Gay Dad Family Stories

Two Illusionists Tackle Their Trickiest Act Yet: Fatherhood

After Ryan's sister offered her "oven," Chris and Ryan were able to form their family through surrogacy.

When Chris was a little boy, he found a magic trick at the bottom of his cereal box and quickly became hooked on magic. Little did he know that this was to be the start of a career in the art of illusion. Ryan had a similar formative experience at a similar age when he received a magic kit for his birthday and started doing shows for friends and family. "Our hobby continued as we grew older and we were doing shows for schools, banquets, and corporate events," said Chris.

In 2005 they met in Michigan. "We were both performing separately and event coordinators double booked us for the same event," said Ryan. "So on the spot we created a two-man show and the result was amazing; we had chemistry on stage and off, and the rest is history."

Yet, the rest is far from history. The rest tells a story of two illusionists who, while living and working abroad in Guam, became dads with the help of incredible family members and wonderful friends. So let's start after that serendipitous meeting, and what lead them to become dads.


After their two-man show success, Chris and Ryan Zubrick began touring and creating their illusionist act together. "We were performing and touring around the Midwest when we saw a job posting on an online forum for a headlining act overseas," said Chris. They submitted their promotional material and eventually got the job in June 2007. "A two year contract in Saipan turned into a 7.5 year contract and we were then promoted and moved to their theatre in Guam - it was a much larger theatre and production." (Their current contract takes them through till April 2020.)

On October 10, 2013, Ryan and Chris were married.

As they both always wanted kids – "It was something we had talked about all along" - they began their adoption journey with an agency based in Portland, Oregon. But just as they were about to get into the waiting pool of parents-to-be, they received an email from Ryan's sister Kimberly, which included this unforgettable and life-changing line:

"I have an oven that has never been used, in good shape, and I wanted to see if you needed it?"

At first, Ryan and Chris were so blindsided by the offer, they took it literally. "Looking back, we laugh to ourselves because we didn't know why Kimberly was offering us an "oven" as ours was in perfectly good condition!" chuckled Chris. "Could we be so naïve?"

So excited by Kimberly's generous offer, they shared the news with their longtime friend, a genetic counselor, to learn more about the process of surrogacy. To both of their surprise, their friend said, "If you guys are looking for eggs, I'd be more than happy to donate mine!"

"Everything seemed to be falling into place for us," said Ryan.

They parted ways with their adoption agency and began researching surrogacy in California. Because of their unique situation, and the decision to not involve a third party agency, they struggled to find professionals that would work with them. "We knew things would not be without complication," said Chris. "Kimberly was family and this would be her first pregnancy. And on top of that, our egg donor was a really close friend, but we knew it would be worth it in the end."

"It was taxing emotionally, but after months of searching and being rejected countless times, we found a team of lawyers, psychologists and a fertility clinic who would work with us regardless of our unique situation," said Ryan. "Thankfully, California has some of the best surrogacy laws already in place for us."

The dads-to-be traveled to Santa Monica for the sperm donation and embryo transfer. They were able to transfer two embryos to Kimberly, one fertilized by each husband; only one took, and a few months later they found out at their gender reveal that they were having a boy! Ryan and Chris were thrilled and began to make plans to be there for the birth. (They had FaceTimed in for all the doctor's appointments and ultrasounds from Guam.)

The day finally came, and the dads were scrubbed up and ready to welcome their son into the world, when the birth plan went out the window. "Ryan's sister experienced a placenta abruption, cutting off Oliver's life line for about 6 minutes," explained Chris. "She was rushed in for an emergency C-section." The dads were not allowed in for the surgery, and due to his time without oxygen, their son had to be rushed via ambulance to the Children's Hospital in LA where he stayed for two weeks undergoing cooling therapy. "We were unable to pick him up or hold him," remembered Ryan. "It was very difficult." Being there for the birth, cutting the umbilical cord and experiencing skin-to-skin contact all disappeared, but thankfully, after two weeks, their son, Oliver was released and cleared all his milestones, and the dads were finally able to take him home.

Today, the family of three start their day a little later than most families due to their evening performance schedule, typically rising around 9:30am. The day is then filled with activities, errands, walks, beach expeditions, and anything to do with the water as Oliver loves it all! Around 6:30pm, Ryan and Chris head to work – "the theatre where we perform is right across the street from our house" – and Oliver goes to a sitter's or they come watch him at his house.

Around 10:30pm, Ryan and Chris have finished their performances and come home to Oliver or collect him from his sitter's. "We have a late dinner and play," said Chris. "He usually has a lot of energy." At 11:45pm they start the bedtime process: pajamas, stories, and teeth brushing, then bed. The dads usually follow around 2am.

Within the small community of Guam, Ryan, Chris and Oliver have only received positive comments and acceptance. "We are local celebrities due to our profession so everyone knows us," said Chris. "From locals and tourists alike we have only experienced positive responses about our same sex family."

Ryan and Chris agree that although they encountered some difficulties when pursuing fatherhood, they were very fortunate in their journey to become dads. And through their experience, they have some advice: "There will be hurdles and challenges and times when it seems like it may not be worth it, but it so is. Rely on each other for support, take small breaks from the process if need be, but if it's something you really want, push through and think about how awesome being a father will be."

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Change the World

'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.

News

World's First Sperm Bank Opens for HIV Positive Donors

Sperm Positive, started by three non-profits in New Zealand, hopes to end stigma surrounding HIV and parenthood

"Our donors have so much to give," say the promotional materials of a new sperm bank. "But they can't give you HIV."

The new sperm bank, Sperm Positive, launched on World Aids Day this year by three non-profits as a way to fight stigma surrounding HIV and parenthood. For years, scientists have known that those living with an undetectable level of HIV in their blood thanks to antiretroviral treatments can't transmit the virus through sex or childbirth. Yet discrimination and stigma persists.

The sperm bank exists online only, but will connect donors and those seeking donations with fertility banks once a connection is made on their site. Sperm Positive was started by three New Zealand non-profits — Body Positive, the New Zealand Aids Foundation and Positive Women Inc. — who hope the project will help disseminate science-backed education and information about HIV and parenthood.

Already, three HIV positive men have signed up to serve as donors, including Damien Rule-Neal who spoke to the NZ Herald about his reasons for getting involved in the project. "I want people to know life doesn't stop after being diagnosed with HIV and that it is safe to have children if you're on treatment," he told the Herald. "I've experienced a lot of stigma living with HIV, both at work and in my personal life that has come from people being misinformed about the virus."

We applaud the effort all around! To read more about our own efforts to end the stigma surround HIV and parenthood, check out our recent round-up of family profiles, resources, and expert advice that celebrate the experience of gay dads living with HIV here.

Gay Dad Life

Top 10 Reasons You Should Date a Gay Dad

Jay Turner lays out the top 10 reasons you should consider dating a single gay dad

We're gay dads. Many of us were married to women, and for various reasons we eventually found ourselves single and looking for companionship from another man. Life is a little more complicated for us because we have kids. But that shouldn't deter you from seeking a relationship with a gay dad. In fact, there are many reasons why we make better partners than men without children. We are generally more mature, responsible, and emotionally available. We are also better communicators.

Here are the top ten reasons why you should date a gay dad:

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Change the World

9 Stories That Celebrate the Experience of Gay Fathers Living with HIV

This World AIDS Day, we dug into our archives to find 9 stories that bring awareness to and celebrate the experience of gay dads living with HIV

December 1st is World AIDS Day — a day to unite in our collective fight to end the epidemic, remember those we've lost, and bring much needed attention and money to support those who continue to live with HIV and AIDS. For us at Gays With Kids, it's also a time to lift up and celebrate the experiences of fathers, so many of who never thought they'd see the day where they would be able to start families.

Towards that end, we've rounded up nine stories, family features and articles from our archives that celebrate the experience of gay fathers living with HIV — the struggles, triumphs and everything in between.

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Entertainment

First Gay Dads Via Surrogacy in the U.K. Separate as One Plans New Family with Daughter's Ex-Boyfriend

Barrie and Tony Drewitt-Barlow first became known in the UK for being the first gay couple to become dads via surrogacy.

Barrie and Tony Drewitt-Barlow first made headlines in 1999 when they became the first gay couple to become dads via surrogacy in the U.K. They did so again after they announced their separation — and when Barrie revealed he's dating his daughter's bisexual ex-boyfriend, the 25-year-old Scott Hutchinson.

And now the new couple are sending shockwaves through queer media by announcing the two hope to have twins via surrogacy in the near future.

According to Out Magazine, Scott not only dated Barrie's daughter, Saffron, but also worked as his assistant. Despite the age difference and potential for family drama, the pair fell in love. The couple still share a home with Barrie's ex, Tony — and their daughter Saffron.

Barrie told The Sun that the couple also hope to have twin daughters via surrogacy in the near future — and is revealing it now because he doesn't "want there to be any secrets and I want to get any negativity out of the way before our babies arrive." Barrie's ex, Tony, is reportedly onboard with this arrangement — he's even agreed to serve as the future twins' godfather.

Out Magazine further reported that Barrie and Scott each hope to fertilize an egg, and hope to conduct the insemination with their surrogate within the next three weeks. Of course, who are we to judge, assuming all adults involved are consenting and on board with this unconventional turn of events (though comment from the daughter Saffron is notably absent in the interviews). But that didn't stop Out Magazine from ending their reporting with just a wee touch of gay shade... If one of their future daughters "has a cute boyfriend one day," they write. "Who knows!"

Fatherhood, the gay way

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