'Love always wins': Gay fathers discuss joys and challenges of parenting in modern America
This year, Father’s Day will be particularly poignant for Rob Lyons and Carl Tanis.
The Bergen County, New Jersey, couple have been together for 16 years, and married for nine. Sunday, June 19, marks their first Father’s Day as dads after years of hopes and dreams.
“We always knew [from] when we started dating and becoming more serious that family was important to us,” said Lyons, 43. “It was always part of our long-term plan.”
But for the couple, who were together before marriage equality became the law of the land nationwide in 2015, parenthood wasn’t always a sure thing.
“The prospect of being a father, even in my early 20s, felt like it was something that might not ever be achievable," said Tanis, now 40.
Lyons' and Tanis' son, Griffin, was born last August. He is among the 2 million to 3.7 million American children with an LGBTQ+ parent, and one of the approximately 191,000 children being raised by same-sex parents, according to data from Family Equality, a nonprofit organization that advocates for LGBTQ families. The group's 2019 Family Building Report found that 64% of LGBTQ+ millennials, approximately 4 million people, were planning to expand their families.
Yet there are potential hurdles on the horizon. The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear arguments later this year on whether business can refuse to serve LGBTQ people, and advocates fear that turning back Roe v. Wade could threaten the future of marriage equality.
But with Father's Day on Sunday, Lyons reflected on his and Tanis' freedom to have a family of their own.
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“Father’s Day means so much more as a gay father, because I think there’s something very powerful in being able to say that I am part of a same-sex couple that’s able to say I am a father,” Lyons said. “So to say that we’re living in a community that allows us to do this, that allows us to adopt a child, is really powerful.”
'Particularly subject to hostility'
Now 65, Geoff Rosenberger can sum up a few decades of his personal life pretty succinctly: “I was single in my 20s, married in my 30s and divorced in my 40s.”
Rosenberger, a Margate native who works in real estate development and lives in Atlantic City, came out when his children — Gerard, 31, and Annie, 28 — were teenagers.
His son, Rosenberger said, “didn’t have trouble accepting his gay father, with the love that he had for his father. He had trouble accepting any teasing that might come from his friends because of his gay father. Remember, I was married until I was 40 years old. I had heard an awful lot of gay jokes and stories and insults through the years when I was in the closet.”
Rosenberger, now working to bring a gay resort to Atlantic City, is unafraid to stand up for himself and his community.
“Being 65 and being a little more forward, when someone’s picking on anyone I’ll walk up to them,” he said. “Two times in my life I picked a fight, and that’s because they were picking on someone. I’m not a fighter, but the gay community is particularly subject to hostility within the world.”
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Chris Schwam and Steven Piacquadio left Philadelphia for New Jersey more than 20 years ago specifically to raise a family together.
“After many, many years together, we decided we wanted to have kids,” said Schwam, 56. “And New Jersey at the time had better adoption laws than Pennsylvania for gay couples, and so we moved to Jersey specifically to be parents.”
Schwam and Piacquadio had their son, Nicolas, via surrogate 18 years ago, and adopted their daughter, Alexa, 12 years ago.
The family is happy to be at home in New Jersey — where marriage equality became legal in 2013 (and was codified into state law this January).
“Collingswood’s just been very open to gay people, gay families," said Piacquadio, 59. "That’s one of the reasons why I think our experience has been so wonderful.”
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Before marking their 35th anniversary together in July, Schwam said he appreciates how far society has come.
“What a difference it was when we had our daughter versus when we had our son [six years earlier],” he said. “Not that it was nerve-wracking, but I remember leading up to his birth that we were told he had to physically born in New Jersey and all these things that ... [we] had a lot of angst about. By the time we had our daughter, it was not like that at all. I know we’re just average dads. We’re just two dads, period.”
'Living on an edge'
More American adults identify as LGBTQ than ever before — 7.1%, according to a Gallup poll released in February, double the percentage from when Gallup first started measuring identity a decade ago.
But anti-LGBTQ action is being taken in statehouses and courtrooms across the country, from legislation targeting transgender people to Florida's "Don't Say Gay" law limiting in-school discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity.
This fall, the United States Supreme Court, seven years after legalizing marriage equality, will hear arguments on whether businesses may refuse to sell goods and services to LGBTQ people based on religious objections.
After May's leak of a draft opinion that would overturn the landmark abortion rights case Roe v. Wade, some advocates worry that marriage equality and consensual sexual activity may soon be in jeopardy.
“The world is living on an edge," said Edward Van Saders, a 48-year-old father of three in Sparkill, New York. "It always has, though, [and] it still doesn’t change the fact that we live in the most privileged time in all of human history, full stop."
Van Saders, 48, and his husband, Paul Shusterman, 50, have been together since 1999 and have seen plenty of progress happen over the decades. They have been domestic partners, joined in a civil union, and then were legally married.
Their three 11-year-old daughters — Vivian, Aria and Sidney — were born in India to two surrogate mothers using one egg donor, meaning the girls share a biological mother. Van Saders is the biological father of two of them, Shusterman the biological father of the third.
“We have triplets of a very modern nature,” said Van Saders, who was born in Sayreville, New Jersey.
The family is all too aware of the concerns of the modern world, as the girls adjust to life with masks off more than two years after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, and attend school in the wake of recent mass shootings, including the May 24 killings in Uvalde, Texas.
“We know people who know people, the six degrees of separation," Van Saders said, explaining that friends of friends of theirs lost a child in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
"It’s not an ephemeral thing that just happens on the news. It is real. It is out there. It is scary," he said. "And you think about the upcoming ruling on the abortion case and what that might mean for the rights that LGBT families have fought for over my lifetime — are those things all at risk? Yep, they absolutely are. But it really doesn’t change my outlook of 'Lead with hope and ultimately love always wins, eventually.' ”
'We really wanted to start a family'
Jesse and Alberto Glazier have been foster parents for a little over a year. They’re not technically fathers on paper, but the Erie, Pennsylvania, couple said they definitely classify themselves as dads.
“After we got married we really wanted to start a family, but we weren’t sure if we wanted to be parents,” said Alberto, 25. “So we thought fostering would be a great step to see if we could handle it.”
In 2021, they started fostering a 10-year-old boy.
“Honestly, in foster care, most people go for younger kids, so it’s nice for us as a home to be open to older kids, because sometimes those kids don’t always get a chance,” Alberto said.
When their foster son first met them, he had a lot of questions about their relationship.
“He looked at us and said, ‘Are you guys brothers?’ We went, ‘No,’ " Alberto said. "Then he asked, ‘Are you guys roommates?’ And we told him no. He got over it very quickly, but he’s not the first kid we’ve encountered where it’s like, 'How does this work?' ”
But luckily for the couple, encounters like that are few and far between, Jesse said.
“I think that there’s definitely still a lot of people who don’t understand or are willing to understand that same-sex couples are OK and it’s normal,” Jesse said. “But we don’t personally notice it, because I think we surround ourselves with enough people who are like-minded.”
While the pair said it’s been a tough year raising their foster son, it’s also been one of the best of their lives.
Jesse and Alberto Glazier don’t know if their foster son will stay with them, but the impact they’ve made on his life is why they’re proud to be fathers.
“That’s what being a father is,” Alberto said. “It’s doing your part in our society to mold our future, whether it’s for a year or it’s for the rest of your life. That is why we want to celebrate.”
Alex Biese has been writing about art, entertainment, culture and news on a local and national level for more than 15 years.
Baylee DeMuth can be reached at 814-450-3425 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @BayleeDeMuth.
This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Gay dads on joys and challenges of parenting in modern America