Family Spotlight: David McKay & his son Joey

Love Sees No Limits: Adopting a Young Adult

Seeing his son out the door for the afternoon, David McKay pulls some cash out of his wallet for 20-year-old Joey. “Twenties are flying out of my wallet like you wouldn’t believe,” David says with a chuckle.

His playful complaint may be a familiar one among parents of young adults, but it’s all new to David – the two met just over two years ago.

It was Joey’s high school graduation day. A foster child who had aged out of the system and cut off ties with his adoptive mother, Joey was celebrating the day with his best friend Jake’s family.

Jake’s great-uncle, David, struck up a conversation with the young man. David expected to hear about college plans, but instead heard a heartbreaking story.

Joey’s father had died of heart and lung failure from exposure to the 9/11 explosions in New York City. Joey and his older sister landed in the custody of his drug-addicted mother in Florida.

When their mother went on a drug binge and abandoned her kids, Child Protective Services removed them from the home. A family friend took – and eventually adopted –12-year-old Joey, trapping him in another toxic situation fraught with drugs, abuse and neglect.

As soon as he turned 18, Joey was on his own, sleeping on friends’ couches and struggling to get by.

Talking with Joey on his graduation night, David pressed him to look into college – but so many influences in the young man’s life had discouraged him that Joey had no idea where to start.

“When I talked to my high school counselor about it,” David recalls Joey saying, “he told me, ‘Kids like you don’t go to college. They enlist in the military. So pick a branch and get out of my office.’”

But Joey wanted to be a baker, not a Marine – and that night, David knew he wanted to help him achieve his goal.

Joey lived in Florida. David returned to his home in Dallas. He and Joey called and Skyped to find a school near him in Florida with a culinary program, and a home, for Joey.

Even though Joey was old enough to live alone, the two determined together that he wasn’t ready – he needed a support system.

As it turned out, that support system didn’t exist for Joey – for one reason or another, no one on the list they had made together could take Joey in. It didn’t take long for David to offer Joey a room in his own house in Dallas.

David intended for the arrangement to be a mere steppingstone for Joey, not a permanent situation. “I really just signed up initially to be a mentor,” he says. “I figured I’d write a few checks, pay for groceries.”

Then the magnitude of Joey’s obstacles began to emerge.

David quickly learned how deeply affected Joey had been by losing his father and the neglect he had experienced since. “I was realizing that in a lot of ways, he was not yet fully formed.”

Joey struggled with school. His reading level was around the 5th grade level and he suffered from ADD. His study skills weren’t up to par for college.

Emotionally, he was plagued by his legal connection with his adoptive mother – he wanted nothing to do with her. As the pair sought solutions, they discovered adoption offered a clear path – possibly the only path – to dissolving Joey’s existing adoptive relationship.

“It turns out you can’t emancipate yourself from an adopted mother unless she consents,” David explains. But if David adopted Joey, the existing adoptive relationship would dissolve.

“I never had any dreams or interest in having children,” he says. But when Joey approached him about seriously pursuing adoption, David said yes.

Joey even changed his last name – a huge gift to David, the last living McKay in his family. As a gay man, he did not expect to be able to carry on his lineage. “It’s allowed me to create a legacy that I didn’t think I would be able to create.”

Having a son has completely changed David’s focus in life. “I spent a lot of years really only worrying about me – my job, my house, what I was doing, where I was traveling.”

Now, it’s all about Joey. “I worry about him non-stop.”

David and Joey have faced serious trials in the two years they have known each other. Last year around the 10-year anniversary of his father’s death, Joey overdosed on the Adderall he’s prescribed for his ADD. He dropped out of school.

“Some days he feels bad about himself, like he could do better,” says David. Many of his friends live in their own apartments and own their own cars, and he itches for that kind of independence. But David is proud of where his son is now.

“I’ve seen a lot of maturation in the last year,” says David. Joey is working as a baker – his goal – and has plans to take a class in the fall.

For his part, David does his best to surround his son with support. Active in the Dallas Human Rights Campaign steering committee, David involves Joey in events as often as possible. “He’s got a lot of gay uncles who dote on him,” he says. “It reminds him that there’s a lot of people who care about him.”


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