“My son and I have a special routine. We’ve been practicing since before he could speak. Sometimes, it feels so much like second nature I go through it twice. It goes like this:
Me: ‘Who do I love?’
My son: ‘Me!’
Me: ‘How much?’
My son: ‘So much!’
Me: ‘Who has my heart?’
My son: ‘I do!’
My son: ‘Makes the dream work!’
Maybe it’s slightly cheesy. Maybe, when he’s older, he won’t want to say it with me, or he will even roll his eyes as most teenagers would. But when I look at my beautiful 5 year-old son, I know he understands these words are my promise. My promise no matter what, I will always be there for him. When I was his age, I wish I could’ve heard the same.
This isn’t the first daily affirmation I’ve practiced. Before my son was born, it was just me and my husband against the world. No matter what city we were in, what jobs we had, or what challenges we faced, it was always, ‘You for me and me for you.’ In our darkest moments, those words grounded us. It was the early 2000s, and we fighting for equality and acceptance both in our personal lives and as part of our community as a whole. Unabashedly interconnected, and at times co-dependent, we were each other’s world. Although we had always wanted kids, it didn’t seem like a viable option at the time. However, after 8 years together in a rapidly-changing world, something seemed to shift. Our little private Idaho felt small. We resolved to find a way to make our dream of expanding our family into a reality.
First, we tried foster-to-adopt. By the time we finished the process, we were already moving to Los Angeles for work. We started the process over again in LA, but another challenge came about. My husband was let go at work. It felt like our world was crashing down around us. Our plan to have children began to feel like a distant fantasy.
We went back to New York, dejected and depressed. By sheer luck, my husband reconnected with an old friend. She revealed she also dreamt of having a child, but didn’t think it was in the cards for her. Suddenly, an idea was hatched. Perhaps we could all have a child together! After all, we thought, the more love a child receives, the better. I still believe it to this day.
As our plan began to materialize, I was cautiously optimistic. The process of IVF was expensive and draining, and my fears about expanding our family were becoming more prominent. Just when it looked like it wasn’t going to happen, we received incredible news. I couldn’t believe it. We were told, ‘You are going to be parents!’
The next months were a whirlwind of excitement. My son’s mother moved in with us and our little apartment became a gigantic nursery. I was full-on nesting. I’d never felt more purpose in my life.
When our son was born, the unconventional nature of our situation started to present challenges. I wasn’t allowed into the delivery room. I had to get special clearance to even be on the delivery floor with my husband and my son’s mother. I remember the nurse walking in and saying they needed info and signatures for the birth certificate and I’d have to go. I walked outside and my best friend hugged me while I cried. I’m not a crier and he isn’t a hugger. He reminded me, ‘You’ve been through much harder things in your lives and a piece of paper can’t tell you nothing about anything.’ As a gay man I can’t walk around allowing oppressive and unequal laws mostly made by cisgendered men define what or who I am. Since we legally couldn’t have more than two people on the birth certificate, we decided my husband would be listed as his father. He gave our son his name, I gave him his biology, and his mother gave him life.
That first day with him remains the most magical of my life. I sat for hours with him held against my chest, telling him, ‘I love you and I will work every day to give you the best life possible.’ My whole life, I questioned people’s sincerity when they said they loved me. Holding my newborn son, a sense of peace and understanding washed over me. I now knew love was infinite and unconditional. The uncertainty of being a new parent seemed to fall away. Nothing mattered but him.
Things didn’t go exactly as planned. While we tried tirelessly to make living together work, we were outgrowing our space and we all decided the best thing for our son was to have two loving homes.
The next two years of co-parenting weren’t without challenges, but our son had three parents who loved him and two safe and happy homes. Although we had faith someday all three of us would have legal rights as parents, in the current state of society the matter felt urgent.
Many lawyers didn’t understand our situation. Attempts to compare us to a heteronormative couple frustrated us. We weren’t ‘divorcing’ our son’s mother or each other, we simply wanted to make sure we were all legally recognized as parents. The thought of something happening to my husband and possibly losing custody of my son terrified me. Finally, I found a WONDERFUL lawyer who was an expert in family law and the growing field of LGBTQ+ marital issues. Our lawyer, Eric Wrubel, assured us he would do everything to protect our family. I cannot recommend him enough to anyone going through something similar.
The court process was long and exhausting. We had to be evaluated by a forensic psychologist who was to determine our relationship to our son. It felt absurd. Here I was, a stay-at-home Papa, completely devoted to raising my child, having to prove I had a right to do so. Luckily, it was determined all three of us played unique and important parts in our son’s life and were indispensable to him.
After the evaluation, we were named as one of the first court-ordered Tri-Custody families in the state of New York. Though the ruling didn’t erase all our challenges, I felt like I could exhale for the first time in months. I knew I was his Papa forever and always, and now the state did too.
There have been many times over the last five years I’ve been overcome with guilt and worry. Parenting with two people can be tricky, and when there are three people involved, it can feel nearly impossible. Ultimately, despite whatever missteps we’ve made, our child has always come first. I have no time to waste thinking about what could’ve been different. What’s most important is showing up for him emotionally, physically, and spiritually every day.
In our world, we try never to confuse our egos and self-interests with the needs our child. We moved from the city to the suburbs, bought a house, and joined the PTA. I changed thousands of diapers, cleaned up millions of messes, and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. I laugh thinking about how 25 year-old party animal Rocco would cringe at my world of soccer practices, ice skating lessons and bake sales. Our family, friends, and community rallied around us. Because of our dedication and their undying support, our son is now an outgoing, playful, and hugely empathetic kindergartner. He is smart, curious, and deeply connected to all his parents. His future, and ours, is bright.
While we’ve come a long way in terms of positive representations of non-normative family structures, we still have a long way to go. Living in a society which is centered around archaic gender roles and two-parent households makes even the simplest thing like a school consent form means we have to educate others about our family. Furthermore, I’ve encountered a lot of ignorance around being a stay-at-home dad, for instance, some people still think only mothers can be stay-at-home parents. I firmly believe being a parent is not determined by gender or sexual orientation. I also believe, as long as everyone is safe and loved, there is no wrong way to have a family.
A photo of my son with a shirt saying, ‘I Love My Gay Dads’ got me about 500 DMs from people telling me, ‘You’re disgusting.’ One time at a Halloween event an impatient mother yelled at me for taking too long at check out. I turned around and apologized and she told me, ‘Don’t speak to a woman that way.’ I said, ‘I’m a gay man and I’m not speaking down to you. Please don’t do this in front of your daughter.’ She replied, ‘Well don’t do this in front of your son…or whatever he is…can you even have kids?!’ At that point I just asked her for her daughter’s costume and said I would pay for it, which she ended up throwing on the ground and walking out.
Our son knows he comes from a queer family. He marches at the Pride Parade with us yearly, and he tells everyone about how special it is to have two dads. My husband and I have never felt more connected to each other and our community. Having our son has deepened our commitment to each other and has made us ten times stronger as a couple. When it gets lonely away from many of our queer friends in the suburbs, we have found a broader online fellowship through social media. Sharing our experiences has helped us feel not as alone and also reach other unique families. We are determined to be living examples of hope for those still facing oppression for daring to start a family with the person or people they love.
For now, our day to day lives are fairly simple. We get our son ready for school. We juggle taking him to skating lessons, gymnastics, soccer and other after school programs. We go to parent-teacher conferences and school performances. We disagree, we make up, and we learn from each other.
No matter what challenges we face, we honor our son. And in turn, we teach him to honor his family. His father, his mother, and his papa.”
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This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Rocco Forgione. You can follow his family’s journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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