Max Bethel-Jones, 52, had traveled to more than 120 countries over the last 30 years working with the United Nations, but had never been to the Bahamas — in 2015, he decided to apply for a private teaching job as a special needs teacher in Freeport on the island of Grand Bahama.
Just weeks after his arrival, he'd get a whole lot more than another pin in his map of visited countries when he attended a social event at Freeport Rugby. "My object was to ogle the local male talent but several women had other ideas," he said. One woman was particularly insistent, he said, but after a couple of drinks she got the hint that he batted for the other rugby team. "She promptly told me there was someone I should meet."
That turned out to be Robbie. Max was game, until he found out that Robbie lived 170 kilometers away on a completely different island. "We made contact but I honestly never expected to meet," he said "People struggle to connect over 4 kilometers let alone 170.
Still, a few weeks later, he and Robbie managed to meet up for a date. To get there was an adventure in itself — the journey involved a drive to a tiny local airport on Grand Bahama, a flight aboard a small nine-seater plane called Flamingo Air ("It was pink and white!" Max said. "So gay!"), and a 30-minute boat ride before he ultimately arrived in the settlement on Elbow Cay where Robbie lives — called Hope Town.
And there, Robbie was waiting for him with one final mode of transportation — a golf cart. "Transport in Hope Town is 90% via golf carts," Max said. But the journey was well worth it, he said. "I arrived in paradise at the end of the world!" he said.
A few years later, Hope Town became Max's slice of paradise, too, when the couple moved in together. "We got married in August 2016 in Lima, Peru at the British ambassadors residence and became the first same-sex couple to legally marry there," Max said. After Max's work took the couple to Nassau, Bahamas for a two-year contract, the couple moved back to Hope Town permanently just this past summer, in July 2019.
Soon, they decided their paradise was big enough to share. Max already had two kids from a previous heterosexual relationship while in his 20s, who are now 23 and 26 years old, so the thought of having more had never really entered his mind. But one night, over dinner, Robbie — who was adopted at birth— admitted something to his husband that he hadn't expressed before. "Robbie said that there was one thing that made him sad over everything else and that was not being a dad," Max said.
In 2017, the two embarked on an adoption process, looking to Florida since the Bahamian government would make it difficult for a gay couple to do so locally. "We contacted 22 agencies and many failed to get back to us," Max said. Some simply didn't conduct inter-country adoptions, while others refused to work with them because they were gay. "I had one lady at a catholic agency saying it was "not God's will" Max said.
Eventually the couple found One World Adoption, located in Delray Beach, Florida, who agreed to work with the couple. "It took away the heart ache of rejection we had felt for so long," Max said. But their difficulties didn't end there. The couple's first match abruptly ended when the birth mom vanished, and after the couple had already spent $22,000 on payments and living costs. "After 30 weeks she disappeared," Max said. "There was nothing we could do."
Their second placement came six weeks later, when they received a call at 4:30 in the morning. A pregnant girl struggling with drug use, homelessness and HIV and needed an adoption placement — on March 18, 2018, she gave birth to a baby boy. "He was very tiny, five pounds two ounces, addicted to cocaine so was rushed to the NICU, where he remained for 16 days," Max said. Afterwards, the baby — who the couple named Apollo — joined Max and Robbie in their Bahamian paradise.
But life wasn't done throwing the family curve balls. Tropical storms in this area of the world are a "part of life," Max said. So when Hurricane Dorian first started to form in August of 2019, he wasn't immediately alarmed. "We expect to see tropical rain storms a few times throughout the season," he said. And the storm's initial trajectory was meant to hit north of Hope Town. "The odds of it hitting us were very low."
Unfortunately, instead, the couple's home suffered the full brunt of Hurricane Dorian, which is the largest tropical storm on record to hit the Bahamas. The family's home was destroyed, as were all of their possessions, furniture and clothes. Baby Apollo has also lost his crib, toys and puzzles. "Basically, it's rough," Max said. "Everything got either blown away or soaked."
Making matters worse, Apollo has suffered several medical issues after the storm cleared due to water contaminated by unsanitary conditions, and the power has remained off in Hope Town since September 1st of this year. As a result, Robbie and the baby are currently living on another island.
"Any help from the gay dad community would truly be appreciated," Max said, who has set up a Go Fund Me to help the family get back on their feet.
"Skilled individuals in wooden house building and / or carpentry who are able to volunteer would also be appreciated," added Max. "Plus if someone wants to donate lumber there is a list is available. We have also set up a shipping forwarding address in Florida if people want to donate materials instead of money." Email Max at email@example.com for more details.