Kirk always knew that he wanted to be a father. As a single gay man in his late 20s, however, he wasn’t sure how fatherhood would become a reality. “I started putting feelers out about how to do it. I thought I would be a single parent,” he says. Before he knew enough to make a decision, he met Eugene.
Eugene knew from the time that he was 10 or 11 that he wanted to be a parent. Like Kirk, as a single gay man, he didn’t know how it would happen. He wasn’t aware of all the different options for becoming a parent. He had started reaching out to gay parenting groups in the California Bay Area where he lived, asking questions and gathering information. He was in his mid-30s at the time he and Kirk met, and also had thought about becoming a single parent.
Kirk and Eugene hit it off right away. They shared their dreams and aspirations with one another during their first meeting, and realized that they shared the dream of having a family. “It wasn’t the only thing that drew us together, but it was a big thing,” says Kirk. “Meeting someone at that time who had the capacity to parent was a nice surprise. I felt fortunate and blessed. It was nice to think about the possibility of parenting with someone.”
They moved to Colorado together a short time later and soon after, their church hosted a session on adoption led by the Adoption Alliance, an agency that specialized in serving hard-to-place kids. One of the options presented that evening — foster-to-adopt — appealed to both of them. “During the Q&A, we were jumping out of our seats,” recalls Eugene.
They got the paperwork together right away and pursued the adoption with great determination. As a result, Eugene laughs, “I gained 10 pounds, and we had our son in 9 months.”
Kirk read a lot of books and tried to encourage Eugene to read them as well. “I tend to wait for the movie to come out,” he jokes. He counted on their ability to figure things out. After all, the adoption process included extensive parenting classes and lots of information to prepare them for the many eventualities they would likely face when caring for and raising a child.
As any parent knows, however, the reality of a child – especially in those first few months – can be much different than the idea of a child, regardless of how well you prepare. Shortly after arriving home with their 2-year-old son, they were filled with a mix of anxiety and excitement, unsure of what they were doing. Despite all the training, it still felt a bit like a crash course, with plenty to sort out on their own. Soon after, though, they adopted a second son. The boys are now 12 and 10.
Early on, the new parents faced some questions around how responsibilities would be divvied up. While societal norms of gender roles help define the parental roles of opposite-sex couples, the same is not true for same-sex couples. “We had a lot of conversations about parenting and parenting styles,” says Eugene, “but we didn’t talk about the specifics: Who takes care of the owies and who fixes the toys, who does the laundry and who takes out the trash.”
Kirk explains, “We each internalized all of the messages about masculine roles. There was no playbook, no given expectations about our parenting roles. It forced us to have larger value conversations. There are times when it has been freeing and times when it’s difficult to navigate. It’s a double-edged sword.”
So, how did they decide who would do what? Ultimately, their oldest child decided. “He would come to me to fix things, and go to Kirk when he got hurt. There was no way to predict that,” says Eugene.
Being out in the world as gay parents required some soul-searching as well. “Becoming a parent meant facing my own internalized homophobia,” says Kirk. “Some elements I wanted to hide and felt shame about. But, I knew I couldn’t avoid it.” He didn’t want to draw attention to them, or to call people out on the assumptions they made about them. He worried, too, about his children’s early conversations where they would have to say that they have two dads. “I would see people react to us and I wanted to respond in a positive, affirming way, in order to equip our kids to do so.”
Eugene puts it matter-of-factly. “I was aware of what people were thinking when we were out in public. But, 6 months in, the responsibility of being a parent so outweighed everything else. I would be thinking about how I had 45 minutes until naptime. My focus was on our children and our relationship.”
Other elements factored in to their family make-up. For starters, the issue of adoption had to be addressed. “We made the decision before becoming parents to be open about adoption with our kids, so it wouldn’t be taboo or scary. We’ve done a good job of that,” Eugene says.
Race also played a part. Kirk is White; Eugene is Black. Kirk and Eugene describe the heritage of their boys as one son being of Black and Native American heritage and the other is Black. This was perhaps the biggest issue for Kirk’s parents. “[In terms of both race and sexual identity], my parents – conservatives from a small town – have no reference for this family,” he explains. Kirk adds that his parents never envisioned him living a successful, adult life and all his past attempts to prove to them that he could do so failed. They worried about him raising children. When he became a parent, however, all that changed. “Parenting showed them that I am a normal guy. Now they have great respect for us. They have come to love and cherish Eugene and our children. It has been healing for that relationship.”
Perhaps the boys have had the easiest time adjusting to all of this. “I thought there would be way more hang-ups on their part [about having two dads],” says Kirk. “They understand the history that made our family possible. Our older son proudly wears a t-shirt that says ‘I love my 2 dads.’” Discussions about the fact that they are a family of men (including 2 male dogs), with no mom in the household but birth moms somewhere, have been trickier to navigate. He adds that the reality that families are so much more diverse today, in terms of what they look like, who is in them, and how they are made, makes it much easier.
“There is so much rhetoric and stereotypes defining who we are, what we like, what we do. Some of that may have been true when we were in our twenties, but that all falls away when you get older and become parents. We live very ordinary, boring adult lives,” Eugene explains. “And, we see our gay and lesbian friends who are becoming parents go the same way. In the workplace, my conversations are the same as everyone else. We all talk about our kids.”
Still, they agree, the uniqueness of their situation has not always been easy. This family has given Kirk and Eugene many opportunities to grow. “There is a great deal of internalized homophobia [within the gay community] that keeps people from fulfilling their dreams of becoming parents,” says Kirk. “Fears, like ‘What if my kids are gay… will people think I turned them gay?’” On the other side, there are people like one older gentleman they met at church who asked about their children and started crying “because he never thought he would see the day when someone like him would have this experience.” There is still a great deal of regret among some, that they allowed themselves to be pressured out of becoming parents.
From every angle, Kirk says that by becoming a parent, “I have been stretched and challenged in ways I never would been. I have been forced to grow in ways I never would have.”
Eugene adds, “It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had that I still want to keep.”
What are their plans for Father’s Day? Normally Kirk’s sister, her wife and their two children do something for them on Father’s Day. (They reciprocate on Mother’s Day.) But this year, the ladies won’t be in Denver, so the guys are on their own, with no special plans. “I’m more concerned about what to do for my own dad,” says Eugene.
Being a parent is one of the most selfless experiences you can do in your life. To Kirk and Eugene, thank you for sharing your love and story with us. To you both, and all the fathers, guardians, parents out there: We at Maria Droste wish you an amazing Father’s Day with your family.
If you are dealing with complicated family dynamics in conjunction with GLBTQ issues, the compassionate, knowledgeable therapists at Maria Droste Counseling can help. Contact the Access Center at 303-867-4600 today to learn more.