Joey and Jaime are dads from Williamsburg, Virginia who met two years ago through a Facebook group for gay fathers. They were both previously married to women, each had two children, and both came out later in life. So they immediately bonded over their similar paths to fatherhood, and their shared values.
“When my ex-wife and I decided to have children, we were lucky to have two beautiful boys; 6-year-old Sawyer and 3-year-old August, who are caring, curious, and everything I wanted in my life,” Joey said. “In addition to being a tremendous partner, Jaime brought with him another fantastic son, 11-year-old Cooper, and a beautiful daughter, 14-year-old Delaney.”
Joey and Jaime’s family is now a wonderful blend of two worlds, and the dads are working together to raise their four children to be open-minded, caring human beings. The couple got married in November 2020, with their kids by their sides.
Joey said living an authentic life, and showing their children "honest love," has been one of the best things they have ever done. However, he said making such big changes in their family has not been easy.
“We had sincere concerns when it came to blending our families,” Joey explained. “We knew that there were many possible pitfalls; our kids adjusting to our same-sex relationship, accepting us as a new parental figure, accepting their new siblings, jealousy from having more kids in their lives. We each said we would never introduce our children to someone we were dating, until we knew that it was very serious. That was easy enough to say, but what do we do when the relationship does become serious, and it is time to be introduced to the kids? How does that work?”
Jaime said they began with clear, thorough communication. The couple spent time discussing their priorities and concerns when it came to developing a relationship with each other's children. They both agreed they did not like the connotation of the "step" prefix, so they would only ever refer to the kids as “our children,” and neither of them wanted to be called "stepdad."
“Throughout our discussion, we used the term ‘bonus dad,’ which stuck with our kids and us,” Jaime said. “We also agreed that the children's comfort had to be our guiding factor, allowing them to be a part of the process as much as possible.”
Since Delaney and Cooper are older, the dads said they knew that they could actively participate in that process. Jaime started by having a conversation with each of them to explain that he was dating someone, and he shared some details about Joey.
“The most important part of this conversation was Jaime giving each of them the ability to express when they were ready to meet me,” Joey said. “Cooper initially stated he was ready, but Delaney felt like she needed more time. She was apologetic, but I sent her a note to tell her not to apologize because I was very proud of her. I expressed gratitude for her honesty and admiration for her ability to communicate her needs. I told her that I was looking forward to meeting her, but I was also more than happy to respect her need for more time.”
Joey said his note went a long way. A short time later, Delaney was performing in her school play and asked if everyone could come to see her, including her dad’s new boyfriend, Joey.
“The performance was terrific, with both Jaime and I cheering entirely too loudly,” Joey smiled. “We then went out for dessert, and began getting to know each other as a new family.”
Since 6-year-old Sawyer and 3-year-old August are significantly younger, the dads developed a different tactic for letting them get to know their new family members.
They began by introducing the boys to Jaime via FaceTime. Joey said the virtual meetings allowed them to see Jaime from a safe space and gave him the chance to answer any questions they might have before ever meeting Jaime in person.
“Oh, and the questions, they did come!” Joey said. “It was astounding to me the number of social norms a child could pick up without being directly taught them. Sawyer was confused about how two boys could love each other, when love was for boys and girls. He wanted to know if he would call Jaime "mommy" when we got married. He wanted to know why I loved Jaime now and not his mommy. It was imperative for me to take the time to answer each of these questions for him.”
Although there was so much learned bias toward heteronormativity, Joey said they also got to see the beautiful side to childhood; the capacity to learn and love.
“As I explained to Sawyer that my love for Jaime was the same as he has seen between a man and a woman, he simply accepted it as his new reality,” Joey said.
After Joey told little Sawyer that he would be a very lucky young man because he would have a new Daddy in Jaime and a new brother and sister, Sawyer grew excited about the opportunity.
When the day came for them to meet in person, Sawyer and August were incredibly excited to see Jaime, and an unbreakable bond has formed ever since.
Then came the time for the dads to have their children meet each other. This meeting, too, began with FaceTime calls. Joey said the kids enjoyed getting to talk to each other, sharing silly stories, and joking around.
“For the most part, this was a hands-off process for us, as we wanted them to connect organically,” he explained. “The boys talked about poop constantly, much to Delaney's disgust – but what came out of this was a natural excitement for the new people in their lives.”
When it came time to introduce them to each other in person, the dads knew it was going to be a monumental moment. So they planned a vacation to Louisiana for everyone and allowed the kids to take ownership of the trip by choosing activities they would like to share with each other.
“We spent a week exploring the French Market, holding alligators, playing at parks, and eating way too many donuts,” Jaime said. “The shared experience brought everyone together, and we left the trip exhausted and emotionally whole.”
Although the dads said they spend a lot of time and energy ensuring their children feel like they are a part of one united family, there are many people who have a difficult time with them as a same-sex couple. In addition to the comments and questions they get about being gay dads, Joey added they have also experienced different treatment as an interracial family.
“We can not seem to go to the grocery store without unusual looks, or questions such as ‘So, where are your kids from?’” Joey said.
For other dads considering entering a relationship with someone who has children, Joey said his advice is to remember that patience is the name of the game.
“Be sure that everyone is comfortable and ready before entering the children's lives,” he said. “Reaching out in little ways, ahead of an in-person meeting, is a great way to establish trust. Whether your path involves a previous relationship, surrogacy, or adoption, we are all parents, and that common bond is beautiful.”