Gay Dad Life

"Hard to Adopt?" This Couple Says Bring it On

Mark Mihopulos, 32, and Andrew Mihopulos, 34, live in Babylon, New York with their French Bulldog, Tzatziki. Mark is a local kindergarten and first grade special education teacher, and Andrew is a teen librarian who runs a range of fun arts, STEM and literacy programs at a local public library. The two have just begun the process to become foster parents. We caught up with the dads-to-be to hear about their experience.


How long have you been together, and how did you meet? We have been together for 6.5 years and married for 2 years. We met through friends, out in downtown Babylon Village. Instantly, we were attracted to each other and the rest is history.

Why did you decide on foster care as your preferred path to parenthood? Did you consider any other options? At first, we discussed together why we wanted to become fathers. We agreed that we want to share our love with a child in need and we want to provide unconditional support and care for a young person. For us, it is important to nurture our child by developing their confidence to explore their identity and to explore the world with wonder and amazement. While researching paths to parenthood, we learned through conversations with friends and co-workers who had been adopted themselves, those who had grown up with adopted relatives and those who had built their families through domestic infant adoption and through surrogacy. Keeping in mind our motivations, we narrowed down the options and began to explore adoption agencies.

We began to feel comfortable with one NYC-based agency that offered educational webinars and learned from these interactive virtual presentations about a range of paths to parenthood and about the benefits of open adoption. We learned that many of the international programs either involved nations that have laws prohibiting LGBT people from adopting or required long visits to the countries and were limited to the adoption of youth with severe medical special needs. This pathway didn't feel right for our family, as we are both professionals who could not take off enough time to provide sufficient support for these children nor for the travel involved. As a result, we began the application for domestic infant adoption. In our discussions and thoughts, we worried about being able to balance work and the demands of a baby. We considered the experience of our baby growing up in daycare and explored how our parents could help us. We also imagined the potential search process involving social media and expectant parents and their families. We kept reading and researching to learn from those with experience.

A local support group, Long Island Adoptive Families helped us change our minds by opening us up to another option we had not yet considered: adoption from foster care, via the Long Island branch of the agency, You Gotta Believe. At first, we inaccurately assumed that if we chose this method, we would ultimately face loving a child whom we would likely have to return to their biological family. Our goal was to be permanent parents and we felt that being foster parents was simply not our goal. As we heard from people who had built their families through this uncommon process, we learned about the many children and young people who have been legally freed from their biological parents and whose extended families could not adopt them. We felt that we had found the path to a child that fit our motivation for fatherhood. These children are in need of love; many have experienced trauma both in their path to foster care as well as across their experience in care. Far too often, these children are wrongly viewed as "unadoptable." Through a very special, very focused, very passionate adoption agency, You Gotta Believe, we will be able to provide permanency and love to someone who really needs it.

Many prospective parents are weary of the challenges that can come with adoption an older child from the foster care system, but you are expressly looking to do just that. What is your motivation to do so? What are you most excited/worried about? Through You Gotta Believe's MAPP/GPSII ten-week course, which specializes in Teen Permanency, we learned about the experience of adopting an older child or teenager from people who had much experience in their own lives. The class taught us about trauma and support, behavior and response, attachment and love, and the process of becoming parents on this pathway. The facilitators, an adoptive mother of a teen and a young man who had aged out of foster care before being adopted, spoke with honesty, humor and strategies. This empowered us to feel we were capable of handling the challenges that a young person in our home could or would present.

We are mostly worried about the unknowns involved in the search and matching process. We wonder about being prepared for what we have yet to experience. We worry that the child feels comfortable and supported through their transition to our home and to our lives together. The course used guided meditations and creative arts experiences to envision ourselves as people in foster care, focusing on emotions and relationships across life changes. This helped us to relate as human beings to this population. We are most excited about becoming positive forces in our child's life. We look forward to forming bonds through sharing common interests and fun experiences and mutual growth. We are energized to work through the challenges to help our child understand that they are loved and supported unconditionally. It is exciting to anticipate their growth.

Tell us more about your adoption agency, You Gotta Believe. You Gotta Believe is the only NYC agency that exclusively focuses on finding permanent families for older children, teens and young adults in foster care. The organization originated out of the founders recognizing a connection between aging out of foster care and homelessness in Brooklyn. They are a small agency of driven individuals who have fervor for their work, which focuses on supporting older children and teens who have been legally freed from their birth parents, making them in need of adoption. Every person involved in the process is open and honest and most are personally invested in the cause. They take great care in preparing and supporting their families. During the orientation and MAPP/GPSII classes, the organization prepares and empowers potential parents, without pressuring them, as their true desire is to create permanency through families for these young people. You Gotta Believe provides careful and gradual transition from care into the forever family's home through a six to twelve month visitation period, allowing all members of the adoptive family to grow together with ongoing support. You Gotta Believe emphasized to us that there will be 24-hour support from their professionals, both for us as parents and for our child. We don't feel alone on this journey; we feel supported and confident.

One very unique aspect of this agency is their deep commitment to supporting the LGBTQIA community, from welcoming LGBTQIA parents to their inclusive trainings (two sections of which are respectively held at Manhattan's LGBT Center and Long Island's LGBT Network in Bay Shore, NY) to their emphasis on the experiences of the disproportionate population of LGBTQIA youth in foster care. You Gotta Believe explained to us that a young person's coming out is a common reason some foster families choose to disrupt the placement, rejecting the child for their sexual orientation or gender identity. Formally, they require that all of their families agree to be affirming homes through a pledge at the home study signing and a specific required course on being affirming families. Additionally, according to their website, You Gotta Believe is affiliated with the NYC Administration for Children's Services LGBT Action Group and The Center's LGBT Foster Care Project, supported the Heart Gallery NYC's first PRIDE photo exhibit of LGBTQ youth and families and has been honored by the Human Rights Campaign with their All Children-All Families Seal of Recognition. This significant LGBTQIA emphasis helped us to feel understood and comfortable sharing the very personal questions and concerns that arise across the experience of adoption, as well as during the search process.

Where in the process are you? This past spring, we completed the 30 hour MAPP/GPSII course for New York State licensing for foster care, which is required because we will technically be fostering our child until they are legally adopted. We recently signed our home study after a wonderful visit from a warm and friendly gentleman who encouraged us and shared his advice and expertise. Currently, we are involved with the search process for a child. We regularly review the state photo listings and AdoptUSKids.org for potential children about whom we would like to learn more. If the child's home county feels we are a positive match, based on our home study, we can learn more about the child in order to determine if they are a good match for our family.

What has been the most challenging part of the process so far? For us, the most challenging part of the process so far has been trusting that we are on a journey that will bring us to the right family. It will happen when it is supposed to happen and we have to trust that, even when we feel impatient.

What has been the most surprising part of the process so far? The most surprising part of the process has been learning about the realities of foster care and the system of adoption for older children and teenagers. Our eyes have been opened to the less than hopeful and often traumatizing experiences of these youth living in group homes, foster homes and residential facilities. If more people were aware of the impact these experiences have on these youth in adulthood, more people would explore adoption from foster care. If more people knew about the positive experiences of families with these young people, this pathway to parenthood would be much more common. One book that resonated with us is Nia Vardalas' Instant Mom, which reflects on the family building journey of the writer and star of the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and her husband. This adoption from foster care knowledge has motivated and empowered us incredibly!

What advice would you give to other gay men considering fostering children, particularly older children? We highly suggest exploring why you want to be parents. Search your heart deeply on your own and together. Make sure it is about what you can give as opposed to what you can get out of the experience. If you truly want to be fathers, investigate adoption from foster care. Get information: learn directly about the experiences of people who have been adopted, those who aged out of the foster care system and adoptive parents who have faced the challenges and enjoyed the joys of parenthood. Also, ask questions to assure your agency is affirming to all adults and youth who identify or could in the future identify as LGBTQIA. Lastly, enjoy the journey at every stage of the process!


For more stories on foster-adopt:

Adopting 10 Kids Through Foster Care

Alec Mapa & Jaime Hebert: Fame, Family & Foster Care

Finding Life: A Documentary About Building Family Through Foster Care

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Gay Dad Life

Karamo Brown Co-Writes Children's Book with Son, Jason

The 'Queer Eye' star and his son named the story on a family mantra: You are Perfectly Designed

When his sons, Jason and Chris, were young, "Queer Eye" Star Karamo Brown repeated the same saying to them: "You are perfectly designed."

That mantra is now a Children's Book, cowritten by Karamo and his 22-year-old son, Jason, who used to come how and "say things like, 'I don't want to be me, I wish I was someone else, I wish I had a different life." As a parent, that "broke my heart," Karamo told Yahoo! Lifestyle. "I would say to him, 'You are blessed and you are perfect just the way you are,' as a reminder that you have been given so much and you should be appreciative and know that you're enough — I know that the world will try to tear you down, but if you can say to yourself, 'I am perfectly designed,' maybe it can quiet out some of those negative messages."

The illustrations, by Anoosha Syed, also make a point of displaying families of a variety of races and sexual orientations throughout the book.

Read more about Karamo's fascinating path to becoming a gay dad here, and then check out the video below that delves deeper into the inspiration behind "You Are Perfectly Designed," available on Amazon.



Gay Dad Life

The Suburban Gay Dad

Are you intimidated by the suburbs? This gay dad was — but then he moved there.

In a recent article for Yahoo! Lifestyle, Steve Jacobs says the thought of living in the suburbs as a gay dad "intimidated" him. But when he started fantasizing about garages, he began to question that notion. Any apprehension he had soon evaporated, he said, one winter morning while trying to navigate the snowy streets of New York City with a stroller.

While "pushing the stroller through snow banks and pools of slush with snowflakes stinging our faces," he wrote, "a vision came to me: I pictured us walking into a garage, hopping into a car, and arriving at a diner with 10 times less drama. This image planted the seed of moving to the 'burbs that I couldn't shake."

Soon, the family of four found a house in a town a half hour outside the city. "It had grass and a beautiful yard for our spirited kiddos. The schools were good. There were even good restaurants. The only red flag: Census data estimated only 0.1 percent of the population was gay male."

There were some "growing pains" while trying to make friends in this environment. "When we attended our first dinner party, within minutes the hostess went to the kitchen and the other wives followed her, while the husbands settled into the living room. Ira and I froze, looking at each other. In the city, our straight friends hadn't separated out like this for the evening. Should we stay with the dudes, exert our masculinity, and blow off the mom we liked? Or does one of us go with the wives and accept the personal branding that comes with that? We did a quick rock paper scissors in the foyer. Ira went with the wives."

But ultimately, "being a parent defined me more than I ever imagined it would," he wrote, and he settled in nicely to his new suburban life.

Have you had a similar adjustment, from city life to the suburbs? Tell us about it at dads@gayswithkids.com for an upcoming piece!

Gay Dad Life

"Fridays with Fitz": A New Kid's Book Based Upon the Son of These Two Dads

Tracey Wimperly, author of the new children's book, said she hopes to give a more honest portrayal of the role grandparents play in the lives of children.

Guest post Tracey Wimperly

I've recently written a children's picture book (aimed at 2-4 year olds) called "Fridays with Fitz: Fitz Goes to the Pool." Every Friday - when his two dads go to work - Fitz and his grandparents (my husband, Steve and I) head off on an adventure. Through the eyes of a curious and energetic 3 year old, even ordinary adventures, like riding the bus or foraging for fungus in the forest can be fun and magical.

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Personal Essays by Gay Dads

Raising Grounded Kids in Crazy Manhattan

When it comes to raising kids in Manhattan, Dr. Evan Goldstein lives by this lesson — less is more.

There are several lessons that we all learn as we continue to age on this wacky place called earth. But I learned one of life's most important nuggets my first year of medical school, and it has never left me. I remember this one night in particular—it was late, and I had been studying when I realized I forgot an important book in the stacks of the library. Thankfully, a janitor opened the locked door and allowed me to retrieve my belongings. I remember it took him a while to open the locked section that I needed to enter, as he had so many dangling keys on his keychain. He responded to me gazing at the lock by saying, "Son, I may only be a janitor without any education beyond high school, but I have seen medical student after student enter this school for the past 25 years. Can I give you some advice?" "Of course," I said. "Do you see all these keys on this keychain?" he said. "Every single one holds a new responsibility. Less keys, less responsibility. Less is more! Remember that my friend." And with that, he was gone.

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Change the World

11 Family Stories That Show the Depth of the Adoption Experience for Gay Men

November is National Adoption Awareness Month! To celebrate, we've curated some adoption stories that show the true depth and breath of the adoption experience for gay men.

November is National Adoption Awareness Month! And few people are more aware of the importance of lifting up and celebrating adoption in this country than the LGBTQ community. According to the Williams Institute, 21% of same-sex couples are raising adopted children compared to just 3% of different-sex couples. Despite the fact that we are a crucial part of the support system for children needing loving homes, we are currently facing an administration that is trying to make it legal for foster care and adoption agencies to discriminate against us on the basis of religion.

To help celebrate National Adoption Awareness Month, and demonstrate that religious beliefs should in never trump the ability for a loving LGBTQ family to welcome children into their home, we've rounded up several family stories that show the true depth and breath of the adoption experience — men who never planned to become dads, and woke up one day to find themselves responsible for little ones. Men who always wanted to become dads, and suffered through years of failed placements before finally making their dreams come true. Single men, who realized they were strong enough to adopt on their own. And men who adopted older children through the foster care system.

These are just a few of the inspiring stories of gay, bi and trans adoptive dads — we are literally sitting on a treasure trove of them. And, no doubt, there are countless more headed your way in the months to come.

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Popular

"We're Dads, the Greatest Thing We've Ever Been": Congrats to Gay Men Whose Families Recently Grew!

Wishing all of these gay dads whose families expanded a lifetime of happiness! Congrats to everyone in our community on their recent births and adoptions!

Gay men go through a lot of ups and downs on the path to parenthood. It can be one of the most emotionally draining times in our lives. But as each of these families who are celebrating births and adoptions this month agree: it's worth every hardship.

Congrats to the dads whose families grew this month!

Congratulations to dads Ryan and Sebastian on the birth of their son, Máximo!!

Ryan and Sebastian's path to fatherhood was through surrogacy and their journey took nearly five years from start to finish. "There were many ups and downs and we almost gave up — but are so glad we didn't!"

"Holding Máximo for the first time was something we will never forget," shared Ryan. "He was looking up at us and we were just overcome with love and joy."

This new family of three live in Long Island City, New York.

Congratulations to dads Andy and Mike on their birth of their son Bennett!

In July this year, Andy and Mike became first time dads through surrogacy when they welcomed their son Bennett.

"We are absolutely in love with our baby Bennett! He's doing awesome and his Daddy and Papa have been rewarded with a lot of big smiles! He sleeps a lot and is generally relaxed as he learns about the world around him. He's made us happier than we knew possible and we feel incredibly blessed that he is the culmination of our wonderful surrogacy journey."

Even though their son is only 3 months old, they're already starting to think about and plan for his sibling! Congrats dads!

Congratulations to dads Bryan and Zachary on the birth of your son Spencer!

Three years ago, husbands Bryan and Zachary moved from New York City to Dallas, Texas to start a family.

"Like for most, our journey had many uncertainties with ups and downs along the way," said Bryan. "When you stop and really think about everything that goes into the process and has to take place, it's a true miracle and we feel blessed."

On August 26 this year, their son Spencer was born through surrogacy. "Patience, hope, support and remembering what's eventually to come helped my husband and I during the most stressful times. Now that Gates is here, it's hard to even look back."

"Holding Gates for the first was a true miracle - my husband and I finally took a breath. At that moment, the three of us created our new family and everything was exactly how it was supposed to be."

Congratulations to dads John and Ryan on finalizing the adoption of their son Connor!

When John and Ryan in 2004, they both knew they wanted to be parents. They were married in 2005 and started their journey as foster parents in 2009. They first became dads when their son Cody, then an infant, came to live with them. His adoption was finalized in 2013.

"After Cody's adoption, we 'closed' our home and actually moved a few times before joining the foster parent community again in 2018. When we decided to look to foster and adopt again, Cody was fully on board and that was a big part of our discussions about timing."

Their son Conner was placed with them as an infant in May 2018. Connor's adoption was finalized on October 16, and he was 19 months old at the time.

"Adoption day was a whirlwind," shared John. "We were first on the docket for the judge and he made quick work of finalizing his placement and formally making Connor a member of the family!"

The forever family of four live in San Antonio, Texas and would love to connect with other families like theirs.

Congratulations to dads Matt and Ian on the birth of their son Rocco!

Denver couple Matt and Ian had been dreaming of the day when they'd become dads. The husbands have been together going on 8 years, married for 5, and had picked out their son's name even before they were married.

"The journey to fatherhood has been a long and emotional one," shared Matt. "After our first fertility clinic placed roadblocks in front of us for almost two years, we changed to a new once and suddenly found ourselves on a pace far quicker towards fatherhood. We engaged a surrogacy agency to find our gestational carrier after two attempts to do it ourselves, and ended up with someone who was so far and beyond what we ever could have imagined, we cannot imagine the journey without her. We call her our angel not just because of her selfless act but for her guidance along the way as a mother herself."

From their first 13 embryos, one little one tried to hang on but didn't quite make it to the end. After several years of trying up, they decided to give it one more go and were able to produce 6 eggs, one of which resulted very quickly into a multiplying, healthy and genetically viable embryo - the last of 19 attempts. "The day we found out that our little bundle of cells had matured, we unexpectedly lost my Grandfather on the same day – a stark reminder of the cycle that is life. We gave our son the middle name of Keen as it was one of my late grandfather's signature words to use. 'Oh, that's so keen...' is a phrase I can still hear him saying to me as a child."

On July 26, the dads welcomed their son Rocco! "We are blessed now with a sleeping, funny, expressive and engaged little spirit in our lives. The process was tough, emotional and downright exhausting. The moment he showed up though, let out a scream then looked at his with his funny little furled brow, every single appointment, lost night's sleep, worry and tear was collectively worth it. We are Dads … and that is simply the greatest thing we have ever been."

Congratulations to Travis and Jay on finalizing the adoption of their son Kathan!

Travis and his husband Jay began their path to fatherhood a little over three years ago when they began the certification process to adoption through the foster care system. "After a little over a year and a half in the making we got the call on June 3rd 2018 at 11:30am. That day changed our lives in so many beautiful ways," said Travis.

At just 4 days old, the dads brought their son Kathan home, and 16 months later, they celebrated his adoption being finalized. "It felt like we had been set free as a family for the first time."

Kathan's adoption day was incredibly personal for the dads so they spent it with close family and took Kathan out for celebratory brunch.

Congrats to this Orange County forever family of three.

Congratulations to dad Derek and Zack on the birth of their daughter Georgia!

On October 18, 2019, dads Derek and Zack, and big brother Hank, welcomed Georgia to the family. The family is over the moon!

"Zack and I were lucky to be able to work with the same surrogate that helped us with our son Hank," said Derek. Their family journey experienced a significant setback when one of their fertility clinic's embryo storage tanks malfunctioned, and they lost all their genetic material - 11 fertilized embryos - that Derek's sister and Zack had donated to create their family. Luckily, Derek's sister was incredible and happily flew out to donate her beautiful genes again.

"Our family is truly the living embodiment of the love of our extended family and our carrier Raelene (and her family) have for us and our dream to meet our children. Meeting Georgia, for me, was the realization of all those feelings of love and hope we felt throughout our journey."

Congrats to this San Francisco family of four!

Congratulations to dads Rob and Scott on the birth of their daughter Sierra!

Rob and Scotty's journey to fatherhood started in December 2014, and they became first time dads eighteen months later when their son Ryder was born through surrogacy. In early October this year, they welcomed their daughter, Sierra, also through surrogacy.

"Holding her for the first time was amazing and warmed our hearts completely," shared Scotty. "Our son loves his baby sister and is very protective of her!!"

Huge congrats to this Sacramento family!

Congratulations to dads Brian and John on the birth of their son Weston!

Brian Wall and his fiancé John Agricola live in Toronto, Canada, and they recently welcomed their son Weston into the world on November 13.

"Our path to fatherhood was made a little simpler because my first cousin offered to be our surrogate," said Brian. "It took about a year total from picking an egg donor and our first successful embryo transfer on March 13."

When the dads first held their son they both agreed it was the most emotional experience they've ever had. "So grateful to our surrogate and he is a healthy boy!!"

Congrats to this new family of three, and can't wait to see wedding photos from your upcoming nuptials!

Congratulations to Ricky and Jeff on finalizing the adoption of their daughter Kylie!

Ricky and Jeff finalized the adoption of their youngest on November 8, the biological sister to their son Kadyn.

"Her birth mom knew that she couldn't take care of her and wanted us to have her," shared Ricky. "We went through the county again and we were able to adopt Kylie 6 months after her birth. The extra cool experience this time around was the fact that we were invited to be there to be part of the birth."

To be finalize Kylie's adoption was "amazing" said the dads. "It means that nothing and no one can do or say anything that would effect her being with us, which almost happened about a month before the adoption day."

Congratulations to this Californian forever family of four!

News

United Nations Calls on Cambodia to End Criminalization of Surrogates

Cambodia's 2016 law criminalizes surrogacy — and requires women who work as surrogate to raise the children they conceived for intended parents as their own.

Last Friday, the United Nations Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) reiterated its support to end the harassment and criminalization of surrogates in Cambodia, according to Voice of America.

The report issued by CEDAW recognized growing international criticism of the unregulated practice of surrogacy around the world, which often leads to the exploitation of women who work as surrogates. However, since surrogacy became illegal in Cambodia, over 60 women working as surrogates — the very people put in danger of exploitation — have been arrested and subjected to criminal proceedings. The women were only released according to VOA, under the condition of raising the surrogate children until they are 18.

"The Committee is particularly concerned that such an obligation creates an additional financial and emotional burden on women who are in precarious situations, which led them to act as surrogates in the first place," the report reads, "and that they face discrimination and stigma from their families and communities for having acted as surrogates."

CEDAW called on the Cambodian government to repeal the October 2016 law — particularly the requirement of raising the children they conceived for other intended parents as their own. This punishment is particularly onerous given that many of these women entered surrogacy arrangement against their will, said Chak Sopheap, Executive Director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, speaking to VOA.

"Surrogate women in Cambodia are likely to be at the sharp end of various economic and political hardships that caused them to make the decision to become a surrogate," she told VOA in an email. "We have seen, over the past year, women surrogates raided, charged with human trafficking, and detained, with no transparency from the authorities as to their wellbeing or that of the children they have given birth to."

Read more about this story here.

Fatherhood, the gay way

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