In the 1990’s, husbands Tim Stentiford and Tom Marshall were well-prepared to become new dads. They went to LGBTQ parenting classes in San Francisco, worked with the International Adoption Services Center, and traveled multiple times to Vietnam to adopt their two sons. But no one told them what it would be like two decades later, when their kids would inevitably leave home.
“They are thriving,” Tim said of their sons Brandon and Kurt, who have gone off to college. “But no one has written the book about being gay empty nesters.”
Tim and Tom first met in Connecticut in 1986 and were married in 1991. As newlyweds living in California, they decided to look into starting a family of their own. Tim was a foster child and an adoptee himself, so he said their decision to adopt and “pay it forward” was an easy one.
“In the beginning, it took some time to decide when we would start the adoption process, and how we would parent together,” Tim explained. “But from the moment we met our first son at his orphanage in Vietnam, it was love at first sight and we never looked back.”
Once their two sons were with them in the U.S., the couple decided to move to Kennebunkport, Maine, so that their children could grow up around grandparents. There, the husbands started their own classic car dealership, and found an amazing support system of family, friends, and community.
Although there have been a few incidents of name-calling in their small town, Tom said their overwhelming experience has been one of acceptance.
“We chose to find a welcoming community to raise our two boys, who both identify as persons of color,” Tom said. “And for the most part we have been pleased with how easy it was to be our family in a small New England town.”
Now Kurt is 22 and Brandon is 20, and they’ve both left Maine for out-of-state universities. The dads said without a doubt, their proudest accomplishment has been choosing to become parents. But as the years have gone on, it’s also become one of their toughest experiences.
“Watching them leave the nest has been hard,” Tim said. “Our sons are both in college now — one studying music therapy in New Orleans, and the other a filmmaking major in Los Angeles. We are learning how to love their new independence and college adventures, as we adjust to life in a small town at home as just the two of us. I miss the pile of sneakers that our boys and their friends would leave in the dining room.”
Seeing their kids leave home has been a major adjustment for the dads. But they said becoming parents was the best thing they ever did, and they’ve heard the same thing from many other gay men and couples over the decades.
“In the now over 20 years of our gay dad’s journey, we have never met another dad who said they wouldn’t do it over again,” Tom said. “It sounds cliche, but it’s been the best thing in the whole wide world.”
The couple said their advice to other gay men whose kids are becoming adults is to reach out to other LGBT parents and parenting resources and ask all your questions.
“That’s what we did, and everyone was always willing to give their time, listen, and share their experiences,” Tim said. “And now, we are looking forward to becoming gay grandparents!”