Husbands Joshua 'Jake' and Christopher Hoffman first met at a church in Ohio and started dating in 2002, and they were married in 2015.
About a decade before their wedding, the couple met a child at church who stole their hearts, leading them to become foster parents to more than 60 kids, and adopting five.
Jake, 58, is an author, and Chris, 49, is a singer-songwriter. The couple lives in Columbus, Ohio with their five sons including Colton, who was 4 months old when he joined their home and is now 14. Although he’s the youngest, Colton was their first child.
“We found him when he was 4 months old, 14 years ago,” Jake explained. “I went to church one Sunday, and in our little gay church, there were no children. When I arrived, the women were in a huddle, and I wanted to see what was going on. I found there was a baby boy who was being fostered. I held him throughout the service. He was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen, with the most beautiful eyes, the most beautiful smile. He looked up at me and held onto my pinky. I had no idea what the sermon was about, and I didn't want to give him back to his foster mommy.”
After meeting baby Colton, Jake said he cried all the way home. The following Saturday, at the church rummage sale, Chris met the baby too. When he first held Colton, Chris said he had a vision that Colton was graduating and he stopped at the podium and said, "Thank you daddies, I love you!"
“We knew that we were to be his daddies,” Jake said. “That Monday, we started the paperwork to be foster parents. What normally takes 16 months took us three-and-a-half months. We received our license the Friday before Christmas that year. Colton was all I wanted for Christmas.”
It took three years for Colton to be officially adopted by his dads. Chris and Jake said they faced a couple of bigoted caseworkers, and they had to hire an attorney to eventually adopt Colton.
“We weren't letting go,” Chris said. “He was our son, we had him for three years. He was our baby, no one was taking our baby. We had post-traumatic stress for years during and after.”
Over the past 14 years since Colton joined their home, Chris and Jake have gone on to foster 62 children in need of a loving home, and they adopted four other boys as well; Griffin, 27, Chris Jr., 25, Vlad, 23, and Brandon, 15.
"Before we adopted each boy, we would make a decision as a family and that we were all in agreeance to adopt the next child, even before we started talking to that boy to see if he wanted us as his forever family," Jake explained, "because he had to choose all of us as well."
Being foster parents to so many children has been wonderful and difficult, the dads said. They have had to fight for equality for decades and faced many instances of discrimination along the way.
“We have had so many ups and downs, and they have made us better parents, and better people, we are blessed because of them,” Jake said. “We have taught our kids to stand up for what is right. To stand up tall, be proud of who they are, not let anyone bully them.”
Parenting can definitely be emotionally trying at times, especially in a mixed-race family. A few years ago, their son Chris Jr. was maced along with their state representative when she was attacked in downtown Columbus. Jake said he and Chris didn't know until after the fact. When he found out, he said his heart went through his feet, but he had never been so proud of his son.
“With Chris Jr. being bi-racial, everyone would see him as Black, just thinking of him in the street somewhere attacked, I would hurt someone for hurting my baby,” Jake said. “My daddy bear fangs and claws would come and I would eat someone's face. I love my boys with all of my heart.”
The dads said their sons are all quite different; some of them enjoy horror movies and conventions, while others enjoy festivals and swimming. Vlad is really into planes and race cars, Griffin enjoys sports, Brandon likes writing stories and rapping music, and Colton loves gaming and horse riding with his dad Jake.
Although they always want to protect their kids, Chris said they know sometimes their sons have to learn on their own, even if the dads just want to help them learn without going through the hard part.
“Unfortunately I have to let them learn, and just be there to catch them when and if they fall,” he said. “Even our older kids still on occasion still call us daddies.”
Being fathers may be hard, but it's also extremely rewarding, Jake added. His advice for other gay men considering foster care is to be prepared to help the kids you foster with a plethora of issues. However, he said, they will in turn help you with your own issues without knowing it.
“You will have to be prepared to face your issues that you might not even know you have!” Jake said. “In the end, it will make you a better person and parent, if you let it!”