Aaron and Chuck: Our Beginnings as a Couple
Let us go back to the beginning, before the kids, DFCS (Division of Family and Children Services), doctors, marriage, etc. I knew I was gay when I was still in elementary school. In 2004, when I was 22, I met my future husband Chuck online. We dated a few months and then decided to move in together. We bought a house and started living our closeted lives. Only family and close friends knew about us. To come from a very religious family and to live in South Georgia, it was not that easy to come out. Growing up all I heard were crude and negative comments about gay people from my family. How was supposed to tell them that I was something they hated? I felt like I had no support.
After I left my hometown of Douglas, my family did eventually come around. They were supportive and eventually going home to visit became easier.
Aaron (left) and Chuck
A Cousin’s Child Neglect Leads to a Horrific Accident
My cousin Larry and his wife Rose (not their real names) had five children: Paul, Andrew, Bobby, Bart and Annie (also not their real names). If I were to describe my cousin, I would need to use some ugly language, so I won’t. But I’ll say this: The children were always dirty, they never had shoes that fit and the house was filthy with snakes and cats as well as cat feces all over the place. He couldn't keep a job and they had to move constantly. The children suffered neglect and they cared for themselves.
Let me go ahead and warn you that this is the sad part to our story. On May 31, 2011, Paul, Andrew and Bobby (who we now call Lil Man) were outside playing and were “going on an adventure.” They came to a pond that was behind the house they were renting and found an old boat. Paul and Andrew decided to get in the boat; neither one of the children knew how to swim at that time. When the two boys got in the boat and it started to drift and rock, they became scared and both jumped out into the water. Bobby who was still on the shore was able to grab a stick and pull Paul out of the water; however, he was not able to save Andrew because he was too far out, and Andrew drowned. My heart is breaking just thinking about this. It was a terrible shock to our family. Still, it wasn’t then that DFCS decided to take them away.
After More Neglect and Abuse, DFCS Finally Steps In
After returning home, they still experienced neglect and mental abuse by Larry. On one occasion after returning home, Larry walked through the house with a loaded gun and told Rose that she needed a bullet in her head. A cousin who was over for a visit called the police. Larry was arrested when Paul told them that he had threatened to kill their mother.
It was later that year that DFCS finally removed the kids from the care of Larry and Rose. It was 1 a.m. and Rose called 911 threatening to kill herself. When the cops and ambulance arrived, the children were outside playing with golf clubs and there was no running water in the house. The police also found that the window unit was leaking water onto the floor. Larry was nowhere to be found.
Lil Man as a baby and Paul as a toddler
My Cousin and his Wife Don’t Turn Their Lives Around
Larry and Rose, to get their children back, they both had to get jobs, have a stable home, take parenting classes, and Larry was required to take anger management classes. Well, Larry did not intend to complete any of the requirements to get his kids back. Rose tried to attend the classes but with her not having a vehicle it was almost impossible for her to attend the classes like she was supposed to. What classes she attended mother or aunt Marilyn took her. Now while the kids were with Mrs. Logan (the foster mother) Larry and Rose were required to make routine visits. Rose did make as many visits as she could in the beginning, but Larry (according to Bobby) only visited with them once. After a while, Rose stopped visiting the kids and almost six months went by without her seeing or talking to them.
The Kids are Freed for Adoption; Chuck and Aaron Begin Adoption Proceedings for Paul and Bobby
In 2012, my aunt, whom I was close with, told me that my cousin’s kids that were in foster care were going to be placed for adoption. She said they were looking at our family for placement. I did not want to say anything until I talked to Chuck first.
We always wanted kids and had talked about adopting but at that time in Alabama, gay couples did not just go out and adopt with no problems. Therefore, when I did speak with him, he told me of course, he would love for us to look into it.
About the time we started visiting with them is about the time Rose stopped her visits. When I first contacted DFCS in Douglas, I was told that Tawanna Logan (the foster mother) was planning to adopt Bart and Annie. So I told the caseworker that we would like to foster the other two (Paul and Bobby).
For the next ten months we drove from Seale, Alabama, to Valdosta, Georgia, about 200 miles one-way every single weekend. It is not an exaggeration to say we spent over $30,000 in travel, clothing, birthday and Christmas presents as well as furniture for the boys. We always had such a good time visiting with them, and just after a few visits, we fell in love and knew we wanted them.
Wrench # 1: DFCS Refuses to Approve Home Study
About midway into our visits, DFCS in Alabama tells us that the state office in Montgomery would not approve our home study. One night before our foster parent class began, Mary, our caseworker, calls me to her office and gives me this heartbreaking news. All I can say to her with tears in my eyes is "Mary, we already love them!" This makes her cry and she tells me that we can appeal by writing a letter. The reason they were not going to approve the home study is because we were a gay unmarried couple living together. We go home utterly heartbroken.
The next day Mary called me and said that the state office had reconsidered. You cannot imagine how happy we were.
Wrench #2: DFCS is Unwilling to Grant Chuck a Second-Parent Adoption
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of the ordeal. Later, we found out that DFCS would not consider Chuck as a second parent when the adoption comes up in the future. Well, this is another blow to us. We should have known better with the laws the way they were, but it still hurt. We loved them; we would crawl through broken glass for them. Ultimately, we decided to ignore this unfair treatment. Are you ready for another wrench in our plans?
Wrench #3: DFCS Refuses to Approve Home Study Unless Chuck Moves Out
If the first two were not bad enough, in order for our home study to be approved Chuck had to move out. Are they serious? Oh yes, they were serious! Either he moved out or no approval. Luckily, Chuck’s dad and stepmom live right across the street from us. Problem solved financially but not emotionally. I can tell you this put a strain on our relationship but we had come too far. The fact that we were crazy about them kept us moving forward no matter how many roadblocks we faced.
Paul (left) and Lil Man when they first came to live with us, 2013
And so, When the Children Move In ...
On February 2, 2013, we drove to Valdosta and picked up our boys. We were so happy; we waited so long and jumped through so many hoops to get them. Anyone who has fostered through DFCS knows what it is like. For a gay couple, it feels like everyone is watching us and judging us.
When they came to live with us, the adjustment was tough but I guess that is normal. We had been by ourselves for years and now there were two kids in our home. Paul was 11 and Lil Man was 7.
... Chuck Moves Out
When the children came home, Chuck had to move out. My partner who I lived with and loved for eight years now had to move out of our home. It was an excruciatingly difficult time for both of us. I cried at night; so did Chuck. This is what he had to do. In the morning he would come up and help get the kids ready, then in the afternoon he came home, but at bedtime, he had to leave. This made no sense to me, DFCS allowed him to be there during the day but he could not spend the night. I cannot be the only one who thinks this is crazy. I mean he passed the background check, he took the classes! I do not understand. Because Chuck could not adopt the kids with me and the fact he could not be there at night caused him to become depressed. Therefore, for the next year and a half that is what we did every day. The nights got easier; sometimes I was just too tired to think about being lonely.
Paul’s Autism Diagnosis
At this time we did not know that Paul was autistic. I thought something was different about him, but I thought it was because what they had been through. I just thought it was due to the neglect and Andrew’s death. I look back and makes me so sad because I was so ignorant about his autism. I just thought that after they were there for a while that they would just get onboard. Well, it just does not work that way; an autistic child does not just get onboard.
Chuck on the other hand just clicked with Paul. Chuck is quiet and introverted so it was easier for Paul to bond with him. I on the other hand tend to be loud and very extroverted. For an autistic child this can be very intimidating.
Lil Man, like me, is very extroverted, and because of that, Paul and Lil Man are not close at all. But like me, he has a temper.
Now that we had kids, I wanted to be that parent who was involved in everything. So I signed Lil Man up for baseball. This was a wonderful experience for both of us, but keep in mind that all this was still hard for Chuck since he was not legally part of the kid’s life. Chuck and I both enjoyed it but something was missing, and he was hurting inside and often I would forget. It is hard to explain: We were happy but for both of us something was missing: We both wanted Chuck to be an official father. This caused major problems in our relationship but I will get to that later.
A few months before the adoption was finalized, Chuck and I separated. I did not want to be in a relationship anymore. We were both angry and resentful of each other. Yet, I still wanted him to be part of their lives and we would still find a way for him to adopt them. After the adoption, he moved back in but we had separate rooms. This was the man I was supposed to be with for the rest of my life. How did this happen, this was not supposed to happen to us. We were supposed to have each other’s back. But we didn’t, too much had happened and things had been said that would take a long time to mend. I will agree that most of it was my fault. I should have been stronger, fought a little harder. Why was I so weak?
Wrench #4: Adoption Judge Refuses to Sign Adoption papers
It’s adoption day, what is supposed to be the happiest day for adoptive parents and kids. A few weeks before the adoption, we were tasked with choosing new last names. My last name was Kirkland at the time and Chuck's was Rogers. We talked about hyphenating their last names to make it Rogers-Kirkland. The children agreed and Chuck loved the idea.
We go to court, everything is going fine, and then the judge does not like the idea of a hyphenated name. He told us that people would make fun of them because of their last name. He does not sign the papers.
As tough as this was for me, it does not even compare to what it did to Chuck; this was the last straw for Chuck. I have never seen him cry the way he did in the laundry room that night. I just remember him saying, “This just hurts so much.” All I could do was cry right along with him.
Chuck with Lil Man (left) and Aaron with Paul (right), 2017
A New Beginning: October 11, 2016
Editor’s Note: Aaron and Chuck eventually managed to reconcile their differences and find a way forward together. They got back together!
That was the day my life changed, the day that I married Chuck. I am happy now and no one will hurt me or make me feel less than what I am ever again. All this time I had this wonderful person right in front of me and I did not even notice.
On October 10, 2016, we met with our lawyer and spoke to him about Chuck adopting the boys. That morning we had no plans to marry. We hoped that the judge would waive the marriage clause and let Chuck adopt the boys. But when we spoke to the lawyer he pretty much told us we needed to be married. When we left the lawyer’s office I called Chuck (we drove separate vehicles) and told him to meet me at home and we would go to the courthouse that day and get married. Well, October 10 was a holiday so the government center in Columbus was closed. We did not even realize it was a holiday. All we could think about was getting married.
We did not tell anyone our plans only his mother who was down visiting and my friend at work knew what plan we had hatched. Our plan was, the next day we would both leave work early. I told everyone I had some probate stuff to take care of. It was not a lie; we did have to go to the probate office to get the license. We got the license and at 5 p.m. that Tuesday, we were married in less than five minutes.
Adoption Finalized, Finally
Now that we were married, Chuck could finally adopt the boys. Therefore, when we talked to the lawyer we were so happy to hear that the adoption would only cost us $1,800. It took almost four months for Chuck to adopt the boys, but the day it was final it was like a huge load off us. I took Chuck's last name and the judge granted the adoption giving the boys Chuck’s last name as well.
From left to right: Paul, Chuck, Bart, Annie, Aaron, Lil Man
Making Plans to Reunite All The Kids
On the day we were married, we decided to bring all the siblings back together. We realize now that it was a mistake to separate them. The next day I contacted Annie and Bart’s caseworker and told her that we wanted them. She had contacted me in the past about getting them but with both of us in a deep depression and separated I could not even think about taking on two more kids. The caseworker called me and told me that another family in Florida was interested in the kids. It almost felt like déjà vu and we’d have to battle with the DFCS again, but Bart and Annie’s caseworker decided it was best for the children to join their siblings.
We do not have the two little ones yet but we are working hard to get them. We are excited and enjoy every visit so much; we long for the day that we can all be together.
Learning About Autism
Chuck and I are both learning all we can about autism and special-needs children. We have since started school at Troy University studying Psychology with Applied Behavior Analysis. Chuck and Paul are members of a local support group called the Autism Hope Center, which offers support to parents and kids with autism. This has really helped Paul and Chuck. Paul has even made a few friends. We hope that our story does not keep anyone from adopting through DFCS, but educates and prepares them for the obstacles they may face.
Our family has finally found the happiness that we always wanted. Thank you for reading our story.
This article has been condensed and edited slightly for grammar and clarity.
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