Death and Loss

A Family’s Journey From Joy to Loss and Back Again

Wayne Franklin is a gay dad. He’s also a widower, a cancer survivor and a pediatric electrophysiologist. His life has been packed with joys and sadnesses, and he’s about to embark on another chapter this summer as he accompanies his son Daniel on a service trip to Guatemala. That’s where Daniel was born and where his relatives live.


For a modest man who lives in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, Ill., all of these experiences might seem overwhelming. But Franklin is matter-of-fact. He has shouldered tremendous responsibility and kept moving – for both his son and himself.

The Adoption

Wayne and his husband, Jay Boeldt, decided to adopt back in 1999. At the time it was a relatively unusual move, but the two found a facilitator in the state of Washington who had worked with Guatemalan attorneys placing children from that country.

The couple was at a conference in Arizona when they heard from Guatemala. There was an infant in foster care, and they had 24 hours to decide whether to move forward. They decided to go for it, but there was a complication.

They couldn’t say that they were a gay couple, at least not overtly. They were told that if they went down waving rainbow flags, they wouldn’t get their child.

So the couple flew to Miami, Jay got off the plane, and Wayne’s stepmother got on. They then went on to Guatemala, and an extended legal proceeding.

"We had to go through the whole legal process in Guatemala," Wayne says. "There were lots of bumps in that road."

Wayne met the foster mother, and got the green card and visa for his new son to return. They flew back to Miami, the stepmom got off the plane, and Jay got on. The entire process took about eight months.

They named their son Daniel Boeldt Franklin. He was formally adopted in May 2000 (and will turn 16 in September).

"It was an incredibly exciting time," Wayne says today.

Jay and Wayne with their friends Dawn and Scott in 2009

His memories of the time are understandably positive. He and Jay received “unbelievable support” from friends and family. For his part, Daniel was “just an absolutely great kid,” who slept right away and immediately enriched their lives.

Not that there weren’t challenging. Becoming parents took some adjustment, Wayne says. It was difficult to live the way the couple had before. And at the time, they didn’t really have role models. Remember, this was 2000. Bill Clinton was still president, and folks searched the web using AltaVista.

"We didn't really know any other gay dads at that point," Wayne says. "It was a little bit lonely."

The couple and their son were fully integrated into all the playdates with straight friends, though. And Wayne’s current home, in Oak Park, has a diverse population and other same-sex couples with children around Daniel’s age.

But such challenges were small compared to what the family was about to face.

The Illness

A couple of years after adopting Daniel, Jay faced a series of health challenges.

According to Wayne, his husband dealt with chronic hepatitis B, contracted before a vaccine was available, and was HIV positive. His liver was also a concern. But a rebalancing of his medications, along with regular liver checks, allowed him to remain in good health for most of a decade.

But Jay began to feel ill toward the end of 2009. Tests were performed, and on New Year’s Eve of 2009 they received the diagnosis: inoperable liver cancer.

He lost about 80 pounds, and despite trying medications for short periods of time, Jay started hospice care in June of 2010.

Jay set a goal to make it to his son’s 11th birthday, which is on September 11. He made that date. The next goal was Halloween, one of his favorite holidays.

But late in the month he told Wayne, “I just can’t do it anymore."

He died on Sept. 30, 2010. He was 48 years old.

"At that point it was just Daniel and I," Wayne says.

And as hard as Jay’s passing was for the family, some five months before they had made a decision that brought them closer together than ever before.

Wayne and Daniel at a Justin Timberlake concert at the United Center in Chicago

The Wedding

While Jay and Wayne had talked about formally marrying, it took a question from their friend Cliff across the street to make up their minds.

"Are you guys going to get married?" he asked them.

Given Jay’s cancer diagnosis, they couldn’t wait until Illinois legalized same-sex marriage. Their only option at the time was tying the knot across the border in Iowa. They decided to go the following week, with Cliff helping out.

Daniel “was just so ecstatic,” Wayne says. He wanted to know if he could wear a white tuxedo to the ceremony. They said yes and tracked one down.

The couple ended up marrying in Davenport, Iowa, on April 26, 2010. They rode in Cliff’s minivan. They went to the county registrar's office, signed paperwork, and were married by a magistrate. Cliff was one of the witnesses, and Daniel stood next to the couple the entire time. (Below is a video of their wedding day.)

"It was so powerful for us,” Wayne says today. "The validation of our commitment to us was incredibly powerful."

When Jay died in September, Wayne made sure to list that he was married on the death certificate. The couple had been together for 15 years.

Daniel and his father then had to figure out their way ahead.

“I told Daniel, ‘Poppy was always the strict one. I was the easygoing one,’ ” Wayne says. Now, he was going to have to be strict about some things as well.

Members of Jay’s family helped them out, and continue to be in touch. But that didn’t make it any less difficult, ultimately. Wayne had already lost a partner of 10 years, Michael, before his relationship with Jay.

"I never thought that I'd be in my 50s and twice a widower," Wayne says.

Wayne and Jay with son Daniel on their wedding day, April 26, 2010

Another Illness

These losses and challenges would be enough for the lifetime of any one person. But there was more in store for Wayne.

In May 2011 he began to have some hearing problems after a flight. While specialists said it was probably nothing, they suggested that he receive an MRI to make sure nothing was out of the ordinary.

At 8 in morning, while Wayne was in the operating room with a patient, he received his MRI results. There was no visible reason for his hearing loss, but the scan showed a large brain tumor on the other side of his head.

Thankfully, he said, some of the equipment in the operating room broke, and that meant he didn’t have to keep working on the patient after receiving the news.

In a massive understatement, he says the news of the malignant tumor was "very concerning." He ended up having surgery to remove the tumor, a relatively quick procedure that required him to stay awake. The tumor was close the speech area of his brain, Wayne says, and the surgeons wanted to make sure they weren’t interfering with it.

The results were positive. Apart from some mild brain swelling, Wayne says, he had a rapid recovery. Daniel, yet again, coped admirably.

"When I say that he's resilient, he's incredibly resilient," Wayne says.

But the news didn’t stay good. In October, the tumor came back. Wayne had surgery once again and then started on a course of chemotherapy. He will be taking the drugs for two years. It’s a five-day course of oral treatment, followed by 23 days off.

And Wayne pushes forward, too. "If my son wasn't here, I wouldn't be so resilient," he says. He’s focused on staying healthy, being in as good a shape as possible for his son.

The Quest

All of which brings us, in a roundabout way, back to Guatemala.

Over the past year, Daniel had started asking questions about his birth mother. He was interested in tracking her down. While Wayne had always said that was a journey that could wait until his son turned 18, he ended up having a change of heart.

"He really was at a point where I saw his maturity was there," Wayne says.

He found a woman who lives in Guatemala who specializes in reuniting those who have adopted children from the country internationally with their birth families. Wayne sent her documents and information about Daniel, and she began a search.

Daniel in Laguna Beach, 2013

Two weeks later, they received an email from her, containing both terrible and wonderful news. Daniel’s mom had passed away 10 years ago. But he still had a warm and welcoming family, including half-siblings who were very much interested in meeting him.

"Daniel's mother had previously given birth to another child, who'll be 17 in the summer,” Wayne says. He also has an 11-year-old sister. Both have been raised by their mother’s sister, their and Daniel’s aunt. She has twin boys of her own, who are 13.

The family has sent wonderful pictures, Wayne says, and has been in touch by phone as well. After Daniel wrote them a letter in Spanish (learned at school), they thought he was fluent and called him up.

"They're talking Spanish, really really fast," Daniel told his father.

“Tell her to slow down!” Wayne responded. "It was very, very cool."

But the two aren’t content with a long-distance relationship with Daniel’s birth country. They’re going to be returning there this summer, with the help of another gay dad. Which takes us to the conclusion of this story – for now.

Daniel's brother and sister in Guatemala

The Trip

Daniel and Wayne are going to head to Guatemala from June 27 through July 5 as part of a service trip. It’s for families who want to give back to the country that gave them so much.

The trip is organized by Lee Walzer, who put together a service team called Team Rainbow Families. He has worked with Our Guatemala, a Guatemala-based service team facilitator that works with those interested in making a difference in communities in the country. Wayne ran across the group online after his son had started talking seriously about the country and his birth family.

According to an email from Lee, the group will visit “various projects and community organizations, bringing donations to help these organizations, learn and listen, and also doing some touring. We’ll be based in Antigua, Guatemala and working with an orphanage, a community project that gets beds to families that do not have them, a school, and a feminist-inspired community center (their motto is Social Justice Through Education and Art) that runs a preschool, empowers women and provides sex-positive sex ed, as well as a community organization up in Lake Atitlán.”

Lee and his husband, Kevin, live in Arlington, Va. Their son is Joshua, who is almost 12. The whole concept of these regular service trips to the country came from a road trip, of all things.

Driving home from Chicago, Lee and Joshua stopped to visit another gay dad family that they knew in Indiana. This family had adopted two children from Guatemala.

“I was chatting with the dads and they said that it would be fun if we all went to Guatemala together sometime, along with my husband and some other dad families that we know,” Lee writes. “Somewhere in the corn fields of eastern Indiana and western Ohio, I suddenly had the idea of putting together a team of gay dad families to visit Guatemala with our kids and make a small difference through work on various community projects. My husband, son, and I have visited Guatemala four times already and we are always looking to learn more about the country.”

The family first went when their son was 5 years old, did it again when he was 6, and according to Lee have gone back every two years since then. The group this time includes "four dad families and three mom families going on this trip (two moms – sisters – are going without their respective children). We’ll be eight adults and five kids,” he writes.

Wayne and Daniel are looking forward to the trip. And that might be putting it mildly.

"He's really excited,” Wayne says. “He's ecstatic about it."

And while the two have faced unthinkable challenges in the past, they have thrived. The love of family, both near at hand and far from home, endures and nourishes. That has kept them moving, and it’s part of what impels them toward Guatemala now.

Love has brought them to a new, exciting chapter.

Show Comments ()

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“There’s something about him that feels so very hard for me to put into words,” Danni, 51, told me, when we spoke by phone recently. “I’ve always described him as a Muppet,” he laughed. “He’s just a gangly, goofy, funny person. He’s very special. That’s the way I want people to know him.”

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Personal Essays by Gay Dads

A Brief History of Gay Times

Ferd van Gameren, a co-founder of Gays With Kids, gives a personal history of gay pride celebrations over the years

In 1994, my then-boyfriend Brian and I drove to New York City for Gay Pride.

We had met the year before at Mike's Gym, an almost exclusively gay gym in Boston's South End. A friend of Brian's somehow knew I was from Holland; that's how I believe my nickname Tulip came about.

(Come to think of it: Brian used to say that he'd prefer tulips on his organ to a rose on his piano.)

A quick glance at me in the locker room taught him what religion I wasn't.

And a friend of mine had already divulged to me what Brian had told him in confidence: He was HIV-positive.

Anyway, we met. We really liked each other. Then, on the third date, Brian revealed to me in a shaky voice what I already knew. We had our first, very careful sex that night.

We fell in love. We had dates in the South End, then a largely gay neighborhood. We made friends that were mostly gay. (But not exclusively; we befriended some lesbians too.) We went to see "Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss" and other little indie films that were, yes, gay, gay, gay.

With an AIDS diagnosis looming, we had no time to lose. Some of our new friends were getting sicker. Some died. Barely six months after the first kiss, we moved in together.

At that New York Pride, gay life was celebrated in the face of death. We saw men marching with dark Kaposi sarcoma lesions on their bared chests. We saw young men leaning on canes, too sick to walk, watching the parade from the sidelines. Men blind with cytomegalovirus loudly singing along to "Pride ­­– A Deeper Love" coming from the floats. We chanted and cried and watched a giant rainbow flag being carried along Fifth Avenue. And in our cut-off jeans and Timberland boots, we danced to Aretha and Whitney.

And then, thanks to enormous medical advances, the unthinkable happened for us: Brian stayed alive and healthy. As our horizon of life opened up, we learned to look ahead farther. We made plans for a future together that wasn't just measured in weeks or months.

We loved New York, and so we found jobs there and moved to Manhattan. Forced by my immigration issues we decamped temporarily to cold but wonderful Toronto, repatriated to New York five years later, and in 2017 returned to the Boston area.

We went from boyfriends to partners (for many years our term of choice), briefly to ex-partners, to partners again, and finally, in 2013, to husbands.

We got our first dog in 2005, a saucy Chihuahua named Duke, and showered him with love and attention. It awakened something in us that had long been dormant. But could we, at our age? Would Brian stay healthy?

Our answers were yes and yes. In 2009 we adopted a baby boy. Seventeen months later our two daughters were born.

In 2014 Brian began this website, Gays With Kids. So we're still gay, and our kids clearly have gay dads. They dance a mean Time Warp; instead of straight ahead they say gaily forward. They realize everyone is different, and they seem to like it that way.

But we live now in a predominantly straight suburb with an excellent school system. We socialize primarily with straight-but-not-narrow friends. Brian and I tell each other all the time we should really go back to the gym. We watch our little, almost exclusively gay indie films in bed on Netflix and Amazon Prime, after the kids have finally fallen asleep.

We're going to take our kids to New York Pride later this month. I envision something like this: Proudly holding their hands, we'll watch the floats in age-appropriate shorts and sensible footwear. We'll cheer on courageous Mormon or evangelical LGBT contingencies while the kids are busy licking lollipops. They will learn about Stonewall, AIDS and the road to marriage equality. Following the kids' lead, Brian and I will make some moves to "Old Town Road." With them, we'll belt out "Baby, why don't you just meet me in the middle?" And we will dance in the street to Madonna, Cher, Whitney and Gaga, the soundtrack of our lives for so many years.

Over the course of that weekend, in age-appropriate terms, we will tell our kids more about the lives of their daddy and papa.

Personal Essays by Gay Dads

Do We Have a Biological Right to Fatherhood? Absolutely, Says This Gay Dad

Jay Bostick, a gay foster dad, responds to Kevin Saunders' controversial essay "Why This Adopted Gay Man Will Never Have Children"

Editor's Note: Below is an essay by Jay Bostick who eloquently lays out many of the reasons why he and many other readers were upset by a post we ran yesterday by Kevin Saunders titled, "Why This Adopted Gay Man Will Never Have Children." This post clearly touched a nerve! (Check out the ongoing discussion on our Facebook page.) While some of our readers appreciated Saunders' viewpoint, many others felt slighted by his reasoning for not having children, calling him everything from "self-involved," "selfish," and an "insufferable narcissist." Many other readers rightly questioned why Gays With Kids would even run an essay from a man who does not want children on (of all place) a parenting website.

The former point is a matter of opinion, but I'll offer some clarification on the latter. We agreed to run this post for two reasons. First, Saunders' perspective is unique among many adopted gay men. We have run countless essays on this site featuring adopted gay men who, inspired by their own upbringing, decided to give back by opening up their homes to children who need them. Saunders' experience, however, led him to conscience decision not to have children, a perspective worthy of discussion particularly by anyone who has been touched by adoption in some way. Secondly, as a 52-year-old gay man, Saunders is starting to find himself alienated from many in his LGBTQ peer group for his decision not to have kids. Again, we are so much more familiar with the opposite perspective on our page: when they become parents, many gay men find themselves ostracized from the broader, childless LGBTQ community. That the inverse is also starting to become true is a testament to the increase in LGBTQ parents in the United States, and an interesting dichotomy we believed warranted further exploration.

All that said, Saunders' essay is a matter of opinion, and one our readers (nor we) certainly don't have to agree with. This is why we were thrilled to receive this "counterpoint" to Saunders's essay from Bostick. We, at least, are enjoying the respectful exchange of ideas, and hope you are as well. Give Bostick's essay a read, as well as the original, and then let us know what you think in the comments or at dads@gayswithkids.com.

--David Dodge, Managing Editor

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Adults

Why This Adopted Gay Man Will Never Have Children

Do we have a biological right to parenthood? Kevin Saunders, a childless 52-year-old gay man, says no.

Guest post written by Kevin Saunders.

Two dear friends of mine, each partnered, capable gay men of relatively sound mind and body, have recently decided to become fathers, and I could not be more unnerved. The expense, the risk, the potential for disappointment, the logistical complexity that they must navigate leave me baffled and at times enraged with the lingering question that I have, out of respect, refrained from asking, "WHY, WHY, WHY do you want to do this?!" These feelings toward what most would consider a happy occasion beg a reciprocal enquiry: "Why do you care?" The answer is rooted in a disposition and a history that has left me skeptical of the innate right to biological parenthood that many, gay or straight, seem to feel entitled to.

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Gay Dad Life

Gays WITHOUT Kids (If Just For a Day...)

Andrew Kohn explains why he decided to leave his kids at home this Pride

I'm not a monster. Yes, I saw the wagons carrying lovely toddler children waiving their flags and eating their graham crackers. The children were plentiful wearing their Pride family shirts, bejeweled in rainbow. The weather was perfect and the crowds were as prideful as ever. But my husband and I had a day where we didn't have to worry about someone else, not on the constant lookout for the next available bathroom or calming emotions because we could buy one unicorn costume and not every unicorn costume. We had a day without kids.

Yes, Pride has become commercialized. Some companies want my gay money, but others march and have a presence because one gay voice spoke up and asked why the company hasn't marched. I marched in the parade with my employer – who marched for the first time this year – because I started the conversation about why we hadn't marched before. My husband and I were present. We honored Stonewall. And praised Nina West. And we did it without carrying a bag with extra panties and a couple sippy cups.

Believe me, I get sharing the day with your children. With your family. But in my house, we live Pride every day. Two white dads caring for two black kids makes us walking billboards for equality, love, and acceptance. I don't need a day to celebrate my family with my children. We do it in the grocery store. We do it at preschool. We recognize our uniqueness and celebrate it. My children don't need a meltdown and a long walk to tell them about their history and their fathers' connection to the past.

Instead of worrying about where we would find lunch and, again, where the closest bathroom was, I saw beauty that took me by surprise – and I was able to be in the moment with it. Trans men waking boldly and bravely around only wearing only their bindings. Watching high school kids sitting in the grass, wearing crop tops and eating french fries, literally carefree looking up at the clouds. We experienced a community that was free and uninhibited, if just for one afternoon, where who you are isn't odd or something to be hidden. But rather something that is a definition of you and should be your reality 365 days a year.

I know that being gay and having kids can be overwhelming at times. We ask ourselves if we're representing our community adequately (or have we become too heteronormative?). If we have children of a different race, are we giving them the experiences they need to know who they are, as well as navigate that world with gay parents? Are we so embraced at school functions because of our contributions to community or are we a token family? And yes, I'll ask it, are we good enough for acceptance by all gay families, who as if we're single again, judge each other on wealth, looks, and status? No family is better than any other, and gay parents certainly have opportunities to be better towards one another.

Our Pride ended in a small fight while walking to the car, like all good Pride's should. But it wasn't about kids bickering, or kids getting upset they didn't get the right treat. It was about us centering ourselves in a community that isn't exactly welcoming in certain spaces to gay families other times of the year. It was about us catching up with our past while also seeing our collective future.

And the kids didn't seem to mind. They had fun with a babysitter and lived their Pride out loud when they shopped for daddy and papa gifts for Father's Day. That's our Pride. Maybe when the kids are older, and really get the meaning of Pride, we'll start marching together in solidarity. But for right now, daddies needed a little time alone to reconnect with their LGBT family. And while there may be too many beer ads and not enough voter registration tables, we celebrate visibility and love. And my husband and I had time together, reminding us of who we are, who our original family was, and how we will connect who we are now, and our children, with that family as it grows.

At the end of the day, we're all in it together. And my children will be enriched by the experience. Just not this year. This year, we fertilized our roots so that our branches can grow.

Fatherhood, the gay way

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