Sam-I-Am: Modern Family, In JAM
Samantha Ardin Robin Shields Hunker (Sam for short) chose a sleeveless polka-dotted party frock for her interview with Letters. She descended the staircase of her restaurant, JAM, on Baltimore Avenue, much like a 3-foot tall Dolly in Hello, Dolly!
Waiters and waitresses clamored for her attention and without so much as a “ta ta” she was off and sitting on the hip of hip Shane Reeder, JAM’s bartender extraordinaire and photographer of the stunning artwork on JAM’s walls. Also as in Hello, Dolly! the room comes to life the moment Sam enters. Indeed, like Dolly, she’d been away too long.
Samantha has two daddies, but neither Jeff nor Mark (nor I, the interviewer) seem to matter at this juncture. Her friends and her hostessing duties beckon. One of her favorite waitresses, Missie, helps her get settled into her routine. She’s Sam, the mistress of the house of Jam. I suppose I’ll see her once the restaurant closes for the evening.
As taken as I am by this little princess, I’m really there to interview Mark and Jeff about raising a child. My preparation for this interview started when Jeff mentioned that one day, when he dropped Sam off at school, she was in a rather dour mood and didn’t want to cooperate—a scene played out in front of day care centers every day. But few, if any, parents turn to their four year old and say, “If you don’t behave, there will be no ABBA tonight!”
Now, if we lived elsewhere, the day care provider might write up a report alleging that the two known homosexuals entrusted with Samantha’s care apparently strap her in a high chair and force her to watch ABBA 24/7. The fact of the matter is, Sam just loves ABBA. She chose it of her own accord from the variety of splendid sights and sounds a kid can avail themselves of in today’s electronic wonderland. The homosexual parents had nothing to do with it. Besides, Jeff and Mark pipe Gaga into her room, not ABBA.
So, while Sam is sashaying from table to table, Jeff and Mark talk to me of the open adoption process out in Oregon that brought Sam into their lives.
Open adoption means you’ll meet the birth mother and develop a relationship. In Sam’s case, the process introduced Mark and Jeff to her birth mother, Amber (Robin is Amber’s mother’s middle name, and thus given as a namesake to Sam). Amber, like many birth mothers was attracted to a gay male couple because of the lack of competition for another mother’s love.
Regarding the open adoption, Mark and Jeff highly recommend Dan Savage’s 2000 book, The Kid, which is where they found their marvelous agency. I bought the book to research the agency, and devoured it in record time. What a gift.
Savage’s most compelling story lies in his sitting down with his partner to write their letter to be presented to prospective birth mothers. Society causes gay folk to run a cruel gauntlet of fear and denial before the sun shines through and self esteem can take root. When Savage sits down to write his letter why they’d be good parents, you weep with joy and sorrow.
As for these local parents, the night they adopted Sam, the two of them couldn’t sleep, worried sick something would happen to the precious bundle in their care for the next 18 or so years. Jeff stayed home with her for six weeks and a village that would make Hillary Clinton jealous surrounded them. There’s Jeff’s parents, “Nana” and “PopPop” Shields, and 10 cousins in Pennsylvania, neighbors in DC…and back home in Rehoboth, more funny uncles and crazy aunts than Sam could shake a menu at.
Mark is president of their PTA. His “homosexual agenda” includes class size and child nutrition. Jeff serves as a vigilant “word police.” (“Because so many of our friends just aren’t around kids that often.”) In my generation, when parents lowered their voices or said, “Go outside and play” you knew it was something naughty. So you listened that much more. So if Sam says, “drag queen” before anyone else in her class, the teacher will just have to cope.
The night before our interview, the parents had gotten the beloved Nina-the-nanny to babysit and they went out on date night to ManDance at the Double L. Here again, Savage writes brilliantly… absolutely brilliantly…about growing up among straight parents and always having the “ick” factor about any of our parents ever having sex (or fun, or…). He demystifies once and for all why there’s no room for shame in our lives. Love your kid. Be yourself.
So Sam-I-Am has two dads who grew up with the immortal La Cage lyrics “I Am What I Am.”
I am what I am
And what I am needs no excuses
I deal my own deck
Sometimes the ace,
sometimes the deuces
They are what they are. Sam is what she is. Nothing but aces, all. Not a deuce in sight. They opened their home, medical records, criminal records, wallets and most of all, their hearts. Home came Sam.
As for Sam, this family and this story—fan, I am.
Oh, and Sam, could I please hear tonight’s dinner specials?
This column is dedicated to Penny Hunker, Sam’s grandmother who sadly passed away without meeting her. The Shields-Hunker family finds enormous comfort in how much Penny anticipated and loved the thought of Samantha being her first granddaughter.
Brent Mundt resides in Washington, DC but lives in Rehoboth Beach.