“It began for us back in 2016, when I was 26 and Jennifer was 24. We had both just gotten out of failed relationships. Looking back, I don’t think either of us had intended to fall for one another. It may sound cliché, but there was something about her that was different from anyone I had ever encountered. You could say I was head over heels for her. I would look for any reason to talk to her. I would try even harder to figure out ways I could spend time with her.
There was a period of time when I would stop at the local Dunkin Donuts and pick her up a chocolate donut, then stop by Speedway to grab a Mt. Dew freeze drink in a foam cup—she always said it tasted different if I used a plastic cup—and dropped it off to her on my way to work. She would never ask for it, but I just needed a reason to be able to stop and see her. She would always smile and laugh at my dorky jokes when I showed up with breakfast.
I was living in what felt like a TV show; there was no way she didn’t know how nervous she made me. I would lose my words and I tried so hard not to say anything stupid. I knew 100% how I felt about her, but I had no idea how she felt about me. I remember one night we were sitting in her room just talking about life, our wants for the future, and things we wanted to do. She was wearing a red Indiana university sweater and Captain America pajama pants. I had my body turned away from hers, but I was listening to everything she said.
It is hard to explain, but I heard more than just the words coming out of her mouth. I saw the pictures around the room, I saw kids’ toys and pictures they had made for their mom. Without her having to say it out loud, I knew she had a natural nurturing side to her. I realized she seemed to always put others before herself and her kids meant everything to her. I realized entering into a relationship with her also meant entering into a relationship with her children.
I first met Patrick, Emmitt, and Phillip when they were six, three, and one. At the time, I had never been in a relationship with a woman who had children. To say I was more than a bit nervous is an understatement. The feeling did not last long. The more time I spent with the boys, the harder it became to leave when it was time for me to go home. I realized my feelings had grown not only for Jen but also for the beautiful boys she was raising. Seeing the boys’ faces light up when they saw me would make my heart completely melt.
February 15th—the night I had asked her to become my girlfriend. She had told me if I had asked her on Valentine’s Day she would say no. She said, ‘Everyone asks on Valentine’s Day.’ So, I thought waiting until the day after would be just fine. I had made sure to get permission from Patrick. He was her oldest son, and they had a very close relationship. I was open and honest with him about how I felt not just about his mom, but for him and his brothers as well. He gave me a big hug and told me he couldn’t wait for me to ask her. Once he gave the okay, I went and asked Jen if she wanted to be in a relationship with me. She said yes. The rest of the night was nothing but smiles from everyone.
During the first year of our relationship, we had found our first place and moved in together. There were many nights we would go outside and catch lightning bugs. I personally cannot stand bugs, but the boys just loved it. They loved helping with our dog Sadie and having fun doing family activities. That year had been the best of my life at that point. I wanted to make our little family official. On March 8, 2017, I asked Jen to marry me. We had planned for our wedding to be in July of 2018, but a question from one little guy made us change the date.
Patrick had asked if I would adopt him and become his other parent forever. This was a huge moment for both of us. I remember my heart completely melting, and of course, I said yes. Jen and I set up an appointment at a lawyer’s office to get a better understanding of what we needed to do for the adoption process. He stated we had better odds of the adoption going through after we were married and provided a stable home for at least one year. We decided after the meeting we were going to move our wedding date to September of that year.
We got married on September 2, 2017, in my parent’s backyard. We had spent the night before the wedding apart from each other. We had made the decision I would not see her until she was walking down the aisle. It made the moment I turned around and saw her walking down the aisle even more emotional. I felt blessed all of our closest friends and family were able to witness my reaction to seeing her for the first time. They were able to witness my true emotion.
After the wedding, there was a moment of panic when no one could find the other bride (Jen). My Man of Honor heard something, looked up, and saw her banging on the window in the bathroom. My parent’s bathroom lock would sometimes stick and she had gotten locked inside. I am not sure she thought it was funny at the time, but I thought it was absolutely hilarious. Looking back, this was one of my favorite memories about that day.
We spent the next year strengthening our bond as a family. Jen became a stay-at-home mom while I went to work as a technology coordinator at an elementary school. Although things were coming together, that year seemed like the longest year ever. We met with the lawyer many times to make sure we were still on track with the adoption.
Halfway through the school year, Patrick had decided he wanted to take my last name. It became something so important to him, he would become angry when a teacher or coach would use his given last name. Luckily, Pat had an amazing teacher who knew we were going through an adoption process. He allowed Patrick to use the name he was most comfortable with.
The day had finally arrived. On June 19, 2019, Jen had ‘adoption day’ t-shirts made for us. You could tell she was excited about the day as well. I woke up with so many emotions that morning. I felt nervous, scared, and excited all at the same time. It was supposed to be a happy day, but I had so many fears about something going wrong and the adoption not being granted. I think Patrick did, too. Both of us sat in the courtroom holding each other’s hands. Jen had to keep reminding us everything was going to be okay.
While we waited for the proceedings to start, all our closest family and friends entered the courtroom. My parents assured me things were going to be alright. They had been through the adoption process many times before. They had adopted four children, including myself, starting in the late-70s and adopted their last child in the mid-90s, but that is a story for a different day.
Finally, the judge came into the courtroom. The lawyer had Jen, Patrick, Phillip, and me stand in front of the judge. I was asked multiple questions by the judge. It felt like we were standing up there for hours, but it was only about 15 minutes in total, and just like that the proceedings were completed. The Judge invited us to his private chambers to take our first family picture.
I am often asked why I adopted Patrick and Phillip, but not Emmitt. I figured this would be the perfect place to address this question. Patrick and Phillip both had fathers who were not in their lives. Emmitt’s dad has been around since day one. His dad, Jen, and I all have a great relationship and have been successful with co-parenting Emmitt. All of us love the fact we were able to come together and put our children first.
We started TikTok in March of 2020. I had told myself I would never download the app, but we were all stuck in the house with nothing to do. I quickly found myself spending more and more time on the app. I thought to myself, ‘If these people can do it, I can do it too!’ I started creating videos, but my account was private. I would download the videos and post them on my Facebook account. My friends and family thought they were funny, so I kept creating them on my private account for about a year.
It was my younger brother who finally convinced me to take my account off of private. I took it off of private mode in late May of 2021, and by June I had my first big video. Patrick and I had so much fun with the video, we decided to create another video. We started receiving messages from people wanting to know more about our story and wanting to see more of us. We decided to allow the world to see more of our lives and started YouTube, Instagram, and Twitch. We were even approached by Evolution apps who created an app that allows our followers to see parts of our lives we do not post on any other social media platform.
Our TikTok account is sitting at 115k followers. This past year has been an absolute blessing for my family. We have met so many people who have impacted our lives in a positive way. We have had the opportunity to talk to many people about the adoption process. If there was one thing I could share with the whole world, it is my belief that it is love what makes a family.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kayla Gingerich. You can follow her journey on Instagram, Youtube, TikTok, and Twitch. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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