Family Spotlight: John & Rodney
John (40) is a fundraiser, Rodney (41) a registered massage therapist. They live in Toronto, Canada, with their two children.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your family?
J: We have a son, Anthony, who is six, and a daughter, Anna, who is three. We adopted them through the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto. We have been together for twelve years, since 2002.
Q: What was life like before children?
J: (laughing) Life was good. Balanced. We were able to do things together and do things independently. See friends, go see a movie. We didn’t have to run our plans by each other all the time.
Q: How and when did children become a part of your relationship?
R: I always wanted kids, so I made sure, after my first two relationships, that whoever I started dating had the same desire.
J: On our second date Rodney asked me if I wanted to have children.
Q: When did the process start for you as a couple?
J: It was December 2006. We were coming back from Christmas with Rodney’s family, and in the car Rodney restarted the conversation about becoming dads.
R: We enrolled in a course at the 519 (the LGBTQ Community Centre in Toronto) called Daddies and Papas 2B, a 12-week course for gay and bisexual men to explore issues related to becoming a parent, such as co-parenting, surrogacy and adoption. We chose adoption via the Children’s Aid Society as it seemed to have a clear path towards our goal.
J: We did all the paperwork, which took about a year, as part of our 11-week course with the CAS and our home study. We also needed a police check, fingerprinting, medical checks and reference letters from family and friends.
Q: How did Anthony come into your lives?
J: We told CAS we were open to a boy or a girl. But, as more girls are requested than boys, we assumed we’d get a boy. In July 2008 we finally got a phone call from the social worker. She had a boy we might be interested in, she said. She came over, told us all his details, and finally showed us his photo. He was so adorable.
R: He was 9 months old, and living in Oshawa, about an hour northeast of Toronto, with foster parents.
J: We had Anthony’s picture on our fridge for a week, while we were waiting for our first meeting with him. The first time we met him, we were there with our social worker, and the foster parents with theirs. We stayed for about two hours, playing with Anthony. His social worker asked what our feelings were. They were pretty clear! Then we set up a schedule of progressively longer meetings, where we took him out to a park during visits, and then took him home for day visits then our first overnight, then two and eventually up to five nights.
R: During the visits, the foster mom was going through a process of getting comfortable with us and becoming happy for us. She suggested that we leave a picture of us for him, so she could point to us and say, ‘Look, your daddies!”
Q: How did your friends and family react?
J: Although we had told our families and closest friends of our plans to adopt, we hadn't told all our friends and acquaintances, because we didn't want them to ask questions all the time.
R: We were told not to tell everybody, not to make a nursery, because this could take as much as four years.
J: In hindsight, maybe we should have told more people we were thinking of having kids, because when we sent out an email with the news, they were surprised. Pleasantly so, of course.
Q: What did you do to get ready? How were the first couple of days?
J: It was overwhelming, to be honest, with all the visits. Plus we had to build a bedroom for Anthony and I had to wrap up work so I could take paternity leave for nine months.
R: I remember one time listening to Anthony sleep, but suddenly we couldn't hear him breathe, but he was fine. And when we heard him cry out in the night for the first time, I got up thinking, oh my god, what's wrong with our kid? Nothing was wrong; he was just crying.
We were fortunate that friends held two showers for us, an incredible outpouring of support and gifts.
J: Being with Anthony, I felt like a babysitter most of the time. I had a really hard time, figuring out my new identity. I wasn't working, I was no longer going to the gym or going out with friends - none of my usual routines. But I didn't feel like a dad either. Going to parenting groups, I was usually the only male, listening to discussions about giving birth and breastfeeding, so I felt a bit isolated. Post-adoption blues, they call it.
Q: And how about Anna?
J: Rodney always wanted two children but I said, let's do one at a time. Once Anthony was old enough, we began asking our friends with kids what it was like to have two. We went back to CAS, but needed to get a new social worker and new medical studies and update our home study. Three weeks after all the paperwork was done, in March 2011, we got a phone call.
R: On paper we didn’t have a preference for a boy or girl but Anthony told the social worker he wanted a baby sister. Plus our moms, who had only grandsons, really wanted a girl. A girl it was - a nine-month old baby. We met her for a few time before we introduced Anthony and they took to each other instantly. Anna came to live with us permanently in May of 2011.
Q: What was it like with two children?
R: When Anna came, we were more relaxed. We’d had some experience, like we knew how to make the food and how to change a diaper and read their cues.
J: We definitely had a better sense of what we were doing but then we had a more complicated schedule, with the two kids.
Q: What is the legal situation for you and your children?
R: The probation period for each took about a year. In June 2009 when we went in front of the judge to finalize Anthony’s adoption, it was Pride week. The judge gave a nice speech that it was especially meaningful to him, a gay man, and that he never thought he'd preside over gay adoption in his lifetime but here we were and it was during Pride week too. Our session had started late that day, we were told, because the judge read our file in his chambers and was crying; he had to compose himself before he could come to the courtroom. The finalization of Anna’s adoption in the court was in 2012 and we had the same judge!
J: In Ontario we're recognized as the legal parents with both our names on their birth certificates.
Q: Can you tell us how your family has grown more than you expected?
R: Anthony has a biological older brother who had already been adopted by a lesbian family. We feel that we were chosen to be Anthony’s parents because we’re a same-sex couple, with the thinking that the two sets of parents would be likely to stay in touch. And Anna has a half-brother, who lives with her adoptive family in Toronto. We want our kids to have a relationship with these kids.
Q: How much do your children understand adoption?
R: Anthony knows he’s adopted, for sure. We’re open and honest about it to make it normal for him, at least as much as he can understand at this age. We keep the ideas simple for him - a woman carried him in her belly but couldn’t take care of him so he came to live with daddy and papa. Plus he knows a lot of other kids who are adopted - and kids with same sex parents too actually - so it’s all acceptable and even celebrated.
Q: Any advice for wannabe dads?
R: (laughing) Travel now. Do it now, when you have time! If you’re thinking of taking a course, do it now. Kids do take all of your attention.
J: We had to let go of things, but other things make up for that.
R: Yes, like watching Anthony learning to read and now reading to Anna.
J: There is a lot of joy. Children will surprise and delight you. The first time your kid spontaneously says I love you, that’s one of those moments that you cherish.
Children’s Aid Society of Toronto
30 Isabella Street
Toronto, ON M4Y 1N1
Daddies & Papas 2B is a joint program of the two following organizations:
Queer Parenting Programs
The 519 Church Street Community Centre
519 Church Street
Toronto, ON M4Y 2C9
LGBTQ Parenting Network
Sherbourne Health Centre
333 Sherbourne Street
Toronto, ON M5A 2S5
(416) 324-4100 ext. 5219