About to graduate from college, Carl tells the story of his childhood, a sort of informal testimonial to thank the men who raised him. To begin with, he was leery about having a gay couple for his foster parents, but living with Leonard Schafer and James MacPhalen, he found love, respect, and stability for the first time in his young life. Now that his biological father has reappeared and wants him back, everything may change again… and not for the better.
Sometimes laughter is the only remedy for sorrow.
I was expecting a heart-warming journey, but I never thought I’d laugh as much as I did while reading My Three Dads. Carl has a sharp tongue that finally meets its match with James. It is their sometimes off-color humor that veers the plot away from sentimentality. Fostering an older child who has experienced more disruptions than he can recall isn’t easy. It would have been disingenuous to portray Carl as anything other than the troubled, distrustful, angry preteen he was when he first moved in with James and Leonard, but giving these characters such well rounded senses of humour softens the difficult times they experience as a brand new family.
The first half of the story was so interesting I couldn’t stop reading. Carl has to unlearn many negative stereotypes and habits that he picked up in previous homes, and seeing him awkwardly react to people and places he had previously thought were bad was eye-opening. It’s difficult to face one’s one prejudices like that, and Carl’s willingness to change his mind when confronted with new information made me like his character even more than I had before.
This book is described as a contemporary romance, but it reads like a young adult novel. The type of love Carl hopes to find is paternal instead of romantic. His fathers are longterm partners when they begin fostering him, and the plot centers around Carl deciding if he’s ready to try to become part of an emotionally healthy family. He spent most of his childhood bouncing around from one neglectful or abusive home to the next and has long since forgotten what it’s like to loved or wanted when Leonard and James enter his life. This search for a permanent place to belong and Carl’s occasional struggles with other people’s reactions his non-traditional family would make this tale very appealing to middle and high school aged students.
I can’t in good conscience recommend it to teenagers, though, because of what happens in later on in the plot. The heat level for this story was described as “sweet”, but the scenes in which Carl spies on his dads quickly become much more sexually graphic than is typical for this category. In one scene his fathers engage in heavy petting in the living room late one night when they think their son is sleeping. In another they are quietly having sex in their bedroom when Carl sneaks up on them. Carl has never lived with a happy, peaceful, loving couple before and it takes a long time for him to adjust to his new circumstances. He is understandably curious about how his fathers express their emotions to one another when he isn’t around, but the level of detail about what he sees is just as inappropriate as Leonard’s extremely angry response when Carl’s presence is detected in the hallway outside his fathers’ bedroom.
I would have also like to see more attention paid to all of the legal trouble that Carl’s biological father stirs up when he discovers his son is about to be adopted. The idea that any parent could abandon his child to for well over a decade and then show up and disrupt his child’s last chance to have a stable life is illogical to me.
Biological parents have rights, of course, but I was flabbergasted at how seriously this man’s objections were taken and wish this section of the story had been explained more carefully. The legal and moral implications of the case are troubling and fascinating and had this section been given more time to develop the book would have earned a much higher rating.
My Three Dads shows a lot of promise. The premise caught my attention immediately, and the narrator’s description of his chaotic childhood and slow, halting adjustment to his final family was as realistic as it was touching. The emotional bond that develops between Carl and his dads brought tears to my eyes and gave me glimpses of the story it could have been.