As far as I know my partner and I were the first openly gay men to adopt a child in Michigan. He and I had talked about having children almost from the beginning of our relationship. We knew it was a long shot. The year was 1994 and, to the best of my knowledge, two openly gay men had never done it before.
I had explored a variety of options but nothing seemed very viable until, one day, I was having a conversation with one of my staff and she mentioned that she had worked for a child welfare program. She said that they often had difficulty in placing children who were older than the average child up for adoption. I called the agency to set up a meeting, and no sooner had I walked through the door than I realized that the woman who was interviewing me was a lesbian and very sympathetic.
During our meeting she described to me the process of adopting a child with special needs, and asked me a series of question. She clearly liked my answers. I told her I lived with my partner and she did not bat an eye. I learned later that she normally would have turned our case over to one of her caseworkers and that she had gone way out on a limb with her boss to even get her to consider us as adoptive parents.
A few weeks went by and then I got a call from the case manager who said there were two little boys who had just come into the system. She described the children as ages two and four. They had come to the attention of social services because they found out that the 4-year-old had a broken nose while he waited at a bus stop. That was when social services took them away from their mother. Though they later tried to reunite they boys with her, she decided to drop them off in front of the social services building. She told them that she would never see them again.
It was then that our case manager asked if we’d like to meet with the boys who had been placed with a foster mother. We immediately said yes and went to pick the boys up for the first time. Their foster care home was in a very poor neighborhood, and I’ll never forget going to the door and the foster mother opening it just a crack. That’s when we hit our first major bump in the road.
The minute she saw that we were two guys she became openly hostile. We learned later that she had immediately called social services, horrified that two gay men were going to adopt two little boys. Luckily, our case manager was in our corner.
It turned out that the boys were considered severely behaviorally-impaired — meaning in layman’s terms that their behavior was so extreme that they would be almost impossible to place. I thought that I could handle all the difficulties we would face trying to raise special needs children in what was often a hostile environment, but it proved even more difficult than I could even imagine.
But, difficult as it has been at times, I will never forget the first time we drove up the long, winding driveway to our house and I heard the oldest boy ask from the backseat in a very small voice, “Is this my new home, dad?” That was the first time he had called me that.
We wanted to get the adoption finalized before the holidays. As it turned out, the judge who was to approve the adoption was someone whom my partner had appeared in front of many times as an attorney — he clearly knew that we were gay. Although in Michigan there could only be a single parent adoption it was clear that we were doing it together. We were definitely in uncharted waters, and this judge was known to be especially stodgy and very conservative. Clearly, he didn’t know what to do under the circumstances. So, he called a good friend of ours who was a prominent attorney in Flint at the time and asked her whether or not we should be allowed to adopt children. She gave us a glowing recommendation, which probably turned the tide, and our case manager worked with us to expedite the adoption. After some work, we were able to get custody in time for the holidays. It was the first Christmas with with our new family.
Dr. Jacobs is a retired clinical psychologist and the former CEO of a large behavioral health organization.