A. J. AND DANIEL
First Name: A.J.
Partner’s First Name: Daniel
Hometown/City: Des Moines, Iowa
Number of Children: 2
Names of Children: Jackson and Peyton
When did you decide you wanted children?
Daniel and I met in 2002 and both knew right from the start of our relationship that we both wanted children one day. It wasn’t until 2006 that we really started trying to figure out the best road for us.
How did you decide to either biologically have a child or adopt a child?
Well, it was through the process of elimination more than anything that led us to adoption. It was 2006 that we really started the process. We looked into international adoption, but most countries were not open to same-sex couples at that time so we ultimately ruled that out. We looked into private adoption agencies in our state (at the time, North Carolina) but no one wanted to work with a same-sex couple. So eventually we learned about the foster care program and felt that it was a good sign when the county we lived in was not turned off that we were two males.
Did you share your journey with your family and friends? If so, have they been supportive?
Both of our mothers have been very supportive of our journey and we always shared all of the details with them along the way. We were more reserved with friends and co-workers about the process we were going through because we didn’t want to entertain a lot of questions especially if a situation fell through.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced raising children as gay men? How have you overcome those challenges and what advice would you give new parents in a similar situation?
So far we have had the fortune to not experience any challenges specifically related to being a gay couple raising children. Our oldest is going into first grade this year and we expect there may be more questions than in the past years. We have spent a lot of time with him exploring books about all kinds of families so that he is confident and secure in our family dynamic. In the past, his experiences at school regarding our family have been more in the vein of “that’s neat” versus “why two dads?”
Our advice, as with conversations related to the adoptions of our children, would be to remain open and honest in communications with your children. Being able to have frank discussions about how special they are and how unique the family is help show that as parents we are comfortable in our skin and proud of our family. We have used many literary resources such as “King and King”, “Daddy and Papa”, and “It’s Okay To Be Different”.
What do you wish you would have known before you started?
I wish we would have known the pure joy that we both get out of raising children. For example, first steps, first words, learning to read, seeing personalities evolve… it’s an exciting time in the lives of children to be witness to!
What was your biggest setback in the process?
In 2007 we took our MAPP (Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting) classes through the foster care program and by 2008 we had a 3 month old baby boy placed with us for fostering with the possibility of adoption. His name was King and even though we tried so hard not to get too attached to him, we fell head over heels in love with him. So as you can imagine, Daniel and I were heartbroken 6 months later when he was placed with his biological father.
What was the funniest thing that happened along the way?
Well, not really a funny “ha ha” kind of thing, but funny in that it was ironic how things turned out in the end. So a few months after King went to live with his biological father I got a phone call. It was his dad calling with a question for Daniel and I. He said, “I’ve been talking with my girlfriend and we both want you to be King’s godparents because that way you can always be involved in his life.” I just about burst into tears. I couldn’t believe it. We went the following weekend to their church and become his godparents!
Did you ever consider giving up?
Yes! Looking back when King left us, I didn’t want to do it again. Everything we had in the house reminded me of him and I remember locking everything away into the nursery because I didn’t think I could take the hurt if we lost another. I know Daniel felt the same way! But when we became King’s godparents it all felt so different and we decided to keep going and I’m so glad we did!
How has your life changed during this process? Before having kids and after having kids?
The biggest change to my life was that after the birth of our second child I became a stay-at-home parent. It has been my honor to have this time with both of our boys to watch them grow and learn through the last two years. The blog (Dad Loves Daddy) has been a great outlet for me as well because, as anyone with children can attest, there are good times and there are frustrating,-I’m-going-to-pull-all-of-the-hair-out-of-my-head-times!
How much did you budget for the process? How much has the process cost so far? What were the actual costs and how were they different from what was planned?
We did not have a budget at all! For our oldest child, the foster care system covered all of our expenses. Our second child came to us through a private open adoption and we were fortunate that the birth mother had a great insurance plan which covered most of her medical expenses. We paid the difference of about $3,500 plus our legal expenses. Daniel’s employer also reimbursed some expenses through their adoption assistance program.
Was your location a challenge to the process? How did it impact your decisions, if at all?
We lived in North Carolina at the time of both initial adoptions of our boys. The state was challenging in that it would only recognize one of us as a legal parent since they do not recognize same sex marriage. Daniel and I were legally married in Iowa in 2009.
After the adoptions were complete listing my husband as the father on both children’s birth certificates, we moved to Iowa where our marriage was legally recognized. After retaining six months of residency, I was able to petition the court to adopt as a step parent and received new decrees which ordered the birth states to reissue the birth certificates listing both my husband and I as the parents.
My favorite part of this story is that Jackson was born in the state of Kansas so when the new birth certificate came it listed me as Parent 1 and my husband as Parent 2. Peyton was born in North Carolina. As I mentioned, they don’t recognize any type of same sex relationships there, so when the new birth certificate came it listed my husband as the father and me as the mother! LOL!
Will you prepare your children to answer questions about their biological parent(s)?
We have a very open dialogue with our oldest about his adoption since he was old enough to be aware of the situation when it happened. We remain in close contact with his paternal grandparents through emails, Skype, and visits. We also remain in contact with Peyton’s birth mother and grandmother as part of the open adoption we had with them. We feel is it very important for both of our children to understand where they came from and that their biological families loved them but for varying reasons needed to place them with us. We never want them to feel that they had been abandoned or unloved at any point of their childhood. We have found this to be a healthy way of providing security to them as they grow older. Handling the adoption stories in a transparent and matter-of-fact manner helps reinforce that while we may look different in many ways, we are a family just like any other.
Any other advice, comments, or misc. wisdom about the gay parenting process?
All I can say is this… for those who are thinking about kids, trying to have kids, or wanting more kids… even though there is heartbreak and pain along the way, just remember there is always a plan for us regardless of how it appears at the time. Look at our family… we now have two wonderful boys of our own and we wouldn’t trade them for the world!
A.J. and Daniel blog over at Dad Loves Daddy, where they write about balancing life, work, and family while raising two boys.