Though there have been quite a few headlines of prominent gay men like Anderson Cooper and Joe Zee stepping into fatherhood, we mustn't forget that this is also a reality for gay and queer men across the world who have come to build families in a variety of ways. Here, we talk to a variety of gay dads about queer fatherhood.
(This feature was originally published on June 21, 2020.)
O'Brian Banner and Daryl Fields
Married in June 2012, O'Brian and Daryl are the fathers of three-year-old children. And while they they didn't "plan" for children per se, they both were raised in big Southern families and hoped to eventually become dads. And as for O'Brian specifically, fatherhood has been transformative.
"Fatherhood is truly a Labor of Love, but it's also the most rewarding experience imaginable," he says. "Once I became a Dad there was an immediate change of perspective. My wants and needs were no longer my own. Every decision I make now revolves around them."
O'Brian on Fatherhood
"We also are discovering how much of our personal experiences growing up have an affect of how we raise our sons," he continues. "My husband was raised primarily by his dad and I was raised by my mom so it creates an interesting, but balanced dynamic for our sons. We also have a really large village of family and friends who don't hesitate to step in an help out when we need a break. That has been the biggest surprise. We'll forever be grateful for the amount of love shown to our family.
When we decided to grow our family there were so many questions and not a lot of people who looked like us to answer them. So in a way we just stepped out on faith. Fortunately we've been fully embraced by our community both gay and straight. It's a wonderful feeling to be able to be you're authentic self, receiving so much Love and Encouragement. Now more than ever: We Matter!!"
PJ & Thomas McKay
Though their followers on Instagram have long known them for their renovations, over the past year PJ & Thomas McKay have also made a name for themselves as foster dads. After getting married in October 2015, they began to foster three children between the ages of two and five, a year ago.
"We picked out our future children's names a month into dating," the couple says. "That was 10 years ago, but we had always planned on having children at some point. For a long time, the plan was to do surrogacy, and have one child from each of us. Over the years, however, our hearts and minds opened up to the realization that it was okay with us for them to not be biologically ours, as there are so many kids in the world who need a safe and loving home, and that sometimes you choose your own family -- or they choose you."
PJ and Thomas on Fatherhood
"While we haven't adopted these kiddos, we love them like they are our own," they say. "In July, they will have been with us a year, and it's crazy what a difference a year makes. Fatherhood has changed us in every way imaginable. It's everything we thought it would be, yet, we couldn't have prepared or known the impact these three kids would have on us. Life wasn't just about us anymore, and it was an adjustment at first, but it soon became natural to no longer put ourselves first. There were more important things. What did we do with our time before we were changing diapers, juggling teaching and cooking and play time, and breaking up arguments over who stole the other's toy? Growing up, the both of us had an idea of what we wanted our future family to look like, as family has always been so important to us, and though we didn't raise these kiddos or give birth to them or even knew existed a year ago, they have our hearts, and we're honored to get the chance to be a part of their lives for as long as they need us."
Aaron and JaRel Clay
Married in 2015, Aaron and JaRel Clay always planned to have children and are currently the fathers to four-year-old Noah. For Aaron, the experience has made him reflect on his other relationships.
"My relationship with my own father -- especially after coming out -- is a work in progress but is improving, but I never really celebrated Father's Day until our son Noah," he says. "And not having that permanent father figure growing up, I've always questioned whether I could be a good father. But what I've learned is that I can. We can. Now, Father's Day (for me) is recognition that I am something that I never had growing up and is a celebration of life, love, and our son. Not having that permanent father figure growing up, I'm happy that my son is doubly blessed to have two black fathers who love, care, and protect him, and he celebrates us as much as we do him. We've also celebrated this day with other black gay families, and the fellowship and community of black gay dads and their children has been incredible.
Being queer and a father has had its challenges, particularly when it comes to navigating familial relationships and professional responsibilites. We don't fit societal norms that a woman or a mother is the care provider--as fathers, we are the providers. When it comes to taking time off of work for school conferences, doctor appointments, or just when Noah is ill, we take on that "role" as fathers. And fortunately for us, we have employers, friends, and family that understand and have made everything manageable.
Undoubtedly, being a father has changed my life; it has given me a purpose that I never appreciated before. I love my husband, but I think we both agree, that we've never experienced love like this before. Noah is our son, and he is a reflection of the best of both of us. I'm so proud to be his father and even prouder of what we as a couple have accomplished in raising him."
Having grown up in a family of seven, Joshua always planned to have children. "I actually came out and for years it didn't even occur to me that having kids would look different," he says. "It was just so much a part of who I saw myself as, I kind of forgot the whole biological process that usually gets you to the kid part." But by 2003 he figured it out and began to establish his own family. He's since adopted two children in Charity Dunlevy-Todd and Aaron Dunlevy-Todd, the latter of whom is about to join the National Community Conservation Corps AmeriCorps program. Charity is about to begin her junior year of college. Joshua raises the pair with his ex-husband and co-parent.
Joshua Todd on Queer Fatherhood
"Something that struck me about being a single queer man with kids compared to my friends who were straight single women was how many guys assumed I would be their instant pathway to family life," he says. "My girlfriends always would say how having kids was like the dating kiss of death but experience was the opposite. Guys would assume I was stable, together, responsible etc etc and start talking really early on about taking on parenting roles. I got very protective of the kids and usually wouldn't introduce them to anyone I was dating. Their other dad, my co-parent/ex, didn't meet them for almost a year after we were dating! I don't have a relationship with my father so it was really important to me to be open, honest, and as transparent with the kids as I could. Im loving seeing what amazing adults they are becoming. They both are kind, compassionate, and concerned with justice and anti-racism- I'm hoping being raised by a queer dad help them see how injustice works and led them to be who they are now."
Richard and Carlos Seigler-Carter
When Richard and Carlos Seigler-Carter got married in 2015, they already knew that they wanted to have children. "We considered a variety of options such as foster-adopt, private lawyer adoption, and open adoption," they pair say. "In the end, we expanded our family through private adoption in December of 2016." That expansion came in the form of Timothy, their three-year-old.
Richard and Carlos Seigler-Carter on Parenting
"Since becoming parents we have had to be deliberate about balancing family time and being present to respond to the needs of our marriage," they say. "We firmly believe that we need to nurture our family as a whole, while continuing to "date" each other---finding time for date nights and such. Before we started the incredible journey of fatherhood, time seemed to be infinite - we have learned very quickly the importance of cherishing each passing moment, especially as our son continues to blossom and grow.
As a conspicuous family we have gotten a lot of interested stares, comments, and questions about our family make-up. Many of the questions are well-intentioned, but are still a bit uncomfortable at times. To add even more complexity to our position as fathers, we are two Black (Jamaican) men raising a baby - an image that is not often as accessible as it should be! However, that challenge isn't insurmountable in our view and we are confident that we will help to champion the beauty of the modern family."