Creating a Village to Raise a Child: The Single Gay Dad
Single or not, Larry Jurrist knew he wanted to be a father. The polyglot, teacher and theater-type from a Jewish family in suburban New York was almost 50 and single when he adopted a 6-month-old boy from Guatemala. Having a kid was a novelty for a lot of the men in his life. “I found myself in a different world than most of those guys,” Jurrist says.
He adds that when he finally got the process going it went very quickly and his son, who is now 14, arrived just as fast. “It’s lucky I was so stupid,” the single gay dad says with a laugh, “or I would probably have never done it!”
Parenthood is enough of a challenge on its own without other complications. Imagine taking full responsibility of a small, vulnerable human on your own, and doing it as a gay man in a world made for coupled and straight parents.
“It was probably more of an issue, rather than being a gay man. It was more just being a single person, whether it was a single woman or single man,” single dad Craig Peterson explains. “If you’re doing this yourself you really have to keep your priorities in line. Probably the single issue was more of an issue than the gay issue.”
Especially prevalent in the states, many guys — single or not — go the foster route, caring for children or entire sibling groups when they can, and often ending up adopting from within the foster care system. Indiana-based Peterson, for example, decided to adopt his five sons and one daughter, coming together from two different sibling groups.
Florida-based Ed Peddell also started in parenthood within the foster system with a partner he was in a committed relationship with 11 years ago. After his partner passed away in a car accident five years ago, he continued fostering children for the difference he saw it making in their lives. Peddell had cared for one baby from birth, and when the child became eligible for adoption he decided he wanted to make him his “forever baby.”
“I just couldn’t see how, after a two-and-a-half years of tumultuous relationships start for him, to sign him off and let someone else raise him, so at that point I decided to adopt him,” Peddell says. “I continued to keep on doing foster care and currently I have my son as well as two sibling groups for a total of six children; one sibling group is a ten-year-old girl, a nine-year-old boy with autism and their three-year-old brother; and another sibling group of bi-racial children who are seven years old and four years old, girl and boy.”
Caring for one child as a single person boggles the mind, let alone a half dozen. Between the three dads the one through-line is that they didn’t hesitate to seek out support from family and friends.
Jurrist’s extended family was part of the process leading into the adoption of his son. Because he was single, he needed female relatives to provide affidavits legally swearing they’d be part of his child’s life.
“I guess it started right from the day I got to the airport with him,” he says. “Those were the people who were there to pick us up at the airport. Cindy, and Lesley and Grandma Helen, and a friend of mine and my ex-lover — we had broken up by then but he has always been a part of our life in that sense, as a family.”
By that point Jurrist didn’t really have any immediate family, so his late father’s sister-in-law became a grandmother to his son, and her two daughters were practically mothers… to both the baby and his father!
“To say the least, I didn’t know how to do anything, from the most basic. I didn’t know how to change a diaper!” Jurrist says. “I had to be taught by them. They were, luckily, very bossy, take-control kind of women. They pretty much taught me everything, and I depended on them completely through the first six months or so.”
“I called them constantly, and just to sort of make it funny I would call one of them and say, ‘Is this the Mommy Hotline?’ They would laugh and say, ‘Yes… this is the Mommy Hotline.’ In the first year or so it was all practical stuff, but as the years went on it became more, ‘What would you do?’ type stuff, a dilemma that really comes in the relationship between you and your child, or something happens with another kid, or some kind of conflict.”
Peddell is licensed through an agency called Kids In Distress (KID), and when he started fostering a sibling group of three brothers from Minnesota, each with different special needs, KID was heavily involved. “Being an educator at that time, for over 25 years, I saw there was a need for extra help!” he says.
And help he received. KID made sure he and his children had access to counselors, therapists, psychological evaluation. They worked with him to provide safety plans in his home and promised him any assistance necessary.
“After evaluations, anecdotal records, and summaries of all undesirable behaviours, we were sure to see that each child had the necessary tools in place to assist them in their problems,” Peddell says. “The children were all placed in alternative schools where I worked closely with administration to assist them in providing an individualized educational plan which would help each of them to become successful.”
Peddell got assistance through teachers and the Foster/Adoptive Parent Association in his region, but it was the agency, especially, that helped him meet the needs of three challenging children.
“To this day these three children are still in touch with me and keep me abreast on everything happening in their lives!” he says. “After all, this is what we do, make a difference in the lives of those who truly need it!”
Peterson says that after the adoption he lost a lot of his gay friends because they didn’t get the kind of life it took to raise children. For a gay dad — single or not — the kids and their needs always come first. Taking on the responsibilities became his priority: “A lot of people in the gay community were, initially, like, ‘Well, can’t you just leave them for the weekend?’ No… I can’t just leave them for the weekend…”
Instead it became important to him to seek out social relationships with other parents. “It’s nice to have other like-minded adults that you can talk to,” he says. “I know that initially when I adopted my kids were a lot younger, it was… ‘Okay, I need to have an adult conversation with someone.’ Those types of relationships became more important, having that type of intimacy with other people, and it wasn’t just about sexual intimacy. It was having relationships with people that were genuine and sincere and people who were reciprocal.”
Jurrist counts himself lucky that he has always been part of the theater community— gay men being well represented within the theatrical set — but still says despite this connection when he became a parent he found his life drifting into the straight world.
“What became the most common factor was that I had a kid,” he says. Something that helped keep that connection with the gay community was his participation in South Florida Family Pride, a volunteer-based group started by one of Jurrist's friends, which grew into a much larger regional organization.
Another way to keep the connection is dating or searching for a partner. Jurrist explains that from a lot of what he sees on online resource groups is that a number of dads say that dating is more difficult when you have kids. “The main problem people find is they can’t find a guy to date because of the kids, they’re driven away by kids,” he says. “That didn’t happen to me.”
It does make dating more complicated though. Jurrist tells the story of when his son was about four, he started seeing a man in what turned into a relationship of about five years. The man was a passionate activist, which was okay with Jurrist, but harder with his son involved. “It actually was an issue, because my son, knowing [my partner] was gay, it was kind of forcing a political lifestyle on a child, who has no choice.”
“I really wasn’t comfortable with that,” he says.
“The most particular challenging thing for me was finding a mate for myself, but at one point in your life you make the decision of whether or not you’re going to be alone or with somebody,” Peddel says. “If something’s going to happen it’s going to happen.”
Despite this sentiment, he adds that he recently met a significant other who he’s hit it off with, who gets along with the kids, and the kids seem to really like, which he stresses is of the utmost importance.
Once single, but always a dad.