Part II of "Incredible: The 15 Children of the Ham Family." Read part I here.
Steven and Roger Ham are raising a brood of 14 − going on 15 − sons and daughters. They have been high-profile gay dads, appearing on TV, print and online. And they’ve also spent more than a decade simply being parents.
As you might expect, there’s a lot to keep track of, both in their kids’ lives and their own. Here are some tips and vignettes from their lives.
So how do they manage it? How do the Hams make managing a household of 15 children work? Steven says there are a few simple principles.
First off, he has simply worked at it. And that means he didn’t work elsewhere for a span of time.
“I was a stay-at-home dad for seven years,” he says.
That wasn’t necessarily the plan, though.
“We didn’t sit down and say I was going to be a stay-at-home dad,” Steven says today. “My company was being sold, and it worked out.”
They had five or six children at the time, and “they needed more attention and care than if we had a biological kid,” he says. He continued to contribute financially, working remotely from home over those years.
The second key is structure. “Our kids are so structured, to the T,” he says. “They’re like me.”
Those who visit the Hams' home are amazed at how organized it is. Everything has been reconstructed to fit the kids. The girls are on one side, and the boys are on the other.
Third, there’s an emphasis on excellence.
“Everything is strict, that’s that key thing,” he says. The key requirements for the children are that they do well in school and play a sport of some kind.
Steven and Roger also make sure to pay individual attention to their sons and daughters. “We have our quiet time with with each kid,” Steven says.
Above all, they want all of their children − all of their 14 going on 15 − to have the opportunity to be children.
“They got ripped off,” Steven says.
BACK TO WORK
Thanks to that rigorous schedule and high expectations, Steven found himself in an unfamiliar place recently. Before the addition of their last three kids, he had everything scheduled out and settled.
“I found myself not having enough to do,” he says.
He was on the board of Child Protective Services as well as on boards of other children's organizations. He was doing a lot of work for free, and he realized that he could go back into the job market and actually be paid.
Now, he says, “I’m the vice president of our company. “I’m an overachiever.”
“That’s an understatement,” Roger chimes in.
Steven recollects their dealing with the foster care system over the years. “The more they told us no, the more we fought,” he says.
For his part, Roger works for the Phoenix school district, and has for this entire span. That means his working hours line up with the kids’ school schedule.
Steven has managed much the same at his job, mostly working when his children are at school. “The owners of the company are absolutely amazing,” he says.
But he admits to an occasional pang of guilt.
“Do I think I should still be at home? Sometimes I do.”
But with that being said, “they really not missing out on too much of us,” Steven said. “They spend more time with us than they probably want to.”
The couple broke ground, of course, by simply being a same-sex couple forming a family. They were one of the first to adopt in the state of Arizona, and their dedication has made them legendary.
“We had to go to the courthouse for the youngest a month ago,” Steven says, and they received a rapturous reception. “We’re rock stars. It made us feel so good.”
And even though they’ve closed their foster care license, they still get phone calls asking if they’re interested in taking on more children.
But this is where they ended up. Making things happen in the first place was more challenging.
“We had tons of road blocks,” Steven says.
They weren’t even allowed to adopt as a couple in the state as first. Steven adopted the first of their children as a single parent; Roger was legally unconnected. But then they found that the state of Washington allowed same-sex couples to adopt jointly.
So the couple took their kids to Washington and re-adopted them there. And when they returned to Arizona, the state simply had to recognize their relationship with the children.
“Arizona had to make a new template for their birth certificates,” Steven says proudly.
And while their family is undeniably remarkable, there’s a bit of reluctance on the Hams’ part to make too much of it.
“We don’t think we did anything special,” Steven says. “Instead of one bowl of cereal, there’s 14.”
They’re familiar with the questions from those on the street. It becomes frustrating, they say, after a while. They simply know what curious onlookers are going to ask. And they already know their answers.
Are you Mormon?
Is this a group home or day care?
“No, it’s my family,” Steven replies.
And so it is. It’s a family of straight-A students, happy and loved. They have clear rules and a strict schedule. And their two loving parents went through the wringer to bring them all together.
“This is all they know,” Steven says. “Roger and myself and their brothers and sisters.”
And along the way, they’ve shown that same-sex couples aren’t just able to be parents; they’re able to be extraordinary ones.
“I think we opened a lot of people’s eyes here,” he says. “That it can be done, and we’re good at it.”
Family photo credit: Michael Chow/The Arizona Republic