"When I am painting, it's like a different dimension I'm living. Your focus is entirely on what you are creating, where you enter this 'artworld' and that is your focus," says painter Oscar Dotter of his method. "Now, I find myself painting what she is influencing me to paint. I just let things go. It is more whimsical, a little more fun, not as political, not as angry, definitely brighter in colors. More of reflective of how I'm feeling now that I have children."

The "she" his is talking about is Finlee, one of Oscar's two daughters who, along with sister Bowie, he raises with husband-to-be Nick. Unlike in other professions, artists are in a unique position to manifest incorporeal concepts into something relatable and are renowned for radical changes in their styles before and after certain events. But it is not like Nick, who works in the much more rigid financial industry, was immune; in fact, Oscar and Nick both see their lives as "BK/AK" — "Before Kids" and "After Kids."

"It was like a totally different life that we had before we had our daughters," says Nick. "I spent a lot of time at work. That was a large part of my identity; it was a large part of my professional ambition."

Both parties admit that the transformation of the Angry Young Man and the Wall Street Workaholic was not without its paradigm shifts; aside from their established careers, the two were together for nearly 10 years before Finn showed up 2013 and Bowie in 2016, plenty of time for the duet routine to put down roots. However, what that routine actually set was the firm groundwork for the additions to their family that were to come, and Oscar and Nick consider their years as a twosome as time well spent. And that, in fact, is one of the biggest pieces of advice they give.

Like many prospective parents, Oscar, 43, and Nick, 39, asked around, seeking the assorted do's and don'ts, tales from the trenches, and other assorted nuggets of wisdom of parenthood from people already on the journey. A recurrent theme was the importance of creating strong foundations, of all sorts, before children are even a topic for discussion.

"Some of parents were younger, some older, but a lot of them had voiced they wished they had waited a couple more years because parenthood really changed things, emotionally and financially, for them," recalls Oscar.

But once they made up their minds to become fathers, it was full steam ahead. Opting for surrogacy, however, ushered in a very modern conversation that all the advice in the world would do no good: Of the two of them, who is the better genetic option to father a child?

Oscar gives the straightforward answer: "Nick's family has a better genetic history than I do, concerning cancer and heart disease. His genetic strand, in terms of having children being at less risk, looked more promising than mine."

If you think this sounds eerily like eugenics, think again. Genetic history is just one of many factors even run-of-the-mill sperm banks (and egg donation facilities) take into consideration when it comes to donors. One company requests men be at least 5'7'', others push that number to 5'9''. All require donors have at least a bachelor's degree, and have an age limit. Mental illness, a high prevalence of cancer in the family, and even myopia can knock a sperm donor out of the running. The now-defunct Repository for Germinal Choice was founded with the idea of accepting only those donors with Nobel Prizes to their name. With the advent of DNA testing, science gained a strong say in the baby-making biz, and as societally uncomfortable it is to say this or that person's genes are "better," medical technology reached a level where parents can actively try to minimize gene-based disorders being passed on to their children. And let there be no doubt: outside the scientific sphere, people have been choosing potential mates based on certain characteristics for...well, ever (even if those relationships never result in the birth of a child).

"We were very fortunate; our surrogacy journey was pretty smooth," says Nick. "But we know a lot of other couples who had failed IVF attempts once or twice or even three times in a row. It is truly a multi-year process. It can be a very emotionally draining."

And if the conception was hard, to say nothing of the birth, just you wait till the parenting starts.

"But it is the best thing to happen to us," Oscar says. "Nothing is more rewarding going to pick them up, them recognizing me and saying "hello" and "I love you" before they go to bed. It doesn't matter how challenging it is, at the end of the day, for me, it's the best thing in the world."

Given the girls' ages, the "where's mommy" question has yet to surface, although Finlee, now in pre-school, has sometimes said the mothers she sees in her cartoons are her own. While Nick predicts the subject will be broached "formally" in a year or so, Oscar noticed she is already tuned-in to the fact that she has two fathers and will identify them as such.

"We're not big disciplinarians or anything like that," admits Oscar, going on to say how the responsibilities of fatherhood, and Finlee, now three, and Bowie, nine months, are experiencing it, is an organic process. "It's OK for them to figure things out with us. We're figuring it out, and they're with us on it. We're learning, they're learning. I think that is the best thing for our family."

You are a woman. You work in a factory for pennies. You live in a shack with no electricity or running water. You are pregnant, but the father of your twins left you for his first wife after he found out you were expecting. And you are doing all of this in the hinterlands of southwest Vietnam.

You make an excruciating decision: give up your babies for adoption. The chances of seeing them again are nil, you have no idea who the prospective parents are personally, but you know you are making the best choice for their future that you had. Contacts are made, paperwork is done, the twins — boys — arrive, and then...done. The adoption goes through to a gay couple in the United States and, come what may, you get on with your life.

This situation, particularly in developing countries, is more common than you would think. More uncommon, in Bob and Dale's situation, however, was happened next.

“I always wanted to have kids, but thought it would never happen,” Bob Page says, echoing the sentiment of his husband, Dale Frederiksen.

When the two met, in 1988, it was a sentiment many same-sex couples had. For the Pages, just becoming a couple was daunting: Bob was in North Carolina, Dale in Tennessee, but both men were so deep in the closet they may as well have lived in Narnia. But even in the pre-cyberspace days, down-low LGBTQs had extensive networking tools.

“We met through a print ad,” says Bob. “Everybody gets a little chuckle out of that, but this was before the Internet. Then we phone-dated.”

In an enormous leap of faith, Dale left his teaching job and crossed state lines to be with the voice on the other end of the phone. They have been together ever since, marrying two years ago. When one of Bob’s co-workers became unexpectedly pregnant, there was talk of the two men adopting the child. That fell through — but the fire was lit.

“So we decided to try an adoption agency working with same-sex couples,” Bob says. “We found Cradle of Hope up in Washington, DC. They were doing adoptions through Vietnam.”

Bob admits having his heart set on twins, seeing the close bond his father and uncle, also twins, had. In 1999 came a call from a woman near the Cambodian border had put her twin boys up for adoption. What followed is reminiscent of an epic saga, replete with transglobal flights, reams of paperwork, a first visit to meet the twins Hien and Hau, a second visit to actually get them, language barriers, red tape, corrupt officials (“just slip them $20,” advises Dale), and the fact frontier Vietnam is practically lawless. Because the adoption was not automatically final, either Bob or Dale were required to stay inside the hotel room with the babies, and resorted to eating in shifts and bringing food back to the room. Throughout was the dread that something, anything, would go wrong. When the new family set foot on American soil, the relief was as palpable as the joy.

In fact, of all the things that did happen, the one thing that did not was a face-to-face with the mother, Huong. It was a nagging point that would eventually take on more and more weight. Finally, Bob and Dale decided to go back and personally thank the woman who made their lives complete. With then 9-year-old (and re-christened) Owen Hien and Ryan Hau in tow, the Page-Frederiksens made their way to the Vietnamese back country three hours outside Ho Chi Minh City. 

“She was living in a grass hut,” Bob recalls. “She had two daughters then, and was a single mother working in a factory earning about $70 a month.”

So they bought her some pots. And pans. And furniture. And a motorcycle to get around. And a fully-wired, fully-plumbed house to put it all in.

About now you might be thinking that even when taking into account the enormous gratitude adoptive parents feel for their birth mothers, Bob and Dale’s seems particularly munificent. And if you have never cracked a plate or shattered a glass, congratulations! But for the less dexterous and more accident-prone, Bob is the man you call---Or, rather, his company is.

An avid flea market shopper, Bob quit his auditor job in 1981 and used his finds to start an antique china and glassware mail-order business specializing in replacing the one-off damaged piece of a set. Everyone, the Small Business Administration included, declared the move a money-pit. Flash forward to 2017 and Replacements, LTD is a 400-employee, $80-million-a-year company with a 13-million-piece inventory going back to the 1800s. But to talk to Bob, the son of a tobacco farmer, is to talk to a man who knows the value, but also the impact, of a dollar. If you have the money to spend and know the good it will do, the purse-strings should be loosened at once. He saw a person who needed help, who deserved it, and so got it.

“Huong had sewing skills, so we bought her a sewing machine and she now makes clothing for her village,” Bob says, adding, “She sells mangoes from the trees on the property. She’s pretty self-sufficient, and we send her money every month to put her daughters in school.”

To top it off, they bought a home for Huong’s parents.

In fact, Bob and Dale’s giving nature seems to know no limit. In addition to now-18-year-old Ryan and Owen, also part of the family is 17-year-old Kennedy Nzekwe from Nigeria (sponsored, not adopted).

“He has an older brother who played on the same soccer team as our boys,” Bob explains. “And he was telling us how Kennedy really wanted to come to the US. So we decided to sponsor him. He’s in school with the boys.”

This boundless sense of giving is felt far beyond the family. Living in Greensboro, North Carolina, and among the most prominent business owners---gay or straight---Bob, 72, and Dale, 54, now out and proud, are in the spotlight far more than they could have predicted.

“We’ve been huge supporters of the HRC,” says Bob. “Several people said Equality North Carolina would not have survived had it not been for our support. We’re a big supporter of the local AIDS foundation and many others: adoption, urban ministries, Habitat for Humanity. And we are a major supporter of the Quaker school where our kids attend.”

Yet despite constant balancing of the public eye with their private lives, the Page-Frederiksens remain an everyday family.

“It’s been the greatest experience in my life, having kids,” Bob says. “I have never for one moment regretted it.”

And with any luck, a woman in a distant land feels the same.

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Heroism comes in all shapes and sizes, and often when you least expect it.

David Michener, for instance, did not have heroism in mind when he lost the love of his life, suddenly becoming a single parent overnight to three young children. The experience was traumatic. But it would also land him in the Supreme Court and ultimately in a place of honor in the chronicles of LGBTQ equality.

“I didn’t do it to make history,” David tells Gays With Kids. “I did it to prove it is okay to stand up for your rights.”

In the Beginning

This story begins rather unremarkably, and to 2017 readers, anachronistically.

“We met in an America Online chat room in 1996,” David says, recalling first-contact with his future husband, Bill Ives. “The funny thing is Bill and I talked on our first date about children. I said I wanted to be a father, and Bill was like ‘So do I!’ We knew we could get along.”

And get along they did. Holding a commitment ceremony in 1999, their first child, Anna, showed up (albeit eight weeks prematurely) in 2000, followed by sons Jackson in 2002 (who, unlike his sister, was three weeks late), and Michael in 2012. While the first two were direct adoptions through an agency in Louisiana, Michael perhaps symbolized a precursor to the do-the-right-thing mentality that would later show up in the highest court in the land.

“Bill and I decided we wanted more children,” David explains, “but we didn’t want to go through adoption again. We wanted to start taking kids out of the foster care system. For Michael, it was time — he was almost three.”

At which point, all five fell into the rhythms of family life in Yardley, PA, just north of Philadelphia. Then came Bill’s transfer to Ohio.

The Coming Storm

In February of 2009, Bill moved to Wyoming, outside Cincinnati. The couple decided that David would remain in Yardley, however, while Anna finished 4th grade and Jack completed 2nd. Then, the family would reunite again in Ohio.

Living in the Midwest, they weren't oblivious to their vulnerable legal status as same-sex adoptive parents. So the two obtained every legal document they could think of---from power of attorney to disposition of bodies---to provide protections for their family. They also began to talk about marriage.

“As we became familiar with the politics of the Midwest we decided to marry and protect the family,” recalls David. When Delaware passed same-sex marriage legislation in 2013, it was kismet.

“Our vacation house was in Lewes,” David explains, a town just north of the gay Mecca of Rehoboth Beach. “Since I spent the summers there with the kids, it was a perfect reason to do it, even though Ohio would not recognize it. Our family was able to remain intact if something were to happen to either of us. The kids were protected.”

Sucker Punch

Many a funny wedding story involves one of the parties getting sick, and in July 2013, when Bill teetered down the aisle with a 104°-fever, everyone assumed he was soldiering through a dazzlingly badly-timed flu. What no one knew, several doctors included, was that Bill was in the early stages of a bacterial infection that ravaged his system from the inside out. It wasn’t until a marathon 18-hour surgery that a proper diagnosis finally came to light, but it was too late. Bill Ives passed away August 27.

And if the shock of loosing his husband just 37 days after marrying him wasn’t bad enough, “my cell phone is going off during the entire funeral,” David says. “And it’s a lawyer advising me that my name isn’t going on the death certificate as Bill’s spouse unless we went to court.”

He may have been married in Delaware, but Bill died in Ohio. By 2013, only 12 American states had same-sex marriage laws on the books, whereas many more had laws for just the opposite; Ohio proved particularly vitriolic. In 2004, Governor Bob Taft signed Ohio’s Defense of Marriage Act into law, banning same-sex marriage within the state and prohibiting acknowledgement of any performed outside it. To boot, included was the clause denying “statutory benefits of legal marriage to nonmarital relationships,” such as spousal recognition on death certificates, for example.

The Battle Is Joined

“Ohio treated me like a 2nd-class citizen,” says David simply, and the mild-mannered business analyst had his Incredible Hulk moment. “We got an injunction so that my name could be on the death certificate and Bill would be buried as legally married. We won that.”

But Republican powers in Columbus, in the form of Governor (and later GOP presidential candidate) John Kasich were far from done. A series of suits, countersuits, wins and losses followed, finally culminating in David amalgamating his case with others into what would become the pivotal Supreme Court case of Obergefell v. Hodges. 

Their argument hinged on the Fourteenth Amendment, which mandates all American citizens have equality under the law. For David, this meant that his marriage to Bill should be seen as lawfully licensed, even if performed out-of-state. David was determined his husband be buried not only with dignity, but also as a married man.

“It was living hell,” he recounted of the legal proceedings. Nonetheless, on June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court passed a 5 – 4 vote in favor of David and his co-plaintiffs, requiring all states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and to recognize same-sex marriages validly performed in other jurisdictions. Along with United States v. Windsor, the case guaranteed marriage equality in the United States.

David was in Disney World with his family when the verdict came down.

“We had been so stressed we needed to get away,” he says. “I was out having fun with the kids, which I would have preferred anyway.”

Case Closed

Now residing in Lewes, David, 55, stresses that however he may be perceived in the annals of LGBTQ history, he is a father first. But to his kids, he's both. 

“Being a part of a Supreme Court case was very interesting,” says 17-year-old Anna, who was in court along with her father. “I learned a lot about the issues facing the country as well as how our government works. Going from a tourist looking at the Supreme Court to being the one walking out those doors was an experience unlike any other.”

What better civics lesson could you get than to help transform American society, and LGBTQ rights, for the better?

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Thank you, Rosie! 

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So let's set the stage: After a period where he tried to will himself straight thanks to a very Mormon stepmother and strict Army father, Chris Labine, now 25, moved to Las Vegas and met Parker Graves, now 23, on Grindr in November of 2015, who was raised by his grandparents because his immediate parents “were not really fit" to raise him and his sister, and who himself has a biological son, Liam, now three, with his former boss, Ashley.

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“We had kids to spend time with them,” says Rob Taylor. “To show them the world, teach them and see how they respond to things — it’s really fascinating to see how their little brains work.”

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“As a single parent, I wanted more time with my son. And I wanted to get more living into my life.”

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Instead of merely encouraging a healthy lifestyle to their son, these fathers exemplify one.

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Fatherhood, the gay way

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