Michael, 42, a music producer, and Jeff, 45, an actor and artistic associate, live in Naples, Florida, with their beautiful daughter Annika. Their story together began 13 years ago, when they met in New York City.
Michael (left) and Jeff at a friend's wedding, 2004
As Michael and Jeff would find out later, they both moved to New York City on the exact same weekend in August 1995. Jeff was about to start his graduate program in acting at New York University; Michael was following his then-boyfriend to New York, but their relationship ended almost as soon as they'd arrived in the city. However, Michael stayed on and eight years later, in 2003, at Barracuda, a popular gay bar in the Chelsea neighborhood, he met Jeff.
The subject of kids wasn't initially discussed. It just came up one day. In their youth, Michael and Jeff had always imagined fatherhood in their future, but, as is common with a lot of young men when they first realize they're gay, didn't believe that combining fatherhood with being gay was a possibility. Michael remembers, "Growing up I of course wanted to have kids, and then I think part of coming to terms with being gay is that time of mourning the loss of the ability to do that."
As time moved on, and Michael and Jeff's gay friends began creating their families, they began to realize that parenthood could become a reality. It was a gradual process. Jeff shared, "I remember bringing up the idea of kids on the subway. We'd gone out and we were coming home and I brought it up." Although the conversation was left to lie for a little longer, the seed had been planted.
The icy drive to the town hall
Something similar happened with their wedding. There was no big proposal, no flash mob. They had been together five years and they decided, on the spur of the moment, to get a marriage license from the county clerk in Massachusetts. There they suddenly realized that they did want a proper wedding with close friends and family.
On December 12, 2008, Michael and Jeff were married surrounded by loved ones. That day just happened to be the day of an ice storm of epic proportions, one that caused power outages and shut down large parts of upstate New York and Massachusetts. Unfortunately, the hotel they had rented out for their wedding celebrations had lost power too. They could hardly believe their luck when they received (and checked!) a text message during their wedding ceremony that told them that the power to their hotel had been restored.
As the photo of the icy landscape on their wedding day makes clear, it was a day and evening of unbelievable beauty. They couldn't have had a more gorgeous backdrop for their nuptials.
Barrington Hall, Massachusetts: Michael and Jeff on their wedding day, December 12, 2008
The icy landscape on the day of Michael and Jeff's wedding
After they relocated to upstate New York in 2009, they started to pursue fatherhood more seriously. In a process familiar to everyone who has done private adoption, they retained an adoption attorney, completed a home study, filled out reams of paperwork, rented a (800) number, produced a glossy "Dear Birth Mother" book, and put ads in Pennysavers all over the country.
They were successful! When they were contacted about an unborn baby girl in need of a family, Michael and Jeff said yes.
Their girl's birth was scheduled for May 9, 2012, in a hospital in Cocoa, Florida; the bio mom was going to be induced. Accompanied by Michael's mom, Michael and Jeff decided to make the trip from upstate New York down to Florida by car, giving themselves plenty of time. But on May 7, when they were on a highway somewhere in North Carolina, they received a call that the birth mom had gone into labor. The rest of the trip was a race down to Florida to make it time for the birth. Michael remembers pulling into the hospital parking lot, checking his watch and seeing the time as 6:27 p.m. Later that night they would find out that that was the very same minute Annika was born.
Michael holding Annika at the hospital, right after the adoption papers were signed
Jeff holding Annika
There was a fraught period of time following Annika's birth where it was unclear if the bio mom and grandmother would sign the adoption release papers. Annika had to stay in the neonatal intensive care unit for a week, and Jeff and Michael attribute this period as the opportunity they needed in order to bond with the bio grandmother. They remember that time as a very humanizing one for all. In the end, the papers were signed, and Annika went to her new home in New York with her two dads.
The day Michael and Jeff first arrived home with Annika, May 2012
Jeff sleeping with Annika
In September of 2015, the family relocated to Naples, Florida. Jeff was offered a job as an artistic associate at a theater company in Naples, and as Michael's job gave him the freedom to work from anywhere, they moved south for Jeff's career. As a family, they had some hesitations at first about relocating to Florida. Michael and Jeff were worried about the lack of similar families to their own. But their part of Florida has recently proven itself to be a melting pot of people, something Michael and Jeff appreciate greatly. "Most people we meet aren't from Florida but have moved there in recent years. All along the way," Jeff said, "we've been very lucky and surprised with how positive the experience has been." But Michael and Jeff have concerns about the future, fearing that one day the transracial nature of their family could become more of an issue.
Annika at 5 weeks old being held by Rafiki backstage at The Lion King. (Jeff played Zazu on-and-off for 11 years on Broadway)
Key West, Florida, January 2013
For Michael (who is "Daddy"), being a dad has come very naturally. So much so that he surprised himself with how instinctive fatherhood felt. Jeff, who is "Papa," found many of the clichés new parents hear to be true. Yes, parenthood is a lot of work. Time does go by quickly, and there aren't enough hours in the day to do all the things one used to do before kids. Nonetheless, neither dad would change a thing.
They have their own pearl of wisdom for gay dads-to-be and newbie dads: The days are long and the years are short. We couldn't agree more.
Family photo, 2015
Follow Michael, Jeff and Annika on Michael's Instagram page: @mandergramm