The True Story of Two Men Who Found Fatherhood on the Subway
An abandoned baby and a judge with a hunch turned two New York men into parents.
Twelve years ago, Danny called me from a dark, damp subway station, frantic. “I found a baby!” he shouted. “Get down here, and flag down a police car or something.” By nature, Danny is a remarkably calm person, so when I felt his heart pounding through the phone line, I ran.
When I got to the subway station, Danny was holding a light-brown-skinned baby, about a day old. The baby had been wrapped in an oversize black sweatshirt and left on the ground in a corner behind the turnstiles.
Rob HowardIn the following weeks, after family court had taken custody of the baby, Danny told the story over and over again, first to every local TV news station and then to family members, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances. What neither of us knew, or could have predicted, was that Danny had not just saved an abandoned infant; he had found our son.
Three months later, Danny appeared in family court to give an account of finding the baby. Suddenly, the judge asked, “Would you be interested in adopting this baby?” The question stunned everyone in the courtroom, except Danny, who answered, simply, “Yes.”
“But I know it’s not that easy,” he said.
“Well, it can be,” assured the judge before barking out orders to commence with making him and, by extension, me, a parent-to-be.
My first reaction, when I heard, went something like: “Are you insane? How could you say yes without consulting me?”
In three years as a couple, we had never discussed adopting a child. I was an aspiring playwright working as a part-time word processor. Danny was a respected yet wildly underpaid social worker. We had a roommate, who slept behind a partition in our living room, to help pay the rent.
Even if our financial and logistical circumstances had been different, we knew how many challenges gay couples usually faced when they wanted to adopt. And while Danny had patience and selflessness galore, I didn’t know how to change a diaper, let alone nurture a child.
But here was fate, practically giving us a baby. How could we refuse? Eventually, my fearful mind was spent, and my heart seized control to assure me I could handle parenthood.
A caseworker arranged for us to meet the baby at his foster home in early December. Danny held him and then placed him in my arms. I had promised myself I wouldn’t get attached. I didn’t trust the system and was sure there would be obstacles. But when the baby stared up at me, with all the innocence and hope he represented, I, like Danny, was completely hooked.
The caseworker told us that the steps in adopting him—home observation and parenting classes—could take up to nine months, plenty of time to rearrange our lives and home for a baby. But a week later, on December 20, when Danny and I appeared in front of the judge, she asked, “Would you like him for the holiday?”
Once again, in unison this time, we said yes. The judge grinned and ordered the transition of the baby into our custody. Our nine-month window of thoughtful preparation was instantly compacted to a mere 36 hours.
Over the next year, we wondered about the judge’s decision to allow us to adopt. Did she know Danny was a social worker and therefore thought he would make a good parent? Would she have asked him to adopt if she’d known Danny was gay and in a relationship?
At the final hearing, after she had signed the official adoption order, I raised my hand. “Your honor, we’ve been wondering why you asked Danny if he was interested in adopting?”
“I had a hunch,” she said. “Was I wrong?”
And with that she rose from her chair, congratulated us, and left the courtroom.
Over the next decade, our baby, Kevin, grew into a bright, conscientious, and athletic boy who loves math, baseball, and dance. In 2011, when New York State passed a law allowing Danny and me to get married, Kevin suggested we ask the judge who performed his adoption to officiate our wedding.Kevin calls Peter (left) “Papi,” and Danny (right) “Daddy.”Over the next decade, our baby, Kevin, grew into a bright, conscientious, and athletic boy who loves math, baseball, and dance. In 2011, when New York State passed a law allowing Danny and me to get married, Kevin suggested that we ask the judge who performed his adoption to officiate our wedding.
“Great idea,” I replied. “Would you like to meet her?”
“Sure. Think she’d remember me?” he asked.
“There’s only one way to find out,” I said.
I composed a query letter and e-mailed it to the Manhattan family court. Within hours, a court attorney called to say that of course the judge remembered us, and she was thrilled by the idea of officiating our marriage.
A month later, back in family court after 12 years, Kevin reached out to shake the judge’s hand.
“Can I give you a hug?” she asked. After they separated, the judge asked Kevin about school and his interests, hobbies, and friends.When we finally remembered the purpose of the visit, Danny and I moved into position to exchange vows. I reflected on the improbable circumstances that delivered us to this moment. We weren’t supposed to be there, two men, with a son we had never dreamed of by our side, getting married by a woman who had changed and enriched our lives more than she would ever know. But there we were, thanks to a fateful discovery and a judicious hunch.
Peter Mercurio, a playwright and web designer, Danny Stewart, a social worker, and Kevin live in Manhattan.