With over 135,000 Likes on Facebook, and 50,000 followers on Instagram, Bud Lake and Manuel Santos, dads to two children via international surrogacy, have been sharing their lives with the world for the past 4 years. They are strong believers in the importance of visibility, and they use their platform to show the world that love makes a family.
Originally from New Jersey, Bud had been living in Madrid for 8 years when he met Manuel Santos. They were 36 at the time and both knew that they had found someone very special. They fell in love and began to plan their lives together. "We began talking about getting married and having kids pretty much from the day we met," explained Bud.
Manuel lived in Valencia. So after a year of dating, Bud quit his job and moved to Valencia to be with Manuel. Not long after, they began planning to have children. Their friends thought they were crazy to give up their social lives, vacations, romantic dinners, and professional careers so quickly, but they felt it was the right time. They moved again, to the suburbs of Valencia, to a small town of about 6,000 people to be closer to Manuel's family, parks, playgrounds, great public schools, and a great local community. "We both grew up playing in the streets of our neighborhoods without parents worrying about us all the time and getting home in time for dinner," explained Bud. And that's the lifestyle they wanted for their kids.
Bud and Manuel chose surrogacy to grow their family and over 6 years ago, they started their first surrogacy journey in India and had their eldest, Álvaro. A year after he was born, the began their second journey in Thailand and in January 2015, their daughter Carmen was born. (You might remember reading about a gay dad family stuck in Thailand fighting for the right to bring their baby daughter home after a change in Thai law and a surrogate who went back on her contract: that was the Lake Santos family.) "Even though we hit a pretty big snag with our journey having Carmen, we wouldn't change anything about either journey," said Manuel. "We have forgotten about all the problems and have two healthy and happy children and a really beautiful family, and that's what's important." Both Thailand and India will forever hold a special place in Bud and Manuel's heart; both for the wonderful people they met, and the amazingly diverse and international family that they love.
Today, the family of four still live in the suburbs of Valencia and have a social following close to 190k, many of whom started following the family during Carmen's prolonged stay in Thailand. They share charming videos of Álvaro and Carmen talking about their two-dad family, and beautiful photos on their Instagram. They've also designed t-shirts in collaboration with TeeSpring, and they've even created an album of nursery rhymes for gay dad families!
"There really was an absence of nursery rhymes for our type of family," said Manuel, talking about what inspired the project. "It's there for all same-sex families, present and future ... someday someone will say, hey look at this couple that made a Daddy and Papa version of Finger Family ... That's cool!"
Even though they are the only two-dad family in their town, Bud and Manuel don't feel like they've ever been discriminated against which is wonderful to hear. "We aren't sure if we are just really lucky, or if people are just becoming much more accepting," said Bud. "Carmen just started school this year, but this is Álvaro's third year and it has actually been the complete opposite, we have a really great relationship with all the other parents in his class." Both parents believe in the importance of same-sex parents making their families visible to show that they are just another type of family unit.
The dads live this attitude by continuing to share their lives on social media, and the response they receive has been heartwarming. "We love that we get so many warm messages of support, young people that say they see that it CAN be possible for them to be parents in the future," said Manuel. "Just a few years ago we thought it would be impossible to be parents, and many young LGBTQ still believe that because they are gay they can't have a family. But nowadays this is changing thanks to Facebook and Instagram, and young people see all the positive examples out there."
Sure, they've received the odd homophobic remark, but the dads say they block those users and quickly move on.
Fatherhood continues to amaze Bud and Manuel, both with its challenges and rewards. "It's such a weird feeling, like nothing about fatherhood is surprising, and everything is surprising all at the same time," said Bud. "Parenthood is the most common thing on the Earth, something that the whole world has in common. No matter what language you speak, what country you are from, if you are rich or if you are poor, from a more conservative or liberal society, there are parents everywhere. Being a parent on the surface is easy, as long as you just roll with the punches, take one day at a time, and just to do the best you can (what we all do). BUT on the other hand it can be so hard and so challenging. Those beautiful little persons push you to your limits and past on a daily basis. The psychology of dealing with a child is extraordinary, the patience that is required is in most cases something superhuman. And all things considered, we are so lucky to have two wonderful children that are super sweet, well mannered, and well behaved."
Twogaypapas on Instagram: “El otro día en una de las fotos que posteamos se veía uno de los tatuajes que llevo en las muñecas y alguien preguntó que qué significaba.…”
Although nothing is for certain, and the family love their hometown in Spain, it has been Manuel's dream for sometime to move to Florida where Bud's parents live and open a paella restaurant - Valencia is where the paella originated - but that probably won't happen till the kids are older. For now, they'll continue to enjoy the suburban lifestyle in Spain, being a block from the beach and a short bike ride to the mountains.
When asked about each of their fatherhood journeys, Bud and Manuel said they were both "unique, special and challenged us as a couple," but they agreed they wouldn't have it any other way. "One thing is for sure, the love we have for those two little beings is out of this world and we would never change a thing about them about our road to fatherhood, or about fatherhood itself."