Death and Loss

Finding New Love After Losing a Husband

José Rolón didn’t know where life would take him after husband Tim Merrell unexpectedly died. But he knew he needed to be there for his three children. Now, the wedding planner is balancing life with a new partner while honoring Tim’s memory for himself and his children.


When José Rolón initially met future husband, Tim Merrell, in 2007, he felt sure he knew what he wanted in a partner. When the two men started dating, though, José felt a little pushback.

“When I met Tim, he was very clear he didn’t want children,” José said. “I think as soon as the third date, it came up. It was hard, but I thought it was worth the sacrifice to be with Tim.”

Their relationship grew deeper together, and the two married in 2010. They built a happy life full of love, laughter and travel. But José still felt like something was missing.

“I would bring it up or make a joke about having kids,” he said. “Tim would always say, ‘You knew who you were marrying.’ And he was right.”

But after a year of marriage, everything changed.

Tim and José with Avery. Photo credit: C J Isaac Photography

“One day, he starts to talk to me about surrogacy,” José said. “He said he had seen Elton John and his husband talking about surrogacy, and he spent the whole night researching it. He was finally open to it.

“That was the thing with Tim: Once he made a decision, he was 100 percent committed.”

The husbands worked with an agency and were partnered with a surrogate. In the spring of 2013, their son Avery was born.

“Tim immediately fell in love with Avery,” José said. “All of a sudden, he was obsessed with being a dad.”

Tim and José with Avery. Photo credit: C J Isaac Photography

The strong-willed, caring Tim took so completely to fatherhood that when Avery was only two months old, he started talking about another child. The man who had initially said no to kids now was thinking about having more than just one. Soon after, the two started planning for a second surrogacy.

“At the 10-week appointment with our surrogate, we found out we were having twins,” José said. “I was the one freaking out, but Tim was totally calm.”

After that appointment, the two dreamed of a life together with their son and twin girls. And José realized how much Tim had grown — and how much they had both grown together.

A week later, Tim died in his sleep from heart failure. He was 48 years old. When his body was discovered, his hands were tucked peacefully under his cheek.

“I was devastated,” José said. “I thought, ‘I can’t support three kids by myself.’ I didn’t know what to do.”

José with Avery. Photo credit: Sonia Bousquet

Days after the service, 8-month-old Avery, in his walker, kept reaching out to touch a poster of Tim’s face from the funeral. Seeing his son reaching out for the father the boy might never remember, José made a decision.

“I decided to move ahead with the twins’ pregnancy,” he said. “I was an only child with parents who had passed away. Now Avery had just lost a parent. I knew what that loss felt like. If he were ever to lose me, I wanted to know he had a family, a sibling, to be there for him.”

Even as Tim left their family, twins Lilah and London joined it. José fulfilled his dream of becoming a dad, but he admits the first year after losing Tim was the hardest.

“Being a single dad was tough. There were a lot of hard days, days I didn’t want to get out of bed,” he said. “But I got through it. I distracted myself in good ways, in positive ways. I had a huge, consistent support system for me and the kids.”

The power of that support system is palpable from the stories friends and family share on “Remembering Tim,” a site José hosts as a memorial to his late husband. Videos and galleries show a smiling Tim visiting Paris with José or holding Avery for the first time.

Time passed, and José started to date again. “I wanted to start fresh,” he said. “About a year after Tim passed, I finally came to a place where I realized I would not have changed anything about our relationship.”

But José worried — as a widower, as a single father — other men would be intimidated.

Alex and José

“A single guy with a kid is hot,” José said, laughing, “but a single guy with three kids is a hot mess.”

After a couple of failed relationships, along came Alex Gray, José’s now-boyfriend. The two first connected over Whatsapp on José birthday in early February.

“During our first in-person date, I couldn’t quite believe it,” he said. “Here was this hot, Scottish guy who wasn’t even flinching at a guy with three kids.”

Alex said their relationship began as a bit of blur. “Our relationship happened so organically,” he said. “We just had this really strong connection. And as soon as I met the children, I quickly grew fond of them.”

José and Alex with twins Lila and London

Alex admits his biggest fear with José wasn’t the kids, but dating a widower. “I was worried how I would fit in,” he said. “But José was very supportive. He was committed to protecting Tim’s legacy for the kids. But he was very open with me about keeping a balance.”

Alex remembers one time he helped keep Tim’s memory alive. He, José and the kids had planned on singing happy birthday to celebrate what would have been Tim’s 50th; however, José, a wedding planner, was busy with a ceremony in upstate New York.

So Alex got the kids together, lit a candle and sang to Tim with the kids. He sent the video to José at the reception.

José and Alex find moments like that make their relationship stronger — honoring this past partner and father while still creating a family of their own.

Alex and José with the kids. Photo credit: Bill Kotsatos

“I had to learn how to honor Tim’s memory while building this new relationship,” José said. “I didn’t want so much of Tim that it felt like there were three of us in this space. I wanted the right balance so that as the kids got older, they always know who Daddy Tim was.”

As the two get ready to celebrate Avery’s third birthday, José looks back on his life with Tim and realizes that despite the pain, there’s something truly valuable.

“I’ve had two great loves in one lifetime,” he said. “Not everyone can say that.”

José and Alex with the kids. Photo credit: Sonia Bousquet

Feature photo credit: Bill Kotsatos Photography

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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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