In November last year, Ottawa-based husbands Matt Ottaviani and Rej Gareau (whose story we shared in July) became first-time dads through surrogacy. They were overjoyed to welcome their daughter Andy and become a family of three.
But as many of us know, raising a child isn't always just about the nuclear family. The African proverb "it takes a village to raise a child" is a commonly repeated phrase, and rings very true for many families. Matt and Rej are no different, and when they shared their story last month, one thing jumped out to us: the important role Andy's guncles play in her and her dads' lives.
In honor of Gay Uncles Day today, we reached out to Andy's many guncles to learn first-hand how their relationship with the family affects their lives. Here's what they had to say.
"Words cannot describe the affection that Shawn and I both have for Andy... and to a lesser extent Matt & Rej," joked Mark Bracko. He and his partner Shawn Boeyen love being part of Andy's extended village, watching her grow and witnessing many of her first experiences alongside Matt and Rej. "We knew that they would be fantastic dads, but watching them in action as they embrace fatherhood has been an awesome experience."
Additional guncles Andrew Smith and his partner Logan Marynissen are also besotted with young Andy. Their favorite thing is to try to get her to smile or squeal in excitement. "It's cathartic to forget about being an adult and make whatever face, sound - fart noise - or action that will make Andy laugh, clap, and smile," said Andrew. "Which isn't difficult. Andy is one happy, clappy, smiley kid."
"Being part of Andy's life is an incredible gift," continues Jason Bett. "It truly takes a village and being a guncle means that we get to be there to see her grow and hopefully play a role in helping her become a strong, fierce and loving person. We equally love to see the impact that Andy has on her dads and how she brings out the best in them."
Husbands Jason and Mike McGuire are proud dads to their 24-year-old son, and relish being part of Matt and Rej's guncle crew. Plus, as dads themselves, they are also ready to impart worthwhile parenting advice they've learned over the year. "The most important thing for us is that Matt and Rej know that they have a strong support system, which is all the more important because neither of them have immediate family in Ottawa," added Jason. "We feel like we are their family and they are ours."
"Andy's guncles have been so supportive to us initially in the process of becoming parents and now are regular babysitters, visitors, playmates to Andy and also spoil her - maybe too much," explains Matt. "They have continued to invite us all out and have been so welcoming of a new little one in our social circle."
Husbands and guncles Darryl Hol & Charlie Brenchley were quick to confirm that not much has changed in the mens' relationships with Matt and Rej since they became dads. "We still get all our hangs in, there's just now one more little member part of most of the hangs -- who loudly reminds us when she needs to be fed or a new diaper," says Charlie. "Matt and Rej have mastered the balance of becoming daddies and maintaining a flourishing social life."
As the most recent dads to the crew, Matt and Rej have paved the way for some of the friends - not all - to consider their own parenting journey. "The more gaybies the better!" says Charlie. "While we are not 100% sure that parenting our own children is in in our future, Andy's arrival is helping push us in that direction. Well, most of the time," he added quickly. "Acting as role models and caregiving for kids is super important to us."
While Shawn and Mark don't see fatherhood in their own future, they do understand the important role they have as guncles in their friends' lives, as godparents, and to family members. "Being there for the guys as well as Andy as she gets older. We want her to be comfortable in being able to pick up the phone and call or text us at a moment's notice if she has questions, concerns or just to talk."
"Maintaining a growing friendship and a support network that Matt, Rej and Andy can trust in and rely on," added Andrew, about their important role as friends to family of three.
"Every member of her community has a role to play," adds Charlie. "We love being part of Andy's chosen family."
"We count ourselves lucky to be part of Andy's life," continues Jason. "She brings much joy to us and we are successfully creating a community of guncles that will be there for Matt, Rej and Andy for the years to come."
And the feelings are very much mutual. Matt shared how much their friends enrich their lives, teach Andy new things and just give their family love. "They really are the best. We are so lucky to have them in our lives. From Ottawa to Toronto to Montreal to Boston and many other parts around the world, Andy's gay uncles are everything!"
They have just one rule for their friends and Andy's guncles - "We have said it to the guncles before and we will say it again. We love you, but no glitter in the house."