TOP - Dad Life

Rob Chasteen-Scheer: From Homeless Teen to Tireless Advocate for Foster Kids

Rob Chasteen-Scheer overcame years of abuse and homelessness to become a father to four at-risk children. He is the founder of “Comfort Cases," a non-profit organization that provides backpacks with essentials to tens of thousands of foster kids. This past year, he has received much-deserved recognition for the charity's invaluable work: In March, Rob was honored at the Family Equality Council Impact Awards in Los Angeles, California. In August, he and Comfort Cases were featured in People; a few days ago, Rob was a guest on NBC's “Today." This article represents the first time Rob is sharing his own personal story in such a public way.


Rob Chasteen-Scheer knows hunger — real hunger. Although it has been many years since he experienced it, the painful memories of that hunger are always with him. He will go to great lengths to avoid it. And so, after a dinner with guests, he feels compelled to go to the grocery store. The pantry is often still full.

Abused and neglected throughout his childhood, orphaned at 10, homeless his senior year of high school after aging out of the foster system, Rob has overcome every challenge in his life to become a successful businessman, a loving husband and a doting father of four. But that gnaw of hunger can quickly drag him back to those earlier years, when he was living on the streets as he tried to graduate high school.

“That feeling of hunger is something you never forget — that pit in my stomach," he said. “I tell my children, 'Whatever you want to eat, whenever you want to eat.' I never want my children to feel that hunger. Because once you feel that hunger, you never forget it."

Rob (left) and Reece in an early family photo

Calling Life's Bluff

Rob often calls the circumstances of his early life “the cards I was dealt." There's no doubt he was dealt a losing hand. His mother married six times and had 10 children, of whom Rob was the youngest. Addicted to drugs, Rob's mother raised her family in conditions that he thought were normal — being shuffled from shelter to shelter, in and out of foster care, siblings in and out of jail. His stepfather was a sadistic predator, sexually abusing Rob from an early age.

“My father would hold a gun to my or to my sister's head and ask my mother, 'Which one do you want me to shoot tonight?'" he says. “And that was just fun for them. They would drink and laugh."

His mother died of breast cancer when he was 10. Rob was to be sent to live with his biological father, but those plans changed when the man died suddenly and unexpectedly. At this point, Rob's stepfather abandoned him, and the young boy was left to live with a woman neighbor who agreed to foster him. Rob describes his emotions at the news of his mother's death and his subsequent foster placement as feelings of tremendous relief; the abuse he had suffered had been that bad.

He would be dealt another bad hand, though. While Rob took comfort in the care his foster mother offered, his foster father didn't share his wife's compassion.

Rob (circled) in his Grade 5 Yearbook. This is one of very few photos that Rob has from his childhood.

“I remember, it was my 18th birthday. It was a weekday. My foster father, when he realized no more checks were coming, put my clothes into a trash bag and I became homeless my senior year of high school."

Only a year away from graduation, Rob had no family and no home — only a trash bag of clothes and in his heart “a desire to be better than what I was supposed to be — I didn't want to become a statistic." Somehow he was able to continue his studies. During the coldest nights, friends snuck him into their houses at night so he could sleep on their couch. Other times, he recalls hoping that kids at the school wouldn't make fun of the stink that enveloped his old clothes and unwashed body. He worked part-time at a taco shop, and in the evenings he slept in an unlocked public bathroom, often having to endure abuse from sexual predators. On Fridays at school, he would take leftover food from other students' plates in the cafeteria so he could be sure to have food to eat over the weekend.

After a year of homelessness, Rob called life's bluff: he graduated from high school. Looking back, he is unable to describe just what exactly kept him going, what it was that kept him motivated to succeed when the odds were so stacked against him. Everyone around him had failed him, yet he refused to give up.

“I would see other families, and I would see the love they had for their children, and the children for their parents, and I yearned for that," he says. “And I knew that I could have that. I just didn't know when."

From “Robert" to “Rob"

After graduation, Rob enlisted in the Navy. For the first time in a long time, he no longer had to worry about where he would spend the night or how to find his next meal. He went to Fort Meade, Maryland, and while he was waiting to be processed, he was put up at a hotel. He couldn't remember the last time he slept in a bed, and so the act of doing so now caused him to cry uncontrollably, like he had never cried before. As he took a shower, he felt his past cling to him like filth. “For maybe an hour, I was scrubbing not the dirt you could see on me, but the dirt I could feel inside of me," Rob says. “So much had happened in 18 years and I wanted to wash it all away. I didn't want to be this guy anymore. I didn't want to be Robert Chasteen anymore."

His ablution complete, he reported to the station as Rob. He had only ever been called Robert. What might seem a simple nickname to many marked the biggest turning point in this man's life.

He graduated with honors from boot camp and served as a yeoman in the Navy for two years. Afterward he went into office work for a mortgage company and worked his way up the ranks. By the time he met his husband, he was a senior vice president.

“I can't tell you the difference between they're, their, and there," he says, joking, “but I can tell you that hard work pays off and if you work hard you can make it."

When old high school friends saw him, they admitted they were shocked he had done so well.

“The friends who knew me as a young child, they would say, 'We thought you would end up a drug addict or on the streets,'" Rob says. “That's what they expected from me, and that's what most people expect from kids who were in foster care."

Rob holding Tristan with Makai standing in front of him; Reece holding Greyson with Amaya in front of him.

Accepting the past

When Rob met Reece, he had just come out of a serious relationship of 11 years. Rob had ended that relationship because he knew he wanted kids. His ex didn't.

“My very first question to Reece was, 'Do you want to be a dad?'" Rob says. “And he said, 'Yes, but not until after I get my master's degree.'"

The two men laughed. “I knew I wanted to date someone going down the same path I was — and that meant kids."

Rob talks about his sexuality as something he had known since a young age. But during his early years he didn't have many chances to explore. He just knew he was attracted to other men, and he was only able to explore gay life in his early 20s. Unfortunately, that was the mid-to-late '80s, the height of the AIDS crisis.

“Everybody was saying that if you had sex with men, you were going to get this 'gay cancer,'" he says. “I was scared to death. I had worked so hard to get to where I was, and now, if I had sex with someone, I was going to die?"

He educated himself and came into his sexuality, but like so many gay men from those days, he lost many friends.

Coming out as gay was easy in comparison to coming out to Reece about his past.

“When I did tell him about my past, I said, 'We don't talk about that,'" he says. “I thought that as long as nobody knew about my past, I could continue to live this life that was so grand and great."

The two men had been together for four years when Rob started pressing adopting overseas. One Saturday morning, as the two had breakfast, an ad came on television — a rerun of Barbara Harrison's “Wednesday's Child" segment, which every week featured a different foster child in need of adoption. Reese asked Rob, "Why aren't we adopting a child out of foster care?"

“I said, 'I know what those kids are like. I'm not talking about this,'" Rob remembers. “And Reece said to me, 'Do you know how many kids you've let down by not talking about this?'" And I started to cry. I cried like I hadn't cried since I was 18 years old, in that hotel room. It was an aha moment. People deserve to know how hard I worked and to be proud of where I came from and where I went."

That Monday, Rob took off from work, and the couple went down to Child Services in Washington, D.C. where they started their long journey to foster-adopt a baby. Even after the classes, the home visits, the certifications, they knew the waiting list in D.C. for adopting a baby was at least two years. But that didn't stop Rob from dreaming of becoming a dad some day.

Family Matters

In January 2009, a case worker called with two children — a sister and brother. They had been in care for three months and had been through two other foster homes already. While they were waiting for their baby, Rob shares that he and Reese felt that "...if we could change a child's life just for one day while we're waiting for a baby, it will be worth it for us," he says.

The siblings came to Rob and Reese's brownstone for their first visit soon after. Amaya, 4, was expressionless; her brother, Makai, was 2 and looked much younger. Severe tibia trauma had stunted the growth of his legs; he was being carried like an infant.

“I looked at Reece," Rob says, “and he was just as in love as I was."

After months of waiting, suddenly they were given an opportunity to become parents to two kids. They had to decide if they were ready to change their plans and provide a forever family for Amaya and Makai instead of the baby they had been waiting to adopt. Without any hesitation, they said yes.

When they went to pick up the children from their foster home, they found the kids waiting for them with trash bags of clothes by their sides.

After only a couple of months, two more boys, a pair of young brothers, became available. Greyson had three broken ribs and a brain hemorrhage from having been shaken; Tristan had a huge scar. His mother had allowed her boyfriend to carve his initials on the boy's chest.

Despite these kids being labeled “problem children," Rob and Reece were not only willing to take them, but they wanted to take them. However, an administrative rule initially prevented the dads from keeping all four children and they were literally told to choose either Amaya and Makai or Greyson and Tristan. Instead, Rob went to City Hall to insist the dads could offer loving care for all four of the children.

This was not his only visit to City Hall, as he found himself having to advocate on his children's behalf time and again. D.C. Child Services was not accustomed to having to deal with such a tireless advocate, and so they eventually transferred the family to a private organization, where the kids received considerably better attention and a higher-level of service. “We were too much for them to handle," Rob says, laughing.

After years of dreaming, after a childhood of cold nights in cars or homeless shelters, and after an early adulthood of working through the ranks of a company while hiding his past, Rob became a father of four in the span of about three months. He fought to adopt and to care for all his children, both in court and with child services.

When the adoptions were finalized in 2010 and 2012, he gave the children's biological parents a phone number.

Comfort Cases, Rob's nonprofit, in action

“We told them, 'We will always have this phone. We will never disconnect this number. If you go into treatment and you want to be part of your kids' lives, you can you can always break bread at our table. You just have to make the right choices.'"

In the years since, the phone has only rung once: Amaya and Makai's great-grandmother, who has since become a de-facto grandmother to all four children.

Some of the children remember life before Rob and Reese adopted them, and Rob gives them the advice he didn't get when he was their age, holding his own trash bag of clothing, wondering what would happen next.

“I say to them all the time, 'You embrace your past, you talk about it,'" Rob says. “We have to lead by example, and for so many years, your dad didn't do that."

Stopping the cycle

Rob looks at the Christmas decorations in his living room and considers how far he has come. Amaya is an honors student. Makai, the boy Rob and Reece were told might never walk, is a runner and gymnast. Greyson is a star football player and a very kind young man. Tristan, at 8-year-old the youngest of the children, is the apple of Rob's eye. “My heart is smiling," he says.

Comfort Cases backpacks

The call to action that Rob gives all his children has taken root in Amaya, who helps her fathers with their nonprofit, Comfort Cases. The organization provides backpacks filled with basic needs like pajamas and toothbrushes to children in foster care, so that no child ever has to experience carrying his or her entire life's belongings in a trash bag.

As 2016 ends, Comfort Cases will have sent out 25,000 backpacks filled with essentials to kids in need in the D.C. area. Soon, they hope to go national.

For Rob and his family, it's all about stopping the vicious cycle, the whirlpool of abuse and neglect that sends so many promising children sinking forever downward.

“What happened to me was bad," Rob says. “But if I allowed that to overtake my life, my biological parents, they would have won — they continued this cycle of abuse. It just wasn't going to happen with me. This cycle was stopping here and now."

Editor's note: Next, read the story of Rob's daughter Amaya, who incurred the wrath of One Million Moms after she was featured in All American Girl.

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TOP - Dad Life

Famous Gay Dads and Their Kids!

From Neil Patrick Harris to Ryan Murphy, more famous gay men are having kids.

As more celebrities and public figures come out, and more gay men decide to start a family, we can expect celebrity gay dads to become more common.

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Five years ago, when Robert Shutts (see photo above, top right) arrived at the Ohio home where his sister and her kids were staying, he entered the room to find chaos. His sister was intoxicated and incoherent, her three toddlers unattended.

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Popular

'Our Family is Complete': Congrats to Gay Dads on Their Recent Births and Adoptions!

Join us in congratulating all of the gay men in our community whose families grew recently!

Wishing all of these gay dads congratulations on their exciting news this month. From becoming first-time dads to finalizing adoptions, congrats to everyone in our community on their wonderful news!

Circle Surrogacy is the proud sponsor of this month's congrats post. They were founded in 1995 on the belief that everyone should have the opportunity to be a parent. "For over 20 years we've helped LGBTQ+ couples and singles around the world fulfill their dreams of parenthood. We've helped bring more than 1,900 babies into this world... and counting!"

Congratulations to Andrew and Edward on finalizing the adoptions of their twins!

For Andrew and Edward, their foster parent training plus home study took about a year. "We had a brief placement of twin girls that were four years old two months after we had been approved," said Andrew. "Then we took a break as it was a difficult process, the 'loss' aspect, when that placement ended."

Then on March 15, 2017, their case worker sent them information about two little babies - a boy and a girl - that were still in the NICU and only nine days old. "It was a foster case with an uncertain future, but we decided those little babies needed us!" They dads took a leap of faith and on July 10 this year, their twins' adoptions were finalized. Andrew and Edward have a wonderful bond with the paternal grandmother as well as a special relationship with the twins' father. "We all love these twins, and the more love they have the better their lives will be."

"Adoption is one of those experiences where one side experiences incredible joy while the other side experiences incredible loss," continued Andrew. "We are grateful to experience this joy knowing that biological family members are happy for us to experience that joy."

Congratulations to this Mt Airy, Philadelphia, forever family of four!

Congratulations to Sean and Thomas on finalizing the adoptions of their twins!

Together 15 years, London couple Sean and Thomas recently finalized the adoption of their twins.

"About 3 years ago we started meeting adoption agencies and were approved as prospective adopters the following spring," shared Thomas. "We were anticipating a long wait, but quite quickly were matched with our twins. At the time they were nearly five."

After a fairly long transition period for everyone to get settled in, the adoption was formalized the day after Father's Day. "Two years after matching, at times it seems like the kids have been with us forever and other times a blink of an eye. But it is certainly the most life-changing, transformative experience and we cannot imagine life without them. It's wonderful that our family is now official!"

Congratulations to Phillip and Clinton on the birth of their daughter Madison!

Little Madison joined her dads on July 1, 2019, after coming into the world via surrogate.

"I caught Madison as she was born," said Phillip. "I have never felt such an exhilarating rush in my entire life! We were genuinely in love at first sight!"

Now that we Phillip and Clinton are dads, they say they feel a "sense of wholeness" in their lives! "We have a new motivation and purpose in life! It's truly the greatest blessing!"

These new dads and the apple of their eye live in Texas.

Congratulations to Michael and Tyler on the birth of their twins, Elliot and Oliver!

Herriman, Utah, couple Michael and Tyler have been together for 9 years, and married for 3. "In the beginning of our relationship we knew how important family was and how much we wanted to be dads," said Micheal. "After we got married we met with a couple surrogacy agencies and were advised to meet with an IVF clinic before proceeding. In doing so, we found that going through a surrogacy journey independently was very possible."

So the dads decided to shift gears and work in that direction, booking a follow up appointment with the clinic. "We met with their 3rd party coordinator over the surrogate process and she did not have any inquiries of any surrogates." Serendipitously, and unbeknownst to the husbands at the time, their future surrogate made an appointment to talk about being a gestational carrier for a same-sex couple. "The next day we got the unexpected call that someone was interested and open to meet. From there the rest was history as we continued with the surrogacy process."

Over a year later, the dads welcomed their two sons. "The first time we got to hold the boys, it felt so natural to us, as if nothing else in the world existed and time stood still as we got lost in the moment."

Congratulations to Adam and Josh on finalizing the adoption of their daughter!

Adam and Josh got engaged on Good Morning America on Valentines Day, and welcomed their Christmas miracle baby into their lives on December 26th. On July 12 this year, they celebrated becoming a forever family of three.

"For an event that always seemed like it would be the end of our adoption journey, Baby K's Finalization Day felt more like the beginning of a greater adventure," shared Adam. "Since day one, Baby K was always loved and 100% part of our family, but we are so filled with joy to see this day come and make it officially official. We cannot wait to spend the rest of our lives not only watching Baby K grow and develop, but also to see the two of us learn and grow in this new role as parents."

Congrats to these Dallas dads!

Congratulations to Dan and Martin on the birth of their son Herman! 

Copenhagen couple Dan and Martin welcomed their second child through surrogacy on July 11 this year in Florida, USA. Herman joins big sister Ellen, born March 1, 2015, in Vermont via surrogacy. Here's a little more.

"Two amazing American women and their families took us in as their own and we're forever bonded," said Dan about their path to fatherhood experience. "It has been an amazing journey with both of them, our family is complete."

Congrats to the Danish family!

This post is sponsored by Circle Surrogacy

Circle was founded in 1995 on the belief that everyone should have the opportunity to be a parent. To this day, that belief is at the core of everything we do. For over 20 years we've helped straight and LGBTQ+ couples and singles around the world fulfill their dreams of parenthood. We've helped bring more than 1,900 babies into this world... and counting!

We're an agency comprised of social workers and lawyers, accountants and outreach associates, and program managers and coordinators; but, more importantly, we're an agency made up of parents, surrogates and egg donors, who are passionate about helping people build their families, and invested in each and every journey.

Circle is proud to have helped so many gay families achieve their dreams of becoming parents. Together, we make parenthood possible.®

News

Ed Smart, Father of Kidnapping Victim Elizabeth Smart, Comes Out as Gay

In coming his coming out letter, Ed Smart, a Mormon, condemned the church for their "ridicule, shunning, rejection and outright humiliation" of LGBTQ individuals.

In a post on Facebook, Ed Smart, father of kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart, came out as gay. He also discussed his strained relationship with his Mormon faith, claiming he felt he didn't feel comfortable living as an openly gay man in a church with a difficult history with respect to its LGBTQ members. He and his wife, Lois, have filed for divorce.

"This is one of the hardest letters I have ever written," he began the letter. "Hard because I am finally acknowledging a part of me that I have struggled with most of my life and never wanted to accept, but I must be true and honest with myself." He went on to acknowledged a new set of challenges facing he and his family as they navigate a divorce and his coming out — in the public eye, no less — but concluded, ultimately, that it's a "huge relief" to be "honest and truthful about my orientation."

He went on to condemn The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for their "ridicule, shunning, rejection and outright humiliation" of LGBTQ individuals. "I didn't want to face the feelings I fought so hard to suppress, and didn't want to reach out and tell those being ostracized that I too am numbered among them. But I cannot do that any longer."

In an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune, Ed Smart further discussed his reasons for coming out now, as a 64-year-old man.

"I mean, I knew that it would probably come out at some point, just because people can't leave things alone. I did anticipate that it would happen at some time, but my intention in writing it was to try to let my friends and family know, you know my extended family ... know where things were. So, you know, I was really concerned about how the rumor mill starts," he told the paper. "I knew that at some point in time, that would come out," he elaborated. "I didn't know when it would come out, and so I would rather have it come out the way that it did versus having some rumors going around, and you know the crazy way things can get twisted."

In 2002, Ed Smart's daughter Elizabeth was abducted at knife point by a married couple from her bedroom in Salt Lake City, Utah. She suffered physical and sexual abuse at the couple's hands, for nine months, until she was finally rescued by police. During the ordeal, papers — including the Salt Lake Tribute — speculated about Ed Smart's sexual orientation based on some fabricated information sold to the paper by tabloids like the National Enquirer. (The Enquirer retracted the story, and the reporters at the Tribute were ultimately fired.)

"I think that in April I started feeling like I needed to prepare something," Smart told the Tribute. "Because during Elizabeth's ordeal, there were things said, and it wasn't what I wanted to say, and I was not going to allow that to happen again."

As to how his family has taken the news, Smart said they've been "very kind" to him. "I think it was very difficult to have this kind of come out of the blue. I don't think any of them knew I was struggling with this, so it was something they were, if you want to call it, blindsided by. I totally get that. They've really been very wonderful."

Congrats to Ed Smart on making the difficult decision to live his truth. Read his full letter here and his interview with the Tribute here.

Personal Essays by Gay Dads

"Rollercoaster and Sons," Explores the Journey of One Single Gay Dad Through the Foster-Adopt System

When it comes to the foster-adopt system, "there is no roadmap," said single gay dad Chase Turner

Guest post written by Chase Turner

Many of us thought long and hard about what avenues were best to pursue being a dad. For me, fostering to adoption was the selected road. There is no roadmap here, many things that came my way were learned by doing. Along the way, I started wishing I had a better support group or people who could understand what it's like to be gay and attempting to adopt. Often we (people who are LGBT) feel scrutinized and judged for choices that the majority makes but for us there is pushback. Once my adoption was complete, I felt it was necessary that I put pen to paper and write this story, from a gay male perspective.

My goal was to provide a voice in the space of foster care and adoption where there is a void. Additionally, I wanted to provide an authentic look at all facets of the process, from the kids, to the obstacles and challenges that happened within my personal life. I do hope you enjoy and more importantly can relate or prepare yourself for a similar journey.

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Fun

Gay Dad Penguins Strike Again! This Time in Berlin Zoo

The latest male penguins to care for an egg together are Skipper and Ping in the Berlin Zoo.

First, there was Roy and Silo — the two male penguins in the Central Park Zoo that served as inspiration for the famous children's book And Tango Makes Three. Then Magin Sphen got together in Sydney, where aquarium keepers gave the cocks (Calm down, that's what a male penguin is called!) a foster egg to care for.

And now, please welcome Skipper and Ping in Berlin to the latest list of gay dad penguins! As soon as the two emperor penguins arrived at the city's zoo, they set about trying to start a family, said Berlin Zoo spokesman Maximilian Jaege to DPA news.

"They kept trying to hatch fish and stones," Jaeger said.

So the zookeepers loaned the penguins an egg from a female penguin, who is apparently uninterested in hatching eggs on her own, according to the BBC.

Unsurprisingly, the gay penguins are killing it as parents. "The two male penguins are acting like exemplary parents, taking turns to warm the egg," Jaeger said,

Read the whole article on DPA here.

Fatherhood, the gay way

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