Hearts in Two Places: Bi-National Couple Bill and José and Their Sons
Bill Houghton met José Gomez in a Dallas, Texas bar 18 years ago. He was passing through on business and so was José.
“And I thought, ‘Oh, here is a good-looking Spanish guy who lives in another continent. We can have a nice weekend together and I’ll never see him again.’ It was perfect!” Bill says.
José had other plans. “He kept coming back!” Bill says. “He kept coming back and arranging for us to meet, and slowly but surely, he wore me down.”
Today, the couple live together in Barcelona, Spain with two 3-year-old sons, each of whom was born to a different surrogate in India. One, Owen, shares genes with Bill; the other, Noah, is biologically José’s.
After five years on separate continents and another five in the United States – Bill in Washington, D.C.; José in New York City – the couple moved to Barcelona where they were legally able to marry.
They loved to party and travel. Bill describes their choice to have kids like the moment a party is starting to fade and you’re faced with a choice: go home or head to the next party.
“José and I looked at each other and said, ‘No I don’t want to go the next party; I want to go home,’” he says. “The first part of our life together was traveling around the world and having as much fun as we could. The second phase is to build something meaningful together – and the boys have allowed us to do that.”
A Sometimes-Single Parent
José still travels frequently. He’s away for work, business development for an international retailer, close to 75 percent of the time. “He’s in New York now, on his way to Colombia. And then next week, he’s on his way to the Middle East,” Bill says.
Though they knew it would be that way when they had kids, Bill can’t help noticing José’s disappointment when he misses important events in their sons’ lives.
“We had talked about it when we first started and we knew that for a large part of the time that I would be sort of a single parent,” Bill says. “I was fine with that because [fatherhood] was something that we wanted so badly.”
As a one-man marketing consultancy, Bill founded the surrogacy agency Sensible Surrogacy to help other couples find trustworthy doctors and navigate the legal intricacies of the surrogacy process. In the European Union, particularly, it’s tricky to transfer legal guardianship from the mother to another person. As a result, José and Bill are currently each legally father only to the son who is biologically related.
Bill works from home and cares for the boys with support from the family’s nanny, Carolina.
“She keeps our life running like a clock. The truth is, I didn’t know the first thing about babies and she just – she put everything together. It was wonderful.”
Never Too Early
The boys go to preschool – which is available for kids at a much younger age than in the United States – during the day, while Bill works and Carolina shows up at noon to get the house in order. In the evenings, they meet the boys at the bus stop and head to the next activity: swimming lessons, the park or math lessons with Bill.
“They’re only three years old but we’ve already started tutoring them in math. Everybody in Spain thinks we’re crazy! ‘Three-year-olds should be running around outside!'” he says.
And they do have plenty of playtime, but part of that play involves structured learning. According to Bill’s research, that’s a key difference between kids who excel as adults and those who struggle.
“I’m doing everything that psychiatrists, psychologists tell parents not to do, which is, I have both of their lives completely mapped out. From the day they were born, I looked at Noah and I said, ‘You are going to be an engineer,’ and I looked at Owen and I said, ‘You are going to be a theoretical physicist.’”
Of course, he knows he may not get his wishes – and that’s okay. He’s more interested in cultivating curiosity and confidence in his kids.
They’re not tackling advanced physics quite yet. “Right now, I’m teaching them numerical sets: ‘Here’s a group of five ducks; here’s a group of three ducks. If I make one big group, how many ducks are there?”
The exercise will teach them addition. But more importantly than that, he says, the mental challenge stimulates their brains during these key developmental years. In addition to math tutoring with their dad, the kids spend time reading with Carolina.
“Maybe they’ll read better someday. But what’s more interesting for me is that they feel more comfortable and they like to read.”
The Best of Both Worlds
Bill struggles with Spanish – despite exploring many different ways to learn it – and with the isolation that comes with a language barrier. His neighbors are kind and accepting, but he doesn’t feel the same ability to connect with them as he would with acquaintances back home.
He feels his limited fluency makes it difficult to be social. But, he says, sending the boys to an English-language nursery school has presented new opportunities to meet American transplants and other English speakers.
“That’s exciting for me. After eight years, I get calls from people in English asking to go to dinner, to spend the evening watching American movies, and it’s like, ‘Yay!’ I feel like I’m finally home. I feel like I’m finally making a home here.”
Both Bill and José would like to return to the United States someday. To give their sons a sense of connection to both the U.S. and their home in Spain, they celebrate holidays from both countries, with a special emphasis on Thanksgiving, their favorite.
“The kids sort of have the best of both worlds,” Bill says, “but we try really hard to sort of maintain that connection to the States because José and I feel really connected to the States.”
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