This is the first in a series about gay men balancing career and fatherhood.
As gay rights evolve into new directions, including the desire to have children, more couples are entering the family fray. Here at Gays with Kids, we’ve decided to spotlight some high-profile gentlemen who’ve decided to become parents.
First up is Mark Elderkin, 50, CEO of Gay Ad Network, based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Here’s what he shared of his experiences as a gay dad … with a little help from his husband, Jeff.
“My partner decided first,” says Mark, adding that the idea to have a child began in San Francisco around 1999. “We’d been together about ten years at that point. I’d always thought about children, but it wasn’t my priority. It wasn’t what I thought my future held in the Silicon Valley mentality. But it was on Jeff’s mind.”
Says Jeff: “It wasn’t on too many people’s radar back then to have a kid. Mark was pretty career-oriented.”
Mark (left, in photo above) and Jeff were the men who started Gay.Com, and that was their baby. “We started the Internet site in 1994, and that was our focus until our daughter was born,” says Mark.
Five years after that day in San Francisco, they had a baby girl through a surrogate, and Jeff left his work to become a full-time dad. “I was president. I couldn’t dedicate the time and energy until 2003,” says Mark. “The company ended up going public in 2004, and we had our daughter that same year.”
“For the first two or three years I was the primary care-giver,” adds Jeff. “Then Mark started working from home. It became more of an even team. He worked about 70-hour weeks back then. Now it’s more in the 50-hour range.”
By this time, the couple had moved to Manhattan for work reasons. By 2007, they’d started the new company and moved to Florida, with a new set of rules that helped to instigate true family values.
“We don’t need to drive to the office; we operate the business from home,” says Mark. “We didn’t have to worry about board meetings and investors and employees, any of that. It’s a much higher quality of life for us.”
Jeff adds that, since they could work remotely, the move to Fort Lauderdale was intentional. “All of our family is on the East Coast. We didn’t want to raise the child in New York City, and the warmest option was Florida. It was the best choice. Our daughter was three so we could just pick up and go.”
Mark hems and haws before talking about actual challenges a dad faces, most likely because having a child is a labor of love.
“I can’t go out and play tennis all weekend like some of my friends, then go out for cocktails,” he finally says. “But I don’t feel like I’m missing anything. The people that we socialize with aren’t the single guys. They are families.”
They’re also mostly straight.
“She’s sort of directing our social life,” says Mark on his daughter’s influence. “We socialize with our daughter’s friends’ families.”
Jeff adds that, although the child-rearing is more split, he still spends more time with their daughter—an arrangement that has suited both partners.
“Every time I look at Mark he’s got the computer on his lap,” says Jeff, adding that he, himself, probably spends around 25 to 30 hours on work-related issues.
Both partners agreed from the start that they did not want outside help raising their child. “I was real adamant about having a child at the age of forty and experiencing it all,” says Jeff. “I didn’t want a stranger in the house. I wanted to suck it all up. We’ve never even had a housekeeper.”
Mark says he’s never encountered bigotry or any uncomfortable situations since having his child, even now in the land of Anita Bryant and anti-gay adoption fervor.
“We’ve been accepted everywhere. Today was our first meeting at a new school. It felt like it could be weird going in, but once things started it wasn’t awkward. Our daughter finds it fine too. She ‘came out’ to her classmates once and one girl said, ‘My uncle is gay.’ It’s okay.”
When it comes to the rewards of fatherhood, Mark’s answer is much more forthcoming, and a lot longer.
“Watching her every day, grow and learn, and to experience life through her eyes. It’s pretty amazing. She’s helping us stay young and current. She teaches us things. I see other fifty year olds that are leaning the other way, like they are sixty or seventy. We have to keep up with her, stay fit and healthy and not focus so much on business. That’s a balance I didn’t have before she came along.”
“I was hesitant about financial issues,” says Mark, when asked about giving advice. “I found out that was just a silly argument to not have a child. They need a loving parent, that’s the most important thing.”
“For a single dad,” he does add, “a support group is crucial. You need friends and family to help out. Without that it would be a struggle to try and balance fatherhood and a career.”
To read the next article in the series, click here.