Three Roads Converge

mom story lei hawaii

Our son, Graham, is a little under two years old. He was born in March 2014, shortly after our marriage, and shortly after the legalization of such a marriage between two people of the same gender.

Text by Blaine Namahana Tolentino
Images by John Hook

The timeline can be broken down as such: My wife and I met in May 2012. The father of our child agreed to be our donor in May 2013. We conceived our son in July 2013. We were married in February 2014. Our son was born in March 2014. If I could provide you with a comprehensive infographic, it would only show you how simple and brief the creation of our child was. The expedience and ease with which things moved is rather unheard of—a fact never lost upon us.

I met my wife on the lawn of Bishop Museum, where she manages the archive collections. A friend invited me along to a casual lunch with two of his friends, including her, which took place at a table under a kukui tree near the museum’s Great Lawn. We ate furikake ahi from Niko’s while she and I and talked about publishing, vintage dresses, and Hawaiian language. Not one to be overt, my future wife was trying to figure out the strength and style of my intellect. We knew many of the same people, but not yet each other. I left that day not sure if I would see her again outside the cave of catalogued history I was sure she lived in. I had assumed she was not interested in women.

About six months later, I encountered her again at Ka Palapala Po‘okela awards, a Hawai‘i Book Publishers Association ceremony taking place at Bishop Museum. I attended as a former bookseller with Native Books and Bookends. This was before I joined the University of Hawai‘i Press, and I later realized that several of the people I work with now were there this night when our relationship began to bloom. She let me snap her photo on the wide koa staircase leading to Pacific Hall. She was wearing a purple and yellow ’70s mu‘umu‘u and a long lei of crown flowers. We talked about art and furniture in a room full of volcano paintings and 19th century Hawai‘i art that she had co-curated. A short while later, we ran into each other at another event. Over the course of three weeks—a stunning record for even the most determined and mystical women in my family—we fell in love: We ate mango from the peel and went for a night ocean swim in Kahala. We dined at Town in Kaimuki on her birthday, and camped at our friend’s kalo farm in Waiahole the following night. The next morning, we swam in the deep part of the river as the sun rose.

We were compatible in so many ways, which made it easy to begin talking about commitment, family, and how to merge our libraries gracefully. Soon, we found that we shared a desire to raise children together—to make more of us, and to be fastened to each other in this way. Time was passing quickly, as it often does when things move harmoniously and surge with excitement. In addition to the expansiveness of the moment, we felt the pressure of age. In two years, my wife would be 35, a complicated threshold for women in the world of fertility.

She and I quickly agreed on the donor, a good friend whom I felt an enormous affinity for from the first time we met, at the 2006 Merrie Monarch Hula Festival Craft Fair in Hilo on Hawai‘i Island. I broached the subject with him on my patio after a dinner following a long workday. We had no alternative donor, and I told him so, stating clearly what we were looking to do. He was the only person we felt certain about, considering we would want him in our child’s life whether or not he was to be the father. We trusted him to continue being the reliable and fantastic human we already knew him to be.

Of the many ways that high-ranking Native Hawaiians consolidated power, creating the progeny of three powerful lines of genealogy was one of the more rare and effective ways to do so. Though we are three modern Americans through birth, and therefore citizenship, we agreed on the variance in responsibility between my wife and I as parents, and our friend as Graham’s father, and also on the equality and strength of connection we would share through the outcome of this act. Our agreement is based on our shared history of Hawaiians living in Hawai‘i.

Thankfully, we did not have many of the financial burdens commonly associated with the conception or adoption of a child by a same-sex couple. We knew a kind, thorough, and curious lawyer who helped us develop a legal agreement between myself, my wife, and our donor that was based on another lent to him by our friends, a same-sex couple who had adopted a child. Because the legal parameters of these kinds of agreements remain largely untested, it felt complicated. Additionally, because we wanted our donor to remain in our child’s life, there were few cases from which to draw information, much less confidence. We conceived at home, which meant that the law was even more murky. Even with the clarity of written intention, a contract could not be completely infallible if challenged in court, a daunting fact that made us question our instinct to create a more comfortable process for one of the most important moments of our lives. I was to adopt our son once he was born, which was the state’s compromise at that moment. That was the only way to be sure Graham was safely in my custody. But it also left an unnerving gap from the moment of conception to the day in court when the state would officially declare that he was mine, and that his biological father would not be held accountable as a parent. This prescribed process didn’t feel quite right, despite the trust between the three of us. We were doing something that the law could not account for.

Three Roads Converge

Graham was conceived before we wed. We did not anticipate that there would be a special session about same-sex marriage called by Governor Neil Abercrombie. I didn’t expect to have the right to marry my wife, even though I felt it would fit the style of our union. We were both Catholics raised by parents who had been married for decades, and it was a behavior that seemed comfortable, whether or not it was conventional—or even likely—for us.

Then, in December 2013, Hawai‘i became the 15th state to legalize same-sex marriage. We had conceived Graham on the first try, and he was due in March. After conducting our own research and receiving the legal direction of our friends, we found the best way to protect our friend, child, and selves was to have the birth take place under the protective umbrella of our marriage. It was a good reason to celebrate a public, government-approved union with the person I had already started creating a family with. In an odd way, it gave our families an opportunity to fully celebrate what we were doing. I wept on and off for days, astounded by the changes taking place. My wife, having never identified as gay, could not understand how the secretive teenager in me was experiencing the fear of many years shudder and weaken. It all felt so tectonic in its completion, an act of slow shifts and strenuous commitment. I could not believe this was happening.

My wife was seven months pregnant at our wedding reception-slash-baby shower (which we referred to as a sort of everything celebration). She heaved around our son, still in her belly, under a turquoise vintage caftan on a cool day in February at the estate of James Campbell, my grandmother’s home, known as Lanikuhonua. We knew that this would be the first same-sex marriage many would attend, and perhaps the only one for a very long time. All grandmothers in attendance were congratulatory and kind, proving there was little to have feared.

There are still flaws in the process because it is so new, but the clerical mistakes that exist on record are reasonable in light of the major legal transition the state of Hawai‘i is making. Beyond that, state-to-state recognition is complicated, though federal rights are supposedly clear. When my wife gave birth to Graham, the staff at Queen’s Hospital were so careful and excited that it felt we were among the first same-sex couples to give birth there. Both of our names are on Graham’s birth certificate, because we are a married couple and that is the law. But there was no designated space for any note of our donor, whose connection to Graham is a genealogical fact that holds deep importance to all our families. Though we wanted him recorded in this way, the state of Hawai‘i does not yet have an easy process for this kind of thing.

Graham belongs to each of us in a myriad of ways. He is his own person, and looks for people to smile at when we are out in the world. His favorite person is my father. He doesn’t sleep through the night. He is Hawaiian, Portuguese, Irish, Scottish, Visayan, Chinese, and Choctaw. He is the result of a long, continuing push for equality in multiple dimensions of American life for same-sex families. And he is living proof of something much larger than all of us.

This story was published in issue two of Lei. Get it here.