When I came out, I went through a grieving process. I grieved the loss of all my expectations about my own future family. I had always imagined marrying a woman and having lots of kids. I was forced to come to terms with being gay in large part as the process of dating taught me that marriage to a woman wasn’t going to work out for me. It was a painful realization. At the time, legal marriage to a man wasn’t an option. Neither was adoption. On the other hand, loving another human being deeply and passionately is a powerful thing. The experience of that kind of love seems by its nature filled with possibility. So I knew I would have some kind of experience of family. I just had no idea exactly what that might be. That aspect of coming out was a leap of faith. I let go of any expectations of ever being called “father” by anybody and decided to just be open to life and see what love brought into it. And now, here I am now years later having had numerous powerful experiences of fatherhood.
My dad was a great father. He spent the kind of time with us that helped us to know we really mattered. He had a strong moral compass, and we saw through his example how important that was and how it could make a difference for good in the four walls of our home as well as in the wide world. He was generous toward others. There was always someone we were helping. There were always people in our home who were sharing food and fun with us, and with whom we prayed and learned and with whom we often laughed and sometimes wept. Dad taught me that to be a real man was to be kind hearted and protective and gentle and patient. It was to be hopeful, and it was to invite the best to come out in others by cultivating it in ourselves.
That image of what I could or should be as an adult was fortunately not anything I had to give up or grieve in the process of coming out. In fact, coming out as a gay man embodied some of the highest characteristics dad had inculcated in me. It required honesty and courage. It required real hope and faith. I brought that best version of me that Dad taught me to be to the challenge of finding my path in the world as a gay man.
In relation to fatherhood, life surprised me. A friend of mine, who happens to be a Latter-day Saint and also a social worker, approached me and my husband and asked us if we had ever considered foster parenting. Göran and I went through a discernment process, and eventually concluded that becoming foster parents was the right thing to do.
I don’t know what it’s like to be a biological dad. But I do know that having a foster son transformed our lives. Our whole way of prioritizing things changed. Before, we thought mostly about what we wanted; after, we evaluated everything in terms of what was going to be good for him, what was going to provide him a safe, nurturing, and happy environment. What were the experiences and relationships that he needed in order to mature into a happy, healthy, self-sufficient adult? I was surprised how deep the feelings of protectiveness and care ran. At one point it dawned on me that there was no sacrifice I was not willing to make, even to the extent of putting myself in harm’s way to ensure his safety and well-being. We wept when he suffered. We rejoiced at his successes. Now that he is adult and married with a family of his own, and is successful in his chosen career, there is an abiding sense of satisfaction. He did it, and we were there to help him do it. Parenthood is a powerful thing.
Over the years others have come into our lives. I think because we are an older gay couple, because we’ve been together now for over 30 years, and because we’ve sought to strengthen our community in a variety of ways, as volunteers, as leaders, and as mentors, younger gay men have come to us for advice and support. As much as we’ve been able, and in certain situations where we’ve felt prompted to do so, we’ve provided emotional, spiritual,
and sometimes even financial support. Some of you who know me personally know that we recently sponsored a young man through college. You might know this because I’ve reached out to many over the years and asked for your help, and many of you have given it. He just graduated this spring.
What I’ve learned is that there doesn’t have to be any limit on how we can foster the well-being of those in our community who are vulnerable and growing and who need support. We can all be parents in that sense. We’ve often limited the concept of parenthood to procreation and its aftermath. But as we all know, there are plenty of people who procreate without parenting. I’ve learned there are also people who parent without procreating. I actually learned that lesson first from my dad, because I saw how he helped so many people beyond the walls of our home. I just never saw that as an extension of what it meant for him to be a father until I had to come to terms with the definition of that word in my own life and found ways to be a father that I never previously imagined.