As soon as Stefan came out at 16, his mother sent him to Mexico City to live with relatives. When Stefan returned, she made him live in the basement. His mother and father, who were separated, had been fighting with each other for years in custody battles over who had to take him.
When it became unbearable at his mom’s, Stefan bounced from one friend’s house to another until he found a place to rent on the cheap. The place wasn't much, just a room. He slept on a mattress laid out over plywood and, making things worse, his landlords, who also lived in the home, were deeply homophobic.
When he got seriously behind on his rent, he became homeless. He would access hook-up apps through publicly accessible WiFi in his area, looking for guys to hang out with or date.
During that particularly difficult time, now more than two years ago, Stefan saw Felipe Fischer on one of those apps. Stefan remembers it like this: “I saw Felipe and I ‘winked' at him. And he responded, ‘What’s up?’ I said ‘food.' I hadn't eaten in three or four days."
Felipe has a slightly different recollection. “The message said, 'Hey man, do you want to hang out? I'm hungry. I need a place to stay,’” Felipe says. And he wanted to help this kid out.
So, Felipe picked him up and they went for a burger. The next day, Felipe picked Stefan up again, this time taking him home to meet his husband, Eugene.
Felipe, who is 48 years old now, and Eugene, who is 72, had entered into a “holy union” in 1996. When same-sex marriage became reality, they got legally married. They live together in South Yarmouth, Massachusetts.
Felipe continues his story: “About the fourth or fifth day, I was like, ‘Look, we have a spare room, you can move in, we can get you back into college, no strings attached.’”
“No strings attached" wasn't a familiar concept to Stefan. For a while, he regarded the couple's offer with suspicion. But he was also out of options. His bank account was overdrawn, he had no food and he couldn't stay where he was.
Stefan remembers that time well. “The next couple of days, I was staying over at a friend’s house. We were having a fallout over there, and so Felipe asked if he could pick me up," Stefan says. "I threw a suitcase out the second story window, and I took the suitcase and we left."
That was two years ago. Felipe and Eugene adopted the 21-year-old last year.
Stefan is now Stefan Fischer. Since moving in with his dads two years ago, the former homeless kid has completed his Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA) and Home Health Aide certifications, earned a driver's license and learned for the first time what it's like to be part of a loving family.
Still, he wondered if it was all too good to be true. How long would he be allowed to stay? The family began setting up Stefan's room. It had a great bed already. They added a nightstand, a chest with drawers, a TV and even some of the action figures he’d coveted as a kid.
"Felipe said it was the most gayest looking room in the world because it's teal and it has fiery pink trimming," Stefan says with satisfaction. "Now it looks like it's definitely my room."
The new family went to Salem, Massachusetts for Halloween. Stefan marveled at staying in a hotel room where the faucets work and the toilets flush. He even had his own bed.
When Felipe gave Stefan his old Mac laptop, Stefan began to cry. "It was a long time since someone gave me something of value, something like that," he says. "It was a form of generosity from the heart, without having to owe anybody anything. He kept saying, 'You don't owe me anything. We hardly know each other. Just take this.’"
A childhood friend of Stefan’s took his own life shortly after Stefan moved in with the Fischers. Stefan fell into a deep depression. He himself had felt suicidal at points in his life — and the two had made a pact him years ago, Felipe says. If one of them felt suicidal, the other promised to talk him through it. His friend, Steve, had not made that call, and it weighed on Stefan.
He doesn't think he would have made it through the episode without the support of his new family.
"Growing up, I didn't even think I was going to be alive past 18. This year I'm 21 and next year I'm 22. My friend died when he was 22. That's another milestone," he says.
And he's not just surviving, he's thriving. Never in a million years did he imagine himself preparing for nursing school, driving his very own car, happily living as an out gay man.
"All my life, I was trying to make sure that I was straight and now I don't have to worry about it. I have the fullest support and I have the best people helping me and giving me advice throughout life," he says. Driving a car is another big one — he can’t stop talking about how thrilled he is to have a licence and the used PT Cruiser his dads bought him as a gift.
Two years after that first text message, the family is now official: Felipe and Eugene have legally adopted Stefan as their son. The judge who oversaw the adoption beamed when he entered the room.
“He said, 'Stefan, it's been a while since I've seen you,'" Felipe recalls. This happened to be the same judge whom he had seen in his teens when his parents were fighting about him in a lengthy custody battle.
The judge later emailed Felipe privately to ask for a photo of the new family.
Felipe says he’s never once regretted how long it took for them to adopt a child. He’s just so glad they did.
"Nothing's perfect," he says. "There's no right way or wrong way. There's no manual. If you really want it, do it. Give a kid a home."