The other morning we woke up to our son’s beloved Blue Fish laying on the bottom of his fish bowl. For a week now, the fish wasn’t his normal self. Blue Fish would bury himself under the rocks and hardly swim around. We knew something was wrong with him. He was normally quite active and would always come say hello every morning when we fed him.
This was Milo’s first pet. He was so excited to go to the pet store to pick him out. He knew right away which one he wanted and we bought a bowl, food and some rocks and we were ready to go. We asked Milo what he wanted to name his fish, and immediately he said, “My fishy’s name is Blue Fish!” (The fish was blue of course!!) Milo would laugh and stare at him in the fishbowl swimming around. He would feed him and would also help us clean out the bowl.
That morning when Milo found out that Blue Fish wasn’t alive anymore, we told him Blue Fish had died during the night and he immediately began crying and said, “I miss him! Why is he not swimming?!” We were surprised by his reaction. We didn’t expect him to even understand the word death. We are always taken aback at this age, with the depth of our three year old’s understanding of language, especially words we do not use very often.
Some of his favourite movies like Lion King, Finding Nemo and Big Hero 6 include scenes about death but Milo has never reacted to them, or asked us about it. Some of our friends tell us their kids get very upset when they watch these scenes, but we have never seen Milo react to them, so it was a surprise to us when he cried that morning.
How do we explain the concept of death to our three year old or do we really need to at all? Does he really need to understand death at such a young age? I know even at our ages, Frankie and I don’t like to think about death, why would I want my son to think about something that is so sad?
We had to tell him something as he wanted to know why we were putting blue fish down the toilet. What language would we use so he could understand? How much in detail do we go?
We talked about it briefly with each other before explaining it to Milo. We decided since he is only three years old, keeping it short and simple would be the best way.
We have watched Finding Nemo many times and in one scene in the movie Gill says to Nemo, “All drains lead to the ocean, kid.” We thought we could use this idea that the toilet drain goes to the lake, so we would bring Blue Fish to the toilet to flush him.
We explained to Milo that Blue Fish got very sick and it was time for him to return to his family. Sometimes animals and people get very sick, and they need to go back with their family members that are waiting for them so they can take care of them again. We all said something nice about Blue Fish before sending him back to be with his family. Before flushing Blue Fish, Milo says,”Bye Blue Fish. I love you!” Whenever we talk about going to the beach, Milo says “We can see Blue Fish!”
Did he fully understand the concept? We don’t know for sure. But what we do know is that he knows Blue Fish is gone and it was time for him to return to his family. And he was ok with that.
We were actually pretty surprised how well Milo took the news of Blue Fish passing. It could’ve gone either way. He could have had a difficult time with it and cry or handle it the way he did. We were happy he went for the latter. We feel that explaining death to a toddler, keeping it simple is best. Eventually when he gets older, we can get into more detail about death and what it means, but for now, we feel this is all he needs to know. And he gets it.
Death is a part of life and we will all experience it at some point. Whether it be the death of a pet or a loved one, we should all love and appreciate every one and everything in our lives while we have the opportunity before they are gone.
This year has been filled with so many amazing memories and celebrations. My mother turned 70, my parents are celebrating 50 years of marriage (which is incredibly amazing!), my son turned 3, and my husband BJ and I celebrated our 10 year anniversary together. There was another huge milestone I celebrated this year; ten years ago I checked myself into rehab for the third and final time and gave up a bad drug habit knowing that if I didn’t do it at that point, I was going to die. I chose to live.
I remember telling my parents that this was going to be the time. Third time’s a charm right? I think they kind of rolled their eyes at me when I told them that–they had heard it many times before. Our trust had been broken, but for me, this time was different. I knew I was going to die if I kept going the way I was. When you are on drugs you are not really living. I rarely left my house, except to go out to get more drugs, and I had pushed away anyone who had ever loved me. I mean if you hate yourself it is pretty hard to let others love you.
I am often asked what led to my addiction? That is not an easy thing to answer, though one would think after all that group therapy I would have some clear ideas as to what my triggers were. Was it the internalized homophobia I felt growing up? Was it the fear of fitting in with my peers? Was it the severe anxiety I had about coming out to friends and family? Was it all the rejection I felt when I finally did came out? Was it the “gay-scene” itself with its rampant drug use? Or was it the fact I would never have the family and the white picket fence I had always dreamed of? It was definitely a combination of all the above. A deadly concoction for sure. I used drugs to numb all those feelings—they were too much for my sensitive soul to handle. I didn’t feel loved or worthy of love and that was killing me inside. These are all things I am still working on, and probably will be for the rest of my life, but I have found other ways to deal with those feelings now.
This all seems like a lifetime ago. It’s amazing just how much my life has changed in the past ten years. I could have never imagined such a life for myself. I was living hour by hour back then on social assistance just trying to make it through a day. Now look at me, married with a child, and because of a viral photo our family is now part of an iconic image that has helped change people’s ideas of what it means to be same-sex parents. Can you believe it? A former addict. It’s amazing how we can reinvent ourselves. Life is short and you need to live it to the fullest.
I wondered recently why I didn’t make more fanfare around this milestone this year. Why didn’t I have a party to celebrate (and I do love a good party!)? Why didn’t I acknowledge it with my friends and family? I am a teacher and a father now which means I am a role model for my students and my son. Sometimes I feel these two things are at odds with one another. I mean, how can a former addict be a good role model? Or can I? In fact, I can understand what many of my students are going through. I empathize with mental health issues, having struggled myself over the years, and I use strategies learned through counselling and rehab to help my students succeed at tasks that might seem too hard to achieve. If I can kick drugs, I can definitely help others achieve their goals. But I rarely get to talk about my past and share my story anymore. To be honest, I am not even sure all my family members know about my past. I used to volunteer at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) here in Toronto and talk to my peers that were new in rehab about how I finally achieved success. But life happens and that has fallen by the wayside I am afraid. Having a child can do that.
Frank volunteering at CAMH, 2007
Recently, I have been thinking a lot about how I can best use my past experience to educate my son and my students as to the dangers of some drugs out there. I know I do not want to sound anything like Nancy Reagan, as I don’t think a “Just Say No” stance really works. I worry that if I were to share my past with my son, that this could open up a can of worms and give him the opportunity to use the old “like father like child” excuse. We have seen many celebrity offspring following in their parents troubled past. Though people like Kelly Osbourne grew up with her father doing drugs around her all the time, that is not the case for Milo. I could also get it thrown back in my face, but I guess those are the risks I have to take. I know my parents’ generation would just have me sweep it all under the rug and pretend it never happened. But I believe information is education, and I should use my experiences, both successes and failures, to help both my son and students to navigate their futures.
I don’t know how or when I will share this with my son. He is only 3 so I figure I have a few years to think about it. But I know I don’t want my son to grow up with lies. The truth will always set you free. I found that out when I finally came out and I have tried to live an authentic life ever since. I would love to hear from others who have had a similar experience to mine.
My father immigrated to Canada from Italy when he was 26 years old. He left his homeland in search of a better life, for himself, and his future family. My father defines the Canadian dream. He came to Canada with only two suitcases, which now hold my sister’s Barbie dolls. He did not speak any English; he did not have many friends. The only thing he did have was a dream to be successful and make it in this country.
My Father at 26 years old
He had various jobs when he arrived to Canada. He worked in a winery and worked in a local bakery delivering bread to houses. He took English classes at night so he could work during the day. He worked hard and long hours. He saved everything he made and after years of committing his life to the bakery, he ended up purchasing it from the owners who were retiring.
Through many sacrifices, hard work and long hours, he lived out his dream and is very successful at it. I always admired the person he is. My father is in his 70’s now, yet he still wakes up early, goes to work, and spends most of his waking moments at the bakery. After more than 40 years, my parents still own and operate the bakery.
At the bakery with my Dad, sisters and cousins from Italy
Making wine in our garage
When reflecting on my childhood, my happiest memories with my dad were making wine with him in our garage, making homemade sausage, going on bike rides, taking road trips up to Toronto with my sisters to pick up supplies for the bakery, and when we went to Italy to visit family. Although my dad worked long hours, he did his best to teach us his traditions and spend time with all four of his kids.
My Dad and I in Italy, 1993
My Dad and I in Italy, 1996
We may not agree on things all the time, but I truly appreciate all he has done for me. He sacrificed his life to provide a better one for his family. He taught us family traditions, modeled a good work ethic, and always provided for us. These are qualities I hope to pass on to our son, Milo. I am excited to do the things with him that my father did with me. I want to take him bike rides, teach him to bake, and show him the world. There is nothing more rewarding about being a parent than seeing your child grow and learn.
Although I’m lucky enough to celebrate being a dad every day, I’ll admit it’s nice to have a day dedicated to fatherhood. So, let me take the opportunity to with all the fathers, grandfathers, uncles—and anyone who is a parental figure—a very happy day this Sunday.
And to my own father: Happy Father’s Day, Papa. I love you.
When Milo turned two, friends and family would say, “Just wait for the terrible twos to start!” They came, they were terrible, (ok not all the time) and travelling with a two year old was trying at times, but it was still enjoyable (kind of)!
Milo just turned three at the end of June, and all of a sudden, he became a threenager. What the heck is a threenager you ask?! Well let me tell you. It’s when your three year old knows better than you, pretty much defies EVERYTHING you ask them to do and they will have a melt down over the simplest little things!
Life is now a huge production and we live on Milo time now! A certain little person has opinions, and lots of them!
There are questions, and the answer given is never good enough! “Why Dada?, Why Papa?” are probably the words we hear the most during the day!
Forget about kisses and saying I love you. Kisses are wiped off and when we say, “I love you Milo” he says, “I don’t love you!”
Everything is NOW NOW NOW! “I want to go to the playground NOW!” or “I want a chocolate egg NOW!” Any form of waiting is thrown out the window at this point!
He wants to be picked up and carried EVERYWHERE, even though he is more than capable of walking. Not to mention he weighs more than a sack of flour at this point!
Going to bed now takes about two hours! He has to choose his book. Then the book he chooses he doesn’t like, so he needs a new one. The lights have to be turned on and off about 1000 times. We can’t forget about jumping on the bed for half an hour too. Finally. comes the, “Lay with me Papa” and 7:00 pm bedtime turns into 10:00 pm!
Why would it be easy to put on your shoes and jacket and go outside? Let’s run around the kitchen a bazillion times, then go limp like a wet noodle when you try to pick him up! Why make this process easy?!
You can never do things yourself anymore. Your threenager insists on doing everything for himself . You open the door and he screams, “NO! Me do it!” So you have to shut the door and let them open it. Only to have him slam it and start laughing!
Naps are virtually non existent at this point, even though they are super tired and need one because they didn’t go to bed until 11:00 pm and up at 5:00 am and have been on the go from the moment they wake up!
Milo really likes to tell us to “Shush!” If he is watching TV and we ask him a question, “Shush!” he will yell at us!
Although it’s tough at times and Milo pushes our last nerves, this new stage is fun and exciting. He really is becoming his own little person with a huge personality. He is confident, social, hospitable, smart, loving, and funny, and not to mention stubborn. He tells funny stories (even though we don’t understand them half the time) but he laughs his head off at them! He is also very affectionate. (When he wants to be!)
Apparently it gets better, the next stage is the F%$k You Fours!! Yay! Can’t wait!!
My parents have been a huge inspiration to me. They have been amazing examples of how to keep a marriage happy and more importantly how to keep each other happy. When I think about what I want from my marriage, or how I should treat my husband and my family, I look no further than one of the happiest marriages I know, the one of my parents.
To celebrate my parents 50th wedding anniversary this year, I came up with 10 things I learned about relationships from my Mom and Dad!
No matter how old you are, or how long you have been married sex is very important! My parents were not shy about their bodies (though I wish they had been sometimes lol) or the fact that they loved a good roll in the hay. In our house growing up we knew if the headboard was a-rockin, don’t come a-knocking! When our friends parents were getting divorced, I was always happy to see their door locked!
Be romantic! In our house we learned that flowers and cards are not just for Valentine’s Days and birthdays – they are for whenever. I loved how both my parents hid cards for each other when they went away without each other. It was so nice to watch two people who genuinely loved each other and to see the smile on their faces as you found a card the other had hid in their suitcase or under the pillow was priceless.
Do stuff with your family! Whether it was the cottage, Ontario Place, the Sonny and Cher concert, going to Disney, Mexico or Florida, my favourite memories were of us spending quality time together. This hasn’t changed now with the grandkids either. My parents both seem to have boundless amounts of energy and never want to disappoint.
If you took money out of the equation, there would be a lot less fighting. I did learn from a young age that money can cause a lot of fights. I do remember each month when the Visa bill would come in, there was usually a fight in the house. What matters is what my parents did after the fight and how they get over it. My parents didn’t let fights go on for days or weeks, they got over them quickly and taught me that it is more important to be happy than being right….even though I do love being right!
Appreciate what each other contributes to the relationship. Treat each other like equals and with respect. Whether you are the breadwinner or the stay at home parent, you both have an equal say in how to raise your family.
Have each other’s backs! Whether they thought the other was right or wrong, they always supported one another. I always really respected this in both of them. If someone hurt one of them, if was like they hurt both of them. They were always a team and stuck by each other, which is something I always admired.
What really matters in life is that you are happy! My parents told us this over and over as kids. They never tried to push us into hobbies, career paths or relationships that were not right for us. They always told us it was our life and the thing they wanted most for us was happiness.
Have your own life! They showed us that it is just as important to spend time together as it is to spend time apart from the marriage. It is important to have your own friends and hobbies and to create a life for yourself outside the marriage. The key to happiness in a relationship is to also feel fulfilled as a person, and not just as a parent.
Money is meant for sharing! My parents have always been so generous with us and our families. They have always made sure we had everything we could ever need. I can see the pure joy they get from helping us achieve our goals and dreams in life., and I can’t wait to help our son Milo, achieve his dreams.
And lastly, the most important thing I have learned from their marriage is….if you really screw up, just buy a diamonds! It always seemed to work for my dad!
On Feb 10, 2017, we had a very interesting evening. We were in our basement when we heard a knock at our front door. We thought it was the dinner we ordered but instead Frank opened the door to find five teenage boys who told him they were doing a school project. He thought this was odd as it was almost 7:30 in the evening, but as a high school teacher Frank listened to what they had to say.
They started to sing a silly song, and they became very rowdy. I came upstairs as I became concerned as to what was happening. In the meantime as I ascended the stairs, they asked Frank, “What do you think of the LGBT Community”, Frank asked them, “What do you mean?” and they said, “Never mind!” then ran away and wrote the following on our vehicle:
“Fuck LGBT” was written on our windshield
I immediately called the police, and they responded quickly and efficiently. Things could have been worse, and thankfully, for our sake, it was not. The police apprehended three of the five boys, and brought them back to our house in the back seat of the cruiser to apologize for the incident and for their behaviour. We are thankful to the police for helping us and we hope the boys learned a valuable lesson. We hope this is the first and last time that they decide to do this–to us, or to anyone.
We are very fortunate that we live in Canada, more so Toronto, where we feel it is a progressive, open, accepting city. It is legal for gay people to live freely, marry whomever they love, and start a family. Other countries in the world still treat the LGBTQ+ community as second class citizens, where they are denied basic human rights, and even killed for just being gay.
As educators, we want to use this experience as a teachable moment.We are a family, just like any family out there.It is not ok to harass anyone based on their sexual orientation or for any other reason. If given the opportunity, this is what I would want to say to them:
“You apologized for your actions and we appreciate that, but what you did was not ok and made us question our safety and our son’s safety. We understand you are young and this may have been a “prank”, but please know that gay people every day of their lives are ostracized, bullied, and mistreated just because of who they are. This is something that we take seriously. This type of behaviour is not accepted, and will not be tolerated. We are gay and are different from your “traditional” family, but we are a family nonetheless. We hope that you will never have to feel unsafe in your own home like you made us feel that night. Hopefully you learned from this, and you can learn to accept everyone. We forgive you and one day you can open your hearts and minds and not treat others like this again.’
Will this incident deter us from being who we are, or second guess our neighbourhood and community? Absolutely not. Will this incident make us more vocal in the fight against homophobia and support those that need help? Absolutely. At first we tried to figure out how they boys knew that we were gay, and then we realized it didn’t matter, because we are not going to change who we are or how we live our lives. We will hang a Pride flag from our porch this summer and make sure we hang it with pride more than ever.
One of the things in life that we are most proud of is our family. In Ontario, the third Monday of every February is a holiday called Family Day. We have a day specifically reserved to spend with the ones we love. As many of you know, we had Milo through surrogacy. Every family has their own story, Each family is unique, and that is what makes it special.
Clockwise from top left: Debbie and Family (Ontario), Henry and Family (North Carolina), Michael and family (New York), Josh and son.(Illinois)
In Michelle Blessings article, Meaning Of Family, she states, “Whether made of blood relatives, friends, or pets, or a combination of these, your family can offer you the support you need to thrive.” We may not all get along with members of our own family, agree on issues, or even talk to one another. Every family has its challenges.There are many definitions of the word family. We all define what family means to us differently. To me, family means “The people in my life who love me unconditionally, support, and care about my wellbeing and the wellbeing of others.”
Clockwise from top left: Zelig and daughters (New York), David L. and family(California), David B. and family (California), Deanna and family (Ontario)
I asked my friends on social media to define what family means to them, and I would like to share some of their responses;
“To me, family represents your sphere of individuals, whether you share DNA or not, with whom share an unrelenting connection with. Family is when you are willing to share your love, hurt, pain, triumphs, happiness and everything in between with other.” Octavious SH (North Carolina)
“Family is more than just blood….You find family wherever people love each other.” Dot M. (Ontario)
Clockwise from top left: Anthony and family (New Jersey), John and family (Ontario), Joseph and family (California), Lanrick and family (Ontario)
“Family is just about love: my mother is my family; some of the friends of mine (very few ones actually) are my family; I am my family!” Alessio G. (Italy)
“I have found my friends are more my family than actually blood related members. I can count on my family/friends more than my actual family.” Louie O. (Ontario)
“Family means to me is not just my flesh and blood. It also means friends also. It doesn’t matter if u are related or not I have best friends that are family too.” Marcea S. (New York)
Clockwise from top left: Randi and family (Ontario), Tim and family (Illinois), Shawn and family (Illinois), Sheila and family (New Jersey)
“Family are the people who love you unconditionally, will always have your back, and who can always see the good in you. They aren’t always related though, because sometimes your family is made up of people who started out as friends, but grew to love you like family.” Andrea M. (Ontario)
“Family means people who you can depend on for love, support, and friendship, no questions asked. They don’t even have to be members of your immediate family. But they are your family. They have your back, you have theirs.” Stephen G. (Ontario)
“…Family is unconditional love, nurturing and teaching good values.” Sheila B. (New Jersey)
Clockwise from top left: Rosa and family (Ontario), Robbie and family (Indiana), Patricio and family (Spain), Richard and family (California)
“Your Universe, Your world, Your humanity, Your Kingdom, Your Home, and Your heart and soul. It”s where it all began. Your story!” Katzin K. (Ontario)
“My family are the ones I get to laugh and cry with. The ones I get to cuddle, kiss and pine for day after day. They are the ones I love unconditionally. It’s so much more than blood.” Lanrick J.B. (Ontario)
Clockwise from top left: Pat and husband (California), Nadia and family (Ontario), Moses and family (California), Michelle and family (Florida).
“Security,support, and love. Most importantly love.” Christopher B. (Connecticut)
“Unwavering support, Unconditional love and Acceptance. Not tied to blood. Family is who’s left when everybody else leaves.” Mila A. (New York)
“Family is love unconditionally. People don’t necessarily have to be related to be family.” Rachel S. (Ontario)
“Family is where your flaws are accepted, your uniqueness encouraged, and you always have a place to call home and feel safe.” Luis S. (Michigan)
Clockwise from left: Joe and family (New Jersey), Caitlyn and daughters (Ontario), Luis and family (Michigan), Benny and family (South Carolina)
“Family: means people who brought you up to be who you are, people that love you no matter what and people that support you and hold you tight through thick and thin.” Lisa B. (Ontario)
“Family is your history and your future. Family know your stories and love you anyway. I am blessed to have the family I have and that your family is such a big part of it. <3” Debbie D (Ontario)
Clockwise from top: Corbin and family (Maryland), James and daughter (Texas), Natan and family (Israel)
“Family is a web of unconditional, reciprocal love that protects and sustains us—that allows us to be honestly and authentically ourselves.” David L. (California)
Top image: Victor and family (California) Bottom Image: Melissa and family (Ontario)
All families come in different shapes, sizes, colours, religious beliefs. They are all different, but the one thing they all have in common is love to share! When it comes down to it, family is about love! What does family mean to you?
Life with a toddler can be hectic, and trying to find activities to keep a toddler busy can be a job in itself! Here is our list of our favourite Toronto spots!
Bluffer’s Park and Beach
Located in Scarborough, just east of Toronto, Bluffer’s Park is a great place to come for a relaxing day for a picnic, beach and swimming! There are trails to walk, a lookout to see the great views of Lake Ontario, and a great beach to play on for kids. You would not even know you were in Toronto when you are here! Admission is free and paid parking lots are available. Visit the website for more information.
From roller coasters to waterslides, there is something to do for every age! The perfect place to have fun with the whole family and more important, to tire the kids out! Located a short drive just north of Toronto in Vaughan, it’s the perfect getaway for the day. Visit the website for pricing and hours of operation
Centre Island is located a short ferry ride from The Jack Layton Ferry Terminal at the foot of Bay St. at Queens Quay. To avoid the long summer lines, purchase your ferry tickets in advance and cut the cue! We love Centre Island! There are beaches, bike rentals to ride around the island, restaurants but the most fun is at Centreville Island. There are over 30 rides and attractions that are perfect for young children. There is also the Far Enough Farm with pot bellied pigs, horses, sheep, mini ponies as well as a petting zoo. Admission is free to Centreville, however you must purchase ride tickets. Click here for more information and to purchase tickets.
THE park of the city! High Park has everything any toddler can ask for! There is a zoo that has bison, llamas, buffalo, deer, peacocks and other animals. There is also the Jamie Bell Adventure Playground that kids can play at. In addition, the park has many beautiful trails, a lakefront, picnic areas. In the Spring, thousands of people come to see the Cherry Blossom trees in full bloom. Check the website for location, hours and amenities.
Kidstown Water Park
A water park that is perfect for toddlers. There is a giant water feature with a tipping bucket, splash pad, slides, grassy area for picnics. It is located in L’Amoreaux Park at 3159 Birchmount Rd in Scarborough. Hours of Operation; Mid June until the Sunday of Labour Day Weekend. Admission is free.
Ontario Science Centre
An amazing place to bring your child to learn about all things science, AND have fun doing it! There is a huge play area with a water table that teaches kids about water flow, a station where kids can learn about the human body, how heat inflates hot air balloons. They can build roller coasters and there is a “grocery store” where they can go shopping! It’s also a great place for adults! The Ontario Science Centre is located at 770 Don Mills Road. Visit their website for hours of operation and ticket prices.
A great place to discover and learn about different kinds of fish and aquatic life! There are many exhibits showcasing different types of fish, and habitats. Our favourite is the underwater tunnel to view the sharks! It is located at 288 Bremner Blvd. Hours of Operation vary due to events. Visit the website for specific times. You can purchase tickets online to avoid line ups (and they are cheaper!)
Tour the Farm’s scenic 7.5 acres along pathways through wooded areas, around ponds, and into butterfly-herb-flower-vegetable gardens. Visit the farm animals and chat with the farmer during daily chores. Riverdale Farm is located in a park setting in the heart of the downtown community of Cabbagetown. Admission is free and parking is only available on neighbouring city streets. For more information, check out Riverdale Farm’s website.
Royal Ontario Museum
Featured galleries include life size dinosaur bones to ancient Egypt artifacts, there is A LOT to do and learn here! Perfect for toddlers is a fossil digging area and viking dress-up zone. Kids learn about animals and explore many different types of species. It’s one of our favourite go to places! Located in downtown Toronto at 100 Queen’s Park which is easily accessible by TTC. Visit their website for ticket price and hours of operation.
From armadillos to zebras, The Toronto Zoo has everything you need to satisfy that need of any animal lover in the family! Get up close and personal with the giant pandas, walk trails, cool off in the splash pad on hot summer days! Located in the gorgeous Rouge River Valley at 2000 Meadowvale Road. Visit their website for up to date exhibit closures, hours and ticket information.
The holiday season is a time that reminds us about the important things in life, like spending time with our loved ones, helping people and spreading that holiday cheer. Frank is Jewish, and I am Catholic, so growing up we had our own customs and traditions.
Growing up, my family celebrated Hanukkah, with a pinch of Christmas thrown in for good measure. As a child I went to a Jewish Parochial School. I spent half my day with an English teacher learning things like math and science and the second half of my day I was learning Hebrew and studying the Old Testament. Around the holidays we would learn all the traditions and songs that accompanied them. Needless to say, I was pretty excited to go home to share with my family all the things I had learned.
At Hanukkah we light candles to remind us of two great miracles. First, how Judah Maccabee led the Maccabean Revolt (they named the army after him because he was so awesome) against the Greeks and took back the Temple in Jerusalem. Second, we celebrate the miracle of the oil needed to light to temple for worship. The Maccabees found one jar of oil in the temple that the Greeks overlooked which had enough oil for only one day, but it lasted for eight..
We did have a few traditions that included lighting the menorah, giving gelt (not to be confused with giving guilt, which I am really good at giving BJ!) and going on a family vacation.
For some reason it is customary to give money or “gelt” for Hanukkah, I have researched why this is and have never really found a good reason, but trust me I never complained when money was handed to me! Now we give all our nieces and nephews gelt.
We lit the menorah every night for eight nights. My brother, sister and I would receive small gifts and gelt every night and one big gift on the eighth night! We played with our dreidel and if we were lucky my mom would fry up some latkes (truth be told we had to be very lucky because my mom didn’t love to cook! lol).
Every December, since I was four years old, we would travel to Florida or Mexico as a family. This was by far my favourite tradition, and the one in which I have to most fond memories. In our house, the Christmas/Hanukkah season was about going to a warm climate and spending time together as a family. This is a tradition that still carries on to this day. This year we are all going on a cruise to celebrate my mom’s birthday. Not everyone has this opportunity, and we are so fortunate to travel as a family and spend the time with each other. This is only one of many traditions that BJ and I hope to continue to do when Milo gets older.
I mentioned above that we always had a pinch of Christmas thrown into our family traditions each year. We had a nanny that lived with us most of my childhood (since I was the oldest) and we always had a little tree for her. Truth be told, I think I was always pretty excited to put that mini Christmas tree up and decorate it with strings of popcorn. My mother also used to take us for holiday photos with Santa, I guess it is hard to get away from Christmas and even harder to explain to a child why you don’t get to celebrate what everyone else in celebrating. It took me many years to realize that being different is cool.
I grew up in a Catholic/Italian/Polish family, so going overboard on anything that had to do with Christmas is an understatement. We decorated our house with Christmas lights, put on carols and decorated our Christmas tree, hung stockings by the fireplace, and waited for that first snowfall. I mean what is Christmas without snow, right?! My mom bought my sisters and I each an Advent Calendar, which we would open the little flaps every day to get a chocolate and count down the days until Christmas.
My parents own an Italian Bakery in Niagara Falls, Canada, so we didn’t have the opportunity to go travelling. All my life, Christmas Eve meant going into work in the early morning hours, getting orders ready, and spending the day serving our loyal customers and wishing everyone a Merry Christmas. Although I now live in Toronto, I do miss all that hustle and bustle of the bakery, but I don’t miss the 15 hour work days! (Maybe I’m getting lazy in my old age!)
On Christmas Eve, we opened our presents after dinner and cleaning ALL THE DISHES, which trust me, felt like an eternity! We all gathered in the living room around the Christmas tree. My mom was in charge of handing out the gifts to us, as she still does.
One of the things I looked forward to the most was my grandma’s Christmas cookies. She made large tins full of all different kinds:linzer cookies, lemon iced shortbreads, and rum balls potent enough to feel that holiday cheer, just to name a few!
Christmas Day we wore our best clothes and we went to church, visited family and then came home and have our Christmas lunch. Being off for the Christmas holidays meant we spent time together, whether working together in the bakery, or going over to our cousin’s house to play, we were together.
Being a mixed faith family gives us the opportunity to celebrate our own customs and traditions, and create new ones with our son Milo. We celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas, and we will raise Milo to know both his Jewish and Catholic roots. Ultimately, it becomes his decision which religion he will chose, but we are teaching him to be kind, supportive, and empathetic towards others and really that is what every religion should be about.
Now having Milo, we want to continue our own family’s traditions, but of course create new ones. Both being teachers, Frank and I are lucky enough to have the same working schedule, so family trips are well planned out in advance. Travelling and going away somewhere warm during the winter break is a tradition we hope to continue. Now I will trade the white snow for the white sand!
Before Milo was born, Frank and I would host a Chrismukkah Party with our friends. There would be lots of food, a lot of drinking, and a gift exchange. Since Milo was born, our annual Chrismukkah Party has been put on hold, but this year we are inviting our neighbours and Milo’s classmates from his Day Care. There will be food, crafts for the kids to do, and some holiday punch for the adults. Chrismukkah was all about spending time with friends, now it means spending time with friends, and kids!
My inner baker in me explodes with excitement this time of year! I get to make my grandma’s cookies, and lots of them! I love making her cookie recipes, and love giving them out as gifts! Milo even likes to help out!
We also celebrate Hanukkah, and we all gather around the menorah and say the prayer and light the candle. We are pretty sure Milo thinks they are birthday candles and will try to blow them out, but teaching him about Hanukkah and why it is important to our family is a tradition we will carry on.
We decorate the house with Christmas lights, although not too many. And we put up our tree and top it off with a Jewish Star. It’s the perfect way to combine both our religions.
Milo has an Advent Calendar which he opens every day, and sometimes sneaks an extra chocolate when we aren’t looking!
Growing up, my parents took my sisters and I to the Santa Claus Parade. When Milo gets older we will take him, but for now we visit with him and get our annual picture with the big guy.
Being Jewish and Catholic allows us to blend our traditions and create new ones for our family. We will continue to wear our matching sweaters for our Holiday card until Milo tells us to stop because it’s embarrassing! We will continue to celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas and teach Milo the significance of both holidays and our religions. We will spend time with family and friends for as long as we can, because there is no better gift than having the time to spend with the people you love.
This past March Break, we travelled as a family to a small island off the coast of Cancun called, Isla Mujeres. We love going to Mexico when given the opportunity. We enjoy the weather, the food, the beaches, the people. One day in the far-off future when it’s time for us to retire (we’re talking like many, many decades here!) we hope we can retire somewhere in Mexico.
We always find Mexico to be very accepting of same-sex families. Isla Mujeres is very kid friendly and the locals seemed to be accepting of our family. When we travel, we have to take this into consideration not only for Milo’s safety, but ours as well.
As much as the locals are open and accepting of same-sex families, some of the tourists were not that open. On a few occasions, we were walking by the pool, and we would see this one family whisper, stare and point at us. The second time we saw them do this, we decided we would stop and say to them, “Hi! Yes, we’re gay!” They quickly turned around and didn’t make eye contact with us again.
We have travelled many times with Milo, and have been stared at, but this was the first time that we felt we were being made a spectacle of. Normally we receive stares as we walk by, or when we both play with Milo. We don’t think too much of it. We look at it as we are opening up the minds and educating people that there are different kinds of families out there. Our friends, Jason and Dan were visiting Cancun with their son Theo, and they had similar experiences at their hotel of people staring and whispering.
Our friends Jason and Daniel, their son Theo, and us at Isla Mujeres
This family who was staring at us, happened to be from the United States. Perhaps in their community, same-sex families are not that common and that they felt the need to point us out to their family and talk about us. Or perhaps they pointed at us because they wanted to say, “Look at that fabulous couple there!” We are going with the latter. By the end of the vacation, two of their children were playing with Milo in the pool. It doesn’t matter that Milo has two dads, he is well adjusted, and mischievous just like these little girls were.
When you look at our family, you see the same thing as any other family. We spent our days trying to keep our two-year-old happy, occupied and fed, all while trying to have a cocktail or two and have a relaxing time. This is why it is important for same-sex families to be visible, and vocal. We need to not only normalize families likes ours but all families that don’t fit into a very narrow definition of what makes a family. As you know, we define family on something very simple…love. Love is what makes a family.
We are parents just like any other family-traditional or otherwise. We raise our child with love, we teach him to be respectful and inclusive. We raise him to laugh and embrace life. Most important, we are a family.
Even as a young child, I knew I wanted to be a father. But I also knew I was gay. So while fatherhood has always been a dream of mine, I lived with the fear that gay men just didn’t have children, so I’d never be a dad.
I loved kids so much that I spent much of my time babysitting: my younger siblings, my cousins, the neighbourhood kids. Starting at the age of 15 and continuing through my 24th year, I spent each summer as a camp counselor, always working with the youngest kids. I hoped that somehow, one day, I would become a dad.
I came out to my mother when I was 19. (It wasn’t on purpose, but that’s the subject of a whole other blog post!) I waited five more years to tell my dad because I was scared of what he might say or do. When I finally did tell him, I was surprised by his reaction. Instead of disowning me, he told me, “I love you no matter what, but I am sad because you will never get to be a father.”
This statement resonated with me for a very long time and made me see my dad differently. Times were different back then, the AIDS epidemic was going strong and it was still seen as a gay disease; gay issues and same-sex families were not as accepted in mainstream media or by society for that matter as they are now.
“Was he right?” I asked myself. “Because I am gay, would this dream of mine ever become a reality?”
Cast of Knott’s Landing, am American prime-time soap opera on CBS
The Gay Father in L.A.
Lucky for me, I did have one inspiration! I had befriended my father’s first cousin, who lived in L.A. in the early eighties when I was just 13. We had never met before but I had heard the rumors that he was gay and he was a director in L.A. working on shows like Remington Steele and Knots Landing, so of course I wanted to meet him. After all, I was obsessed with Donna Mills and Nicollette Sheridan!
I first met him when I was 13 and on a bus trip that took me across the United States. It was the start of a lifelong friendship. When I was in my early 20s he had twin girls with the help of a surrogate. This was the early 90s and it was definitely not the norm yet. He was a huge role model to me, living my dream of creating a family, something I had always hoped for. He was gay, he was single, and he had two daughters! I knew then that if he could do it, so could I! The only thing standing in my way now was money.
BJ, Frankie and Milo, fresh from the delivery room
Becoming a Father Myself
Let’s fast forward more than twenty years. Here I am married to BJ, the most wonderful, loving, supportive husband anyone could ask for. We started our surrogacy journey to have children and are now almost 4 months pregnant. We drive to Kingston, Ontario to attend the ultrasound appointment to find out the gender of our baby. The nurse announces, “I see something that looks like a penis!” We are so happy and excited that we are having a boy, but I start to question myself. Will I be a good father to my son? Will I be able to play sports with my son? Will I be the father that my son deserves?
BJ and I talked a lot about how our lives would be with a son or a daughter, or for that fact we could have had twins and one of each! BJ and I both grew up having better relationships with the women in our lives than with the men. I have to be honest, I was a bit scared to have a little boy.
Growing up I just didn’t have as close of a relationship with my dad or brother as I would have liked. I was a sensitive kid, and I was not really into sports. On the other hand, my father and brother love sports. All sports! My father played on many sports teams: baseball, basketball and curling; he also coached soccer and baseball. In fact, he was my coach for softball and soccer, which I played for only a year. (Most of the games I spent picking flowers in the soccer field and being afraid of the softball.) I don’t ever remember my dad pushing me to play after I expressed a lack of interest. I remember him asking me, “What do you want to do?” He always supported my choice of hobbies growing up.
Ticket for Madonna’s Re-Invention Tour
Madonna: My Dallas Cowboys
Every year my dad goes with my brother to watch the Dallas Cowboys play. This has been my brother’s favorite team since he was a child and this was something they did together. One year my dad accompanied me to the Madonna Re-Invention Tour concert. To me, Madonna is my Dallas Cowboys and her tour is my Superbowl! My dad was out of his element there, but he came with me because it was important to me. That was the kind of man he was, and that is the kind of man I want to be for my child. Even though I might not have been as close to my dad growing up as I would have liked, he is always there for all of us now. He makes sure to take the time out of his day to spend with all his grandchildren, and gets down to play with them even when he is tired and in pain. He is a great role model to BJ and me. We hope to have as much energy as he has when we become grandparents one day!
Clockwise from top left: Baby Frankie, Frankie with his dad and younger brother, and Frankie skating
Being a Father to a Son
Even before Milo was born, all my straight male friends and family started telling me all the things we had to do with our son to make sure he would fit in. First and foremost, they told me he needed to learn how to skate so he could play hockey, and this must start by age of 3. BJ and I were told on more than one occasion that he would hate us for life if we didn’t teach him how to skate. “If he ever decides to play hockey, he will have the skills needed.” This all seemed a bit foreign to BJ and me, as neither of us knows how to skate or play hockey. We were thinking of putting him into dance, karate, swimming and gymnastics. Do all (Canadian) boys really play hockey? So many things to think about. We were already ruining his life and he wasn’t even born!
I will say the moment I held Milo for the first time, in that picture that has been seen millions of times the world over, all my fears of having a little boy went out the window. I realized that my past relationships and my own insecurities will only make me a better dad. As I reflect on my past, I realize the things that held me back growing up and I am determined to not let those same things get in the way of my son’s development.
If Milo chooses to play hockey, or any sport for the matter, we will be at every game cheering him on, like my father did for my brother growing up. I could never understand why anyone wanted to sit through all those baseball, soccer and hockey games – yes, my brother played all of them – but I am starting to see now that it is different when it is your kid out there playing. I have watched my sister become a hockey mom to her boys over the past ten years, something she swore would never happen to her. Zaida (grandfather) still loves to go to the games as well; he rarely misses one of his grandchildren’s games. I hope Milo will be lucky enough to have Zaida cheering him on one day soon. As much as BJ and I don’t love sports, we love our son, and will be there by his side no matter what he chooses to do in his spare time.
We have already introduced him to swimming, gymnastics and sportball and
soon he will tell us what he wants to do. He is a loving, smart and affectionate little boy. We couldn’t have asked for more. We love him unconditionally and we are so happy to have been blessed with this little man. Having Milo has given me a chance to look at my own life and reflect on my own relationships. Some relationships have definitely gotten stronger and others have not. I think having a child really opens your eyes and make you see the world differently. We will be his biggest supporters, and be there for him 100 percent of the way. We will try to be the best dads we can be.