A job interview in 1986 placed them in the same room. Dan Clements, 30 years old at the time, was the manager of a supper club in the Hudson area near the St. Croix River that runs between Minnesota and Wisconsin. He was looking for someone to fill an open Chef's position. One of the applicants was 23-year-old Joseph Melton, an out-and-proud gay man, who had known he was gay since he was 10 and had come out to his family at 16. A happy Joseph got the job and Dan was responsible for training him.
At the time, Dan himself had only just come out. He was in the process of divorcing his wife, with whom he had a 4-year-old daughter named Jessie. While Dan’s family accepted his sexuality, his in-laws did not. The divorce became nasty, and Dan wasn’t treated nicely by the courts. During the initial divorce proceedings he was only allowed to see his daughter at his ex-wife’s house.
Joseph (left) and Dan's honeymoon at Myrtle Beach, 1986
From the very beginning, there was an attraction between the two men. They realized their shared interest in Star Wars and so, for their first date, Dan invited Joseph over to watch the fresh-out-on-video “Return of the Jedi,” while he was also watching his daughter. The unusual first date was quite successful: Joseph fell head-over-heels in love with Dan, and took to Jessie immediately. The guys moved into an apartment together within weeks. “The rest,” Joseph says, “is history.”
Dan with Jessie at the Minnesota State Fair, 1987
Once the divorce was finalized, primary placement of Jessie was with Dan's ex-wife. However, the guys wanted to see as much of Jessie as they could. Over time they worked out a custody arrangement to have Jessie half of every week. His ex retained primary placement, the men paid child support and Jessie’s time was split between households. This arrangement continued until Jessie was in her teens, and then she chose to live full-time with her two dads.
Gangster family portrait, 1993
The guys lived in Hudson for several years. Then they bought their first home in River Falls, a college town nearby. Eventually, the guys purchased 20 acres from Joseph's parents in Spooner, which is where Joseph was raised and most of his family still resides today.
The family of three in Trego, Wisconsin, 1994
They designed and, with the help of Joseph's dad, built their current home in the summer of 2000. The dads share that they love country living: they have a serene wooded lot with an awesome vegetable garden and a beautiful meadow behind the house. Spooner is a small town where Joseph knows most of the locals very well. Now retired from the food service industry, they run a small upholstery shop out of their home.
Dan and Joseph's home in Spooner
Twelve years ago, their daughter gave birth to their grandson Aidan. Jessie was a single mother, so she and Aidan moved in with their fathers / grandfathers for four years. “Aidan was like a son to me, having never had biological children,” says Joseph. Aidan is still very close to the guys, calling them Grandpa Joe and Grandpa Dan. Joseph calls him “Lil’ Man” and Dan refers to Aidan as “my best pal.” Even Aidan's close friends refer to the guys as Grandpa! Jessie and Aidan currently live in Baldwin, about 90 minutes from Spooner, but they still manage to see each other very often.
Joseph and Dan meet their new grandson, Aidan
Dan and Joseph married almost three years ago, on their 28th Anniversary. At the time, same-sex marriage had become legal in nearby Minnesota, though it still was not legal in their home state of Wisconsin. As the men explain, they've been together for so long they've always considered themselves married. Several years prior they had filed for a domestic partnership because that was all Wisconsin had to offer for same-sex couples. “We simply had a discussion over breakfast one morning and decided to take the plunge,” says Joseph.
They are quite an unusual couple. They basically spend all of their time–work, play, vacations, holidays–together. They are rarely apart and they argue even more rarely!
Aidan with his two granddads
Last school year they hosted a foreign exchange student from Madrid, Spain. Reviewing a list of student profiles, they chose a boy named Rafa and started communicating via text soon after. A couple of weeks later they received an information packet about Rafa from World Heritage, the organization behind the exchange program. This information was provided by Rafa about himself in a series of questions he answered. The final question asked if Rafa had any other information he thought was pertinent. His answer was "Not that it should matter, but I'm gay." So, simply by chance, the gay couple had chosen a gay student.
Rafa (far left) with his American family
The men report that Rafa fit in as part of the family immediately. He was 15 years old when he arrived and turned 16 that October. He's a very outgoing, social kid, and was welcomed at the school with open arms. He made friends with just about everyone, and even had members of the football team dancing with him at the Homecoming Ball. A basketball player from another school took him to the prom. He helped several local boys come out and dated one of those boys for a few months before returning to Spain.
Joseph and Dan shared that "we became very attached to Rafa, and love him as if he were our own son. We miss him greatly, and have stayed in touch weekly since his return. We plan to visit him in Spain, and he plans to visit here next summer before he starts college.”
From left to right: Aidan, Joseph, Rafa, Dan and Jessie
Rafa, an extremely smart kid and math wiz, has been contacted by several Ivy League universities in the United States, and he hopes to attend Harvard. Joseph and Dan understood the significant impact they had on Rafa serving as gay role models. “ I think for Rafa it was good to see that gay men can have longevity as a couple, raise kids, and have families."
With a 30-year track record of sharing their lives, the two men have gained some insight into what makes a relationship work. “Always remember what drew you together in the beginning. Trust and love each other, and maintain physical and spiritual intimacy. Work together as a couple for a common goal, and appreciate what you have in each other.”
They know they've been especially fortunate to have family and friends accept them as gay men and as a couple throughout their years together. "Our daughter and grandson have always known us as gay, so it’s never been an issue. Our parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, daughter and grandson all love and respect our marriage. This is how they have always known us, so to them it's not any different than anyone else's relationship. Better even than some they have experienced.”
For those whose families are not so accepting, they advise, "try and surround yourself with people who do love and support you. Hopefully over time, your family will come around."
If there was one thing they could say to their younger gay selves, it would be this: "Never be afraid or ashamed of who or what you are. Love and respect yourself.”
If you and your partner/spouse are dads and have been together ten years or longer, we invite you to share your #GWKThenAndNow story on Gays With Kids. Email Dads@GaysWithKids.com