Gay Dad Life

A Place for Grandparents

For many a gay man, coming out complicates the relationship with his parents. It can cause a few strains or complete breaks. What Zach Schellhase was surprised by, though, was how that relationship changed again when he and his husband, Trey, decided to start a family.


“It was a 180," Zach says today. “My son completely changed how my parents see my husband."

Zach, 30, had a conservative, religious upbringing in Pennsylvania, and church is still central to his life and his family's life. But it did mean that coming out stressed his relationship with his parents. Daily phone calls with his mom became weekly, he says. And Trey wasn't mentioned.

“Being gay was like – 'Oh my gosh,'" his mother, Chris Schellhase, says.

“Their generation did not have a great view" of being gay, Zach says. “For every parent, the real fear is that, 'My child is going to have this strange life.'"

But once things changed, they changed in a big way.

Zach's parents even decided to move to be closer to the now 3-year-old grandchild, Noah, and his new sister, 3-month-old Naomi. They had lived in South Carolina and moved to Georgia, where Zach and family live in a town outside Atlanta.

With his husband's parents in the area as well, Zach says, the family struggles are now more about scheduling weekend family visits than gay marriage or equal rights.

Zach says he sometimes asks Trey, “Did we have these kids for us or our parents?"

It's hard to imagine this question being asked 10 or 20 years ago. But as same-sex marriage rights have spread across the United States and world, more and more couples are not only having children, but they're also incorporating these children into their broader family networks. It's unexplored territory, and many gay dads – just like Zach – are finding their parents an unexpected source of support and advice.

The Therapist's Perspective

Tara Lombardo, an associate director and staff therapist at IHI Therapy Center in Manhattan, ran a program for several years that counseled LGBT families-to-be. The center was a pioneer in treating gay and lesbian patients.

She says that changes like the one Zach talks about are more common than not, at least in the families she's talked to.

“Having children is something obviously our parents can relate to," Tara says. “They have something to contribute."

“Children are quite universal and can be a really positive force" in repairing relationships and forging new ones, she says.

What's more, she says, the process of creating a family with LGBT parents can be helpful in and of itself. The gay dads (or lesbian moms – Tara worked with both) have to be vulnerable with their parents in ways they haven't been since coming out.

They sometimes have to borrow money from their families because of the costs of adoption or surrogacy. They sometimes have to have deep conversations with their parents about how and why they're starting families.

“It's a time when we have to reassert that we are LGBT and we have to do different things to create a family," Tara says.

The grandparents-to-be “aren't aware of all the steps we have to take."

All in the Family

Coby Archa, 42, and his family live in Tyler, Texas. He's appeared on several TV shows, including Survivor Palau. He adopted his children, Janu and Tyler, as a single parent, before meeting his partner two years ago.

Coby, his partner and their kids all live together. But another member of the family lives there too. Coby's mother.

“My mom has and always will be a huge part of my children's life," he says. “We have chosen to all live together. Two dads, two kids, a dog, a cat, and a grandma! I am lucky enough that this was an option for us."

Coby is also glad to have some feminine perspective.

“I know some gay men disagree that kids need a mom, but I think my mom bringing that strong female presence into our home is a huge benefit in my kids' life," he says. "She brings stability being a stay-at-home grandma that is priceless to my children's self esteem."

Challenging Bonds

Not everyone enjoys unqualified support, of course.

John Warner, 38, and his husband, Matt, are raising John's two biological sons. While their relationship has seamlessly integrated parenthood – it's “been far easier than I would have imagined," John says – not everyone has welcomed their family.

“I have no relationship currently with my parents," John says. “I discovered along the way that my family structure was built upon walls, blind loyalty and secrets. My coming out blew my family up, and my parents have given up a relationship with me and our kids because they believe I have disrespected them."

Tara, the therapist, said such broken relationships were difficult to hear about. They're “another kind of rejection," she said.

But that's not to say John and Matt, who live in Berkley, Mich., are without support. John's extended family, as well as Matt's family, have reached out to them.

“I think meeting someone a little older with a career and kids has made it easier for his family to embrace us all," John says. “I am very grateful for all of them and only wish we could see them all more often. I'm adapting to his mom being my mom and his family being our family."

John has also found a perhaps unexpected source of family support: his ex-wife.

“I wanted to have kids that had the opportunity to be liberated, be themselves and be assets to the world," he says. “Their mom and I have always worked together to achieve that and I believe we have."

The two have joint custody and “are best of friends now," John says.

A Grandparent Speaks

Chris Schellhase, Zach's mother, is a cheerful, straightforward woman. She had just spent several days helping take care of her son's ailing children when she talked about her journey as a grandparent and mother.

She was worried, she says, when she heard that Zach and Trey wanted to adopt. Not because they were a same-sex couple, necessarily, but because they were attending school. She didn't know how they would handle being parents along with their everyday responsibilities.

“Are you sure?" she remembers asking. “Are you really sure? I know I couldn't have done it."

But the couple moved ahead with the adoption process, finding a supportive birth mother (who already knew Zach). Chris was with her son in the hospital when Noah arrived, some three years ago.

“Zach and I are very much alike, and we've always been close," Chris says. Being there for him during the adoption process made the relationship stronger; it intensified it.

And she's been impressed watching her grandson grow and mature. She says both Zach and Trey have been instrumental in raising a terrific little boy.

“Noah has fantastic manners," she says. “He will sit and talk to you like he's 16 years old."

Despite coming from a religious background, and despite struggling sometimes to understand her son's sexual orientation, Chris says she's learned a lot over the past few years. She hasn't just grown closer to her son, but she's learned about being a grandparent, too.

Noah has “just brought a whole new perspective," she says. “I wouldn't have expected it to be this much fun."

Unexpected Joys

For decades, there was one popular narrative about gay male life. It went something like this: Gay child is raised in the country, gay teen moves to the big city, gay adult finds an optional partner and community, and gay elder fades into the sunset.

There was no mention of the gay child's parents unless they rejected him, and there was certainly no expectation that the gay adult would ever start a family.

Within the past decade, that narrative has been joined by other stories. Some gay men have forged new experiences. They have started families of their own, and they have maintained or repaired their relationships with their parents. The importance of that change, in terms of showing the possibilities of gay life, shouldn't be underestimated.

“The visibility component is huge," says Tara, the therapist.

And grandparents, with their extended networks of friends and family, can only add to that visibility.

+ Photo (at top) credit : Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0), Reading Time with Uncle Bob, Donnie Ray Jones

Show Comments ()
Gay Dad Family Stories

These Dads Had 'Twins' — Just Four Months Apart

Angel and Dan's wanted twins, without the complications of a twin pregnancy — so they worked with two separate surrogates at once.

If you have ever been out late on a Saturday night, you may have high hopes of meeting a handsome stranger, but you probably wouldn't expect to meet your future husband. Angel Mario Martinez Garcia, 45, surely didn't when, five years ago on a very early Saturday morning in Barcelona, he casually approached Dan's Mouquet, 40, and asked him, over many gin and tonics, what he wanted out of life. The nightlife setting notwithstanding, Dan's told Angel he ultimately wanted a quiet life, with a partner and children.

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

Just Like Dad: Ways My Kids and I Are Alike

Joseph Sadusky recounts the ways he and his adopted sons are cut from the same cloth.

Editor's Note: This is the third in a series of excerpts from Joseph Sadusky's new book, Magic Lessons: Celebratory and Cautionary Tales about Life as a (Single, Gay, Transracially Adoptive) Dad. The book contains many stories about my life as a dad, as well as lessons learned, and we're excited to share several excerpts from the the book over the course of the next few months. Read previous installments here!

Keep reading... Show less
Gay Dad Life

10 of Our Most Popular Posts Featuring Single Gay Dads

Happy Single Parent's Day! To celebrate, we rounded up some of our most popular articles featuring single gay dads.

Did you know March 21st is Single Parents Day? Well now you do, and you should mark the occasion by checking out our round up of some of our most popular articles featuring single gay dads!

Keep reading... Show less
Politics

Gestational Surrogacy Legalized in New York State

The Child-Parent Security Act, which legalizes commercial surrogacy in New York State, was included in the 2020 New York State Budget signed by Governor Cuomo

Yesterday, a years-long battle about the state of compensated gestational surrogacy came to an end in New York when the Governor signed into a law the Child-Parent Security Act in the 2020 as part of the state budget.

The effort stalled last year after opponents, including several Democrats, successfully argued that the bill didn't go far enough to protect women who serve as surrogates — even though it included a surrogate "bill of rights," the first of its kind in the country, aimed at ensuring protections.

"Millions of New Yorkers need assistance building their families — people struggling with infertility, cancer survivors impacted by treatment, and members of the LGBTQ+ community," the Family Equality Council said in a statement about the victory. "For many, surrogacy is a critically important option. For others, it is the only option. Passage of the Child-Parent Security Act is a massive step forward in providing paths to parenthood for New Yorkers who use reproductive technology, and creates a 'surrogate's bill of rights' that will set a new standard for protecting surrogates nationwide."

Opponents, led by Senator Liz Krueger, had once again attempted to torpedo legalization efforts this year by introducing a second bill that would legalize surrogacy in New York, but also make it the most restrictive state in the country to do so. "A bill that complicates the legal proceedings for the parents and potentially allows them to lose their genetic child is truly unfortunate," said Sam Hyde, President of Circle Surrogacy, referencing to the bill's 8-day waiting period. He also took issue with the bills underlying assumptions about why women decide to serve as a surrogate. The added restrictions imply that "they're entering into these arrangements without full forethought and consideration of the intended parents that they're partnering with," he said.

The bill was sponsored by State Senator Brad Hoylman, an out gay man who became a father via surrogacy, and Assemblymember Amy Paulin, who has been public with her experiences with infertility.

"My husband and I had our two daughters through surrogacy," Holyman told Gay City News. "But we had to travel 3,000 miles away to California in order to do it. As a gay dad, I'm thrilled parents like us and people struggling with infertility will finally have the chance to create their own families through surrogacy here in New York."

"This law will [give intended parents] the opportunity to have a family in New York and not travel around the country, incurring exorbitant costs simply because they want to be parents," Paulin said for her part. It will "bring New York law in line with the needs of modern families."


Expert Advice

4 Tips for Single Gay Dads Raising Daughters

Here are some ways to create a safe space for your daughter to discover who she is, with you by her side.

There's nothing quite like father-daughter relationships, and when it comes to single dads, your little girl likely holds a very special place in your heart. From the moment she's born, it's as if you can see every moment of her life in front of you, from her first steps to walking her down the aisle at her wedding. You'll be the first man she'll know and talk to, and you'll be her biggest example of what a loving man looks like. She'll come to you for advice on how to navigate challenges, be independent, treat others and grow into herself.

Your relationship with your daughter may be shaped by your personal history, whether you've been through a difficult divorce or breakup, you've transitioned out of a straight relationship, or you made the courageous decision to pursue surrogacy on your own. Whatever your situation is, studies have shown that children with involved fathers excel more in school and have fewer behavioral issues in adolescence.

Keep reading... Show less
Change the World

After Suffering a Violent Homophobic Attack, This Gay Dad Turned to Advocacy

After Rene suffered a brutal homophobic attack that left him hospitalized, he and his family have turned to advocacy to heal

Guest post written by Rene and Nejc

We are Rene (35) and Nejc (29) and we come from Slovenia, Europe. I was an avid athlete, a Judoist, but now I am an LGBT activist and Nejc is a writer, who published a gay autobiography called Prepovedano. He was also a participant in a reality show in Slovenia (Bar) and he is an LGBT activist too. Nejc and I met by a mere coincidence on Facebook, and already after the first phone call we realized that we are made for each other. Nejc and I have been together as couple almost one year. We think we have been joined by some energy, as we have both experienced a lot of bad things with previous relationships and now we wish to create and shape our common path.

Keep reading... Show less
Gay Dad Life

What's Life Like as a Single Gay Dad? These Guys Sound Off

We checked in with some of the single gay dads in our community to see what life is like while parenting solo

March 21st is Single Parents Day! To celebrate, we checked in with some single gay men in our community to sound off on what life is like while parenting solo — the good, the challening and everything in between.

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