“Then I noticed he had a little birthmark near his left eye that looked like Ireland. I had never seen one like that before. If you start to perceive the world as magical it starts to become magical. In reality I wasn’t ready to become a dad, but who is?”
O'Callaghan's epic struggle to adopt and nurse this Ugandan child back to health ranks among the most selfless and heroic tales you will ever hear. O'Callaghan decided to become the hero for this kid that he had always wanted to find for himself.
But when he told Irish people (and his own family) about his plans they were very comfortable telling him off.
“Who do you think you are? Angelina f***ing Jolie?; my mother asked me. They mentioned Madonna. None of them would take me seriously,” O’Callaghan says.
“When I told them I had met this little boy who I felt was my son they said crazy things, whatever came into their heads. I didn’t take it personally. I know what people say is generally a reflection of themselves.”
When the Irish media heard about his adoption and then the one man play that tells the story, quite a few of them called him up with opening questions like this: “So, you met the birth father – what did he say when you told him you’re gay?”
Sensationalism was the first item on their menu. Common decency was dead last.
“I was ready to end these interviews. My son's birth father was sick with AIDS and hadn’t seen him for three years,” O’Callaghan says.
“We met in a hut in the middle of nowhere. He didn’t speak English. I wanted to save the kid’s life. My play is about how love can save somebody, and how in the process he saved me.”
In deciding to adopt the boy he would eventually call Odin, after the Norse god of wisdom, for the first time O'Callaghan was following his own heart.
“As far back as going to university I was doing what people wanted me to do. This was the first time I was doing what I felt I should do,” he says.
“I stopped listening to people who weren’t in favor and I didn’t have any doubts. It wasn’t a choice anymore. The alternative was that he might die. It became about saving someone’s life. I was going to do it.”
Some groused that he was a privileged white man who had impulsively decided to adopt a little brown kid, but no one really saw what the commitment actually entailed.
“All of a sudden I was raising him and dealing with him. It became all about raising him,” O’Callaghan says.
Back in LA people would follow them in the supermarket, fascinated to see that a little brown kid had a white dad. They would ask him if they could buy Odin chocolate or give him a hug. Others would ask where the child’s mother was.
“They felt like they could say whatever they wanted to me,” says O'Callaghan. “Why not accept that we were a little family?”
“What was I supposed to say anyway?” he wondered. “His mom’s dead? In front of the little kid? I wasn’t trying to be an activist. My concern was to get him out of Uganda. It’s actually a beautiful thing to adopt. These kids do well whether their parents are gay or straight.”
Now Odin is thriving, O'Callaghan says. Everyone who meets him is in awe of him.
“I have a terrific therapy practice in Los Angles. I see clients two days a week and it’s been a beautiful journey,” he says.
“Work just comes to me now. Acting wise, I rarely audition. So the key message is to follow your heart to success.
“We all have our own path. I didn’t have the confidence in Ireland to do that, but I do now. My son owns who he is, that’s a gift I didn’t have growing up.
“Maybe he’ll go back to Uganda with it, or maybe he’ll chose to stay here in the U.S. I’ll support him whatever his decision is.”
(Who’s Your Daddy? is playing at the Irish Repertory Theatre until May 12. For tickets and showtimes visit www.irishrep.org.)
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