Gay Dad Life

Love Conquers Everything: Bryon Adopts Jason

Most fathers have to wait years before hearing their children say, “I love you." Bryon Denton, however, heard those magic words from his son, Jason, the very first day they met.


At the time, Bryon was working as a contract nurse at a home for children with developmental disabilities in Champaign, Illinois. His first day on the job, he was told that one of the kids, Jason, a 12-year-old boy with cerebral palsy, had very limited speech, and that he shouldn't expect much in the way of communication.

“They said he basically didn't speak, and when he does it's very hard to understand, so he doesn't talk to many people," Bryon recounted when we spoke by phone recently. So when Bryon walked in the room that first day and Jason looked up and said, “I love you," as clear as can be, his heart melted.

“I'm a big softie," he said. “I'm not sure why he picked me to talk to, but I of course fell in love with him right from the very beginning." His connection to Jason grew the more the two got to know one another. “His personality is always fun, happy and loving — he's the most loving child I've ever met. Every time I leave the room and come back in, I get a huge hug like he's just seeing me again for the first time in a long time."

Of course, that first day Bryon didn't know that Jason would become his son within a few short years; but his mother had a hunch. “When I was driving home from work that night, I excitedly called my mother and told her all about Jason. She told me, 'Just you wait,'" Bryon said, laughing, “'you're going to be bringing one of these kids home one day.'"

This prediction would prove correct, but it was far from preordained; Bryon would face a lengthy fight before he was able to claim the legal right to call Jason his son.

The trouble all started, oddly enough, because of a spare ticket to Suessical the Musical. “I had tickets to see the show," Bryon explained, “and I knew Jason loved music, so I thought, this will be perfect." One day, when Jason's mother was visiting him in the children's facility, Bryon asked her permission to take him to the show, which she granted. Soon after, Jason was sitting in the audience of his first Broadway show, delighted by a singing and dancing Cat in the Hat.

Jason enjoyed the experience so much that Bryon began taking him on additional outings, always with the consent of his mother. “She had a hard life," Bryon said, explaining Jason's mother was in and out of prison for much of her life and thus unavailable to provide for her son. Jason's mother was nothing but thankful, then, for the connection that was forming between Bryon and Jason.

Bryon's employer at the children's home, however, was less excited about this new relationship. “The administrator of the facility decided I could not possibly like a teenage child with developmental disabilities in the way that I did," he explained. “So she fired me."

Jason Denton

Bryon's boss never directly alleged that he was maintaining an improper relationship with Jason — the official reason for letting him go was that he was “unable to follow directions" — but it was certainly implied. After Bryon was terminated, Bryon's boss even convinced Jason's aunt, who had taken over custody of Jason while his mother was in prison, to rescind his visitation rights.

Jason's mother was not happy with this turn of events. “She really liked me," Bryon said. “So she actually filed to give me custody of him." Originally, Bryon's case did not look promising; he was only 21 years old at the time, an age when many young men would be unprepared to take on the responsibilities of caring for a teenager with special needs.

Complicating matters further was Jason's aunt, who retained custody rights, and fought Bryon's custody claim, even though he had his mother's blessing. After about a year and a half of arguing over the matter in court, however, Jason's aunt stopped contesting the matter. “She just walked into court one day and said, 'I didn't want him to begin with,' and walked out."

With Jason's mother incarcerated, and no other relative stepping forward to claim him, Bryon's case for custody suddenly looked much more promising. “The judge was like, okay, now we have a problem, because mom is in prison and there's nobody to make decisions for a child with special needs."

Any concern the judge had about Bryon's ability, as a single 21-year-old, to care for a special needs child was offset by his knowledge and skills as a nurse. “It made a big difference. This is a child with medical needs — he doesn't eat by mouth at all, he feeds through a gastro tube in his stomach." To complicate matters further, Jason was experiencing some serious health issues during his prolonged custody battle. “The children's home couldn't figure out what was going on with him, and someone needed to make decisions, so I filed for emergency custody of him, and the judge granted it."

Bryon's medical training would prove useful right away; once he got involved in his care, Jason was diagnosed, treated and discharged within three weeks. “It was just pancreatitis," Bryon said, frustrated. “It's something that's very fixable. We didn't know the cause, but it's still fixable. It seemed like the children's home was just going to let him die from this. He had just turned 14 and weighed 42 pounds."

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Gay Dad Life

Gay Dads Featured on Cover of Parents Magazine for First Time

Fitness guru Shaun T. and his husband Scott Blokker are the first gay dads to be featured on the cover of Parents Magazine

I literally never thought I'd see the day. Literally.

Gay fathers on the cover of Parents Magazine! Gay fathers being celebrated in a "main stream" publication about being parents. Gay fathers!

I don't want to get overly dramatic here, but this is a milestone. A massive cultural milestone.

Sure, gay dads have come a long way in being accepted in our popular culture, but to my eye we've never been on the cover of a big popular parenting magazine celebrating our parenting skills. As if we are the norm.

We are now - thanks to Parents Magazine.

This is a particular milestone for me because I have a bit of a history with the magazine and with parenting publications in general. My first job out of grad school was in brand marketing at Johnson's Baby Products where I did indeed run advertising in this particular magazine. Back then though we only featured married, straight couples. There were no other kinds of parents to feature back in the day! And if I'm to be really honest, they were generally white, married, straight couples.

I distinctly remember one photo shoot where I forgot to put a wedding ring on the "husband's" finger and we had to reshoot it. No photoshop back then!

Now admittedly this was before I was a dad and before I was out, but as the years went by and I embraced my own journey as a gay dad, there were no role models or pop culture markers to say that I (and other gay dads) were accepted. There were no Andy Cohens publicly making baby announcements. We were alone on our parenting.

It was hard. There was a constant barrage of straight parenting norms that constantly reminded us that we were different.
Not any more! Being a gay dad, or any dad, is now simply being a parent. A good parent. A loving parent. And we have Parents Magazine to thank for the reminder and endorsement, with hopefully more to come.

And I can't help but think, and actually know, that this kind of normalization will inspire the next generation of gay dads who will simply accept, without hesitation, that fatherhood as a gay man is a real, accepted, and normal option.

Bravo!

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More gay men are becoming fathers each year, and have more options for doing so than ever before: including adoption, foster care, and surrogacy. However as the study's authors write: "Despite legal, medical, and social advances, gay fathers and their children continue to experience stigma and avoid situations because of fear of stigma. Increasing evidence reveals that stigma is associated with reduced well-being of children and adults, including psychiatric symptoms and suicidality"

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Surprisingly (or perhaps not?) another source of stigma cited by the study originates from other gay men. "Gay men report suspicion and criticism for their decision to be parents from gay friends who have not chosen parenthood." The study also says gay dads often feel "isolation in their parental role."

The study concludes, "Despite growing acceptance of parenting by same-gender adults, barriers and stigma persist. States' legal and social protections for lesbian and gay individuals and families appear to be effective in reducing experiences of stigma for gay fathers."

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