A national LGBTQI+ storytelling project curated by Maeve Marsden
featuring a book, event series and an award-winning podcast

A national LGBTQI+ storytelling project curated by Maeve Marsden
featuring a book, event series and award-winning podcast

259 Michael James – What’s in a name?

Michael has a chat with his foster son on one of their regular visits to the dog park.

Michael James is a teacher, writer, producer and the current entertainment editor for Qnews magazine. In 2011 Michael and his husband came to prominence as part of the “RipnRoll” campaign that gained international attention and spurred his involvement in queer activism. He has served on the Brisbane Pride Festival committee for 8 years and been an active part of the Brisbane queer community. In 2011 Michael and his husband also became parents to a then 9 year old boy through the Qld foster system who went on to become a permanent part of their lives as they cared for him and grew to become a family with him into his adulthood. He has written about this experience through his blog “Two dads and me.”


Maeve: Hi, I’m Maeve Marsden, and you’re listening to Queerstories. This week, Michael James is a teacher, writer, producer and the current entertainment editor for Qnews magazine. He’s served on the Brisbane Pride Festival committee for 8 years and been an active part of the Brisbane queer community. You can read more of his work on his blog “Two dads and me.” Enjoy.

Michael: In 2011 my now husband and I became foster carers to a 9 year old boy, who would eventually become our son. Now or story telling purposes I like to refer to our son as ‘Flash,’ which is both an homage to his birth name and also one of his favourite TV characters.

And so our story picks up just over a year after we had met him, and at a time of great change in all of our lives.

Several weeks had passed since he had moved in and we were beginning to establish a routine each day. We lived in a beautiful suburb in Brisbane tucked away on the outskirts of national forest. Families populated the area heavily so naturally there were plenty of local parks to visit. Flash loved building routine as part of a family. It was something that had always been so far out of reach for him. As often as possible he would ask that we go to the park together every afternoon. Sometimes he would ride his bike confidently through the streets and other days he would insist on holding Missy’s lead as he made the short journey a few streets away. Missy had taken to the new addition to the family as though he had always been there, she loved his company and knew that her job now included protecting him as well. Off they would trot towards the park together. Even though she could easily pull away, she always trotted along at a steady pace ensuring that he could keep up with her. They were a beautiful and hilarious pairing that the neighbours soon grew to know and love. A huge lumbering Saint Bernard being walked by a child small enough that he could ride her if she’d let him!

When it came to play time at the park the two of them were as bad as each other, running around feverishly getting into anything that they could. Missy would chase other dogs, her thundering bark striking fear into the hearts of over protective dog owners terrified she was about to eat their little pride and joy. Meanwhile Flash would slowly work his way around any other children in the park, testing the waters, seeing if they were receptive to playing with him and working hard to get their attention. Often they were oblivious to his attempts to be noticed and he’d resort to “accidentally” kicking his ball in front of them or falling dramatically where he knew they could see him. Sometimes it resulted in someone to play with, other times he retreated back to our company to check on Missy. When people asked about her he would step forward to answer questions about how old she was, how much she ate and what it was like to exercise her. It was a great opportunity for him to get attention and was an interesting insight into his ability to socialise with adults versus children. With kids, he was shy and awkward, unable to initiate conversation, but adults on the other hand were a piece of cake.

Growing up in care, he had spent so much of his life around adults he had learnt to manipulate them for their attention, the things to say to draw sympathy, how to make them laugh so they’d think he was cute. He was a little old man reciting war stories to a captivated audience and he loved it.

One particular day after a night of rain we ventured down to the park, this time Missy being led by us while Flash raced around on his bike. Once we arrived Missy took off to investigate with Flash in hot pursuit. Before we knew what had happened she came racing back to us, covered in mud closely followed by a hysterically giggling Flash. They raced off again and we watched as she found her mud puddle and proceeded to not just sit but roll in the mud, covering herself in as much of it as possible. Then she stood as if in slow motion and began to shake, covering an unsuspecting Flash from head to toe in mud, spraying him like a car wash as he squealed in shock and excitement. Content they came back to us, both smiling as much as the other. They trotted home side by side, filthy but happy down the street. Once we arrived home Missy was tied up much to her dismay, and the hose was started and we began the mud cleanse.

‘What are you doing?’ Flash screamed when we turned the hose on him.
‘Getting you cleaned, like your sister’ we grinned. Now it was our turn to laugh as he ran around the yard squealing until we’d hosed him down enough to let him into the house.

Making memories in those parks was some of the best times of our early days, from watching him play basketball, to the bike riding and mud baths, but nothing would ever beat the day he sat me down for an important conversation.

My partner Anthony was still at work so it was just the two of us. We took a football down to the park to kick around. Now sport had never been my forte, in fact it was one of my least favourite things, however I put aside how terrible I was to try and do things that he enjoyed. After we arrived, both Flash and I struggled to kick straight or manage a decent catch, and I could see something was ticking over in his brain. After giving up on the ball he decided it was time to climb the obscure wiring structure thing that adorned the centre of the park, insisting that I followed him up. Somehow I made it without tripping, falling or breaking any bones, and I sat catching my breath beside him as we looked out across the park. 
‘So… ah… I was wondering something…’ his eyes looked down to the ground below as his feet dangled over the edge. 
‘What’s that mate?’ I honestly wasn’t sure what was to come at this point, but we’d always told him he could ask us anything at all. 
‘Well, you know how we’re like a family now?’ he queried quietly. 
‘Yeah of course we are’ I smiled as I put my arm around him and gave a reassuring hug ’
‘Does that mean I still have to call you Michael and Anthony…?’ Now I could see where this was going.
‘You can call us whatever you like mate, what were you thinking?’

We’d been wondering ourselves what he would end up calling us or if it would remain our first names forever, but we’d certainly not expected it so soon.
‘Well, you’re like my dads right?’ his confidence building as his eyes lifted from the ground. 
‘Absolutely mate’ I smiled. 
‘Can I call you guys dad then? But like, I can’t call you both dad cause that will get confusing!’

His excitement began to build, he’d broken the barrier and he hadn’t been shut down.

‘We would love that very much mate! What do you think you should call us then? What are some other things people call their dads?’

I left the idea hanging for him to see what he could come up with. 
‘I can only think of Dad and Daddy and maybe father?’ he grinned.

‘I certainly think we can work with those, but what about the first two? Dad and Daddy?’ 
Suddenly his eyes lit up. ‘Yes!’ He squealed with delight before he stopped suddenly.

‘But… who is who?’ he said in wonder as he looked around for answers.

‘Well mate, that’s totally up to you, whatever you like.’

He pondered the decision for a minute as if preparing for a difficult test before turning to me and stating very matter of factly. 
‘I think you should be Dad and Anthony should be Daddy.’ It was definitely not a question, I had been allocated my title and it was mine to keep.

There was a spring in his step as we made our way home later on, some great comfort had been wrapped around him, his world changed for the better.

Later that night we had a laugh as we discussed our new titles, he hadn’t surprised us by the request but he’d certainly surprised us with the outcome. We had both expected that the titles would be reversed. There was something more authoritative about the title of ‘Dad’ that we thought he would bestow upon on Anthony. He was calm and strong, firm and no nonsense. Softer, gentler, slightly more flamboyant, if you will, ‘Daddy’ had seemed a little bit more fitting for myself. But he’d thrown us for a loop that day and made the decision on our behalf, and not once in the years to follow would he ever doubt or change those titles, in his mind he knew from the very start that was who we would be to him and that was how it would always be. Thank you.



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Queerstories is produced by Maeve Marsden and recorded by wonderful technicians at events around the country. Editors and support crew have included Beth McMullen, Bryce Halliday, Ali Graham and Nikki Stevens.