The year 2012 was a banner year for Burnz Fernandez. He was a new dad, in a relationship, had become a media sweetheart and a winner of the Mr. Gay World USA title.
Burnz’s dream had come true: He had always dreamt of starting a family with a loving partner.
“When I met my ex, we were on the same page,” Burnz says. “Since Day One, we talked about kids. It was just meant to be for us to have a kid together.”
In 2009 they took the leap.
Burnz and his ex's whirlwind adoption was, he acknowledges, easier than most. The agency found the perfect match for the couple after just seven weeks: A pregnant young mother from Maryland who wanted her child to be raised by gay dads.
A little unprepared for a child-they had expected to wait a year or more to be matched-the couple was living in a tiny apartment and in the middle of opening a new business when the baby came.
But from the moment they had been matched with baby Olivia’s mother, they had known Olivia would be theirs. “We knew right then and there that she’s our baby, and [the mother knew] that we were her parents,” Burnz said. The birth mother had read their profile and chosen them specifically. Even her conservative brother had read the couple's profile and confirmed they were a perfect fit.
The couple brought home a healthy baby girl, bought a beautiful house and began life as a family.
Two years later, the young father was a Mr. Gay World contestant. In the whirlwind of political change for gay partnership rights in California, Burnz and his family became media darlings. Huffington Post featured the family in a story about their adoption journey, along with a striking photo of the pageant contestant, his strapping partner and their beautiful 20-month-old daughter.
“It opened a lot of doors for us. We were young and successful. It was very inspiring for a lot of people,” Burnz says. In their home city of San Diego, the couple hadn’t met many young gay fathers-both were 32 when they became dads. Along with the media, their friends admired their choice to start a family.
“Sharing our story was very important for us because we wanted to show everyone, Hey, yeah, we’re okay. We wanted to have a child and we did it,” Burnz says.
So, when Burnz and his ex's relationship fell apart soon after, the devastation hit Burnz hard.
“It took a lot for me to accept the fact that it’s over,” he says. “I’m an old soul. Having parents who were together for so many years-they died months apart-I wanted that fairytale relationship.” As a young gay man, Burnz hadn’t dared to believe he could have that kind of idyllic family. Now, he’d had it and lost it.
What’s more, their family had been an inspiration to so many other gay families. “After we separated, we heard things kind of criticizing us, like, ‘Why adopt a kid when you can’t keep your family together?’” Burnz recalls.
Through the hardest days, Burnz learned to hold his focus on Olivia, his daughter. “At the end of the day, everything will be okay. It took me a while to get to that point, but I just keep thinking: ‘It’s about her. It’s about her. She’s the most important thing.’”
The couple separated and Burnz moved out of the home they had bought together and into a place nearby. Olivia now spends half her time with each dad.
Now, Burnz faces a new kind of struggle: Dating in an environment where not a lot of guys his age are single dads-or even know what to do with one.
“For me, dating is the hardest thing right now. She’s my priority,” he says.
Burnz is certainly a catch and jokes that he gets plenty of offers, but for him, it’s not so simple anymore. “I’m at the point in my life where it’s not about casual dating anymore. I don’t want to waste their time. I don’t want to waste my time. I’m just not going to go,” he says. “Any time my friends are like, 'I want you to meet this person,’ the first thing that pops into my head is: ‘How is this person going to be around my daughter?’”
Though 5-year-old Olivia is thrilled to have two daddies and two homes, the couple has struggled through conflict after the tough break-up.
“It’s a difficult situation,” Burnz admits. “Right now what’s working for us is that we know-we both know-she’s what’s important. For him and for me. We have our difficulties, but we try to communicate in a way that’s putting her first.”
To Burnz, the knowledge that Olivia won’t be raised in a household filled with strife makes all the struggle worthwhile. “Bottom line is, we’re not fighting anymore.”