It took Donnie until after the birth of his second child to come to terms with being gay. The Indiana native had married his wife Kathy just after high school, and their first son Joshua was 9 years old at the time. Joey, their second child, had been born with Down syndrome and a host of other medical problems. Though he’d made up his mind to come out, Donnie knew it wasn’t the right time.
“I didn’t have the heart to leave her and come out then because of everything that was going on with [Joey],” he says. He has no regrets about staying in his marriage while fighting through the intense early years of Joey’s life. “We needed each other to pull him through this and for us, we needed to be together.”
Two years later, Joey’s health was more stable and Donnie was ready to talk to Kathy about being gay — but before he found the opportunity, the couple was surprised with another pregnancy.
They welcomed their first daughter Rylan into the world as a couple.
“I loved the whole family thing — being together, having my kids together,” Donnie says. His family was his world, and the world of being openly gay was unfamiliar. Still, Donnie knew he needed to tell Kathy the truth.
To Donnie’s great relief, Kathy was understanding and supportive when he came out. The two separated but stayed close.
Though he describes both his own and Kathy’s upbringing as “redneck-ish,” most of his family members were accepting of his announcement as well. Even Donnie’s teenage son, Joshua, was primarily concerned about accidentally saying something that would offend his father.
“Coming out was easier than I thought,” Donnie recalls. “If I’d have known it was as easy as it was, I probably would have come out sooner.”
Donnie and young Joey moved into their own place just a quarter mile from Kathy’s home. Seven years later, the family continues to be very close — so much so that Donnie says some guys he has dated have been jealous of the strong bond he continues to have with Kathy.
Rylan, now 9, lives with Kathy most of the time, but stops by his house most days before or after school and spends every other weekend there. Joshua, 21 and living on his own, comes over once a week or so to play cards.
Kathy still maintains a relationship with Donnie's parents, ensuring Rylan is part of their lives. “Kathy’s still in the family. She still goes to all my family functions like we were still together.” He jokes that they even still fight like they’re married.
Parenting Joey as a single dad has proven to be just about a full-time job; emergency hospital and doctor's visits are a regular occurrence for the pair. Joey has endured three open heart surgeries and suffers from Lyme Disease.
Last year, Joey was out sick for the majority of his school days. During the holidays, he was in the hospital three times; on Christmas day he was in the ICU.
Donnie has struggled to maintain a regular job or find much time for himself.
“He’s my world and I just don’t leave him with anybody,” he says, adding that many of his friends and relatives find it daunting to care for a child with unique needs. “They love him to death; they just don’t want the responsibility.”
Meeting other gay men is tough with limited social flexibility. Donnie only knows a few other gay dads and rarely makes it to events where he can meet other gay men.
Dating is even tougher. "When you are trying to date someone and you only have every other weekend to see them, that’s extremely weird and hard," he says.
Some are simply uncomfortable around Joey. "I always tell them, "He’s first and if you can’t accept him, then you can’t accept me."
"I do feel like I have more pressure on me," Donnie admits — navigating dating and finding a gay community amid increased financial stress, full-time care of Joey and maintaining relationships with his other two children — but he's happier nonetheless. "I feel more complete now. I feel more myself."
Donnie is planning to take Joey to Disney World in June. He could use your financial support!