For Donovan Gutierrez and his fiancé Eric Alvarado being parents is an important and sometimes complicated part of their lives.
The couple met online a little more than two years ago. Eric was in Dallas, Texas, the divorced dad of a daughter named Pakanli, or PK for short. Donovan was in Stockton, California, the divorced dad of a son named Desi. Eric and Donovan were both in their early 30s, both of their kids were the same age, and both men were of Mexican heritage.
Needless to say, they had a lot in common. They exchanged numbers and began to speak to one another regularly on the phone.
“I never did the long-distance relationship thing," Eric says today.
He moved out to California on New Year's Eve last year and has started making a life with Donovan. The two plan to marry sometime next fall.
But perhaps we're getting ahead of ourselves here. Because in telling the story of these two gay dads, it's important to figure out how they started, and what brought them to where they are today.
Both dads come from Mexican backgrounds, with the kind of traditional and family-oriented roots that implies. Eric's family was religious, Donovan's less so.
They each wanted to have children.
“I was afraid to be me back then," Eric says today. And so he did what he assumed men who wanted families did: He married a woman, even though he knew he was gay. Donovan did much the same.
“Gay guys who are our age who wanted kids had a difficult time," Donovan says.
They faced a seemingly impossible task, reconciling a gay life as they understood it with the more traditional perspective of a two-parent family.
Eric was married for a total of two years. He and his wife separated three times before finally splitting for good. He had been single for six years before meeting Donovan.
Donovan and his wife had been together for nine years total; they divorced three years ago.
Each man had an ex-wife and a child. Each man had to figure out what to do next.
Nothing came easily as Donovan and Eric navigated these years. Their parents didn't entirely understand when they came out. There were challenges in dealing with their ex-wives and custody matters.
“It becomes difficult, especially when it comes to communication," Donovan says. “My parents still argue and they've been divorced for 30 years."
But then, gradually, their lives began to change. Eric hit the age of 30 and became passionate about dancing. Donovan served on the board of directors for his local pride center. And then, the two met online.
Once they made contact on the phone, Donovan says, “it seems like we never stopped talking. Every time I went out on a date or whatever, he came into my mind."
And ultimately, they decided to take the plunge, looking forward, not back. It meant making Desi and PK step-siblings. It meant Eric moving away from the state where his daughter lives with her mother.
“It was a huge leap of faith that I took," he says.
But Donovan and Eric held hands and went over the edge together.
Today, Donovan continues his career as a car salesman. Eric is an emergency room admitting clerk. They have come out to Desi and PK. And their parents are becoming more accepting.
The two kids spent the summer together with the couple. The 10-year-olds get along well, too.
“They have a good, strong place in our lives," Eric says. “I feel like they can be themselves. We're really blessed that they got along so well."
Desi, in fact, has urged the two to get married. “Why don't you make it official?" he prodded.
And Donovan and Eric see their union, and their two kids, as just the beginning. They want children, grandchildren, turtles, the whole nine yards. There have been early discussions about adoption.
“We wanted a traditional family per se," Eric says. “I'm really looking forward to it. The way I'm looking at it, we're starting from step one."