An Interview with Designer Daddy, Brent Almond
Please tell us about yourself and the origin of "Designer Daddy."
When I became a dad, I initially thought about starting a blog specifically about baby products — reviews, features, etc. — all with a design slant. I wrote my first post about the birth announcement I designed for my son — the perfect combination of “designer” and “daddy.” But as I got further into it, I realized that a) there was a lot of personal stuff I wanted to write about, and b) reviewing baby products was going to get old VERY fast. The blog has continued to evolve as my son has grown older, as my interests have changed, and as other opportunities have presented themselves.
As a Texas native, was it difficult to be open with your sexuality growing up? Were your parents supportive when you came out?
I’m actually not a native Texan — I lived there for about 10 years during my late teens and early twenties. However, my dad was an Air Force chaplain, so I was both a military brat and a preacher’s kid! And yes, it was extremely difficult, and I spent the better part of my youth hiding from or fighting it. When I finally came out, my parents weren’t completely surprised. They knew I’d been seeing counselors and trying to “fix” my sexuality for many years. It was certainly difficult for them at first, but our relationship never really suffered any major setbacks. They’ve stuck with me and have grown so much and are fully accepting of me/my family. I also have 3 younger brothers; 2 of them are very supportive, one is not. He’s the one still living in Texas.
How and when did you meet your husband, Nick?
We met in 1997, through a mutual friend via AOL. I tell the youngsters that was back when you had to crank up the Internet.
What was it like being in a committed relationship while marriage equality was hotly debated? How did the ruling affect your own union?
We had already been together for a while, and had even had a commitment ceremony in 2003. However, as marriage equality became more and more a possibility, we talked about having a legal ceremony and including our son in it. When DOMA and Prop 8 were overturned in 2013, I sang the National Anthem on the steps of the Supreme Court with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington. Afterwards, I went to see my husband at work, where he proposed! Between then and the definitive ruling for marriage equality in 2015, it was such an exciting time. The debate never affected our relationship, but as marriage equality got closer to being a reality, we got more excited about becoming legally married. The day marriage equality passed, I took my son out of school for an impromptu field trip to the Supreme Court. That was one of my favorite parenting moments, ever.
Was your adoption process positive?
For the most part, although our first attempt did end in a disruption (when the birthmother changed her mind). It happened because the birthmother’s parents showed up at the (very) last minute, voicing their disapproval of us being gay. That was devastating, but we jumped right back into the process, and not long after were paired with our son’s birthparents. Now I couldn’t imagine our family any other way.
What advice would you have for someone considering adoption?
Two things: 1. Get started now, even if you’re not 100% on board. The process is long (ours took 2 years) so getting some of the basic stuff out of the way will help with the wait later on. 2. Keep in mind that disruptions do happen, and are more common than most adoption agencies let on. I’m not trying to discourage anyone, just making sure they’re aware that it’s not often an easy, straightforward process.
As same-sex parents, do you find that there are fewer "rules" to fall back on and models to reference?
In terms of raising a child in general, we have it easier in some ways. I know some (straight) stay-at-home dads who struggled a lot with not being the breadwinner, as well as feeling out of place in parenting spaces populated by mostly moms. But as gay men, our roles are much more fluid. My husband is more of the provider and I’m more of the nurturer — but we both do it all: diapers, laundry, playing, bedtime, sports, etc.
What's the biggest challenge that same-sex parented families face?
Unfortunately, there are still a lot of close-minded, homophobic people in this country — many of whom have been emboldened by the current president. I think it varies depending on where you live, but regardless of the severity of the challenges, there are always going to be ways LGBTQ parented families will be the “other” or outside the norm. Whether it’s Mother’s Day celebrations in school, kids being teased, or rejection by family or community — to have those extra stresses on top of the ones that come with parenting is a lot to bear sometimes. [Read more about Brent's tips for same sex parents at Designer Daddy.]
What's the biggest misconception about same-sex parents?
That we’re super special unicorns. Being told how amazing your family is just for existing can be a lot of pressure. I know that most people are trying to be supportive, but sometimes it’s nice to blend in and have average family problems without the expectation to be magically fabulous.
How has having a son affected your career?
What career?! But yes, it definitely has had an impact. I’ve transitioned from design work to more blog-related work. The design is still there, but it’s mixed in with writing, social media, speaking engagements, etc. There’s a lot of variety, which I love — there’s just not as much money. Luckily my husband is an attorney. :)
We, of course, love SuperLunchNotes! Tell us a bit about the origin of the project.
I’d seen other parents do similar things — drawing on lunch bags or sandwich baggies — but I wanted to do something different to send my son off on his first day of school. Superheroes were/are a big part of what I’ve passed down to my son, and something we bond over. So I doodled Batman on a Post-it along with the message “Go get ‘em!” He loved it, so I did them every day that first week. I had a lot of fun doing it, and it was a unique way to both communicate my love and support for my son, and teach him about superheroes. So I kept at it. Now he’s old enough to read them on his own, so they’re educational now, too. ;) He sometimes gives them to friends or teachers, which I find really sweet.
Do you find SuperLunchNotes challenging to keep up with, particularly once it became popular? Is making work that appeals to you, your son and a larger audience difficult?
YES. In an ideal world, I would do them the night before, but that’s not always possible. I can go through and tell which mornings were rushed and stressful based on the quality of the doodle. I’ve long ago abandoned the category of what pleases me — that happened the moment I drew my first Pokémon note. As far as a larger audience, I do love it when the notes get a lot of attention. But my son is the final judge and the only audience that counts. I can’t worry too much about the others if I still want this to be fun for both me and him.
What do you hope to bring to people through your sharing on Designer Daddy?
I love nothing more than a comment or private message from a reader telling me they were touched by something I’ve written, or that something I drew made them smile, or that I’m the first/only gay parent they’ve ever talked to. I hope to bring more of that.
What has been most rewarding about sharing your experiences?
Certainly the notes from readers I mentioned in the last question. But I also find comfort and strength from meeting others that can relate to the struggles I write about. Even with the Internet and 24/7 connectivity, we all experience loneliness or thinking that we’re the worst parent on the planet. Interacting with readers and other parent bloggers has been a lifesaver for me.
I’m also extremely honored to have had some of the experiences I’ve had while writing about parenting and doodling superheroes. I’ve been to the White House (twice); spoken at various blogging and social media conferences; walked nearly 100 miles across England with 11 other dad bloggers, among many others. The things I’ve gotten to do with my son are very special, too — we did an interview with the Australian Today Show, and the whole family did a promo spot for PBS Kids.
How can people, throughout the country, best be allies to LGBTQ+ individuals?
Stand up for and support your LGBTQ friends, family members, neighbors and coworkers. Ask them how you can help them individually. Maybe that’s going to Pride or attending a rally with them; or speaking on their behalf in your church, school, or workplace; or calling out your homophobic brother/ grandmother/ neighbor/ boss. But they may not always know how to answer your offer for help. It’s not the job of queer people to end homophobia and discrimination; it’s the responsibility of straight folks to shut down hatred or fear when they see it.
What's some queer media you've been enjoying? Any recent representation that feels particularly important?
Moonlight winning best picture, for sure. Amazing moment for the queer black community! While it didn’t get great reviews or ratings, I thought the miniseries When We Rise was a good Queer History 101 lesson, if nothing else. And as a comic book nerd, I’m loving all of the LGBTQ representation in comics. My favorites are Midnighter and Apollo, Ice Man (in X-Men comics and in his own book), Lumberjanes, and Harley and Ivy’s relationship in DC’s Bombshells.
Juana Medina is an author and illustrator of children's books. She lives in Washington, DC, with her wife, twin sons, and their dear dog, Rosita.
You can find Juana's work online at www.juanamedina.com, follow her on instagram at @juana_medina
"Comfort Cases is an organization started by a fellow gay dad and dear friend of mine. Comfort Cases provide overnight bags, toiletries and other essentials to kids in foster care. I think of how my son could have very easily ended up in the foster system; and even today the statistics for the emotional and physical health of foster kids are much too low. They need all the help, support and comfort we can give them." -Brent Almond