Since meeting and falling in love over a decade ago, PJ and Thomas McKay have gone through a lot together. In fact, as their story on their website states, the couple's nearly 12 years together has included "10 cars, seven houses, five dogs, one cat, two different marriage proposals, one TV show, and endless amounts of laughter, tears, and joy."
The couple first met at a mutual friend's event in 2009. PJ was in a relationship at the time. But following his breakup, a Facebook friend request set sparks flying. Today, PJ and Thomas still live in their hometown of Chattanooga, Tenn., and they say their journey together has indeed had its share of ups and downs.
One initial hiccup? When they first met, Thomas was not out. It was falling in love with PJ and not wanting to hide that love from the world that prompted Thomas to come out to his family about a month and a half into their relationship.
As the young couple's love blossomed, so did their shared passion for interior design, particularly restoring old houses. PJ and Thomas, now also known as the "The Property Lovers," wed in 2015 after mutual marriage proposals. With their combined expertise in design and restoration, not to mention the fact that the hubbies are undeniably handsome, the McKays landed their own HGTV series in 2017, Down to the Studs, and they also appeared on the online series Clash of the Crafters.
"It's something we've both been interested in since we were younger," says Thomas, who credits his husband for much of their success in house-flipping, as well as their commitment to always work as a team. "PJ has a degree in construction management and has been flipping houses for 15 years, so for him it's been this lifelong passion that he transformed into something he could also make money doing. PJ has never met a house he couldn't take on -- I'm not kidding. I've never seen anything like his drive and work ethic.... For me, I don't do much of the flipping, especially these days with the kids -- but I will absolutely help carry some demo debris to the road if he needs help! I also enjoy painting and am usually the one who paints all of our projects."
After making a name for themselves within the world of home restoration, the McKays then decided to embark on the biggest adventure of their lives: parenthood. In 2019, PJ and Thomas welcomed three foster children into their home and just recently wrapped up the final stages of adoption.
"We always knew we wanted kids, we just didn't know which route we wanted to take. Do we do surrogacy? Private adoption? Foster care?" they recall. "For some reason, our hearts kept coming back to fostering. There are so many children already in the world who need a good, loving home, and I think that really spoke to us."
However, after only a few months into taking fostering classes, their path to parenthood came to an abrupt crossroads. They had to decide whether or not to take in a group of three siblings who needed placement as soon as possible. "We thought about it for a bit," the men recount. "Were we ready? How long would we have them? Is three at once really a good idea? And, after going over everything, we decided to say yes. Overnight, we went from zero kids to three and suddenly, our lives changed in pretty much every way imaginable."
In addition to having to learn to be dads in a hurry for three preschool-aged children (the youngest being 18 months), the McKays say the stress of navigating the foster system could be challenging at best and heart-rending at worst, like when the kids were taken from them temporarily and placed in the care of blood relatives.
"The greatest hurdles were, frustratingly enough, all out of our hands," they say. "Your caseworker, lawyer, guardian ad litem, judge, and so many others are really the ones who control what happens with your case overall.... We had a caseworker in the beginning who slacked at her job and delayed a few things in our timeline. COVID was also a big factor in our case, as our court dates kept getting pushed back for months. It was frustrating but...we would've waited as long as it took."
Another challenge for the Southern household has been being one of the "only same-sex families wherever we go, which you do get used to after a while, but it would still be nice to connect with a family from a similar situation every now and then."
"On the plus side," they add, "we hope that by being so open with our marriage and our family and fostering, people who live in our small town...will have more of an open mind when it comes to those who may be different than them. Representation goes such a long way in the fight for equality and is so extremely important for minority communities."
With most of the adoption paperwork processing behind them, the McKays now reflect on how their three children have forever changed their lives and hearts.
"They've allowed us to live for someone other than just ourselves. They've helped us see the world in a completely different light," the men conclude. "Our life was quiet before -- beautiful and fun -- but so much quieter. Now it's filled with little feet and potty training and crying and so much laughing and all the things that come with having three little kids running around the house. We wouldn't trade it for the world."
This article is part of Out's 2021 Design issue, which is now out on newsstands. Ahead of Out's 300th issue, we are running a $3 promotion for a one-year subscription. Subscribe now (the promotion ends on December 1) and ensure you will receive the 2021 Out100 issue. Otherwise, support queer media and subscribe outside of the promotion -- or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.
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