Reid Duggan-Tierney is an Instagram celebrity with an iconic look: Bow tie, stylish shades, coiffed hair and the occasional suspenders. He’s got a full schedule of party invites and extracurriculars. Also, he’s 5 years old.
Reid’s dads, Jarrad and Michael Duggan-Tierney, didn’t set out to garner thousands of Instagram followers at Jarrad’s handle, @the_real_dads_of_melbourne. Like many parents, they simply wanted to share snapshots of their lives with friends and family. Six months ago, though, Jarrad started to notice his followers weren’t just friends and family, but also other gay men who were – or wanted to become – dads.
Then came product endorsement requests, particularly from companies that make bowties. Jarrad doesn’t mind – he’ll even give a shout-out to companies he thinks are great, but he’s not sure that’s what he wants his family’s newfound online influence to be about. “I’ve said no a lot lately.”
To protect the family’s privacy, Jarrad set up a separate email address to give out to account followers. He’s toned it down with the bow ties, even sometimes taking Reid’s bowtie off before snapping a photo. “I don’t want anyone to send me more bow ties!” he laughs.
Despite the challenges of adapting to Instagram fame, Jarrad says that strangers’ reactions have been overwhelmingly positive. “I think I’ve got over 7,000 followers. I think I‘ve had three people post negative comments.”
What’s more, several gay men have contacted him to say they’ve been encouraged to look into becoming dads themselves – that they hadn’t been sure it was possible.
Jarrad and Michael remember being in that place themselves a decade ago. Though they’ve both always wanted kids, they didn’t know any gay couples with kids and weren’t sure it was possible to become parents as a gay couple.
“It wasn’t until we watched a documentary [in] 2005 on two guys in Melbourne who had a child through surrogacy. That sort of opened our eyes,” he says. He’s thrilled to be empowering other gay men to pursue fatherhood.
Reid was born in Mumbai, India through surrogacy. Adoption laws in India have become more conservative in recent years, prohibiting gay prospective parents from adopting through surrogacy. At the time, though, Jarrad and Michael welcomed it as a more affordable option than U.S. surrogacy, which they estimate would have cost them around $250,000.
For five years, they researched agencies and sought advice from other gay couples in Melbourne who had kids through Indian surrogacy. One couple put together a contact list for them – who to call in Mumbai at each point in the process.
When they found the agency they would work with, it just felt right.
“We had a lot of email correspondence and face time on Skype,” says Jarrad. “Then we actually flew to India and we met families that were over there that were holding their infant.”
“We had a lot of questions,” says Michael. “[The] agency we did choose, they had all the time in the world to talk. It was all about building trust.”
Their first try resulted in an early miscarriage. Though they were offered a change in surrogate, both they and their existing surrogate wanted to try again.
The second pregnancy was successful, but so difficult that the surrogate spent three months on bedrest in the hospital. And, there were problems with the fetus’s development.
“His kidneys weren’t developing as they should and he wasn’t growing as they were expecting him to,” says Michael.
To everyone’s amazement – even the doctors’ – Reid was born perfectly healthy, though small, at 36 weeks. “It was just like a miracle. Everything that was wrong with him had gone away,” Jarrad says.
Three weeks later, the new family returned from balmy Mumbai to wintry Melbourne.
“I think we got home at five in the morning on a freezing cold Melbourne morning,” he recalls. “Michael shut the door and looked at me and it was like, ‘It’s just us. This is our family. Our dreams have come true. Now what do we do?”
The Real Dads of Melbourne
When Reid was younger, says Jarrad, he would pick his battles when strangers ignorantly inquired where his mother was, or joked about him “giving mom a break” as they walked in the park or ran errands. Now that Reid is older, he gives them the real answer.
“Now that he understands it, I like him to hear that I’m standing for his family. I will say it every time now,” he says. The couple agrees, though, they’re not interested in being activists.
Instead, they focus on cultivating a healthy environment for Reid. Jarrad fills album after album with beautiful photos of their lives – he’s up to 27 of them now. Family life revolves around Reid’s school, martial arts, swimming, play dates and parties.
Michael and Jarrad worked as flight attendants for Qantas Airways prior to becoming dads. The airline, like many other Australian corporations, advertise their equal opportunity employer status when hiring, indicating the company’s accepting culture.
Both men received a 12-week paid paternity leave. Michael returned to work and Jarrad continued his leave for two years. Australian employment law entitles workers to return to work after their parental leave of 12 months, with the option to request 12 months more.
Jarrad ultimately decided to become a stay-at-home dad while Michael works, but they share the load at home and agree on parenting strategy. Michael made a career change last year to the finance sector to enable him to be home regularly.
“We’re just on the same page. I think that’s what we found really important,” says Jarrad, “to both be on the same page when it comes to routine, schedule, what consequences are involved.”
Reid attends a kindergarten where the staff embraces their family. His teacher reads “And Tango Makes Three,” a true story about two male penguins raising a baby, to each year’s incoming class and the school has included other books about non-traditional families in their library.
“Some little kids are funny: They’re like, ‘It’s not fair! I don’t have two dads,’” says Michael.
Finding a school for Reid, and a community, that embraces their family makes all the difference. “That was a big part of us choosing Melbourne to be our home,” he says.
Michael and Jarrad have been together for almost 15 years. Gay marriage is not yet legal in Australia, but the recent ousting of anti-equal rights Prime Minister Tony Abbott revived hope for a public vote on the issue.
“We want our son to grow up in an environment where there is equality – and that’s not just for gay marriage,” Jarrad says.
Cover photo credit (Duggan-Tierney family portrait): Angie Connell Photography