These Young Gay Dads Set an Example for Parenting a Child With Special Needs
Many of us gay men became dads somewhat later in life. When we were younger perhaps our priorities lay elsewhere. There were no gay dad role models. We were busy exploring gay life. We were fighting AIDS. Whatever the reason, fatherhood didn’t appear on our radar screen until we were older.
Younger gay guys often do things differently. They come out much earlier. Many get married or start a family before they’re 30.
And then there’s Jorden, who’s 23, and Shane, who’s 27. The couple lives in San Diego, California. They met earlier this year, got engaged in May, and are jointly raising a 7-year-old boy, Sebastian, as their own.
Sebastian is no ordinary child. He is a non-verbal autistic boy who also has a rare chromosome deletion and sensory processing disorder. He requires around-the-clock care.
Jorden (left) and Shane
Jorden explained his original connection to Sebastian. “I’ve been part of Sebastian’s life since he was born. He has had a rocky start pretty much from Day One. He was taken away from his mother and went into the system in the state of Washington, so my family has been closely involved with protecting him and keeping him in a safe home ever since he was about two months old. Through that process we’ve done a lot of traveling, working with attorneys to get temporary guardianship and in the past years we’ve taken great strides in getting him into private school and certain therapies that he needs. It’s definitely a lot of information to process. So I knew what I was getting into when I decided to take him.”
When Jorden was just 17 years old, he (Jorden) spent a few days alone caring for Sebastian. It was then that the decision had been made in his heart that he would some day take on the role of Sebastian’s full-time parent.
During their first conversation, which was set-up by mutual friends, Jorden told Shane about Sebastian, explaining that he was helping to care for a special-needs kid and so his free time would be limited. But instead of taking the opportunity to escape, Shane remained interested, and the men kept talking.
Jorden recalls how impressed he was by Shane’s sincere interest in becoming a part of his family, instead of trying to compete for the attention. “It was really special to find someone who wanted to be part of our family, and could fit so perfectly into our family, and so we both have a really beautiful bond with Sebastian.”
Before they met, Shane had spent the past eight years serving his country as a U.S. Marine. He had recently been thinking about leaving, but couldn’t figure out what his next area of focus would be.
Soon after meeting Jorden, Shane met Sebastian, and they had an instant bond. He was smitten and admits that by the end of that meeting, he knew that he and Jorden had to become Sebastian’s dads.
Shane then knew what his next calling would be. He received an honorable discharge from the Marines to give him the time to help care for Sebastian.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
Shane enlisted in the military under DADT. When we asked him about the experience, he had this to say, “I wasn’t out when that (DADT) was around. I didn’t come out until after DADT finished. Prior to the end of DADT, I was actually friends with a lot of lesbians and I became very comfortable with them and then kinda worked my way into coming out to them.”
The Gift of Fatherhood
Their relationship moved quickly, and the men soon got a place of their own. They made sure their home had a bedroom for Sebastian, who was in foster care at the time.
Hoping that some day they’d be Sebastian’s parents, Shane and Jorden took him from the foster family every weekend. They saw these weekends as great opportunities to practice caring for him. Jorden admits that his own family raised doubts about the guys’ ability to care for Sebastian, and they voiced their concern that the young hopeful parents didn’t comprehend the depth of what they were getting into by wanting to raise Sebastian.
Soon after moving into their home, Jorden and Shane received news that Sebastian’s foster family had put in their 30-day notice: they would no longer be taking care of him.
Before Sebastian could be placed with another foster family, the boyfriends stepped forward and applied for custody.
The guys had already attended foster care orientation and completed the paperwork. As it turns out, since Jorden was related to Sebastian they were able to expedite the process. Plus, Jorden’s sister-in-law, who has special-needs children herself and is a child advocate, was able to help guide them through the system.
Life with Sebastian
Sebastian definitely needs care 24 hours. The guys juggle college (Shane is studying to get a degree in Interior Design) and work to make sure one of them is always home with him. Because Sebastian is non-verbal, he has been taught a few signs from ASL and the guys are trying to learn it on the go so they can teach him even more.
How do Sebastian’s various diagnoses affect him? The chromosome deletion causes learning delays and certain facial features. Sometimes it can be difficult to determine if the guys are fighting autism or the chromosome deletion. Sebastian’s sensory processing disorder affects the way he reacts to light and sound, touch and textures. He is very sensory, always feeling things and staring at lights. He also has pica, which is the persistent eating of substances like dirt or paint that have no nutritional value. So he’s constantly trying to put non-edible things in his mouth, which really requires close supervision.
Even with all his diagnoses, the dads are quick to point out that Sebastian is truly a loveable, adorable and happy kid.
Jorden, Sebastian and Shane
Their Hopes for the Future
While getting through the day-to-day can be overwhelming, the dads are working towards a greater purpose. They hope that in the future, whether in his teens or his twenties, someday Sebastian will be able to enjoy some level of independence. This could be a job or finding something else he really loves to do that can occupy a big part of his day.
The dads also share that they got engaged on May 7, which is Shane’s birthday. But there’s no date planned yet as their days are all-consumed with school, work and caring for Sebastian.
One final dream the dads shared with us…some day they’d like to make Sebastian a big brother.
Tips for Parenting Kids with Special Needs
Shane says patience is extremely important for parenting Sebastian, as it’s important to remember that special needs children often don’t know they’ve done anything wrong. So yelling and time-outs don’t work. It can take creative thinking to come up with solutions that get him away from engaging in bad behavior without actually punishing him for it.
Jorden stresses the value of research, which greatly prepared them for being able to parent Sebastian. Plus, when they become experts on Sebastian’s diagnoses then they are able to act as his strongest and fiercest advocates.
The dads add that they hope their story inspires other gay men to consider parenting special-needs children. They’re certainly available to talk to those seriously considering it, and they'll paint an accurate picture.
In case you were not already convinced that these young dads are mature beyond their years and serve as astounding role models, here's one last quote from Jorden about his family. "The stress can get overwhelming and crazy. But even when everything is going wrong, I know I have everything I need and our life together is perfect. It's as simple as that...we have all we need!"
Over 2 years ago, we spoke with experienced filmmaker Carlton Smith about his documentary featuring gay dad families created through foster-adopt. It was a heartfelt project that shone a light on the number of children in foster care (roughly 400,000 as referenced at the time) who desperately needed a home. And the large population of same-sex couples, many newly married, who were interested in starting families of their own.
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Wouldn't it look, well, gay, for me to skip down the street? In public? I wasn't willingly going to make myself look like a sissy.
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