Gay Dad Life

Gay Dad Speaks About Time In Foster Care

The foster home where David Rishel spent a year and a half as a teenager was the first stable home he’d ever known. Now, the 38-year-old gay father of two considers himself a success story – and never misses an opportunity to encourage parents navigating the foster care system.


"Someone took time to get me in foster care – which is probably the only reason I’m alive.”

David remembers his childhood home as violent; drugs were everywhere. It was the seventies, and his parents loved to party. He has no memories of his father, who left the family when David was six weeks old. His mother remarried five years later. David’s new stepfather provided, but the marriage was rocky from the start, and violence and drugs continued to be a household staple.

“No matter how fancy of a neighborhood we lived in or how fancy a car they were driving…none of that really mattered. Our home life was a disaster,” says David. “Our smiles at church on Sunday were as fake as you can get.”

When his parents finally divorced, David was thirteen and had two younger half-siblings.

David’s mother moved with the children back to her hometown of Youngstown, Ohio. David describes the south side neighborhood where they lived as “pretty much rated, even then, one of the worst places to live in the nation crime-wise. Heavy mafia influence, a lot of drugs. So, it was a rough, rough place.”

While his mother partied, David learned to cook and care for himself and his siblings. “I kind of took the role of mother or father.”

The kids didn’t have decent clothes, and their hair was ratty. People started to notice. The Children’s Service Board began coming by their house.

David felt like his main priority in life was survival – just survival.

“I remember taking dollar food stamps, when food stamps used to be paper, out of my mother’s purse,” David says. “I would go to the grocery store across the street and buy a pack of gum or a candy bar or whatever, which would be my lunch.”

Because his house was out of school bus jurisdiction, he would use the remaining fifty cents to ride the city bus to school.

“I was an angry 13-year-old boy – I didn’t see too many options for life to get better, especially by the example of the adults around me.”

David attempted suicide that year. He swallowed a bottle-full of his mother’s Valium pills. “I remember being dragged out of the bathtub by somebody – one of my mom’s various boyfriends – into an ambulance and taken to a hospital,” he recalls.

David was admitted into a 30-day treatment facility. When his treatment concluded, he begged to stay longer. He had caught a glimpse of how safe and stable life could be – and couldn’t imagine going home.

But David had attracted the notice of the Children’s Service Board and, a short time later, was placed into foster care. When his mother went on a partying binge and left his two siblings home alone with no electricity, they were also removed from the home and sent to live with their father.

Foster care changed David’s life.

“They treated me as their own son,” he says. “The family had many foster kids coming in and out of their home, and they certainly weren’t living in abundance, but every child was cared for.”

David remembers how guilty he had always felt about school shopping with his mother. “There was always an issue about money. No matter how much they made or what they did, I knew she’d rather be spending it on drugs.”

School shopping with his foster parents, by contrast, he felt genuinely cared for. “It’s not like they were taking me to Macy’s and saying, ‘Pick out whatever you want.’ But I had clothes, and I had underwear that fit me, which was the first time in years.”

But after 18 months, David moved in with his stepfather, who would eventually legally adopt him.

The sudden realization that he wouldn’t be with his new family forever devastated him. “I thought that I was completely saved from the world and it only lasted 18 months.” But he had started on the path to a new life – one that was not merely about survival.

Today, looking back, he marvels at how far he’s come. “I think the moral of the story is that I survived. I survived. I’m in love. I’m gainfully employed. I’m educating myself. I survived. And I am alive to tell people that you can survive.”

Asked what advice he would give to foster parents based on his experience…

David always begins with: keep going. His story is testimony to the impact of a stable home, no matter how temporary.

From the perspective of children like David, foster care is “the lighthouse at the end of an island.”

He stresses the importance of honesty. When he reads about the joy foster children bring to parents longing to have children of their own, he worries: “a part that is forgotten is…explain[ing] to the child that it might not be forever.”

A candid conversation, he says, can help children – especially older children – navigate the situation. “Tell them: ‘We love you right now. We’re so happy you’re here. We don’t know where you’re going to go. But we’re going to love you so much. We’re going to provide for you.’”

He also encourages parents to be sensitive to how even well-intentioned gestures can set kids up for disappointment. “When you have a foster child who has nothing and you start buying them clothing and Easter baskets and Christmas presents…try to remember that some of them aren’t used to having all that and some of them…are not going to have that stuff forever.”

Asked what he’s learned about parenting from his experiences…

“It doesn’t take money to love a child,” he says.

For David, the essence of parenthood is in the simple moments: “cuddling, laying around, watching a movie…taking a walk down the beach, waking them up early to watch the sunrise…It’s the little things of showing them how much this world has to offer.”

“I try to reiterate to my children that they’re loved.”

And he teaches them to love and accept those around them, no matter the circumstances.

“Looking at [my children and me], you would think we’d never had a problem in the world. But the truth is, everyone does.”

Show Comments ()
Personal Essays by Gay Dads

We Gained a Son Through Foster Care — He Didn't Lose his Family

Foster-adopt expert Trey Rabun writes a moving essay about his own experiences as a parent in the foster care system.

My husband, Phil, and I talked about having children since out first date over 11 years ago. Like many other gay dads, we waited to start the journey to become parents until we felt secure with our careers, finances, and home life. This meant we didn't start the partnering journey until 2016 when we were eight years into our relationship.

When we first met, I was completing my graduate studies in social work and subsequently started a career working in foster care and adoption. This made our decision to pursue foster care-adoption as our path to parenthood a fairly easy one. In fact, I can't recall us discussing other avenues to parenthood, but I'm sure we briefly discussed them before solidifying our decision to become foster parents.

Keep reading... Show less
Personal Essays by Gay Dads

"Rollercoaster and Sons," Explores the Journey of One Single Gay Dad Through the Foster-Adopt System

When it comes to the foster-adopt system, "there is no roadmap," said single gay dad Chase Turner

Guest post written by Chase Turner

Many of us thought long and hard about what avenues were best to pursue being a dad. For me, fostering to adoption was the selected road. There is no roadmap here, many things that came my way were learned by doing. Along the way, I started wishing I had a better support group or people who could understand what it's like to be gay and attempting to adopt. Often we (people who are LGBT) feel scrutinized and judged for choices that the majority makes but for us there is pushback. Once my adoption was complete, I felt it was necessary that I put pen to paper and write this story, from a gay male perspective.

My goal was to provide a voice in the space of foster care and adoption where there is a void. Additionally, I wanted to provide an authentic look at all facets of the process, from the kids, to the obstacles and challenges that happened within my personal life. I do hope you enjoy and more importantly can relate or prepare yourself for a similar journey.

Keep reading... Show less

Dennis McDonough and John Kihm have been together for over eight years and married since May 2015. Becoming dads was always part of their plan. In 2016, they became foster dads and during the following six months after becoming licensed, they cared for nine foster kids.

"We knew that we would be able to help children who were in need, children who were scared and had no where to go and no one to love them," shared Dennis. "We knew that somewhere along the process we would eventually have children who would need our love forever." Currently, the dads have four children, two of which they've adopted.

As this family has welcomed more children, helped reunite others with their biological families, and finalized two of their sons' adoptions, neither dad received any paid paternity leave.

Keep reading... Show less
Gay Dad Photo Essays

Pics of the Moment Before and After Gay Men Become Dads

Dig through your phones — what was the last pic taken of you BEFORE you became a dad?

We all have THAT photo: the one taken moments after we become fathers for the first time. For some of us, we're doing "skin to skin" in a delivery room. For others, we're standing proudly alongside our newly adopted child and judge in a courtroom. However or wherever it happens, though, we make sure to snap a picture of it.

But what about that last photo BEFORE you first became a dad? What does that image look like, we wondered? Well, we asked our Instagram community to dig through through phones and find out. Some of us are enjoying a last carefree meal or glass of wine, others of us are captured nervously contemplating our futures. Whatever it is, we've decided these BEFORE pictures are just as meaningful.

Enjoy some of our favorites! Want to play along? Dig through your phones and send us your pics to dads@gayswithkids.com!

Keep reading... Show less
Entertainment

Gay Dad in Sundance's 'Brittany Runs a Marathon' is Relatable AF

Sundance hit "Brittany Runs a Marathon" stars a gay dad trying to get in shape.

Who would make for the best marathon training partner for an overweight, overly boozed 27-year-old woman? A gay dad, of course!

The pairing, for any gay man who has been subjected to impossible beauty standards (not unlike... literally all women?) makes a bit too much sense after watching the new Sundance film, "Brittany Runs a Marathon," starring SNL writer Jillian Bell (as the 27-year-old) and Micah Stock as the (somewhat *ahem* older) gay dad.

Based on a true story, the film follows Brittany, an overweight and over-boozed 20-something, trying to clean up her act by training for the New York City marathon — while doing so, she meets Seth (the gay dad), and the two begin to train together, along with Brittany's neighbor Catherine. Each has their own motivation for running: getting one's live together, recovering from a messy divorce, or an attempt to impress one's athletic son. (Which is the gay dad? Guess you'll have to watch to find out!)

We won't give too much more away, apart from saying that the trio — based off of actual people and events — really works. It's the feel good film you're waiting to see.

Expert Advice

Your 15 Most Common Questions About Adoption, Answered by an Expert

We asked our Instagram community for their biggest questions about adoption. Then asked Molly Rampe Thomas of Choice Network to answer them.

As part of our new "Ask an Expert" series on Instagram, our community of dads and dads-to-be sent us their questions on adoption in the United States. Molly Rampe Thomas, founder of Choice Network, answered them.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular

'Life Is Amazing': Congrats to Gay Dads Whose Families Recently Grew!

Help us congratulate gay dads on their recent births and adoptions last month!

Wishing all of these gay dads whose families expanded in the last month or so a lifetime of happiness! Congrats to everyone in our community on their recent births and adoptions!

Keep reading... Show less

Fatherhood, the gay way

Get the latest from Gays With Kids delivered to your inbox!

Follow Gays With Kids

Powered by RebelMouse