How I Parent: 2 Dads Discuss Why the Key to their LGBTQ Activism is Simply Being Visible

Name: Thomas and Jonathan West
Location: Manchester, Vermont
Occupation: Papa (Thomas) is a retired military stay-at-home parent. Daddy (Jonathan) is a CTO and software developer.
Family situation: We have been together for 13 years, engaged for eight and married for six (it was not legal for us to marry in many states until 2012). We share two children, Grace and Charlotte, who are both three years old. Thomas keeps the girls busy throughout the day and Jonathan works remotely pretty frequently so he can assist when needed. We do a significant amount of travel, so the two of us are usually the sole caretakers of our girls.
Parenting “philosophy” in a sentence: Give them every opportunity to make their own decisions and be okay with making mistakes.

What was your journey to having the family life you have today?
We got married in 2012 and decided a year later that we were ready to start a family. At the time, Thomas was in the army, so it wasn’t until we arrived at our first duty station in Baltimore, Maryland (Fort Meade) when things started rolling. However, we suffered two failed adoptions before we became fathers to our two little girls.

Our first daughter Emma lived for only a few hours before she passed. It was a devastating experience and to this day, we still look back at that moment with such sadness. Our second adoption opportunity fell through when the birth mother changed her mind two weeks before giving birth. We were crushed, but the decision was hers, and hers only, so we had to respect it. After that, we reluctantly enrolled in a training program with the Baltimore City Department of Social Services to become foster parents with the hope of creating our family through foster-to-adoption. Once the program started, it became clear that we were the only same-sex couple taking the course and likely one of the few in their entire program.

After a few months, we received a call asking if we could take in a newborn. 45 minutes later, we brought our daughter Grace home for the first time. Then five weeks later, our second daughter Charlotte was born. It wasn’t our intention to adopt two babies, especially two babies who were only five-weeks apart, but that’s what happened.

On the night Charlotte was born, we were all getting settled into bed when our phone rang. We immediately recognized the number; It was the deputy director of the Baltimore City Dept. of Social Services. She said, “We have a newborn who is immediately available for adoption. Would you like to adopt her?” We both said yes before she was even able to finish asking her question. Then she asked, “Can you come to the hospital right now to meet your daughter?” It took us all but 15 minutes to get out of the house to go get our little girl.

Recently, we purchased an Airstream travel trailer so we could live out both of our dreams of traveling full-time. We can’t wait to show our girls what our country has to offer. We plan to use our “Acceptance Through Visibility” motto to lead by example so others can see that love is all you need to be a family. We plan to make stops at every U.S. military base, national park and baseball stadium throughout the country.

While we’re excited to hit the road, we’re also aware that we might have negative encounters along the way. The worst incident we’ve experienced as a family happened not too long ago when we were in Annapolis, Maryland. A middle-aged man walked up behind us and saw that both of our girls were sleeping in their stroller. He asked us, “Where’d you get her from?” referring to Charlotte, our then-3-month-old African American daughter. His prejudice was clear and the whole situation left us startled and angry. Fortunately, we’ve had many more positive and meaningful interactions with strangers during our travels, and we plan to remain visible as we make our way through the country so more people can see how beautiful LGBTQ families can be.

How did your upbringing influence your parenting style?
Both of our families are very hardworking and both are pretty male-dominated … and once we had kids, we quickly realized how male-centric everything was. Even the nursery rhymes and children’s books we had were filled with “he” pronouns, rarely “she.” If there were female characters, they were typically princesses being saved by princes and the like, so we made finding strong female role models a paramount fixture in our parenting journey. We want our girls to be strong, smart and independent, so by introducing them to aspirational women, we hope that they will grow into more confident women themselves.

What does Pride Month mean to you?
For the two of us, Pride Month is a reminder of how far we’ve come, in regards to equality, and how far we still must go. It’s a reminder of those we have lost or those who have taken their own lives because of the struggles they’ve faced as members of the LGBTQ community. Pride month is also a time that makes us feel so proud of who we are. We make an effort to be as visible as possible during Pride so others in the community can feel more comfortable with who they are. Our goal is to ensure that everyone, no matter who you are, can live out their lives unapologetically and as their authentic selves.

How has its significance grown since you became parents?
The satisfaction we get from taking our girls to a Pride event or supporting a business that celebrates diversity is overwhelming. We will always remember when we took our girls, who were barely a year old, to march in their first Pride parade in Washington, D.C. It was amazing to see all of the other families and to see the looks on the faces of older generations, who struggled and fought for us so we could legally get married and grow our own families. Now, it’s our turn as a family to help amplify positive messages to the LGBTQ community and to help those who are struggling with their identities. We will continue to put our story and ourselves out there to show others that its possible to have the life and the family you want. We also try to support LGBTQ youth, who often don’t have places to stay or people to turn to. With the help of Alternative Apparel, we’ve even opened our own online shop of LGBTQ inclusive t-shirts, sweaters and books! For us, Pride month is all about opening ourselves up to others so we can continue to move forward together in our fight for equality. It’s a special time, especially for our girls, to know that love will always conquer hate and whatever negative comments they may face along the way — life will and does get better.

What’s your favorite thing about parenting?
The growth we see from our girls is astounding and every day is a new adventure for us. We especially love when we hear and see our girls act out the lessons we’ve taught them about being an inclusive, active citizen.

What’s the hardest part?
One of the hardest parts is having our girls grow up in such uncertain times. Our current political climate and the environment have become so toxic that we hope our generation and our kids’ generation can do enough to improve the planet and society as a whole.

How do you find time for yourself and your relationship?
Finding time for us is still a challenge. Thomas is always home with the girls, so it is often difficult for him to find time to step away and take care of himself. However, as we transition to becoming a traveling family, we hope that our time spent together on the road will afford us more time to nurture our relationship. We also plan to rely on our network of family and friends to help lighten our load.

What’s the best advice you can share with new parents?
Everyone says that having kids “will change your life,” and they aren’t kidding. It’s a roller coaster, no doubt about it, but every day there are new and amazing things that far outweigh the negatives. We’re definitely looking forward to growing our family in the near future and we may even start publicly fundraising so we can have biological children of our own, with the help of a surrogate, before adopting again.

What would you want your kids to say about you as a parent?
We would want our girls to say that we did everything we could to give them the tools to inspire others and that nothing was ever out of their reach.

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