Death and Loss

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.”

Show Comments ()

Danni Michaeli, a psychiatrist by training, is rarely at a loss for words. But they seemed to be escaping him in this moment, after I’d asked him to tell me about his partner, Dave Adox.

“There’s something about him that feels so very hard for me to put into words,” Danni, 51, told me, when we spoke by phone recently. “I’ve always described him as a Muppet,” he laughed. “He’s just a gangly, goofy, funny person. He’s very special. That’s the way I want people to know him.”

***

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Personal Essays by Gay Dads

A Brief History of Gay Times

Ferd van Gameren, a co-founder of Gays With Kids, gives a personal history of gay pride celebrations over the years

In 1994, my then-boyfriend Brian and I drove to New York City for Gay Pride.

We had met the year before at Mike's Gym, an almost exclusively gay gym in Boston's South End. A friend of Brian's somehow knew I was from Holland; that's how I believe my nickname Tulip came about.

(Come to think of it: Brian used to say that he'd prefer tulips on his organ to a rose on his piano.)

A quick glance at me in the locker room taught him what religion I wasn't.

And a friend of mine had already divulged to me what Brian had told him in confidence: He was HIV-positive.

Anyway, we met. We really liked each other. Then, on the third date, Brian revealed to me in a shaky voice what I already knew. We had our first, very careful sex that night.

We fell in love. We had dates in the South End, then a largely gay neighborhood. We made friends that were mostly gay. (But not exclusively; we befriended some lesbians too.) We went to see "Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss" and other little indie films that were, yes, gay, gay, gay.

With an AIDS diagnosis looming, we had no time to lose. Some of our new friends were getting sicker. Some died. Barely six months after the first kiss, we moved in together.

At that New York Pride, gay life was celebrated in the face of death. We saw men marching with dark Kaposi sarcoma lesions on their bared chests. We saw young men leaning on canes, too sick to walk, watching the parade from the sidelines. Men blind with cytomegalovirus loudly singing along to "Pride ­­– A Deeper Love" coming from the floats. We chanted and cried and watched a giant rainbow flag being carried along Fifth Avenue. And in our cut-off jeans and Timberland boots, we danced to Aretha and Whitney.

And then, thanks to enormous medical advances, the unthinkable happened for us: Brian stayed alive and healthy. As our horizon of life opened up, we learned to look ahead farther. We made plans for a future together that wasn't just measured in weeks or months.

We loved New York, and so we found jobs there and moved to Manhattan. Forced by my immigration issues we decamped temporarily to cold but wonderful Toronto, repatriated to New York five years later, and in 2017 returned to the Boston area.

We went from boyfriends to partners (for many years our term of choice), briefly to ex-partners, to partners again, and finally, in 2013, to husbands.

We got our first dog in 2005, a saucy Chihuahua named Duke, and showered him with love and attention. It awakened something in us that had long been dormant. But could we, at our age? Would Brian stay healthy?

Our answers were yes and yes. In 2009 we adopted a baby boy. Seventeen months later our two daughters were born.

In 2014 Brian began this website, Gays With Kids. So we're still gay, and our kids clearly have gay dads. They dance a mean Time Warp; instead of straight ahead they say gaily forward. They realize everyone is different, and they seem to like it that way.

But we live now in a predominantly straight suburb with an excellent school system. We socialize primarily with straight-but-not-narrow friends. Brian and I tell each other all the time we should really go back to the gym. We watch our little, almost exclusively gay indie films in bed on Netflix and Amazon Prime, after the kids have finally fallen asleep.

We're going to take our kids to New York Pride later this month. I envision something like this: Proudly holding their hands, we'll watch the floats in age-appropriate shorts and sensible footwear. We'll cheer on courageous Mormon or evangelical LGBT contingencies while the kids are busy licking lollipops. They will learn about Stonewall, AIDS and the road to marriage equality. Following the kids' lead, Brian and I will make some moves to "Old Town Road." With them, we'll belt out "Baby, why don't you just meet me in the middle?" And we will dance in the street to Madonna, Cher, Whitney and Gaga, the soundtrack of our lives for so many years.

Over the course of that weekend, in age-appropriate terms, we will tell our kids more about the lives of their daddy and papa.

Personal Essays by Gay Dads

Do We Have a Biological Right to Fatherhood? Absolutely, Says This Gay Dad

Jay Bostick, a gay foster dad, responds to Kevin Saunders' controversial essay "Why This Adopted Gay Man Will Never Have Children"

Editor's Note: Below is an essay by Jay Bostick who eloquently lays out many of the reasons why he and many other readers were upset by a post we ran yesterday by Kevin Saunders titled, "Why This Adopted Gay Man Will Never Have Children." This post clearly touched a nerve! (Check out the ongoing discussion on our Facebook page.) While some of our readers appreciated Saunders' viewpoint, many others felt slighted by his reasoning for not having children, calling him everything from "self-involved," "selfish," and an "insufferable narcissist." Many other readers rightly questioned why Gays With Kids would even run an essay from a man who does not want children on (of all place) a parenting website.

The former point is a matter of opinion, but I'll offer some clarification on the latter. We agreed to run this post for two reasons. First, Saunders' perspective is unique among many adopted gay men. We have run countless essays on this site featuring adopted gay men who, inspired by their own upbringing, decided to give back by opening up their homes to children who need them. Saunders' experience, however, led him to conscience decision not to have children, a perspective worthy of discussion particularly by anyone who has been touched by adoption in some way. Secondly, as a 52-year-old gay man, Saunders is starting to find himself alienated from many in his LGBTQ peer group for his decision not to have kids. Again, we are so much more familiar with the opposite perspective on our page: when they become parents, many gay men find themselves ostracized from the broader, childless LGBTQ community. That the inverse is also starting to become true is a testament to the increase in LGBTQ parents in the United States, and an interesting dichotomy we believed warranted further exploration.

All that said, Saunders' essay is a matter of opinion, and one our readers (nor we) certainly don't have to agree with. This is why we were thrilled to receive this "counterpoint" to Saunders's essay from Bostick. We, at least, are enjoying the respectful exchange of ideas, and hope you are as well. Give Bostick's essay a read, as well as the original, and then let us know what you think in the comments or at dads@gayswithkids.com.

--David Dodge, Managing Editor

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Adults

Why This Adopted Gay Man Will Never Have Children

Do we have a biological right to parenthood? Kevin Saunders, a childless 52-year-old gay man, says no.

Guest post written by Kevin Saunders.

Two dear friends of mine, each partnered, capable gay men of relatively sound mind and body, have recently decided to become fathers, and I could not be more unnerved. The expense, the risk, the potential for disappointment, the logistical complexity that they must navigate leave me baffled and at times enraged with the lingering question that I have, out of respect, refrained from asking, "WHY, WHY, WHY do you want to do this?!" These feelings toward what most would consider a happy occasion beg a reciprocal enquiry: "Why do you care?" The answer is rooted in a disposition and a history that has left me skeptical of the innate right to biological parenthood that many, gay or straight, seem to feel entitled to.

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Gay Dad Life

Gays WITHOUT Kids (If Just For a Day...)

Andrew Kohn explains why he decided to leave his kids at home this Pride

I'm not a monster. Yes, I saw the wagons carrying lovely toddler children waiving their flags and eating their graham crackers. The children were plentiful wearing their Pride family shirts, bejeweled in rainbow. The weather was perfect and the crowds were as prideful as ever. But my husband and I had a day where we didn't have to worry about someone else, not on the constant lookout for the next available bathroom or calming emotions because we could buy one unicorn costume and not every unicorn costume. We had a day without kids.

Yes, Pride has become commercialized. Some companies want my gay money, but others march and have a presence because one gay voice spoke up and asked why the company hasn't marched. I marched in the parade with my employer – who marched for the first time this year – because I started the conversation about why we hadn't marched before. My husband and I were present. We honored Stonewall. And praised Nina West. And we did it without carrying a bag with extra panties and a couple sippy cups.

Believe me, I get sharing the day with your children. With your family. But in my house, we live Pride every day. Two white dads caring for two black kids makes us walking billboards for equality, love, and acceptance. I don't need a day to celebrate my family with my children. We do it in the grocery store. We do it at preschool. We recognize our uniqueness and celebrate it. My children don't need a meltdown and a long walk to tell them about their history and their fathers' connection to the past.

Instead of worrying about where we would find lunch and, again, where the closest bathroom was, I saw beauty that took me by surprise – and I was able to be in the moment with it. Trans men waking boldly and bravely around only wearing only their bindings. Watching high school kids sitting in the grass, wearing crop tops and eating french fries, literally carefree looking up at the clouds. We experienced a community that was free and uninhibited, if just for one afternoon, where who you are isn't odd or something to be hidden. But rather something that is a definition of you and should be your reality 365 days a year.

I know that being gay and having kids can be overwhelming at times. We ask ourselves if we're representing our community adequately (or have we become too heteronormative?). If we have children of a different race, are we giving them the experiences they need to know who they are, as well as navigate that world with gay parents? Are we so embraced at school functions because of our contributions to community or are we a token family? And yes, I'll ask it, are we good enough for acceptance by all gay families, who as if we're single again, judge each other on wealth, looks, and status? No family is better than any other, and gay parents certainly have opportunities to be better towards one another.

Our Pride ended in a small fight while walking to the car, like all good Pride's should. But it wasn't about kids bickering, or kids getting upset they didn't get the right treat. It was about us centering ourselves in a community that isn't exactly welcoming in certain spaces to gay families other times of the year. It was about us catching up with our past while also seeing our collective future.

And the kids didn't seem to mind. They had fun with a babysitter and lived their Pride out loud when they shopped for daddy and papa gifts for Father's Day. That's our Pride. Maybe when the kids are older, and really get the meaning of Pride, we'll start marching together in solidarity. But for right now, daddies needed a little time alone to reconnect with their LGBT family. And while there may be too many beer ads and not enough voter registration tables, we celebrate visibility and love. And my husband and I had time together, reminding us of who we are, who our original family was, and how we will connect who we are now, and our children, with that family as it grows.

At the end of the day, we're all in it together. And my children will be enriched by the experience. Just not this year. This year, we fertilized our roots so that our branches can grow.

Fatherhood, the gay way

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