Todd Riddle and Steven Lebow are living an incredible life with their 4-year-old son Fenmore. The family lives in Malaysia (for context, that’s next to Indonesia and Thailand), where the dads own Foot Efx, an international franchise for arch supports and shoes.
“We know we are blessed,” said Todd, 50. “We know we give Fen a life that might not have even been a dream if even thought of at all. Little man has an opportunity to be or do anything he wants with his life now.”
The family’s story starts with Todd, on his own, working as a director of marketing for a home improvement company in Indiana. He was in his 40s and badly wanted to become a father. But after a potential adoption fell through, Todd had given up on the dream.
“It's too late for me. I was resolved to the fact,” he said in an interview conducted via email from Malaysia. But then a co-worker who was also a volunteer court-appointed special advocate for children, told Todd that a family had reached out about finding an adoptive family. The only catch: The mother was due in two weeks. Todd went into high gear, pulling together attorneys, an adoption agency, background checks and a nursery.
Todd received the call six days after finding out he was going to be a father and headed to the hospital (but not the delivery room itself) for the birth of his son, Fen.
“Everything went according to plan, and I brought Fenmore Riddle home at 2 days old as his legal guardian,” Todd said. “Then, on day 31 we filed adoption papers. I was nervous because I was only the third single gay male in adopt in a state that in known to be conservative, but the adoption went flawlessly and little man is my son.”
So how do Malaysia and Steven figure into this?
The two are closely related, it turns out. Todd met Steve at a conference in Las Vegas when Fen was 8 months old. Todd had encountered some surprising negativity from the gay community after adopting his son, but for Steve it was a non-issue.
“He met me and I opened my phone to check for any calls and Steve saw a picture of Fen. He asked, ‘Who's that?’ I said, ‘Well, if you like me, I come with child!’ He said, ‘Okay.’ Never thought twice.”
Steve, now 53, had founded Foot Efx 14 years ago. After he and Todd cemented their relationship, he brought on Todd as a vice president for sales and marketing. After selling a franchise in Malaysia, the family decided to move there to “help to assist in developing the brand.”
The family lives in Penang, a resort island sometimes called “The Pearl of the Orient.” As far as they know, they’re the only gay family in their expatriate community. Todd and Steve are also lucky to employ a full-time Filipino nanny, to care for Fen when they are at work.
“Several times a month we have to travel for business, so having the consistency of Jhoanna makes us feel better,” Todd said.
“As far as family time,” Todd says, “we make sure Fen has lots of quality time with us, and silly playtime in the pool, or the beach, or playing puzzles, or super heroes.”
The majority of Malaysians are Muslim, which means that Todd and Steven aren’t as open about their relationship in public as they might be in some American cities. They are out, Todd says, but “I wouldn't hold hands with Steve in public as a matter of respect. But we go to the same restaurants, and everyone knows us. They see us as a family who loves their son.”
And their son builds bridges, too. Anyone who has raised small children knows that they make friends without regard to culture or social status. “Fen has playdates with children who are from strict Muslim families, no problem. Actually, they’ve even had us over for dinner at their home.”
And Fen is exposed to the rich background of his current home country through his preschool. “There is always an art project or music class or some activity recognizing the many cultures that make up Malaysia,” Todd says.