America has made incredible progress with gay rights, most obviously with the 2015 Supreme Court decision that made gay marriage a right nationwide. Public opinion on gay marriage has also shifted dramatically in a short time. As recently as 2007, the majority of Americans opposed same sex marriage. Today, a little more than a decade later, supporters of gay marriage outnumber opponents two to one.
The lives of gay and straight fathers are, of course, more alike than they are different. Sexual orientation doesn’t change anything about what parenting entails. We struggle with the same diaper changes, potty training, and sleep schedules. We help with the same homework and race to the same soccer practices.
But for gay dads, unique challenges remain. And while there’s been a lot of progress in how same sex parents are treated, it’s wrong to think that all the work is done. Discrimination and discomfort persist, in courts and daily life. Here, six dads weigh in on some of the issues they face in 2018, from major stressors to awkward situations.
Starting a Family Is Stressful
Even under ideal circumstances, gay couples face hurdles when they become parents. Adoption and surrogacy can be extremely expensive; private adoptions can cost as much as $60,000 and surrogacy costs between $90,000 and $120,000.
And besides the expense, surrogacy can be a slow and emotionally wrenching grind, even in the best of circumstances. When California couple James Loduca and Charles Smith decided to become parents, they worked with one of the best surrogacy agencies in America. Smith, a successful filmmaker and Loduca, a Silicon Valley tech pro, didn’t lack for resources when they started their family. Still, they found the surrogacy process marked by challenges and disappointments.
“It was… a trying experience marked by several false starts egg donors, mismatches with would-be surrogates, and what felt like lots of miscommunication from people managing the process on our behalf,” Loduca and Smith told us. “It took us two and half years from the day we first signed up with the agency to the moment when Charlie entered our lives. The process really challenged our patience and resilience, which is probably not that different from straight couples trying to have a baby—and great practice for parenthood. Not to be trite, but it really does take a village to raise — and in our case make — a child.”
The Law Isn’t Always on Your Side
As a gay parent, your claim on your kid can sometimes be tenuous. Texas dad Christopher Barks tried working through the state’s foster care system. While he and his husband initially found happiness, it was followed by heartbreak.
“We were matched with a newborn baby boy who was born addicted to meth,” Barks said.
“After a few days he came home with us and he was our entire world. We were told from day one that we’d have to foster for 6-12 months and then we could adopt him, because he wouldn’t be going back to his family. When he was almost five months old we got a call that a biological aunt had become a licensed foster parent and they’d be picking up our son the next day. It nearly killed us.”
Laws governing LGBTQ adoptions and surrogacy vary from state to state. While states such as Massachusetts and Maryland prohibit adoption agencies from discriminating based on sexual orientation, adoption agencies in seven states can legally refuse to place children with LGBTQ families if it conflicts with their religious beliefs. And that number may soon grow. In February, 2017, Georgia’s Senate passed a bill allowing adoption agencies to deny gay couples on religious grounds.
According to federal law, adoptions in one state must be honored in another. Even if a non-biological parent is on the birth certificate as a spouse, LGBTQ family law experts strongly recommend that gay parents perform formal legal adoptions, a process that can be both invasive and costly.
Barks and his husband are now fathers to Calliope, born via a surrogate.They made sure not to know which of them is the biological father. When people ask, they sometimes say that Daniel Craig and Michael Fassbender’s sperm weren’t available, so they just used theirs.
Social Media Is a Minefield
As a parent in 2018, you put your kid’s image on social media without thinking twice. If you’re straight, sharing your happy family doesn’t cause controversy. But for gay parents, putting lives on display can summon hordes of anonymous trolls.
David Hu and his husband Josh are parents of two sets of twins. They chronicle their lives as dads of a quartet of kids on their blog Rockandledge and social media. Living in Florida, their neighbors can be standoffishness and sometimes cast angry glares at their big multi-dad family. But he said the real life pushback is mild compared to the hostility they encounter online.
“Particularly with the anonymity of social media, the negativity becomes more explicit,” Hu said. “Josh chooses to ignore the nastiness, while I tend to engage. On Twitter, I am often confronted with tirades by people who think that children should be raised by one man and one woman. I usually respond with evidence that the scientific consensus is that kids raised by same sex parents do just fine.”
Sudden Onset Silent Treatment
When two dads are out with their kids, relationship is easy for people to understand. (Hey, it’s two dads! Just like on Modern Family!). When gay dads are on their own, it’s different. Since his divorce, Connecticut author and father of one Frank Lowe finds himself needing to to constantly explain his life to strangers. Living in an area he describes as “red part of a blue state,” he’s encountered his share of chilly reactions.
“The biggest problem I have is that I technically have to come out of the closet every time I meet somebody,” Lowe said.
He’s found telling blue blood New England types he’s not only divorced but divorced from a man can stop a conversation cold.
“Trust me, that gets what I call 50/50 reactions,” Lowe said. “You either get somebody that’s fine or they get silent. So I get the silent treatment. I’m fine with that. I don’t want to sit there talking to a homophobe, It’s totally fine with me.”
Dealing With Lowered Expectations
Brooklynite and father of one Matthew Blood said that while he and his husband don’t have to face much in the way of discrimination in their day to day lives. But he said that every once in a while, he does notice an occasional condescending attitude about his parenting abilities creep into conversations with distant family members and even some friends.
“It’s interesting the number of people who tell us ‘what a good job we are doing raising our son,’” Blood said. “Now, don’t get me wrong, I think I’m doing a great job raising my son, and he is generally a good kid and well behaved. When I get that comment, it seems like people have low expectations for two gay dads.”
Maybe on the surface, the comment was meant as a simple compliment. But intentionally or not, it implies that two dad families suffer without a woman’s presence. It signals that two dads isn’t enough to raise a kid, which Blood says is definitely not the case.
“I feel like our raising our son together has been a pretty egalitarian approach with both of us taking some of the emotional and domestic roles of a mom,” Blood said.
Sometimes People Don’t Understand (Or Want to Accept) That There’s No Mom
Some families have two dads and no moms. It’s a simple equation. Nonetheless, it’s hard for some people to wrap their heads around it. Sometimes it’s a simple annoyance. Other times it’s a blatant display of homophobia. For Barrie and Tony Drewitt-Barlow, the first gay men in the UK to father children through surrogacy, it happened at the worst of situations. They urgently needed the most basic of services for their children and the person who should have provided it couldn’t—or wouldn’t—understand their family’s structure.
“There was a recent incident at a local hospital where one of our children broke an arm during a soccer match,” Barrie Drewitt-Barlow said. “When we arrived at the hospital our son had said that his parents were on the way, but when two guys arrived, the nurse who was treating our son was not at all happy to be dealing with two men and repeatedly asked for the mother. We explained the situation and she reported us to social services.”