Bob and Dale: Paying It Forward
You are a woman. You work in a factory for pennies. You live in a shack with no electricity or running water. You are pregnant, but the father of your twins left you for his first wife after he found out you were expecting. And you are doing all of this in the hinterlands of southwest Vietnam.
You make an excruciating decision: give up your babies for adoption. The chances of seeing them again are nil, you have no idea who the prospective parents are personally, but you know you are making the best choice for their future that you had. Contacts are made, paperwork is done, the twins — boys — arrive, and then...done. The adoption goes through to a gay couple in the United States and, come what may, you get on with your life.
This situation, particularly in developing countries, is more common than you would think. More uncommon, in Bob and Dale's situation, however, was happened next.
“I always wanted to have kids, but thought it would never happen,” Bob Page says, echoing the sentiment of his husband, Dale Frederiksen.
When the two met, in 1988, it was a sentiment many same-sex couples had. For the Pages, just becoming a couple was daunting: Bob was in North Carolina, Dale in Tennessee, but both men were so deep in the closet they may as well have lived in Narnia. But even in the pre-cyberspace days, down-low LGBTQs had extensive networking tools.
“We met through a print ad,” says Bob. “Everybody gets a little chuckle out of that, but this was before the Internet. Then we phone-dated.”
In an enormous leap of faith, Dale left his teaching job and crossed state lines to be with the voice on the other end of the phone. They have been together ever since, marrying two years ago. When one of Bob’s co-workers became unexpectedly pregnant, there was talk of the two men adopting the child. That fell through — but the fire was lit.
“So we decided to try an adoption agency working with same-sex couples,” Bob says. “We found Cradle of Hope up in Washington, DC. They were doing adoptions through Vietnam.”
Bob admits having his heart set on twins, seeing the close bond his father and uncle, also twins, had. In 1999 came a call from a woman near the Cambodian border had put her twin boys up for adoption. What followed is reminiscent of an epic saga, replete with transglobal flights, reams of paperwork, a first visit to meet the twins Hien and Hau, a second visit to actually get them, language barriers, red tape, corrupt officials (“just slip them $20,” advises Dale), and the fact frontier Vietnam is practically lawless. Because the adoption was not automatically final, either Bob or Dale were required to stay inside the hotel room with the babies, and resorted to eating in shifts and bringing food back to the room. Throughout was the dread that something, anything, would go wrong. When the new family set foot on American soil, the relief was as palpable as the joy.
In fact, of all the things that did happen, the one thing that did not was a face-to-face with the mother, Huong. It was a nagging point that would eventually take on more and more weight. Finally, Bob and Dale decided to go back and personally thank the woman who made their lives complete. With then 9-year-old (and re-christened) Owen Hien and Ryan Hau in tow, the Page-Frederiksens made their way to the Vietnamese back country three hours outside Ho Chi Minh City.
“She was living in a grass hut,” Bob recalls. “She had two daughters then, and was a single mother working in a factory earning about $70 a month.”
So they bought her some pots. And pans. And furniture. And a motorcycle to get around. And a fully-wired, fully-plumbed house to put it all in.
About now you might be thinking that even when taking into account the enormous gratitude adoptive parents feel for their birth mothers, Bob and Dale’s seems particularly munificent. And if you have never cracked a plate or shattered a glass, congratulations! But for the less dexterous and more accident-prone, Bob is the man you call---Or, rather, his company is.
An avid flea market shopper, Bob quit his auditor job in 1981 and used his finds to start an antique china and glassware mail-order business specializing in replacing the one-off damaged piece of a set. Everyone, the Small Business Administration included, declared the move a money-pit. Flash forward to 2017 and Replacements, LTD is a 400-employee, $80-million-a-year company with a 13-million-piece inventory going back to the 1800s. But to talk to Bob, the son of a tobacco farmer, is to talk to a man who knows the value, but also the impact, of a dollar. If you have the money to spend and know the good it will do, the purse-strings should be loosened at once. He saw a person who needed help, who deserved it, and so got it.
“Huong had sewing skills, so we bought her a sewing machine and she now makes clothing for her village,” Bob says, adding, “She sells mangoes from the trees on the property. She’s pretty self-sufficient, and we send her money every month to put her daughters in school.”
To top it off, they bought a home for Huong’s parents.
In fact, Bob and Dale’s giving nature seems to know no limit. In addition to now-18-year-old Ryan and Owen, also part of the family is 17-year-old Kennedy Nzekwe from Nigeria (sponsored, not adopted).
“He has an older brother who played on the same soccer team as our boys,” Bob explains. “And he was telling us how Kennedy really wanted to come to the US. So we decided to sponsor him. He’s in school with the boys.”
This boundless sense of giving is felt far beyond the family. Living in Greensboro, North Carolina, and among the most prominent business owners---gay or straight---Bob, 72, and Dale, 54, now out and proud, are in the spotlight far more than they could have predicted.
“We’ve been huge supporters of the HRC,” says Bob. “Several people said Equality North Carolina would not have survived had it not been for our support. We’re a big supporter of the local AIDS foundation and many others: adoption, urban ministries, Habitat for Humanity. And we are a major supporter of the Quaker school where our kids attend.”
Yet despite constant balancing of the public eye with their private lives, the Page-Frederiksens remain an everyday family.
“It’s been the greatest experience in my life, having kids,” Bob says. “I have never for one moment regretted it.”
And with any luck, a woman in a distant land feels the same.