Gay Dad Family Stories

Adopting an Older Child Through Foster Care Was the Best Path for These Dads

After learning more about older-child adoption through You Gotta Believe, Mark and Andrew decided it was the best way for them to form their family.

"Hey! I got adopted today! These are my dads, Mark and Andrew!"

Jeremy was 16 years old when he found out his new dads wanted to adopt him.

In late August 2017, husbands Mark and Andrew Mihopulos, 34 and 36 respectively, remember driving out to the east end of Long Island. They knew at the very same moment they were driving, social workers were letting Jeremy know they wanted to adopt him. "We expected Jeremy to be hesitant or feel mixed emotions," shared Mark. "We didn't know how he would feel about having two dads and about having white parents and family, as he is a black young man."


Much to their surprise and relief, Jeremy was overjoyed and excited about inviting two new dads into his life and beginning a new life with them. After arriving, the three enjoyed lunch on a picnic table outside in the sun, and Jeremy overflowed with questions and ideas about the life they would build together. He literally shouted with joy to anyone who walked by, "I got adopted today!" Mark and Andrew were beyond thrilled to start their new chapter as a family.

Mark and Andrew always wanted to be dads but knew having a baby did not fit their lifestyle. They both had to work full time, and they were reluctant to have their baby raised in a daycare as their parents and families were unable to help with childcare. After engaging in a few webinars about domestic and international adoption, they called Chemene Vizzi, of Long Island adoptive Families Support Group, to learn more about the different adoption paths.

"Chemene, with excitement, shared with us a different pathway to parenthood: older-child adoption of legally freed youth through You Gotta Believe, an adoption agency that focuses on older children and teenagers in need of families," remembered Mark. "Instantly upon learning about nontraditional foster-adoption, we looked at each other and knew that this was an option to explore."

Right away, they called the agency and signed up for their next orientation.

"We attended the orientation, run by a passionate, fun duo – a mother who adopted two older children and a young man who identified as gay and who had aged out of the foster care system himself," recalled Mark. "With authentic experience, they shared the realities of children in care and the strategies for understanding and supporting young people with trauma." By the end of the class, they knew that this pathway to fatherhood fit their reasons for wanting to parent: to give a young person the support and love they need. "It was if it was meant to be."

In March 2017, they began their MAPP classes with You Gotta Believe and completed them in early June of the same year. That month, they also did their home study and signed a month later. In July, they also learned for the first time about Jeremy. "We heard about him from a Wendy's Wonderful Kids representative who worked with You Gotta Believe," shared Andrew. "She told us a little about him and I remember her emphasizing that he was soft-spoken and deeply thoughtful; we were advised to listen closely to him, as he would share amazing thoughts and perspectives."

The dads-to-be first interaction with Jeremy was an informal meeting at You Gotta Believe's annual picnic and pool party. (This was prior to the formal sharing conference with the county, where Mark and Andrew would learn details about Jeremy's story.)

"Jeremy, 16 years old at the time, arrived at the pool pavilion with his backpack held tight and his game face on; at first, he seemed highly guarded," remembered Mark. They managed to engage with him over lunch and organically connected as Jeremy let his walls down. "I remember laughing with him about our dogs, as he shared about a pet he has once had and I told him about our French Bulldog, Tzatziki."

At the time, Jeremy didn't know that the husbands were exploring adopting him, because if they did not match, he would not have to experience rejection or loss. However, Andrew and Mark remember feeling that this young man felt like family.

A month later, they met with the county, listened to their limited information about Jeremy and his history, searched through a literal shopping cart of disorganized paperwork about him. Ultimately, they decided to commit to being Jeremy's dads. The pool party experience helped them contextualize a lot of the information and misinformation presented to them. "Jeremy was not the person reflected in his file," said Mark, "as reports represented him in survival mode and highlighted his challenges, rather than his strengths.

In August 2017, the dads told Jeremy and were thrilled by his response and enthusiasm. Next came the transition period and it proved to be more challenging than any of them imagined.

"The plan was to visit Jeremy over the next few weeks or months, starting near where he lived and gradually bringing him to our home and community, and moving from day visits to weekend visits," explained Andrew. This proved to be not so straightforward. They encountered difficulties with a particular social worker who thought that Jeremy had to earn points on a strict behavior system to earn time with his dads. "This may have been motivated by their feelings about transracial adoption and/or gay men adopting a child, especially because the organization was religious in its mission."

You Gotta Believe helped them in attempting to educate the social worker in the idea that nobody has to earn their family. When this particular social worker left, things became easier for the new family, and his new social worker was much more understanding and supportive of Jeremy building a relationship with Mark and Andrew.

They moved from only hour-long visits in a crowded room with other families, to home visits and exploring the neighborhood of Jeremy's soon-to-be new home. "During this time, he thoroughly enjoyed staying home because, in his words, 'it was quiet,'" said Mark. "It had been a long time since Jeremy had been alone and calm and safe and able to appreciate quiet. He began feeling at home on our weekends together, but he would physically tense up on the rides back from our visits. Returning him to a place where he felt unsafe and unhappy was extremely difficult for us all, but we focused on the end goal of being a family."

In December 2017, on the last day of being 16, Jeremy moved in with his dads. On his 17th birthday, he woke up at home and celebrated with a huge party with family, friends and his team of social workers from You Gotta Believe. He was surrounded by love, support and a home.

Over the next year and a half, Jeremy has grown to balance his families, visiting his biological family every few months and understanding his place in Mark and Andrew's family. He sleeps with Tzatziki and takes care of him, learning responsibility and how to have healthy relationships. "Jeremy's worldview has been widened through his getting to know our friends and his new family, including many cousins and grandparents," said Andrew. "He strives to attend college in a year, when he finishes high school." His dad have confidence that he will exceed expectation and statistics about youth in care. They hope to adopt Jeremy, if he chooses that for himself, when he turns 21.

"We always heard that fatherhood would change everything for us, but we did not fully understand how true this can be," said Mark. "Since morally adopting Jeremy, Andrew and I have become more self-aware and have begun to take better care of ourselves and each other. Together, we have lost 125 lbs by eating healthy foods and working out daily." The dads have grown especially close with the members of Long Island Adoptive Families Support Group, helping lead meetings and develop topics based on their local adoption/foster care needs and their own experiences as parents. Most significantly for Mark, being Jeremy's father helped me to develop a passion for parenting and supporting families. Recently, he changed his career from teaching elementary school to being the LGBT Network's LGBT Families Program Coordinator. "In this role, I get to teach LGBT people about becoming parents, forming families and parenting with best practices."

"Jeremy helped me to understand the good, the bad and the real sides of adoption and foster care and helped me feel empowered to share what I have learned with my community. We hope that our family and our story can help inspire others!"

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'Homosexuality is Wrong' Utah Teacher Tells Boy Who Gave Thanks for His Two Adoptive Dads

The substitute teacher went on to say two men living together is "sinful." She was fired shortly after.

To anyone with a heart, the moment should have done nothing more than bring a tear to the eye. Last week, just before the Thanksgiving break, a substitute teacher in a fifth grade class in Cedar Hills, Utah — just south of Salt Lake City — asked her students to name something they were thankful for this holiday season.

"I'm thankful for finally being adopted by my two dads," said Daniel, one of the boys, when it was his turn.

Rather than grab a tissue to dab her eyes, or ask the classroom to join her in a hearty round of applause to celebrate Daniel finding his forever family, the teacher took it upon herself to impart her personal religious beliefs onto the young boy. "Homosexuality is wrong," the teacher said in front of the class, adding that it was "sinful" for two men to live together.

The teacher, fortunately, was fired from Kelly Services, the substitute staffing company that employed her, quickly after the incident, but the moment is nonetheless receiving widespread attention in the press — no doubt in part because one of the boy's dads, Louis van Amstel of "Dancing With the Stars," posted a video clip to his 76,000 Twitter followers with the title: "Our child was bullied."

"It shouldn't matter if you're gay, straight, bisexual, black and white," he said to the New York Times in a follow up interview. "If you're adopting a child and if that child goes to a public school, that teacher should not share her opinion about what she thinks we do in our private life."

Louis also revealed that the moment may not have come to light were it not for three of his son's classmates, who told the principal about the teacher's bigoted comments. His son, Daniel, didn't want to report the incident for fear of getting the teacher into trouble.

Louis expressed thanks that the staffing company responded as quickly as it did following the incident — and also stressed that his neighbors and community have rallied behind he and his family in the days afterward, offering support. He wanted to dispel stereotypes that Utah, because of its social conservatism and religiosity, was somehow inherently prejudiced.

"It doesn't mean that all of Utah is now bad," he told the Times. "This is one person."

It's also true that this type of prejudice is in no way limited to so-called red states, and incidents like these happen daily. LGBTQ parents and our children are subjected to homophobic and transphobic comments in schools, hospitals, stores, airlines and elsewhere as we simply go about living our lives. These moments so often fly under the radar — many classmates don't have the courage, as they fortunately did in this case, to report wrongdoing. Some administrators are far less responsive than they were here — and most of us don't have 76,000 Twitter followers to help make these moments of homophobia a national story.

All that aside, let's also get back to what should have been nothing more than a heartwarming moment — Daniel, a fifth grade boy, giving thanks to finally being legally adopted into a loving family.

Entertainment

Amazon's New "Modern Love" Series Includes Episode on Open Adoption

The episode is loosely based on the New York Times "Modern Love" essay written by sex columnist and activist Dan Savage.

In 2005, Dan Savage, the gay sex columnist, contributed one of the most talked about essays for the Modern Love column in The New York Times. Better known for his acerbic wit and cutting political commentary, Savage exposed a more vulnerable side in this piece, sharing the highs, lows and everything in between that comes from the experience of pursuing an open adoption.

His son DJ's birth mother was experiencing what Savage called a "slo-mo suicide": homeless by choice, in and out of prison, and surrounded by drugs. Though Savage has chosen an open adoption so that DJ's birth mother would be a presence in his son's life, she often disappeared for months and sometimes years at a time without contacting the family, leaving their young son with lots of questions and no satisfying answers.

The piece ends on a heartbreaking note, with Savage simply seeking some sort of resolution. "I'm starting to get anxious for this slo-mo suicide to end, whatever that end looks like," he wrote. "I'd prefer that it end with DJ's mother off the streets in an apartment somewhere, pulling her life together. But as she gets older that resolution is getting harder to picture."

At the time, many interpreted Savage's story as a cautionary tale for those considering open adoptions. But in 2016, on the Modern Love Podcast, he asserted that was not his intention: "DJ's mom is alive and well," Savage said. "She's on her feet. She's housed. We talk on the phone occasionally. She and DJ speak on Mother's Day and on DJ's birthday." He added that he "would hate to have anyone listen to that essay or to read it — which was written at a moment of such kind of confusion and despair — and conclude that they shouldn't do the kind of adoption that we did," Savage said. "I think that open adoption is really in the best interest of the child, even if … it presents more challenges for the parents. So I encourage everyone who's thinking about adoption to seriously consider open adoption and not to be dissuaded by my essay."

Now, Savage's piece is getting the small screen treatment as one of 9 episodes included in Amazon Prime's adaption of the column. The episode inspired by Savage's essay, "Hers Was a World of One," contains some departures from Savage's original story — Savage's character, played by Fleabag's Andrew Scott, adopts a daughter rather than a son, for example, and the episode concludes closer to the upbeat note struck in the Podcast version of hist story than in the column.

Either way, we welcome any and all attention to the complexities of open adoption. Check out the episode (which also randomly includes Ed Sheeran in a couple scenes) and tell us what you think!

News

Adopting Dogs Improves Gay Couples' Relationships, Says Adorable Study

In what may be a "pre-curser to parenthood," 56% of gay and bi couples reported spending more time with their partners after adopting a dog.

As part of what may be the most adorable study you never knew you needed, pet-sitting website Rover.com found that gay and bi couples who adopt dogs reportedly boast stronger relationships as a result — 56% of gay and bi couples said they spent more time with their partners after adopting a dog. More than half of participants also said that owning a dog can help prepare couples for children.

Interestingly, gay and bi couples were also more likely to prepare for potential difficulties in their arrangements — 21% of gay and bi couples reported setting up a "pet-nup" agreement to determine custody of their new pup in case their relationship didn't last. Only 12% of straight couples, in contrast, did the same.

"You can outline the practicalities of what would happen in the event you split from your partner whether you have joint or sole custody," Rover.com dog behaviorist Louise Glazebrook told Australia's QN News. "It's a real tragedy to see breakups results in dogs needing to be re-homed.

There was, however, one clear downside to pet ownership mentioned in the study — 17% of respondents said they have less sex now that they're sharing a bed with their pup.

What to Buy

A Gift Guide for LGBTQ Inclusive Children's Books

Need some ideas for good LGBTQ-inclusive children's books? Look no further than our gift guide!

Every year we see more books released that feature our families, and we're here for it! We're especially excited for the day when diverse and LGBTQ+ inclusive books are less of "the odd one out" and rather considered part of every kids' everyday literacy.

To help us reach that day, we need to keep supporting our community and allies who write these stories. So here's a list of some of the great books that need to be in your library, and gifts to the other kids in your lives.

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Gay Dad Life

Broadway Performer's Surrogacy Journey Briefly Sidetracked — for One Very 'Wicked' Reason

"Broadway Husbands" Stephen and Bret explain the exciting reasons they had to hit pause on their surrogacy journey — but don't worry, they're back on track!

In the latest video of the Broadway Husbands sharing their path to fatherhood, Stephen and Bret explain their hiatus for the past 4 months. The couple have big news to share including a relocation, a job announcement, and the fact that they're getting ready to restart their journey (which they had to take a brief pause from since September).

Watch their video to find out their latest news.

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Gay Dad Family Stories

These Gay Dads Lost Everything After Hurricane Dorian — Except Hope

The couple, who live in "Hope Town" in the Bahamas, lost everything after suffering a direct hit from Hurricane Dorian this past summer.

Max Bethel-Jones, 52, had traveled to more than 120 countries over the last 30 years working with the United Nations, but had never been to the Bahamas — in 2015, he decided to apply for a private teaching job as a special needs teacher in Freeport on the island of Grand Bahama.

Just weeks after his arrival, he'd get a whole lot more than another pin in his map of visited countries when he attended a social event at Freeport Rugby. "My object was to ogle the local male talent but several women had other ideas," he said. One woman was particularly insistent, he said, but after a couple of drinks she got the hint that he batted for the other rugby team. "She promptly told me there was someone I should meet."

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News

Gay Dads Told One Must Identify as 'Mother' to Enroll in Daycare

The Israeli gay dads told one must identify as mother — like a "normal couple" — in order to receive financial assistance for daycare.

Israeli dads Guy Sadak Shoham and Chai Aviv Shoham were trying to enroll their two-year-old twins in daycare when they were told by a government official that one would need to identify as the "mother" in order to be cleared.

According to Out Magazine, the couple was attempting to apply for financial aid to help pay for the costs of preschool when a government bureaucrat called them to discuss their eligibility.

"I understand that you are both fathers and understand that you both run a shared household, but there is always the one who is more dominant, who is more the mother," the government said, according to an interview on the Israel site Ynet (translated by Out Magazine). "I am just asking for a written statement in your hand which of you is the mother. From the point of view of the work, which works less than the father. Like a normal couple."

The official, apparently, said she was beholden to rules set for in the Ministry of Economy.

"It is mostly sad and a little disturbing," one of the dads told Ynet. "These are concepts that we consider the past. We do not necessarily come up with allegations against this representative, she is ultimately subject to the guidelines and as she said, they are the state. It is also sad that the state's definition of a mother is someone who works less and is at home with the children, and that we must choose which of us meets that definition."

The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, fortunately, issued an apology following the incident, and promised to update its protocols. "We will emphasize that the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs practices explicitly treat all types of families and grant equal rights to all," the ministry wrote in a statement, an apology that was called "insufficient" by Ohad Hizki, the director-general of the National LGBT Task Force.

"The Ministry of Labor and Welfare must sharpen its procedures immediately to prevent recurrence of cases of this kind, as other public organizations have been able to do," he said.

Read more about this story on Out Magazine.

Fatherhood, the gay way

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