David and Jason Bragg-Sutton are a different kind of gay dads. Living north of Tulsa, Okla., in America's heartland, they have become the parents of three children adopted through the foster care system.
But that’s not what’s different about them. What is? The fact that both did so while under the age of 30.
For David Bragg-Sutton, it was a no-brainer. He and his husband became a couple some six years ago, when they were 21 and 26, respectively. Soon afterward, they decided they wanted to start a family, and soon.
Adopted in infancy by a pair of older parents, David says he knew that he wanted to be an active participant in his kids’ lives, when they’re young children and as well as adults. In short, he wants to experience the world with them.
"I want to hang out with them,” he said. “I don’t want to say no to going on a vacation [because of physical limitations]. That was important to me. I want to grow with my children," David says. "I want to live my life with my children."
But when David and Jason embarked upon their journey to create a family, they had to change plans and adjust expectations in a big way. They knew they wanted multiple children, for example, but they planned to add them gradually. They also wanted to raise an infant.
After plans for surrogacy with a mutual friend didn’t pan out, they found themselves looking at Oklahoma’s foster care system, and facing some hard truths.
“When we got into the foster care system, our worker told us, ‘You are going to face barriers, as gay parents and as gay parents seeking an infant,’” David says.
Their initial experiences seemed to bear this out. After filling out reams of paperwork, David and Jason opened their home for potential children. And then they waited for 13 months.
Most gay dads have experienced that wait, in one way or another. Fundamentally, it doesn't matter if the wait is three months or three years. It’s still a period of reflection and anxiety. For the Bragg-Suttons, it was a time of adjusting their expectations, of rethinking what they were willing to do.
At the beginning, they were only interested in seeing children who were young and available to adopt on their own.
But then their social worker began to prod them to change their approach. Eventually they said they were willing to consider sibling groups and somewhat older kids.
They began spending hours at the offices of the Department of Human Services, looking through packets of children who were legally free for adoption.
"We wanted to be very researched,” Jason says. “We really dug into what we signed up for.”
Finally, they were connected with a sibling group of three children, Taylor, 10; Madelynn, 6; and William, 5. On Oct. 5, 2013, they heard they were matched. On Oct. 17, they met the kids at a pizza parlor in Tulsa.
And despite the challenges that would come, especially for children who had spent time in multiple foster homes, that first meeting changed everything.
"From then on, we were their parents," David says. "They wanted to be our kids."
While some might wonder about the experiences of gay dads raising children in Oklahoma, David and Jason have a generally positive outlook on the experience.
“Personally, we haven't had much pushback,” David says. The family has incredible support, and has been insulated from anything unpleasant in the community at large. But sometimes, when he sees posts from friends and acquaintances on social media, it surprises him to see how much ignorance persists.
“I live my life how I want to, but there is a real threat out there," he says.
Fortunately, both Tulsa and Oklahoma City have sizable gay populations, although there are few gay dads close to the Bragg-Suttons in age.
But with three children in the family, David and Jason aren’t finished yet. Fostering a baby girl proved to them that they still wanted to raise an infant.
They’re going to “go back to the original plan and work toward surrogacy,” says David. "There are more kids in our future."
And whatever the challenges, they’re ready. "We can do anything that's put in front of us," Jason says.