and tried, but never quite succeeded….and that’s where my sister Lorna, AKA ‘our angel from above’, stepped in. Oh that sounds wrong on so many levels! But it’s not. Back in 2008 she offered to act as a surrogate for us. Wil was subsequently born in 2009 and the rest, as they say, is history.

Lorna never wanted more kids. She has two beautiful daughters of he own (they’d better thank me for saying that) and that was enough for her.  Lorna didn’t want any more of her own children, but she did want one for us! Completely selflessly Lorna was willing to go through god knows what to enable us to have a child. If that doesn’t make her an angel I don’t know what does. It certainly went some way to making up for how mean she was to me when we were little!!

When we started talking about the why’s and where fore’s one of the main discussion points was how we approached the situation around him knowing how he was created.  As I said, Lorna didn’t want another child of her own – as far as she was concerned he was going to be her nephew and she his Aunty. We were all comfortable with this. If it felt right for Lorna it felt right for us.  And that’s how it’s always been – Wil is just another of her many nephews. But we were never going to deceive him. We were adamant, and Lorna was in agreement, that Wil would always know where he came from and how he was made – age appropriately of course. Should Wil wish to identify Lorna as his Mum we would have to accept this. And, should it come to it, Lorna would have to accept that Wil may wish to identify as her child and she would have to have her door open to this possibility. Despite not wanting more kids. Of course she shared this view too.

I recently wrote a blog about the birth parents of our other children, who are adopted. I wrote about the support that  we would offer them, when the time came, if indeed it did, when they wanted to meet and form relationships with them. It was much the same with Wil and Aunty Lorna.

We can’t, won’t, never shall deny who she is or where he has come from. It’s part of his history. Part of what makes him Wil.

Wil knows her as Aunty Lorna – but is well aware that she’s his Tummy Mummy – that she carried him as a special gift to us….a baby that we wanted so much but couldn’t create without the amazing gift from Aunty Lorna.

Naturally we want to be the only ones that matter to him as parents, as with all of our children we want to be the ones that they need above all others. But I can’t deny, there’s always been a bit of a niggle at the back of my mind – that their relationship could overtake ours…insecurities slipping in. Then I kick myself and realise that it’s not something that I need worry about. Our children, each of them, know that they are our world. We love them above all else and nothing will come between that.  Part of that love though is accepting that we have a duty to encourage them to know where they have come from, even if that’s a little bit scary sometimes.  That’s my problem, not theirs. If it means that they form healthy relationships with significant others then I just need to suck it up and be confident in their love for us.

As kids have a habit of doing, Wil kind of simplified things for me.  I asked him if he wanted to make a special ‘Tummy Mummy’ card and he said no.  Just an ordinary mothers day card will be fine.  To him it’s a no-brainer. Let’s not complicate things. You’re my Dad’s. I’m lucky to have two Dads. Aunty Lorna’s my mother. It’s a simple fact.  It doesn’t matter to him how this happened or the why’s or where fore’s. He’s just content in the fact that he has two (great!) Dads and a lovely mother Aunty Lorna.

He astounds me all the time in his maturity and openness to life.  Wil I am so proud of you, we’re proud of you. I’m proud to call myself your Dad.  We must be doing something right.

So Wil, let me join you in wishing your wonderful Aunty Lorna a truly brilliant happy mothers day!  Thanks Lorna. Love you.

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A time to be honest: coming out Aqua style

Now that it’s been published in attitude magazine (available to buy digitally now. On shelves Wednesday) I can post the article….

Someone once said to me, when I was freshly out, that as a gay man you come out every day. Every new person you meet, every new job you get, every link you ever make; at some point during conversation the question will arise, “So what does your girlfriend do?” Or something similar. You see it’s no ones fault, but unfortunately we have a way to go before society see people as anything but ‘straight until proven gay’. Of course there are exceptions to this, if you fall into a particular stereotype of what is perceived to be gay,  it can work in the opposite way.

But that one defining coming out moment? To myself, it was when I was fourteen and started to experiment sexually with men. My experiments had me pretty convinced I was gay, but I also had a few girlfriends to make sure. I didn’t want to make a big proclamation that I was gay, until I was certain. It was a big step to take. With regard to girls, though I loved their company, I never enjoyed the sex. Men were so much better!

It wasn’t until I was seventeen though that I came out to my family. You see, it was when I was seventeen that I fell in love. Head over heels in love. With a man I’ll call John. He was handsome, kind, funny, and I was besotted. He was also twenty-one years older than me. I kept our relationship a secret for a while, but my feelings were so intense that I couldn’t contain it. Also, at the time, a great girl friend of mine started to show an interest in being more than my friend. It came to a head one night when, after a brilliant evening out with her, we went for a kebab. She started to come onto me and in a panic I blurted out that I was gay and in love with a man! After the initial shock, my friend was amazing and very supportive. Amusingly the rest of the patrons cheered my decleration, and arm in arm, my friend and I left. The next day though, because she worked with me, my friends and most of my family, I went back and told them I’d said it just to put her off. It feels cowardly now, but I wasn’t quite ready to be fully honest.

Over the next few months I slowly told my family. My mum first. She was cool with me being gay, after all she was in a relationship with a woman herself, since her marriage to my dad had broken down. Mum was most worried about me seeing an older guy, but trusted my judgement. I was more mature than my seventeen years and had always preferred the company of older people. Once she had met John, her worries faded completely.  I remember my middle sister Lorna found out purely by chance. I was on the phone to my boyfriend, in the bathroom at our family home.  Our relationship was very tempestuous and, in a state, I remember shouting, “But I love you John!” My sister overheard and ran down to my mum going “Oh my god!!” Mum explained to her that she knew and was cool with it. Lorna gave me a hug and told me she loved me whatever. Bit by bit I told the rest of my family. I was lucky, no one had an issue. We are a very accepting family and I felt very loved. My other sisters Lynda and Lorraine can’t even remember me coming out. It’s just who I was.

By this stage though I was getting confused who knew the truth, who didn’t, and who thought I was just pretending to distract my interested friend.  It was at the work Christmas party in 1998 that all the pretence got too much and, in a drunken blur, I stood up in the middle of the restaurant and shouted “Yes, I’m gay!!” I then remember Barbie Girl by Aqua coming onto the stereo. The way I boogied to that must have left no one in any doubt I was telling the whole truth now. I have never looked back since – though I no longer dance.

Inevitably, despite me being so in love, that first, tantalising relationship ended in 2001. It had run its course. It taught me a lot, but I realise it was never meant to last for ever. I’m glad to say we are still friends though.

Now, 16 years later, I am married to a truly wonderful man, who I believe I am meant to be with forever. Together we have 3 amazing children. I couldn’t be happier. I love being gay. I love life. I love my family.DSC_0119_20140609212012609

The adoption agency tells us ‘No!’

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First I must apologise. My last blog on wanting more children left you on a bit of a cliff hanger. I never meant to leave it so long before writing this follow up. Sorry!
The thing is, we were turned down by the adoption agency initially. Not quite the words they used, but that was how it felt. It wasn’t exactly a no, more of a not yet. For us though,  it was still a not soon enough.
After we’d attended the adoption agencys’ information evening and signed to say yes! We want to adopt! We were assigned a social worker to complete an initial report on us.
We received a call from a lady from the adoption agency a few weeks later. She made an appointment to come and visit us at our home. As is my usual style, as the day approached I was nervous and fretting. What would she be like? What would she ask? Would she like us? What if I buggered it all up?!
We spent hours cleaning the house from top to bottom. Ivan baked cakes. I washed the dogs. It was more like we were trying to sell the house. In a way though, I guess we were trying to sell ourselves.
The evening she was due arrived in a haze of nervous excitement. This was the first real step to expanding our family. All we had to do was get this meeting out of the way and our journey would begin it’s next exciting leg. Or so we thought.
At the alloted time a formidable looking lady arrived at our home. I immediately felt like I was about to be interviewed by a governess. As is the true social services approach, we were grilled for hours. At least that’s how it felt.  We revealed all; who we were. Where we’re from. Our families, friends, loved ones. Our relationship history. What we were like as a couple. Where we lived, our neighbours, local amenities. Wil. The list went on. Once she’d exhausted us with her questioning, the social worker left.

Her parting words were “I’ll be recommending you wait for 18 months”. Shit! So much for the next leg of our journey. It felt like we’d been yanked back to the real world by the elastic on our breeches, like daydreaming schoolboys.

Of course she discussed the reasons for her decision with us. If I’m honest, it didn’t really sink in though.

We were devastated. We’d truly thought this was the start of the journey and that we’d be going full steam ahead. It felt like our dream was being taken away from us.
Her reasons were sound. Wil was only 6 months old at the time, they like an age gap of 2 years. Also she felt by waiting it would add longevity to our relationship, we’d been together for about 2 years at the time.
We were gutted though. The visit left us feeling like she had disapproved of us, as a couple, as people, as parents. Not from anything she said, just a feeling we’d got. In reality I know she was just doing her job, but we felt dismissed. Like she hadn’t given us a chance. We really felt we were ready. We knew we could make it work. Why couldn’t she see that? I realise that they have to go on policy, experience and learning from past situations and best practice. It just felt so wrong. We were a loving couple, already demonstrating we could raise a child – and there were so many children trapped in the care system it felt unethical, wrong, insane to wait. We also knew what a long process it could be, surely we should get the ball rolling, not wait 18 months?!
A week or so later we received the full report. Along with the formal recommendation that we wait for 18 months. As gutted as we were, the report was incredibly complimentary and a stark contrast to the impression she had left us with. It spoke about our qualities as a couple. Our beautiful home. The great job we were doing with Wil. Whilst it didn’t change our mind that we wanted more kids….and we wanted them now! It did make us appreciate that the decision wasn’t based on any form of disaproval, but instead on the social workers experience and best judgement.
Still, I wasn’t giving up. 18 months was such a long time to wait…

Marie Claire: Lights, camera, action!

Once Marie Claire had approached us to feature in an edition of their magazine we sat down as a family and debated whether to get involved or not. The brief they provided us with was that they were doing a segment on gay surrogacy. It was a hot topic again because Elton John and David Furnish had just had their baby using an American surrogate. To this day incidentally, we’re at a loss as to what happened to our invitation to their baby shower. Surely it must have got lost in the post or something? Elton if you’re reading this, no hard feelings. Anyway, Marie Claire assured us that the feature they were doing was a pro-surrogacy piece and that we would have full approval over the finished article.

We decided to do it. We’d debated long and hard but eventually decided enough time had passed that it was no longer sensational, or of interest to the tabloids. We also reflected back on the amount of good and positivity that the story had actually generated last time. A year on we were still getting messages from people, some of whom had gone on to be parents themselves, all as a direct result of seeing us have Wil. There’s something amazing about that. Something that fills me with pride and also generates hopes that society is changing and, that somehow, in a small way, we have been part of that. So, with that in mind we felt that our family being in such a glossy, mainstream magazine would help bring it to the attention of a different stream of people and also go some way to normalising it. After all being thought of as a normal family, as well as showing people that it could be done, was our ultimate goal.

Now I started to let myself get excited. We turned down a fee, asking only for travel expenses as we didn’t want to be out of pocket. Once we had decided to go ahead with the feature, Marie Claire wanted us there as soon as possible. Initially they wanted to come to our house. And we were tempted, we love where we live but we have 6 dogs and busy lives – we take shabby chic to a whole new level!  I just couldn’t face the idea of having to clean and tidy and make sure that everywhere was perfect. These photos were going to be in dentists’ waiting rooms across the country for god-sake. It had to be perfect.

We opted for plan two. Meet them at a shoot location in Southwark, London. How posh does that sound?

The one thing dampening our excitement was that Lorna was unable to make the date or time that Marie Claire wanted. They wanted to talk to her too but Lorna decided that if she couldn’t be there in person then she would rather just let it be about us. We were gutted that she couldn’t join us but she told us to go ahead anyway.

We took a trip to the shops and bought new outfits for us and Wil. I posted a picture the other day of Louis in the same shirt that Wil wore to the Marie Claire shoot. We had no idea at that time that our family would grow so much only a few years later.

The day arrived and excitedly we got on the train to London. When we arrived in London we were met by a car and driver. I can’t deny, I was like an excited schoolboy at his first disco. I had never been met by a car and a driver before! I decided straight away that I could get used to this. The car whizzed us from Waterloo station to the apartment that was going to be our home for the day. It was amazing. I could easily have had it as a weekend apartment, if I lived that sort of life. It was a loft/warehouse style building, with large, open-plan rooms beautifully furnished and it had a really homely feel to it. Up a set of ladders was also a magnificent roof terrace with the most stunning views across the city.

We were met there by the team from Marie Claire, led by the reporter doing our story, Andrea Thompson. Andrea introduced us to the photographer, stylist and others (who seemed to be there just to make tea, but who I am sure were an integral part to the day).  At first it all felt very unnatural, Andrea kept her distance whilst we all had our make-up and hair done. The photographer then followed us around the apartment and we were asked to play with Wil as though it was our home. They had provided some beautiful toys and props to use. We talked and played and laughed and tried to make it all look as natural as possible. Wil was amazing. He loved the fuss and attention he was getting from everyone. He was such a natural. Me on the other hand. I’m clearly a ‘proper’ man because I certainly can’t multi-task – you try smiling AND holding your belly in at the same time, I definitely failed at it!

The photographer was brilliant and literally took thousands of shots. When she was done with us it was time to be interviewed. We did this separately, one talked whilst the other entertained Wil. Andrea Thompson was clearly very good at her job. She was a senior reporter from Marie Claire and, when I googled her, I found that she had interviewed the prime minister a few weeks before. We were in good hands. Andrea had a great ability to make you feel relaxed enough to tell everything.

When the day had finished, and with us slightly on a media high, our driver conveyed us back to Waterloo station. As I stepped out of the car, onto the red carpet, Gerard took my hand. Oh shit! Mind wandering again. I think the media was going to my head. But actually, better than that, in a rare display of public affection, the real love of my life (sorry Gerard), Ivan, took my hand and together, with Wil, we departed London as a family united. The interview had clearly reminded Ivan what an amazing family we have.

We were more than happy with the final draft of the article.  And about 6 weeks later we received our copy in the post. There it was, we were in a glossy magazine! It was really fabulous. So well written and the pictures were just beautiful, despite my inability to hold my gut in.  Andrea had sent us a signed copy of the magazine, which takes pride of place in Wil’s memory box.

We definitely had no regrets about doing the article. It was done at the right time, for the right reasons. We felt also that by having no fee, we weren’t selling out. Hopefully it has changed at least one person’s mind about gays being dads, or shown them that they too could have a family if they want one. And if that’s the case, it was absolutely worth doing.

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And, in the spirit of complete honesty, I adored the fuss and attention that day. Such a stark contrast to the media experience we had been subjected to before. Maybe I could be in the spotlight after all…….

My dad’s struggle: My strength

I thought it about time that I gave you some background on myself. An insight into what makes me tick, and maybe a bit of an understanding why not failing as a father means so much to me. You see, I want you to understand what the real driver is behind me wanting to be the best dad I possibly can.

Of course I can’t deny that a large part of me wants to prove a point.  To show the haters and the disbelievers out there that we can do it, and do it well. Gays can be good dads. But if I’m honest, I know that this is more for my benefit than theirs. Because come on, lets face it, my children could invent a cure for cancer and the haters are going to find something wrong with that. I also know that, despite how competetive and stubborn I am, doing it for that purpose would be really unhealthy. Still, the desire  to do well is there all the same. I’m sure it is in everyone. I do believe that each of us have our own drivers though. Things that have happened or we have experienced  which has shaped what pushes us to always do better. Mine is my father.

Yesterday I wrote the poem “I promise you Son” and it got me thinking about my own dad.

My dad, Stephen Alfred Ponder, was the jolliest man you would ever have the pleasure of meeting. He was bright and bubbly and usually the life and soul of the party. He was never without a kind word, or a smile. He was also, and had been for as long as I can remember, an alcoholic.

It’s only as I reflect as an adult (well the nearest I will ever get to one), that I realise what an utter failure my dad must have seemed to those on the outside. I was young at the time and I think that my family shielded me from a lot. Children too have an amazing ability in making the best out of the situations they are in. My dad really wasn’t there much on a practical level. Particularly toward the end when my mum had to leave.

My mum was, is, the strong one. I cannot begin to imagine the torment and anguish she went through effectively raising four children on her own, with a man who was either drunk, absent or comatose for most of the time. Eventually, this took its toll on my Mum’s health. One person cannot be strong forever. My mum had no choice but to move away due to her deteriorating health. So in about 1991 it was just us and dad. Before anyone comments, my mum kept in touch and supported us financially and with visits and the like. I am utterly sure that Mum leaving was the best, in fact the only thing, she could have done. I do not think she would have survived if she had stayed. I have, and always will, admire my mum for her strength and courage in doing what she had to do.

My dad was a talented cook, a skill he had honed in the army. The drink however meant that he couldn’t hold a job down. For the last 6 years or so that I lived with Dad he didn’t work. The money that came into the house would many times be spent on booze before we were fed and clothed properly. The house was often dirty and uncared for. Do you know what though? When I think back to my childhood, the over-riding memory is how happy I was.

Of course, from as young as I can remember I knew that dad drank too much. We all did, my mum was very honest with us but it wasn’t something we spoke about with him. In our house, there was a small toilet and cloakroom downstairs. Dad’s room. I don’t know to this day whether he truly thought we didn’t know what he was doing in there but the chink of the bottles was always a dead give-away. As a kid, I was fascinated with that room. I would sneak in there and ferret through the jackets hanging up. It would always amaze me just how many bottles of vodka I could find stored in the ripped linings. I have found out since that one of my sisters used to do the same – but would go a step further and pour the drink in nearby sink! Go girl! Even at this age though I knew not to say anything to Dad about his drinking. It was an unwritten rule of the house. We spoke to each other about it, but never to Dad. He seemed happier believing that we didn’t have a clue.

From the moment that Mum left, things really began to slide. With no-one at the helm of the boat that was our life, it really started to drift. Now I’m not going to tell my sisters’ stories here, suffice to say I am sure they have many, and all from different perspectives. What I would like to say however is thank you. Thank you sisters for looking after me through those years and shielding me from the worst. The pain that you must have absorbed, in order to keep me happy and carefree, I can never repay. However, reflecting back, there was a limit to what you could do.

You see. I thought that it was normal to wear dirty clothes to school. To never be forced to have a bath or brush your teeth. I thought that all children had neighbours that fed you routinely. That’s just what neighbours do surely? I also thought it was normal for your father to be found comatose on the floor during the day. After all, no matter what happened, life still ticked on.  I bless my ignorance and resilience now. For when I let myself recall my childhood, it is one filled with fun, laughter and the best adventures ever.  I adored my childhood.

My dad was never violent or angry. In fact quite the opposite. He was jolly and soppy. He would whistle and sing all the time. And he was always there for a hug or a cuddle. You see, my dad might not have been there for me practically. But in terms of love, he overflowed with it.  My dad had the biggest heart and the biggest capacity to share it with me. It has made me realise now that love can overcome most things. Love really does shine through the gloom.  My dad didn’t mean to be a crap dad. I could clearly see that struggle in him. So my dad did the one thing that he could and just loved me a bit harder.

It’s easy to reflect back and think that he should have been able to get better. I mean, why not  if he loved us that much? But it was never going to happen and I made my peace with that a long time ago. I will always be grateful to my dad for the love that he showed me. I only hope that my children feel the love that I have for them half as much.  The lesson that I have learnt from dad however, is that love isn’t purely about the hugs and the kisses – as important as they are – it’s also about the everyday things. The things that matter on a practical level. The things that are easy to miss, but truly show how deeply you love someone. This is where I hope that I do things differently. I want to love my children emotionally like my dad did me. Along with this I want to love them enough to offer them the best home that they could possibly want or need. If I can achieve that then my job as a dad is complete. So far, I think that we are doing OK.

Dad died in 2005 aged 60 years old. I still think of him often and nearly always shed a tear when I do.

He was ill in hospital for a few weeks before he died – complete organ failure in the end due to the drink – no surprise. We all got to make our peace with Dad when he was in hospital. I am so happy that I had those final few weeks with him to tell him how I feel. I think that when Dad died, he was truly ready to go. The demons would no longer haunt him. He was at peace.

The night he died, myself and two of my sisters were called to the hospital. When we arrived, they told us the news that dad had died. We didn’t know what to do next. It was late, but none of us wanted to just go home. Rather ironically we took a trip to the local off licence. We picked up a truck load of booze and then headed to my Dad’s flat. We drank and remembered Dad, then drank and remembered him more. Strangely, it wasn’t a sombre occasion. Quite the opposite. We were happy in our memories and our sharing of them. At one point I remember we toasted Dad by sploshing alcohol all around his flat. Everything becomes a bit of a blur after that….

I do remember a few days later opening a letter that had come for Dad. It was a complaint from the council. Neighbours had complained that on the night Dad died,  that he was doing his washing way into the small hours! I would love to have seen the council workers’ faces when they opened my mum’s reply. In it she detailed that she was the widow of Stephen Ponder, who had died the night in question. She went on to request that, if there was a ghost going around doing peoples laundry, could they please send them her way!

I am going to leave you with the eulogy I wrote, and read, at my Dads funeral. I hope it goes some way to helping you see why I still feel I had the best Dad ever; but can still want a whole lot more for my children.

Stephen Alfred Ponder (18-05-1945 to 28-11-2005)

I don’t want to stand up here and paint my Father out to be a saint, many of you know that he wasn’t and he wouldn’t want to be remembered like that either.  I will always remember him as a good man however, a good man that had a horrible illness that caused him to make some bad decisions.

Sometimes it was hard to see Dad for the man that he really was – so often my vision of him was blurred from the alcohol he drank – that quite often it was difficult to believe that he really cared.  Having been sorting through his belongings recently however, I have been touched to find so many memories of myself and the rest of the family. He had photos of everyone tucked away in all manner of places, as though always to hand. He had cards and letters sent to him going back years. He had his place settings from his daughters’ weddings and many more memories of his many friends and the large family that he had. 

The last 6 weeks that I spent with my dad, and I know that I speak for my sisters here as well, have made me realise that none of the bad decisions Dad made are any longer significant, and that’s not just a grand gesture – it’s the facts.  When I reflect back on the 25 years that I have known Dad not one of the memories that I have is a bad one;

I remember Dad as always being jolly – someone that was always ready with a smile, a hug and a good word.  The Dad I remember taught me to fish – be it not very well, but he taught me to all the same.

I remember sitting on Dad’s knee and watching TV.   I remember Dad singing and whistling – all the time – something that I’ve inherited.  I remember Dad cooking, Dad was a great cook. Another legacy he left me is the ability to cook a fantastic spaghetti bolognaise.  I remember walks down the river and drinking shandy sitting in the sun.   I remember being loved.

These are just some of hundreds of memories that I have of Dad – memories that I didn’t even realise I had, until I started looking  for them.  It’s not only me however that remembers my Dad as a good person – I have spoken to various people that have known Dad for short or long periods of time of the 60 short years that he spent on this earth and the unwavering  opinion is, what a lovely man.

My father also left his mark through the businesses that he ran.  More than once Dad turned a wilting business into a thriving trade with places such as The Captains Table and The Wellington – places that are going strong to this day as a reminder of his success and hard work. More than once as a teenager, I remember walking past the Captains Table and saying to my friends – my dad ran that  place.  I was so proud of him.  I wish that I had told him.

I would like to finish by thanking my dad . Thanking him for always being there, even when I thought he wasn’t.  I would also like to thank him for the challenges that he threw our way throughout our lives, challenges that have made myself and my sisters far stronger and far more accepting people.  Lastly I would like to thank my father for loving me.

Goodbye Dad. Love you. Rest in Peace.

Pirate parties & Marie Claire

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After we moved into our new home, life became hectic and busy. Unfortunately for us, reality was biting us in the bum; we had to go back to work.
We are both serving Police Officers, and we carried on working full-time, at least initially we did.
We were lucky though, we found we had more angels in the family in the form of Ivans parents, or Nanny and Bampi as they are fondly known to the kids. It wasn’t merely by chance that they lived close by, we had after all moved back to where Ivan was born. The fact that we were so close however, was a godsend in the early days, still is in fact. Nanny and Bampi were more than happy to do all the childcare when Wil was young, and Ivan and my shifts overlapped.
Ivan’s parents had formed a really strong bond with Wil, very early on. Why wouldn’t they I guess. After all, he is the grandson that they never thought they would have, even in their wildest dreams. In turn, Wil adores his Nanny and Bampi and was more than happy to spend time with them. My thoughts were, and still are, that its healthy for kids to spend time with other, trusted, adults outside of the family home. We’ve found that rather than confuse our kids, its worked well to reinforce their attachment to us. And of course, it gives us a chance to work – or to have a break if we need it.
So, with a mix of working and the DIY that we had to do on the new house, the first year of Wils life simply flew by. Before we knew it we were planning his first birthday. Now this was a first for us, one of many that parenthood was bringing. We considered having a small, family affair, but quickly dimissed this idea. It had been a bloody brilliant year. A year filled with highs and lows, ups and downs. We deserved to celebrate. We also deserved to spoil not only Wil, but the amazing friends and family that had really proven their worth that year. We were going to party!
Ivan and Wil’s birthdays are only a few days apart, so we decided to combine the two and have an extended party – this has since turned into the Ponder-Sigston annual summer bash.
Planning a kids party was a whole new area of parenting that I hadn’t really thought about. But hey, surely I could call on my earlier mis-spent years partying for inspiration? I started planning and I loved it.
As many parents do, for our first party we opted for a pirate party, along with a bouncy castle. I took to the internet and started to order all manner of Pirate related items in preperation; from blow up Polly the Parrot to pirate flags, we had it all. And lets not forget the costumes. We didn’t make them mandatory, I hate that. But we certainly got into the spirit of it. We sent out about 100 invites to family and friends. We were looking at this as a chance to get together and really celebrate what had been an amazing year. We ordered in the BBQ food and started to prepare the buffet.
As the day drew closer I became increasingly nervous; would people turn up? Would they have fun? Would the sun shine for us? The joy of having a summer baby was, in theory, that we could make the most of the beautiful outdoor space we have and host the party in our garden. Would that really pan out?!
I woke the morning of the party to brilliant blue sky. I breathed a sigh of relief and with that all my concerns melted away. Our friends and family had more than shown us their outstanding qualities that year. They’d turn up and have fun. I just knew it.
I was happy to be proven right on that point straight away. As I wondered downstairs and into the top garden, I found Ivan’s nephew at the other side of the fence with a boat. He’d bought a bloody boat! Now that is really showing what a truly wonderful family we have. He had thought that we might need it for the party. He wasn’t wrong – between us we got it over the fence and into the garden. A few pirate flags and a fishing net and it was the perfect center piece to the party. We had just about got the last flags in place and the bouncy castle in and up, when the first guests started to arrive. They certainly didn’t let us down.
Wil and Ivan had a truly amazing day, in fact we all did. The sun shone, the kids played, the adults drank Ivans home-brewed Elderflower champagne. It was magical and a day that will always stay with me.
People drifted in and out throughout the day. Wil, having been utterly spoilt, he deserved it, was his usual easy self and went off to bed at about 8pm and straight to sleep. He must have been overflowing with the love and affection that he was shown by everyone that day. The party kids drifted home, happy, fed, and carrying the party bags they had earned from a treasure hunt.
The adults then partied until about 2am. Shattered as I was, I remember sitting on the decking with our amazing network of friends and family, slightly pissed, thinking just how perfect life was.
The media madness that had occurred a year before seemed a distant memory.
Our first party was a success! Another parenting point ticked off the list.

Ironically, it was only a short while later that we were approached by the magazine Marie Claire. They wanted to do a piece on us and our family. Unlike last time, this would be on our terms. Did we really want to stir up the hornets nest again though?

We had some serious thinking to do….

Country life: Breaking the prejudice

So following on from the birth of our Son, Wil, who was the first baby ever to be born to a gay couple (us) by a UK surrogate (my wonderful sister), following a change in the law, we try to settle into family life (see previous blogs for full story). Instead a move is forthcoming and a challenge on our own prejudices…

We settled into parenthood with suprising ease,  reiterating to me that we could not only do this, but could actually be good at it. Wil really was a contented baby, and still is a contented child. He ate, played and slept well, and stuck to a rough 3 hour routine. This didn’t seem to change whether he was at home or out and about. Oh, and to the frustration of a few Mums we know, he slept through the night from about 6 weeks. We can’t really take credit for this however, with Wil, we were just along for the ride!  He was really making it easy though, and we loved being fathers. We still do, more than ever. Wil slotted straight into our life, like he was truly meant to be there.

Our family and friends were, and still are, truly amazing. Even though for them it must have been a shock when we announced our intention to be Daddy’s. Not one of them (obvious exception in media mole here), were anything but supportive, happy, and excited for us. The way that our friends and family weathered the media storm too still humbles me now. After all, the decision that we had made to be fathers had caused the newspaper intrusion, as out of our control of it as we were, the fact that it affected those we care about most was devestating to us. The reaction and support that we had from those closest to us definitely demonstrated their utter quality to us. Thank you.

The one thing that seemed to be putting a dampener on things however,  was where we lived. I can’t deny that I have always wanted to move back to the country. I was raised in rural Cambridgeshire (big up the Fens) and I loved it. I loved the freedom I had. The sense of space and adventure everyday. Where we lived in Southampton however suited us at that time. The house was beautiful and big enough for another 6 children or so! The location was great too – there was space near by where we could run the dogs and we had the convenience of the City close by. It had been spoilt for us though.

From the day the reporters forced their way into the garden, into our life, we just couldn’t shake the feeling that our home had been violated. The reporters had infiltrated our sanctuary and poisoned it for us.

It wasn’t just the home however. I think that paranoia had started to set in and when we walked to the shops, or the local park, we couldn’t shake the feeling that we were being watched, stared at, judged. I’m sure that as much of this was our imagination as it was reality. It didn’t help though that local paper had printed the story, along with where we lived. OK, so they didn’t print the street name and house number, but were specific enough to be a cause for concern. The worst bit was, the comments that they received on our story were so nasty and twisted that they had to withdraw the comments page. The negative aura that this created at the time did nothing to help us feel comfortable in our home. It was the last thing we wanted, It didn’t change the fact that we were ecstatically happy at being parents, we just didn’t need that negativity.

We were far from ashamed or even afraid. In fact, quite the opposite. We are damn proud of being parents, not shy about who we are or where we’re from. This is our Son. We are his Dad’s. Love us or hate us, but you will never part us.

One moment sticks in my mind. Wil was a few weeks old and we had ventured to the local supermarket. As old people do, they would often approach us, so that they could coo over or newborn. This one lady in particular. Really sweet she was. Very complimentary about Wil and how adorable he was. And then she said “Who’s the Daddy?”. I must admit at this point I giggled like a school kid and almost asked her, wasn’t it obvious? But when she followed it up with “Are you giving Mummy a break?” I realised that she wasnt asking about the dynamics of our relationship, but questioning Wils parentage. Dragging my mind back from the gutter I told her that we were both his Daddy. I can still see her look at me and blink in confusion a few times saying “I’m sorry?” Assuming she wasn’t apologising for us, I told her that he had two Dads, and that he didn’t have a Mum (not in a practical sense anyhow.  Wil will always know where he came from and be free to make his own choices as difficult as that may be for us).  But anyway, the sweet old lady was now backing away with a look of shock on her face. With a final “Oh” she turned and hurried off. Now I don’t think for one minute she was judging us. In fact my over-riding sense was that she was embarrassed, flustered, and just didn’t know how to react. It took me straight back to the hundreds of times that I have had to tell someone I am gay, after they made the assumption that I was straight (yes, it does happen you know.) Someone once told me, probably quoting someone famous, that as a gay person you have to come out every day. Its true. We all make assumptions about people and live by ingrained stereotypes. Rightly or wrongly, it always happens. And I always feel awkward when it does.; “So what’s your wifes name?” When they see my wedding band. “I don’t have a wife. I have a husband.”  “Oh, right.” I hate that look that comes over their face and the awkward silence that ensues. I’m never cross, not at all. We all do it. I’ve considered avoiding the truth, but dismissed that notion quickly. Without openess and honesty, the world is never going to change or know that there is another way.  It was the same with the old lady. I felt bad for her. But we’re not ashamed, we’re not embarrassed and, though we’re far from intentional spokespersons, we realised that we were in a position where we are influencing people, challenging their ideas about family, parenthood, and love. We might not want to be there, but we had, have, a responsibilty to start to ease the way for others who are in a similar position, or contemplating starting a family such as ours.

The real purpose of this example though was to demonstrate why we wanted to get away from Southampton.  Amazingly the gods aligned and we had the opportunity to move to a village close to where Ivan was raised, in the New Forest. It was perfect and we snatched the opportunity with both hands. When Wil was 3 months old we moved to our current home. A 3 bedroom, detached cottage in the middle of the woods, in a beautiful, small, New Forest village. It was the perfect place to raise Wil, and any subsequent children that came along. Our dogs would be able to run free. We could get chickens and grow vegetables. It was idlyic. We had an immediate sense of coming home when we stepped through the door. I had made it back to the country.

Despite our eagerness to grasp this opportunity, we couldn’t help but be a bit worried about going to such a small vilage. A community that was sure to be close-knit, judgemental, narrow-minded? After all, a multi-cultural area such as Southampton struggled. Maybe it would be worse? We decided the risk was worth it and we would keep ourselves to ourselves.

I’m cross at myself now. Cross and ashamed. There I’d been harping on about changing peoples views and pre-conceived notions and I was as bad as any of them. Judging people, putting them into boxes, not even giving them a chance. Mostly I’m a bit embarrassed. The village couldn’t have been anymore welcoming. Not one person battered an eyelid or questioned our family with anything other than genuine curiosity and acceptance. I tell you what. They’ve certainly taught me a lesson. We have been embraced into the heart of the community. We’re not special, or different, or a novelty. We’re normal. Normal people demonstrating that anyone can have a normal family. They had given us what we had always wanted.

I love it when that happens. When people don’t live up to my pre-conceived expectation and stereotype, but instead challenge it. Challenge my opinion, and start to chip away at the bigot that lurks deep inside of me. Deep inside most of us. We all have some small part to play in challenging what others think is normal. My village did it for me. I hope that we as a family are doing it for others.

So, sorry to my fellow villagers, sorry and thanks for teaching me a lesson in love and acceptance. Thank you for breaking my prejudice.

Lots of love, S xx

Media madness: A shock to the system

You know, I always thought I’d enjoy being in the limelight; a focus of the newspapers and the TV. Who hasn’t??  In my imagination though it was to celebrate my acting prowess or promoting my first album. Neither of these were anymore likely than being asked on a date by Gerard Butler. Mmm, Gerard. Definitely a close second to Ivan. What I could do with Gerard…

Oops, sorry. Where was I?

Oh yes, media. Well I can’t act, and I sure as hell can’t sing, so I’d given up on the whole media attention thing many moons ago. Imagine my surprise,  horror in fact, to wake up a few days after Wils birth to discover we’d made the front page of The Sun.

We’d been warned by our legal advisor, Natalie Gamble, that the media loved a surrogacy story and that this one would be of particular interest to them. Natalie had advised us at the time that we either had to be very cautious, or embrace the media and approach them ourselves. We were unanimous that we had no interest in approaching the media. The decision for us to have a baby was a private one. To be shared with family and friends. The people that mattered.

If I’m honest, I don’t think we really believed that us having a baby would be of interest to anyone. Despite that however, we were very careful. We told close family and friends who we trusted only. We asked them to be mindful of what Natalie had said and to not share the news until we’d made it public. We told our work of course, we needed to make plans after all, but only on a need to know basis. We felt we’d done everything we could to keep things under wraps.

It was a couple of weeks before Wil was born that things changed a bit. At the time we lived in a detached bungalow in Southampton. The property was surrounded by 6′ fencing and was accessible by key coded gates only. Ivan walked out into the garden one day and was shocked to find a reporter stood in the back garden outside the door. The reporter said that he knew we were having a baby through a surrogate and that he wanted to tell our inspiring story. He said that he was there to give us that opportunity. Ivan saw red. This man had trespassed into our garden. Trespassed into our life. He was threatening what already meant the world to us. Ivan told the reporter to fuck off out of our garden, telling him we had no interest in selling ‘our story’.

You know. We still genuinely thought that there was nothing interesting in what we were doing. We were just having a baby for crying out loud. People do it every day, in every which way. Yes it was special to us and our families. But why the hell would anyone else be interested? Naively we thought that this would be the end of it. We worried for a bit, but when no article was forthcoming we thought that Ivan had scared him off.

A couple of weeks later to our utter delight Wil was born. Healthy. Happy. We were so ecstatic. The day Wil was born we slept for a few hours at Lorna’s. I say slept, but that’s not entirely accurate. Wil slept at the foot of our bed in a moses basket while we gazed on. We were so in love with him already. He was, is, perfect. When it was late enough in the morning to be able to sensibly leave we took Wil home. We knew we’d have to return the next day for a health check, but we just wanted to get home. Start family life as we meant to go on. It was so amazing walking into our home with Wil.  Introducing him to the dogs. To the house. To us. We cherished being able to enjoy our amazing new son without distraction. Probably selfish of us really, but we felt it important as a family.

The next day we headed back to Sussex. The health check went well. After that we wandered up to the registry office with Lorna to register his birth. It was a blissful couple of days. We were shattered from it all, god knows how Lorna must have felt, but though we were exhausted we were definitely floating on a high. After showing off our beautiful son to our family, Ivan and I headed home to Southampton.

The next morning I woke early. I checked the computer and saw I had a new message on Facebook. I didn’t recognise the name, so interested clicked on the message. “I have just read your story in the Sun and wanted to say what a wonderful thing you have done. All the best to you and your family.” I can still feel my heart sink. My pulse raced and my hands shook as I processed what the message said. I could feel the tears threatening to spill over as I started a Google search…

Gay Policeman have baby using sister as surrogate. The headline screamed at me from the computer. There was a picture of us with Lorna, when we’d registered Wil’s birth the day before, clearly taken with a telephoto lens. WTF! I could feel everything shaking as I read the article. It was detailed. They knew things that only a close friend could. Down to the colour we’d originally painted the nursery. We’d been betrayed. That’s what hurt the most.

I went downstairs to Ivan. I couldn’t hold in the tears as I told him what I’d found. He held me as I shook, the shock too much. Once we’d both calmed down we re-read the article. Ironically it was beautifully written. Pretty much spot on in terms of accuracy. It was very pro us and talked about what a joyous occasion it was. It even went into describing Ivans army service in Northern Ireland and a Royal Humane Society award he’d been awarded for saving a man’s life a few years earlier.  They had plenty of detail. We’d clearly been sold out. And that’s what we were finding most difficult to get over. We tortured ourselves trying to work out which of our trusted friends had betrayed us. And for what reason?  Money, greed, jealousy?  We couldn’t believe that any of them had done this to us, but there was no other explanation.

If we’d known the madness to come, I think we’d have made more of that day. Instead we ventured out only to buy a copy of the paper and then dwell on it. Sure, Wil counteracted this somewhat, but when he was sleeping I went back to worrying. I took to trawling the comments on the Suns website. I was heartened to see many congratulations included in the comments. Strangers wishing us the best. Then there was the dark side. The hundreds of people saying we were evil and selfish to bring a child into the world in the way we had. We were monsters that were cruelly bringing a child into our life when we knew he would be bullied and ridiculed throughout his life. One comment in particular stays with me; “How dare these selfish people be so selfish as to bring a child into the world knowing that he will be teased. I pity that they are so desperate. If they want something to look after they should get a pink poodle.” I was so angry. How dare they. I fucking hate poodles and can’t bear pink. But seriously,  it was one of many comments that really made me see what bigoted, narrow minded idiots there are in the world. I had to shut the computer down and go and hug our son. A son we bought into this world out of love and with serious consideration. Knowing that we could provide a home full of love, warmth and happiness and provide him with the tools to deal with the narrow minded bigots, that he would inevitably encounter, with strength and dignity and a quick jab to the throat if needs be.

After a sleepless night I again woke early the next day. This time it was the buzzer going off. I went to the gate and was gobsmacked to find reporters and photographers crowding the house. I just slammed the gate and went back indoors. They continued to shout over the fence and take photographs into the garden and the windows. It was madness. What the hell was going on. We’d just had a bloody baby for godsake. Leave us alone to enjoy it.  That day we had to visit the children’s center for them to weigh and check Wil over. We’d been really excited about this, but now we were just worried. We rang ahead to let them know in case they wanted us to avoid coming down. They were brilliant and said they’d lock the doors and for us to come on down. We got Wil ready and secured him in his car seat. As the electric gates opened to let us out of our garden the press crowded in. Their cameras bashed against the window and the flashes exploded in our faces. I tried to cover Wil’s face as Ivan edged out through the crowd. As we turned into the road and started to pull away we realised they were jumping into cars and following. We were being paparazzi’d for crying out loud!  It took all of Ivans driving skills, but he managed to lose them before we reached the children’s center. The appointment was amazing and the staff fantastic.

Unfortunately when we returned home the reporters were still there waiting. Calling. Hounding. In the end we had to call our colleagues in the Police to try and get them moved. It seemed to work for a while. The story had been taken up by all the local and national papers. In fact, in the weeks to follow we found out it had gone worldwide.

Our messages and email went crazy. We had offers from newspapers, magazines, television, radio. Lorraine Kelly wanted us on her show. C4 wanted to make a documentary on us. Lily Allen got in touch. Ok, that was cool. For 24 hours she was my friend on Facebook… And she added me I’ll have you know. I think my crazy messaging might have scared her off though as she disappeared from my friends list.

Truth is. We were offered thousands of pounds to sell our story. Trouble is. It wasn’t a story. It was our life. Our family. Our son. We turned it all down. We just weren’t interested. Sure, there was a certain temptation…great savings fund for Wil. But it felt wrong. If nothing else it would fuel the interest in the story and things were far too stressful to do that.

When we wouldn’t talk,  and the press were getting no joy from Lorna either, they started to hunt down our friends and family. Luckily no one else spoke to them. The fools even turned up at Ivans parents. The image of his dad chasing them down his driveway still sticks with me as though I was actually there! Priceless!

We had to start screening out the hundreds of horrible, nasty, threatening messages that were there. Instead we took strength from the many more messages that told us of the hope that we had given people. The hope that they too could have a family. People who said that until they’d read our story they had no reason to live. They didn’t want to be gay they wanted a family, but now they saw that both could go hand in hand. We heard from people all over the world. Messages that gave us strength and made us realise that good easily kicks bads butt. We never did find out which ‘friend’ sold our son out. I don’t care now. Thankfully, in the days, weeks and months that followed the press grew less interested. The story died but the change that had occurred and the hope that it had given people could never be changed.

The thing that makes us proudest of all is the realisation that, in one small moment, at 05:09hrs on 11/07/2009 our son William had made history. He was a first and that couldn’t happen again. He had changed the world for good without even knowing it.