Gay Dad Life

Family Spotlight: Joaquín, Charles and Alex

“Looking back, I don’t know what life was like before Alex.”

Those are the words of Joaquín Moreno, who together with husband Charles Bell adopted their son through the California foster system last year. The couple wants to speak out about the system, but not because of the reasons you might assume.

For them, Joaquín and Charles say, going through the foster system has been a great experience. They not only were able to begin their family, but they availed themselves of abundant resources from the state.

“It’s a very viable option for a lot of people,” Charles says today.

The two are located in the Monterey, California area and met on Grindr, back in 2010. Joaquín is an inclusion facilitator at a charter school and Charles is a meteorologist for the National Weather Service.

They married in 2013 (although it wasn’t legal in their state at the time) and made it officially official in July. One thing they both agreed on from the beginning, though, was starting a family.

“Family has always been a huge thing,” Joaquín says. “I want to keep the legacy going, as far as my belief system.”

“We were both at the right place at the right time,” Charles says.

But how would they do it? Based on the experience of some of Charles’s friends, the couple decided to try the foster care system. After making sure their finances were in order, they took classes through a local group called the Kinship Center from October to December of 2012.

They weren’t impressed by the costs and other issues surrounding surrogacy and international adoption. What’s more, they thought, they could help someone local through the foster care system.

“We both know there’s an incredible number of kids in need of families,” Charles says. “We both resolved that was really the method we wanted to go through.”

After finishing their classes at the end of 2012, Joaquín and Charles were ready. And on the trip home from their Palm Springs honeymoon in April 2013 they received a video of Alex.

Charles (l), Alex and Joaquín

“It just hit us, like, Wow, this is really happening,” Charles says.

A week and a half after their return, they met the 4-year-old at a park, active and physical, playing on the monkey bars. They followed that up with overnight visits, then weekend stays. They began to bond.

“You could just tell from his energy that he wanted to find a home,” Joaquín says.

Alex finally came to live with Charles and Joaquín the day before he turned 5 years old, on May 31, 2013. His adoption was formalized a little less than a  year later. He’s now attending second grade and doing well.

We’re getting ahead of ourselves here, but to prove a point: Adoptions from the foster care system can and do succeed.

That doesn’t mean the adjustment didn’t pose challenges.

Joaquín, because of his school job, was off for the summer. Charles took three weeks off from work. They focused on bonding during that time, going on camping trips and helping Alex adjust to the rules of their home.

“It’s a rough time period; people are finding their rhythms,” Joaquín said.

Charles says he lost 15 pounds in the first three weeks that Alex was in their home. Keeping up with a high-energy child could be a challenge.

“Here is someone who’s 5 years old and already has opinions and personality and everything,” he says.

One of the biggest advantages the couple – and Alex – had in getting settled is that Joaquín comes from a special education background. He gave Alex a solid structure, with a regular scheduling and clear expectations.

Charles (l), Alex and Joaquín

It was security Alex didn’t have before, the couple says, and it helped at the beginning as he was getting emotionally regulated. There were times he might want to run out of the house and they would need to talk about safety.

And on occasion, Charles would have to call Joaquín at work and admit: “I don’t know what to do here.”

The state foster system helped, too. It provided attachment therapy sessions twice a month. Alex also had speech therapy sessions and occupational therapy to help his communication and coordination abilities. Both improved dramatically, and have resolved.

“Alex is not the same kid he was when he moved into our home,” Joaquín says today.

They are open about Alex being adopted. “He knows there’s no shame in it,” Joaquín says. “He knows that he’s in a much better place now.”

Those who knew Alex before, the couple says, are “completely amazed by the transformation.”

The couple is currently mulling over adding to their family, although the pieces aren’t all in place to do so quite yet. But they have absolutely no regrets, and urge other couples to educate themselves about the foster system.

“We would gladly do it all over again,” Joaquín says.

“Oh, definitely,” adds Charles.

Photo credit: Michael Falco

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Tripp and Terry’s road to fatherhood of siblings began with the purchase of a bunk bed.

In 2012, two young gay men living in Los Angeles finished their foster-adopt training. Tripp and Terry were 28 and 30 years old at the time. They had met in their final year of college and had been together for six years when they got married on August 21, 2010.

Tripp and Terry always wanted to be dads, but neither of them had any great desire to have a newborn. Tripp’s preferred minimum age was 3, and Tripp describes Terry as being fantastic with teenagers; they met somewhere in the middle and started looking to foster kids in between the age of 6 and 9.

It was the purchase of that bunk bed that launched their search for brothers.

But the road to fatherhood wasn't easy for Tripp and Terry, and their experience with the foster system could best be described as a nightmare. They went through two foster agencies after the first one was shut down due to the CEO embezzling money from the agency. The second agency came with its own set of issues and neuroses, as became clear when they inspected Tripp and Terry’s home and threw away over a hundred dollars worth of spices from the cabinets because the production year had passed!

Tripp (left) and Terry with Chris and Alex

Tripp and Terry's advice to future dads considering fostering: Do your homework! They admit that they did not do enough research for the best possible foster agency and after a quick Google search signed up for classes with the first possible agency. Tripp and Terry also highly recommend that your kids have a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). The role of a CASA is to advocate for abused and neglected children; to gather information, make recommendations to the judge and to represent the child's best interests. “They will be the only person in the courtroom during the process that will advocate for the children,” shared Tripp.

The day after Tripp and Terry completed their training in early May 2012, the phone started ringing. Having only just completed the training program, Terry and Tripp didn’t feel ready for the bombardment of calls, and asked if they were to expect daily calls to start so quickly. When the agency responded affirmatively, Tripp said, “Call us on May 16.”

On May 16, the phone rang. The agency was calling, with the following message: “We have two boys, 6 and 10. They are unwashed, non-English speaking, borderline-intellectual functioning, and severely neglected. Do you want them?” This time, Terry and Tripp said yes.

When the two boys, Chris, 10, and Alex, 6, walked through their door that night, Terry and Tripp were surprised to meet two English-speaking, intelligent boys with, as it turned out, only some minor special needs. Tripp and Terry consider that evening, that moment, as the beginning of their family.

Tripp with Alex

But Tripp and Terry's family wasn't complete. The boys had a sister, Kat, who at first was placed with a different foster family and then went back to live with their birth mom. On December 16, 2014, Terry and Tripp received a call from the Department of Children and Family Services that Kat, who was 15 at the time, had voluntarily left her birth mom’s house and needed a place to live. Despite their initial nervousness, Terry and Tripp knew this was the best alternative and Kat came to live with them.

Alex, Kat and Chris

Today, Alex is 10 years old, Chris is 14 and Kat is 17. When asked to describe each of their kids, here’s what Tripp and Terry had to say:

“Alex is a Tasmanian Devil who has fallen in love with the idea of himself as a super-villain. He's funny and creative and believes he's dating the animated character, Raven, from Teen Titans Go! He's very sweet but prone to anger and aggression when frustrated. At the end of the day, though, quiet, simple moments with Alex (puzzling or drawing or making dinner) are some of my happiest.

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