The True Meaning of Family

For Richard Tomlinson, family is about choices. Seventeen years ago, Richard and his husband-to-be Omer chose a path that made them a strong unit: They chose to create a family, and they chose to adopt two older brothers. They were together almost 13 years when tragedy struck. Richard lost his husband and almost lost a relationship with his eldest son. But it was through their conscious choice that they were brought back together: The choice to place family above all else. This is a family story of about his love, loss and moving on.

Richard met Omer (pronounced “Homer” without the "H") in 1999 at a gay bar in Sudbury, a small town in northeast Ontario, Canada. Omer was a local while Richard had moved to Sudbury to complete his nursing degree.

Richard had heard that Omer was interested in him. When they met in person at a bar, through mutual friends, that first meeting did not go as Richard had thought it would – Omer did not say more than a few words to him. Nevertheless, Richard gave Omer his number and asked him to call him.

Richard (left) and Omer, 2003

Indeed, Omer gave Richard a call the next day. The two went for coffee. It was their first date. It was then that Richard told Omer that he was considering a job in Florida but had wanted to meet Omer regardless.

Later that evening, Omer emailed Richard with what he thought were their two options: They could forget they’d ever met, or they could start dating. Omer was secretly hopeful that Richard would decline the job offer in the Sunshine State.

Richard did not take the job down south. The two men started a relationship, one that survived a change in jobs and location (Omer moved to Ottawa to work for the government), it survived long-distance and overcame a break-up: They finally realized that they were meant to be. Richard moved to Ottawa during their break-up and soon they moved in with each other.

Parenthood was something both men wanted. But how? They were unsure of how they could become dads. Omer began researching adoption. One day in 2006, he sent Richard an email from Children’s Aid Society (CAS). Richard’s first response was, “But we’re gay!” Omer insisted that Richard check the CAS website. And there it was, clearly and simply stated who could adopt: singles, couples, gay and straight.

Omer (left) and Richard on a CAS poster, 2010

This was the beginning of their road to fatherhood.

Richard and Omer moved into  their first home in April 2006, and a month later received a call from their social worker: It was time to conduct their home study. Shortly after that was done, Omer and Richard were on a website looking at adoption profiles of children.

Richard and Omer’s decision to focus on adopting older kids was based on where the men were in their careers, and how they could best care for the kids they hoped to adopt. Richard was working nightshifts and Omer worked 9 to 5 for the government – they needed to look for school-aged kids; babies simply wouldn’t work.

Richard and Omer first saw the profiles of David, 12, and Jonathan, 9, two biological brothers, on an adoption website in the middle of 2006. When Omer excitedly phoned their social worker to tell her that they’d love to meet these children, she was quick to reprimand and explain that wasn’t how her job worked: It was her job to find children homes, not to find Richard and Omer kids.

An adoption celebration for Richard, Omer, David and Jonathan, organized by CAS, 2007

But before Christmas of that same year, Omer and Richard received a call regarding the brothers they had seen online earlier that year. Their first meeting took place at a local Tim Hortons on January 10, 2007.

David, who was the eldest of the two boys, initially struggled with the idea of having two dads; for Jonathan, however, it was a non-issue. Fortunately, David soon came around.

The general rule for the transition time for children and their adoptive families is a week for every year of that child’s life, so in this case it was 12 weeks for David, and nine for Jonathan. But after only two weeks, David wanted to know when they would be moving in with Richard and Omer. The new dads were surprised but over the moon!

After only a month and a half, and by David’s 13th birthday on February 21, 2007, David and Jonathan had moved in with their two dads. Richard became Dad and Omer Papa.

Each boy had his own room, painted in his favorite color: David’s was red and decorated with a Star Wars theme; Jonathan’s was blue, the color of Superman.

Richard believes a couple of factors allowed them to welcome the boys so quickly into their home: They were willing to take older kids and they considered sibling groups.

Meeting the extended family for the first time, August 2007

The next five years were full of ups and downs. Both boys were suffering from ADD and that posed some challenges at home, especially with David. At the same time, Omer was struggling with severe depression. To treat this depression, he was hospitalized.

Early morning on September 1, 2012, Omer was home from the hospital on a weekend visit. He had finished his morning cigarette and had made his way back to his and Richard’s bedroom. He was lying down when Richard came to see him. Omer sat up gasping for air, he then stood up, but immediately collapsed.

Richard performed CPR and called the emergency services. But it was too late. Omer died. He was 43 years old. The coroner concluded that Omer’s death had been due to an unsurvivable blood clot. (Because no-one knew the cause of his death at the time of the obituary, some people assumed that Omer’s death was a suicide due to his depression. However, the coroner's report ruled this out. Richard was worried that it might have been one of the many medications he was on, but the coroner reassured him it wasn't.)

A psychiatrist who had been working with Omer called Richard to express her condolences and share her memories. She wanted Richard to know that Omer was a lovely man, and was starting to make progress: He had goals again and talked constantly about his family and wanting to be a great father and husband again.

Richard found these comments both heartwarming and devastating, knowing that Omer had been on the road to recovery, but that road had ended.

A very difficult time for the family became even more difficult as they all were coming to terms with their grief: David and Jonathan had lost a father, and Richard had lost his husband of almost 13 years. Richard and David’s relationship became strained. At one point, David moved out and lived with friends, refusing to speak with his dad.

During David’s time away from home, he remained close with Richard’s mom. It was their relationship that helped Richard and David reconnect and both admit their missteps. David even moved back home so he could find his feet and get a job.

Grand Canyon, 2012

Today, David is 21 and Jonathan is 18. With some encouragement from both David and Richard, Jonathan is starting a two-year college program for mechanic and is excited by the prospect to out-earn his dad!

Richard, who also served as a director on the CAS board in Ottawa for a few years, has found love again with John and they have been together for three years. They met online in January of 2013 and were drawn to each other for their similarities. After Omer, with whom he had an “opposites attract” relationship, Richard is surprised to be in a relationship with someone he has so much in common with.

Their relationship was sealed after an early dinner date when John insisted on sending Richard home from the restaurant with two extra desserts, for his two sons.

It took some time for the boys to get comfortable with their dad’s new boyfriend, even feeling left out of their father’s life for some time. However, this quickly changed when they saw how involved John wanted to be in the two boys’ lives.

Richard and the boys seem to have learned what family is all about. In Richard’s words, "It’s going through stuff and putting it in the past and moving forward. That’s what being a true family is.”

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