Alone Together? Raising Children When the Relationship Ends
For decades, gay men who split pretty much just split. There weren’t all those legal hassles to deal with and there certainly weren’t any children. Times have changed, in case you haven’t noticed, and gay men with kids are learning how to get along after the relationships end. We spoke with three couples who have dissolved their partnerships, but kept up the relationships for some very important reasons. Let’s hear it for the kids.
When David Met Bob
For David and Bob, a funny thing happened on the way to family bliss. David, 54, and Bob, 52, met online and fell in love, and David uprooted his North Carolina world to Seattle, to live with Bob and Bob’s two adopted sons. Bob shared custody with his ex. And Bob’s ex had a new partner, and all four men would soon live a few houses away.
Sound like trouble a-brewin’? Hardly. With parenthood comes responsibility, and these four men learned how to make what could have been a difficult situation into a family values plan.
While Bob and his ex are, admittedly, no longer close, they share mutual respect. “We have the same circle of friends,” he says. “We go to the same events, same parties, and everything is really cordial. There are no remotely harsh words or anything. But we wouldn’t hang out were it not for the kids.”
The kids, of course, are what matters. Their custody agreement means the boys move houses every Thursday, and the distance is short in more ways than one.
“If the kids are affected, it creates a really bad situation, not healthy at all,” says Bob. “It didn’t matter what our personal feelings were.”
For David, Bob’s priorities were a deal maker. “That was one of the characteristics of Bob that I was attracted to,” he says. “They had put their difference aside and showed such a level of maturity, how they acted as co-parents.”
Today, Bob and David and ex and ex’s new partner, have done something unique: Essentially, they have given their children four dads, all of whom have equal say, in an environment that looks to the present and the future, not the past.
“We all have an equal voice,” says David, a man who entered what could have been a very volatile situation, but sounds more like a guy who just got free tickets to Disney World. “That goes for everything. With school, we all go together as a group. Same with parent conferences.”
David adds that the kids are lucky because “they have both worlds. They have four different adults with four different views of the world.”
New York State of Child
Ralph, and Joe, both 50, adopted their son 15 years ago when they lived in Manhattan. They never made their partnership legal, and they ended the relationship six years later, when their son was nine. The split was not pretty, and there was a point where Ralph contemplated suing for sole custody.
“We hated each other, plain and simple,” says Ralph, who even fled to California for a year. “I just wanted to get away. Joe and I alternated having our son six months at a time, plus back and forth on vacations, but it was a horrible strain on everyone.”
After fighting constantly over custody times, they decided on a smarter path.
“We decided that, screw it, we had to get along,” says Ralph. “Even though we were separated, we went to a couple's counselor to figure out how to cope. Had our son not been in the picture, we just would have left each other’s lives for good. But that was not an option. Now we alternate weeks with our son, no exceptions. And we alternate holidays.”
Their therapist, whom Ralph calls a “lifesaver,” provided them with rules about how to communicate, and boundaries they both needed to respect.
“I moved back to New York, which was part of the deal,” says Ralph. “Joe and I only spoke about our child, and we only spoke to each other in a good frame of mine. Once we got over our own garbage we realized how much we both loved talking about our child and everything that’s happening with him.”
Since Ralph and Joe’s breakup involved infidelity, they opted not to visit each other’s home, hang out together, or talk about new relationships unless necessary. The result?
“We get along great,” says Ralph. “After awhile you only care about what’s important—in this case that’s our son.”
Jeff, 46, and Gary, 53, got married in Massachusetts, then moved to Vermont, where they had to get a Civil Union, then, seven years ago, dissolved both, and on very good terms. One more thing: They have a seven-year-old adopted daughter, and she mattered more than anything.
“He lives one town over,” says Jeff, on his ex, Gary. “We both have new partners. We each have our daughter 50 percent of the time.”
“After seven years we do so many things together,” says Jeff, adding that all four men are close. “Barbecues, parent-teacher conferences; at music concerts for our daughter there are four of us there.”
Any nasty stories of bitter gay breakups don’t apply here, and don’t even enter Jeff’s head when he speaks.
“It was amicable,” says Jeff of the breakup. “We decided we’d be better off as friends.”
Like David and Bob, Jeff says his daughter gains from the extra parental figures. “She really gets something from each of us. One dad might be outdoorsy, one better at hair, one at nature. On vacation we took her to the Bahamas. Her other dads will take her fishing. She makes four Father’s Day cards. She loves everyone.”
Once again, perspective is key. “Gay men can be very selfish,” says Jeff. “Being self-absorbed, going to Provincetown, having a gym body. Having kids puts that stuff on the back burner. You’re seeing life through her eyes, and we want to be good role models. We’re still a family even if we’re not long-term soul mates.”
Jeff says there are no grudges, no hard feelings, no fights. Just, what he thinks, is a happy child.
“I always say I want her to be president someday because she’s going to have a great story to tell, about having four dads."