#GWKThenAndNow: Christopher and Patrick from Seattle
Christopher and Patrick, 48 and 49 respectively, have been together nearly 20 years. They live in Seattle, Washington, and they have two children together through foster-adopt. Their journey from coming out, to marriage, to kids has been filled with highs and lows, but through it all one thing has remained very clear: the importance of family. This is their #GWKThenAndNow.
How they met
Christopher and Patrick met in 1993 when they both auditioned for the same educational theater tour, a very intense production about the Holocaust. (Patrick got the role!) The next four years they both continued in the Seattle theater scene without really getting to know one another; their lives and relationships were parallel but for some reason never overlapped. That changed when Christopher and Patrick both ended up working for the Seattle Repertory Theatre in 1997, in their educational outreach department – and that’s when they started dating.
Patrick and Christopher’s first date took place on Father’s Day ’97. That holiday led them to talk about family matters. They both mentioned on that first date that they wanted kids.
"I think, looking back on it, it seems a lot more radical than it did at the time," explained Christopher. "I think it just spoke to what we both valued in life and what we ultimately knew we wanted."
Patrick (left) and Christopher at their commitment ceremony, 2001
Family had always been very important to both men.
Christopher has one older brother and is part of a very close-knit family from Buffalo, New York. He didn't come out till 1993, when he was 25 years old, and he told his parents separately. Christopher remembers his mother's reaction to be one of disappointment, but only because she thought he would've made a wonderful dad. His dad took it a lot harder initially, but soon came around. Within six months Christopher’s parents were attending PFLAG meetings. They talked about it to their friends. His dad was standing up to colleagues who were making inappropriate jokes about gay people.
Patrick is the oldest of six blood siblings and two step-siblings. He grew up in Long Island and is from a very Catholic family. In 1987, while at college outside of New York City, Patrick was outed by a friend (a former girlfriend) who took it upon herself to tell his mother. Patrick received a call from his mom insisting he come home right away and "start praying." Needless to say, this wasn't how Patrick had wanted to tell his mother, but it ended up being his reality.
His family did not initially respond as well as Christopher's. They were very religious and it took many years for the family to fully embrace who Patrick was. Flash forward to the present, Patrick’s family has truly evolved: Patrick and Christopher attended his sister's wedding to her wife in May 2016.
Christopher met Patrick’s family in December 1997, and remembers everyone being very welcoming. He immediately became close friends with his sisters.
All of Christopher's family and nearly all of Patrick's attended their commitment ceremony in August 12, 2001. Two guests stayed away: One of Patrick's brothers and Patrick's stepfather, who decided not to come. While this was challenging at the time, over the years the relationships have improved. Fifteen years later, both men joyfully celebrated Patrick's sisters wedding to her wife.
Isabella with Patrick (left) and Christopher, 2004
“But, how can two gay men have kids?"
Patrick describes his large family as half Irish, half Sicilian and all Catholic. As far as anyone knew, nobody was gay; nobody was divorced. The biggest shock to happen to their family before Patrick announced his pending commitment to Christopher was his brother marrying a Jewish woman.
"She claims she opened the door for us!" chuckled Patrick.
Patrick and Christopher decided to create their family through the foster-care system in Washington. For both families, Christopher and Patrick’s decision to pursue fatherhood was quite unexpected.
Members of both families were perplexed. There were lots of questions and not a small amount of skepticism. There were lots of questions. “How are you going to become dads?” "What do you know about parenting?" "Can you do that in Washington?"
Patrick's family had no reference point for adoption. Christopher's family, however, had some experience with the adoption as his aunt (his mother's sister) had adopted his cousin in 1975. The idea was not so foreign to them, and although they were hesitant, they were considerably more open to the idea than Patrick’s.
But as soon as the two men became dads, everything changed: Children are the great equalizer. The kids were immediately accepted into both the families. The conversation with their families changed from “How can two men become dads?” to "Is that really the name you want to give her?"
Isabella came to them at Halloween 2003 when she was just 2½ months old. Jordan came to them at 16 months old in January 2007.
"They [Isabella and Jordan] are embraced like all the other grandchildren are," explained Patrick. "You have a common language; you have common experience. It brought my brothers and me closer together."
Patrick and Jordan, 2010
While adoption wasn't new to Christopher's family, open adoption was new to everyone.
Christopher and Patrick decided early on to try and nurture an open adoption relationship with both Isabella's and Jordan's birth parents. For Jordan, this has been easier: Jordan has been seeing his birth father three to four times a year since he came to his dads. The families even spend Christmas and Easter together. His birth mom is unfortunately not in the picture due to her personal decisions.
For Isabella, it hasn't been quite so simple. From a young age, she had always been curious about her birth mother, so Christopher and Patrick would look periodically. And a few years ago, they found her on Facebook! They proceeded cautiously, unsure what they would find. They reached out to Isabella's birth mom through an intermediary. It took some time, but soon enough they were exchanging letters and pictures. After a couple of years they met for the first time.
Christopher and Jordan, 2014
At first Patrick and Christopher were a little anxious but now that Isabella has connected with her birth mom, it's been great!
"It's been awesome, for both of them," said Patrick. "Answering some of those 'where-do-I-come-from' questions has made Isabella relax about that aspect to her life. It's been such a gift to Isabella to make that connection. Even if it had it gone badly it would've been better than if we'd not have known."
Both dads have become strong advocates of open adoption, having seen the positive effects it’s had on their children to know their birth parents.
From left to right: Christopher, Isabella, Patrick and Jordan, 2014
Adoption agency work and advice to future gay dads
Christopher does some consulting work for the non-profit Amara, the same organization they used to create their family. Amara has a great reputation for accepting and embracing LGBT families, and is certified by the Human Rights Campaign as having achieved All Children - All Families Benchmarks of LGBTQ Cultural Competency Christopher works in training for foster parents-to-be.
Both Christopher and Patrick look at the foster-adopt process, their path to fatherhood, as the hardest thing they’ve ever done but also the most rewarding.
"There were so many unknowns, ups and downs working with the foster care system. While there is a great deal of training and scrutiny involved, it often felt like we were being judged," shared Christopher. Patrick added, "Even after we became a forever family their histories - health issues, school struggles, etc.- continue to unfold. In some ways it's like every other family... and in some ways it's really different."
Patrick with Jordan and Isabella, 2015
"We grew up with our incredible families that were with us for good or bad – that's how we did life," said Patrick. "Now we live 3000 miles away from that so we've had to create that family network. It's different of course, but it's really, really important to remember we're not doing this alone."
“One thing that we told our kids from very early on,” shared Christopher, "is that every family is very different. We have created this big messy wonderful family that has lots of people in it that love us and love them, and that's really wonderful."
Fatherhood had changed them profoundly, they say. "It has pushed me in ways that I never thought I'd be pushed," said Christopher. "It's made me a much better human being."
The family in New York City, 2016
Over 2 years ago, we spoke with experienced filmmaker Carlton Smith about his documentary featuring gay dad families created through foster-adopt. It was a heartfelt project that shone a light on the number of children in foster care (roughly 400,000 as referenced at the time) who desperately needed a home. And the large population of same-sex couples, many newly married, who were interested in starting families of their own.
"Let's skip," my daughter said on our way to school the other week. She took my hand and started skipping along, pulling me forward to urge me to do the same.
Wouldn't it look, well, gay, for me to skip down the street? In public? I wasn't willingly going to make myself look like a sissy.
As part of our ongoing #GWKThenAndNow series, we talk to dads who have gone the distance and been together a great many years. Terry and Michael have been together 15 years, have two children, and live in Orlando, Florida. We find out how it began, and what they look for in a partner in life, love and fatherhood.
Johnathon and Corey, both 29, met in 2011 working for the same employer. And since their first date, they've been inseparable. Johnathon is a full-time student pursuing a degree in Human Services, and once he completes his degree, he will return to his Native American tribe to help fellow Native American families in need. Corey is a stay-at-home dad. Together they adopted 6-year-old twins, Greyson and Porter, from foster care on June 1, 2017. We caught up with the first-time dads to see how fatherhood was treating them.
The Long Island Adoptive Families support group was created by parents going through the adoption process or who had already adopted. It was a great way to help members navigate the path of adoption whether it be private domestic, international agency, domestic agency or foster care. We spoke with Chemene, one of the founders, and found out how this group is supporting local gay men interested in becoming fathers.