We are so super thankful that in celebration of Father’s Day & Pride Month, to have had a very dear and close friend of Matteo & Dr. Cao, author Garon Wade, speak to us about his recently published memoir, "You'll Always Be White To Me".
If you're looking to be inspired, to understand and realize the true power of love and its possibilities, please take a moment to listen to the powerful words Garon shares with SSP as he talks about his adventurous life, his book, and his incredible adoption journey - addressing racism, homophobia and personal heartache, all told with his most uplifting, raw and emotional voice.
The full interview transcript can be found here:
SSP: Hi everybody, this is Jen from the SSP team. I help SSP with their blog and social media. We are so super excited and thankful that in celebration of Father’s Day & Pride Month, to have a very dear and close friend of Matteo & Dr. Cao, Garon Wade here today to speak with us. Garon just recently published his memoir, “You'll Always Be White To Me”, which deals with issues such as adoption, racism, homophobia, and personal heartache. And as one reader says, “It's an authentic example of how to take control of your life and be your own champion!”. Another reader shares, “Garon leads us through a lifetime of adventure, relationships and lessons in gratitude. His memoir shows us that with love, it is possible to save lives, heal heartache, make a home across the world, fulfill our dreams, and create a family of our own design. Engaging story told with the cadence and charm of a natural storyteller”. Thank you again for joining us here today. We'd love to ask you questions about your book, and dive a bit further into your adoption experience.
Garon: Thank you so much for having me. It's so nice to meet you.
SSP: So what prompted you to write the book?
Garon: You know, it's sort of taken many phases. I would say in my 20s, a lot of people suggested that I write my story, because I grew up in a very different way. I felt like I was too young, you know, who wants a memoir, by someone in their 20s. So for so many years, I just kind of forgot about it honestly. And I know I tried to accomplish things in my career and in terms of adopting my children. And about the time that Colin Kaepernick became every headline in the United States, I started to sort of think about what it means to be a brown or black guy raised by white parents. Because the one thing that shocked me the most out of all the coverage about him was that almost nowhere has anyone mentioned that he has white parents. And I thought it's such an interesting and different perspective, when you're raised by white parents, but you're living your life as a brown and black person. It really is like an entirely different experience. And so I started to think about, you know, that side of my story. And that's sort of where the beginnings of it happened. I had my husband always saying you need to write your memoir, you need to remember, and I was like, dude, I'm so busy. We have kids, and we have careers and all this stuff. So actually, in 2020, we flew to South Africa, and we completed a four year adoption of our son Emmanuel. And when we arrived back from South Africa in March, we of course landed in a pandemic. And I was off from work. And I was sitting at home with my kids. And again, my husband came to me and he said, Garon, if you don't write this memoir now, you will never write this memoir. So I said, I hate it when he's right. You know? I did, I sat down. And once I started it, just there it was, it was like 10 hours a day for three months.
SSP: Wow. It's like the gift of time that you would never have had otherwise. Something positive that came out of the pandemic for you.
Garon: Yeah, exactly.
SSP: So this book narrates an incredible journey, through racism, growing up brown while LGBT, losing your mother at a young age, adopting your children and finding love. What did you discover about yourself as you were writing the book?
Garon: That's a great question. I think I realized how therapeutic it was, without ever intending for it to be that. You have the chance to really sit down and go through your life and go through 10 plus countries, things and people and places, people I lost. I think in the regular stream of life, you don't have that time to really think about it at length. And as I was writing it, I revisited so many great things and hard things. And I realized how cathartic it was, in a way, to just to just write about it to get it out for myself. I mean, no one else was there, just me and a computer, but I just put it all out on paper and it felt really amazing.
SSP: In the book several times you seemed like you were in the right place, just at the right time. And people seem to open up doors for you in your next chapter. One example, being Donovan at the DC tower. In other instances, life is very rough. And several times you were discriminated against, because of what you look like. And what's your take on how life works - now that you've been able to reflect on all of this?
Garon: Well, how life works. I just think we're all here for such a short time. And we don't really know what paths our lives are going to take. I'm not a person that is religious, and I don't believe in destiny, but I do believe in the sort of cause and effect of the here and now. I'm just where you happen to be on a given day and the people that you are interacting with. And, you know, it's just that that sort of truth that if you just are kind to people, and you interact in an authentic way with people that you're around, and treat people well, you just honestly never know who's going to be your friend or who's going to open a door, or who's going to remember you for something that you never would have thought you'd be remembered for. That's how I choose to live my life. That's how I try to live my life. And I think in certain instances, it has opened doors that I just can't even imagine would be opened. Especially having lived in situations that were difficult in my life. I think a lot of it, you see both sides, you realize that life is a lot of hardship, a lot of great stuff, and just always trying to navigate through it right.
SSP: So in the book, your own white American grandma tells you that she loves you, but she made racist remarks about brown skinned people and the Asian community in front of you and while talking to you. What was it like for you to grow up dealing with this? And how did you overcome it? Or are you still working on overcoming it?
Garon: I'm good. You know what I mean, for me in my life I’m good. I think, as a young boy, it was hard. And I think when you're growing up in a family where you don't look like other people, my parents were really all love, you know, and those people, people who have read the book, or will read it tomorrow, realize how I have this beautiful family. But when it came down to leaving Africa, or Europe or the Middle East and traveling to their small home in South Louisiana, to my grandparents house, it was - it was different. I mean, they absolutely loved me, but they were also absolutely racist. And so I think, for me in writing the memoir, the exploration there for the reader is like, how do you juggle those two things? How do you balance being a grandparent who loves your brown grandchildren, and yet, who is absolutely racist? And that was kind of the fascinating part of all that to me, as I reflected. How did these two worlds come together? I just hope it gets better. For the next generation. I hope this conversation is not a question that someone sitting in your position will ask in another generation, I hope it's just not. There's a lot of work to be done.
SSP: Yes, absolutely. And speaking of your grandma, she herself went on an amazing journey of self discovery while dealing with you being true to yourself, and building your own family. Right? Digging deep inside yourself, what do you believe was the event that changed everything in your grandma's perception of things?
Garon: Strangely enough, I think it was us adopting our son, our first son, Matteo, who was adopted from the Maryland DC area. You know, it's sort of a classic thing that people can find it within themselves to discriminate against a couple. But when faced with discrimination against a child, it's it's a harder thing, you know, and once we had Matteo, I think she just saw us as a family. She didn't quite get it, she didn't really understand it, but she fell in love with the baby, and that opened the door to us having a relationship as an adult and it is strange to me, of course, because I don't see the world through that lens. But you can imagine a woman that had grown up in Texas and Louisiana after the Great Depression, never having seen black and brown people in her immediate circle. Never having been friends with gay people. I think this was an entirely different world for her.
SSP: You have such a sense of compassion and understanding for those that have different viewpoints and it's refreshing. You don't carry anger in your voice. I don't sense anything like that.
Garon: I think when you live around the world as I did, what you see is that people are people are people, they want the same things, you know, on a very basic level they want access to resources, they want safety for their children, they want to access to health care for their families, they want to be able to just live a life that allows them to pursue endeavors. And at a relatively reasonable level, they're just trying to live right to make it. And whether I was in the Middle East, or at the bottom of Africa, or in Europe, or wherever, I mean, I think that you see racism, you see prejudice and all forms towards women, towards gay people, towards people with disabilities in the United States, towards the Native American population, you know, this list goes on and on. And I don't harbor anger because I feel like I just wanted to change and I think specifically in my family, we made changes. That's the point of the book, change - it's possible, it may be rough and love can be very complicated. Possible. I think when we turn our backs to each other, and just say, I'm not talking to you anymore, to some degree, nothing ever gets solved, you know?
SSP: So who do you think should read your book?
Garon: Well, you know, as soon as I read it, and as soon as I saw it for the first time, and I was kind of like, looking at it, I was thinking... Where's this gonna go? You know, and I guess I feel like no book is for everybody. That's just the truth. There's not a single book in the world that everybody should read. That's not a fact. But I think for this book, I really feel people who enjoy global adventures, who want to go to 15 plus countries, and dive into those cultures. And that's a reader who will love it. I also think that anybody that enjoys stories about family - whether it's a dysfunctional family, of which there's plenty in here, or you know, the aspects of a loving family. I'm a huge fan of films and books about dysfunctional families. Like "The Family Stone" or anything Baumbach produced, like "The Squid and the Whale" or "Margot at the Wedding". I'm such a fan, because I think those complicated dynamics are true in all of our lives. Like every family has something, you know. And so if you enjoy family stories that are interesting and difficult, I think this could be a great book.
SSP: Moving on to the next part here, and celebration of pride and Father's Day, we'd love to learn more about your adoption journey, which you spoke a little bit about. How would you describe it? And were there obstacles you faced that you think are more unique to the LGBT experience?
Garon: So no, I don't think that any obstacles that we faced were because we were a gay couple. I think that we arrived at a very specific time in 2012...I spent some time in the United States, you know, where equality was being legislated essentially. And I, we lived in DC, and at the time, DC had very equal rules, you know - laws around gay couples adopting and straight couples adopting. So for us? No, I think it was the same as if a straight couple adopted in terms of South Africa. My husband and I are the first gay married couple from the United States that were able to adopt from South Africa. We didn't really know what to expect, you know, but I had lived there. And I had sort of followed the culture over many years in the country. South Africa had marriage equality, a while before the United States did. So to some degree, I had a good amount of faith that this would be a great thing, and possibly we would face very little obstacles. And it was, it was great. Actually, in South Africa, the crazy thing is, the four of us would be walking around town, and have these African men in the mall or in a market screaming things like “You guys are power dads” or “We love your family!” And you know, it was fascinating. Like that doesn't ever happen in America. We were like, these guys are really showing us a lot of love here. Yeah, so I think we were lucky to come at a time when this was all possible. When you ask that question, I think of the many gay men and women who are older than me, who meet our family and say, I would have loved to have a kid, you know, but it just wasn't possible for so long in this country and in many countries it is still true. And really, my heart goes out to them, you know, because I know how that feels. I mean, I have wanted to be a parent since I was a kid. So to know that I actually arrived at a time when that was possible... It just means a lot to me.
SSP: So the adoption process wasn't as challenging as you might have thought. Was your experience different from what your expectations were going in?
Garon: Well, in DC... and this is remarkable. After we did all our paperwork inside with an adoption agency, we had a three week adoption. We got our son in three weeks, which I've still never heard anybody experience in that timeframe. On the flip side, for our second son, it took four years, four years due to the South African government to some degree not being as efficient as it could have been. And maybe the process is not being as streamlined as possible. But, so, yes, those four years really did a number on us. And I hope that for parents that are out there thinking about it, beyond the trials and tribulations I guess of adoption - it's hard,... emotionally to hold on to that hope for four years and not know what's going to come through. But as I always say that we had a great first adoption, so I have nothing to complain about. I'm sure there's many families who had a rough first adoption.
SSP: Again, your positivity is amazing. We all need to learn a little from you. So there continues to be this lingering issue of a culture, you know, permeated in the belief that children need the complimentary distinct roles of mother and fathers. Why do you think this way of thinking still exists? And why is there still the strong opposition to gay adoption that lingers in the United States?
Garon: Well, to me, I've never understood it. I mean, I've always said, If I was straight, I feel like I would be the biggest proponent of gay people. Because I don't understand the discrimination factor. I mean, in terms of a family, I think we all know people who are raised by their grandparents, or their grandparents and their mother, or their father and his parents, there's so many combinations. But somehow, when we get to sexuality, it's like, that's what people are thinking of, which also is so surprising to me. I always say when I meet a straight couple, I'm not like - Hey, nice to meet you. And I'm not thinking about them having sex. I'm thinking about who they are as people. One thing I will say on a more serious note is like with our kids, we try to buy books for them where they are exposed to children and people that they otherwise would not be exposed to, so that they are seeing a different way of life. We have to read for 25 minutes every night. And they complain sometimes, but we still make them. So we all sit around together, and we read for 25 minutes. And I think that's so important. I do wonder how many straight families have their kids reading books about gay families? Or how many white parents are showing their kids books about black families? Or how many families like mine are teaching their kids about the Native American culture and communities around the country? And about disabilities as well. I feel like if we all tried to do a bit more of that we would all be so much more exposed. But honestly, I think the truth is, when you ask, why has this continued to perpetuate, for so long? It's because of exposure. People are so locked into their communities, and have very little visibility out there so you don't need to form a different opinion. It’s sort of self perpetuating unless you make an act of change.
SSP: Absolutely. We do the same in our house. And it's so important that it starts when they're babies, when they're small. What else needs to change? So we can open up the process to more loving homes of gay parents - to make it a little bit easier?
Garon: While I while I'm very supportive of the kind of paperwork processes that it takes to adopt the first time - because anyone that's been through it, you know, there's FBI checks, there's local state, police checks, there's professional references, personal references, I mean, the list goes on and on. One thing I think could really help the system is if they figured out a database for families that have already adopted and then being cleared and documented so that when they go to do it a second time, they're not starting over. That, to me, is the biggest failing that I see in that route. Because, you know, many families that adopt do go and adopt again. But the second time, they're starting as if they never did it, and you're going through all these checks. And meanwhile children are sitting in orphanages in foster care, just waiting for a family. You can cut that time out, and accelerate all of this in a responsible way, and yet, a faster way.
SSP: And do you have any additional words of encouragement? You've already offered so much, but anything else to say to those LGBT couples who are looking to adopt? Anything else you'd like to tell them?
Garon: Yeah. It's hard, but it's so rewarding too. You can't even imagine the love that it brings to your home and to your life. And when it gets tough, when you're going through the paperwork, and they're asking for more and more documents, or when the wait gets really long, you know, just remember that on the other side of that, the kid is going to change your life in a huge way. And you are going to change their life in a huge way. To some degree, there is this. I've heard it many times. In the adoption community, there's this kind of idea where anyone that says an adopted kid is lucky - that's, you know, frowned upon, discouraged, etc. I understand where it comes from. But as I think I can speak well, on this topic, given that I am an adopted kid, and an adoptive parent. I think it goes both ways. You know, you're lucky to find each other. Because those players in that situation matter hugely. And I think I'll probably get a lot of pushback for this, honestly. But I think as a kid who was adopted and a parent, and as a person who has adopted twice, both domestically and internationally, it's absolutely both sides of that story who are really lucky to have each other. I certainly feel that I feel so lucky to have been adopted. I was left on the steps of a hospital during a war in Sri Lanka, and who knows what would have happened to me. And on the flip side, my son sat in an orphanage for two and a half years. And I'm so happy that he ended up in our home. So yeah, if you feel like you can do it, and you want to do it, go for it. Go for it...it will change your life.
SSP: Thank you so much. Beautiful words. And I just want to ask one last question here. Before we end the interview, how are you celebrating Pride as a family? Are you guys doing anything special?
Garon: I wish I could say absolutely, but here's the thing - we live in a very gay friendly city in Lauderdale. And I feel like to some degree there's celebration throughout the year at different times, like even Halloween here is like Pride in a way. When you go to the gay beach, its flags everywhere. I probably should be more intentional about it. I haven't given a lot of thought to it. I have a lot of great friends who are doing giant parties, or they're traveling to serve, you know, to other Prides- we kind of do it throughout the year. Honestly, we don't wait for this one moment. It’s more about books. We have a book called Families and it's about all sorts of different families and includes gay dads and lesbian mothers, and just everything - grandparents, kind of what we were just talking about. And I read that to my kids at night and we talk about it. And for us, Pride isn't just a once a year thing, we try to wrap it into everything. I'm excited though. I just feel a little different this year with not having access to travel everywhere. I love the Vice President Kamala Harris at Pride in DC the other day, I love seeing that and President Joe Biden posting something about pride in the gay community. I mean, you know, after four years it was so nice to see. So nice to have the government back in everyone's corner.
SSP: Yes!. Again this is Garon Wade and his book is “You'll Always Be White To Me”, available now on Amazon. We'll also share the link on our social page. Again, thank you Garon!
Garon: Thank you so much. Those are excellent questions. I seriously really appreciate it. I've been doing a press circuit. And so it's just interesting to see what different interviewers ask. And these are, these are excellent questions. Thank you so much.