Two Dads, one very opinionated son.

Our Foster story, the journey from strangers to family.


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Future, Fears and Finding your feet

We always thought it was supposed to get easier when they turned eighteen. There was never an assumption that was when the job was done. Raising children is something we all know we’re committed to for life, so we always knew it would be a long journey. This milestone was just supposed to see things become a little easier, in some ways it is, in many ways it’s not. 

Nine years is along time by any stretch of the imagination. Many things can happen in that time. For him he’s gone from an energetic nine year old to a sullen teenager, lost in the void of technology and quite often seeming so lost from us. Disconnected from the rest of the world we stress and we wonder if he’ll be ok. Is he prepared for the real world? Is the real world prepared for him? Other days it’s like that nine year old never left and he bounces through the house full of unstoppable energy, blasting his music and singing, badly.

For a child in care it’s often a terrifying age, many children in care are simply asked to move on at 18 allowing for new children to take their place. It’s a sad reality, but one we’ve been shocked to see for the last two years. Regularly the foster agency and the department have gone to great lengths to engage him in “transition from care” programs that are designed to address that many of these young people will essentially be left to fend for themselves at this age. This includes information sessions on housing, Centrelink, basic living skills and access to post care government support, it’s great that these services are there, but terrible that these young people are left in that position so often. We’ve shielded him from these making sure he knew he will always be our family, ensuring he knew everything would be ok and we will support him and provide him with what he needs to know. But more than that there is the angst that bubbles beneath the surface, the fears of the future, what does real independence look like? Will he find the answers he seeks?

With the removal of departmental barriers access to family becomes his responsibility and with that comes a fear or rejection that seems to stifle him. In turn, coming of age means access to his departmental file, something he desperately hopes will give him more details of his history, to fill the gaps in his memory and help answer where he came from. While we try to prepare him for the disappointment, we know it will hit heavy when that document can’t provide what he needs. Collectively we hold our breath and wait.

Life is still a battle, but the battleground is changing. 

However it is not without its successes, there have been many milestones to celebrate that many never expected him to see. Driving his own car is a freedom he loves, only taking 3 attempts, he passed his test and has access to his own car. Looking on filled with hope and terror the first time he drove out of the driveway on his own we could only think back to the fear that must have gripped our own parents years ago. That question again, will he be ok?

Life’s biggest achievements for him have come with education, reaching milestones that put him in the smallest of minorities. As we discussed with a recent community visitor shortly before he came of age, the rates of children in care who graduate high school are incredibly low. Such a rarity is it, that an event like a graduation for a child in care warrants its own celebration, to go on and study at university as well is almost unheard of. Again, he is breaking the mould.

Thanks to a remarkable high school he reached graduation in one piece. Graduating with a Diploma in Business and achieving an OP exit equivalent of 8 (That’s 5 higher than me). You couldn’t wipe the smile off his face that graduation day, nor ours. Clouds parted and everything looked more hopeful once again. It was early one morning a month or so later he walked into the living room and just looked at us blankly. 

“I just got a text, I got in.”

First round offers for university had been distributed, he’d received an offer for his first preference. Shock, awe, fear and happiness washed over him in equal measure, the future suddenly looked different again, but brighter. 

Will he ever be prepared for what the future brings? Probably not. 

Are any of us ever prepared properly? Probably not.

Now it’s time for us to be proud, let him take the reigns and watch him shine.


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Pride

Sometimes you can choose to take a hiatus from the hustle and bustle of life, but sometimes life can also choose to put you on a hiatus and you’re left looking at your life from a distance, evaluating everything you thought you knew.

It’s a struggle to get perspective, looking back on how far you’ve come and feeling like the end game is further away than it’s ever been whilst contemplating if there is ever to be an end game is the hardest thing.

Life changes and throws you curve balls again and again, but it is tenacity and love that gets you through and our little family has that in abundance.

He stands at 6 feet, 2 inches, eyes dark and brooding, his unruly curly hair poking out from underneath his backwards turned cap, he smiles shyly at compliments as his eyes light up with pride like clouds parting from across the sun. It’s been a few weeks, I remind him he needs to shave again, he scowls.

Although he’s only an inch taller than us both, it begins to feel like he towers over us now. He’s tall and goofy, still a bubbling bundle of energy that seems to have an endless power source as he powers ahead through life. Despite his energy he grunts and drags himself around the house at the best of times, sometimes forcing a “good morning” or a “hello” out of him is more of a struggle than it used to be to get him to take a shower of a morning. But underneath this sullen facade is a tenacious young man who’s proven his resilience against life is stronger than that of anyone three or four times his age. He is truly unstoppable.

Teenage years are hard, that’s generally a given but for him it seems as though they have been compounded, forced him to grow up quicker than his brain may have been ready for and made him learn life lessons about fearlessness, forgiveness and perseverance that take grown adults years to conquer.

We’ve survived four years of high school so far, with two left to go. Four years and five schools is not an easy road to travel, it’s creates more baggage than someone his age should have to shoulder but perhaps it was a journey he needed to take to help him discover a sense of self, independence and identity. He’s discovered the cruelty of other children that struggle to understand the new kid who’s wired a little differently but also the struggle of an education system bursting at the seems with kids needing assistance and finding their time for a kid who just doesn’t quite get it isn’t as high as it should be. Ducking and weaving through schools and the nightmares of social stigma and academic struggle has been hard, but he’s continually overcome and through it all he’s discovered so much of the good in this world. The friendships that last beyond schools, the teachers who truly do care and inject a sense of self belief and the love of a family so large and unconditional it takes my breath away.

After four years, he may have finally settled, just a little.

School resumes soon, but with a different twist. This year, he’ll enter this senior years as a school leader, a mentor to the year seven students. It’s the tiniest journey that he’s pushed himself through so ferociously, fighting his own demons of self doubt, learning self control, empathy and understanding. To be recognised, trusted and given the opportunity to prove himself like this at school is a first and although he’s buried his pride about it as deeply as possible, for fear of letting out his real emotions, he’s proud, so damn proud of himself and he should be. Not only does he start the year afresh, he enters senior school having finally passed every single subject and having no suspensions for an entire term. An achievement we all quietly cheer for, he shares the pride of those around him, but would prefer to play minecraft than talk about it. He’s been tutored by some amazing, caring and talented people who he sadly left behind before moving schools, they set him up with not only the foundations of the skills he needed, but the confidence to try, to have achieved without them was even more rewarding.

Friendships have grown and in turn has his confidence. Spending his 16th birthday at dreamworld with four very different friends was an exceptional validation for his self esteem and an amazing testament to his growth as a young man. The experience of friendship as a permanency and not a fleeting idea or moment has shattered a wall of isolation he built around himself for so long and has seen him realise his worth as a person to other people is far more than he imagined.

Independence is his latest badge of honour for the new year, over the holidays securing not one, but two jobs at local restaurants waiting tables and washing dishes. Despite his protestations at the thought of working in a kitchen again the pay cheque at the end of the week turned his objections around. He has independence and money to finance his new addiction, his phone. A shiny 2nd hand IPhone 5c has become his latest toy, over taking his life as he discovers the relentless joy of having music plugged into his brain on a constant cycle. Whilst it’s a draining addiction it also gives him his own little ways of communicating since he seems incapable of words.

From the depths of the dungeon that is his bedroom there is silence, except for the faint screech of his headphones as they blare at full volume, from the verandah where I sit drinking my coffee in my own solitude my phone buzzes.

“I love you dad”

He may not be perfect, he may not be “there” (wherever “there” is) but for the first time, in maybe a long time, he is happy and safe again.


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Lights, Camera, Drag?

In 2013 I was granted a fantastic opportunity, our local community television station was creating an GLBTIQ talk show, QTV Brisbane, I was selected as one of the hosts. The program was a great experiment for our community and a really fantastic opportunity to do something fun and entertaining. I got the opportunity to work with an amazing team of people to put the program together and they were incredibly understanding when I asked if it would be ok for Flash to come along to some of the filming. Thinking this would be a great time for him to get to see something really cool and interesting they graciously allowed him to attend and watch, providing he was on his best behaviour.

Having just started high school he was becoming a typical teenage boy, into everything and with an ever growing opinion about how he was always right. Naturally however he thought the idea of coming to see the show being filmed was “really cool.” After we’d recorded a few episodes and were into the swing of things I bundled him into the car with me to head to the studio.

Perhaps I’d oversold the idea a little bit, he’d probably gone into the experience thinking there would be bright lights, bustling film crews and a whole lot of “Lights, Camera, Action!” When we arrived to the small studios with a cast and crew of less than ten tucked into a small community TV station you could read the bemused disappointment on his fact that said “This is it?” We weren’t exactly on a high end budget, but we had a tight schedule and lots of work to get to, tonights topic: Drag Queens.

We’d had a chat in the car on the way about what the show would be about tonight and what a drag queen was, he didn’t find it that hard to understand.
“So it’s a boy?”
“Yes”
“And he’s dressed like a girl?”
“Yup”
“Can’t people tell?”
“Well, not always, but it’s more about creating a character.”
“Like an actor?”
“That’s right.”
“Cool”

Later we were sitting in the production meeting discussing notes for the show as he looked around earnestly, bored really, looking for something to do. After a knock on the door in walked Melody, with heels and hair she towered at about 7 foot tall as she strode in.
He eyed her up and down with a kind of wide eyed wonder as she did her introductions with everyone, striking up conversation as we prepared for the show. He looked at me sideways,

“Would you like to go and say hi?”
“Sure!”

He trotted on over with me and exchanged introductions, he warmed up pretty quickly.
“Would you like a photo with Melody?”
“Yes please!”
“Want me to pick you up?” She asked
“Sure!”
With that she swung down and picked him up in both arms holding him like a baby as he grinned from ear to ear. Laughing he turned to her,
“You know I know you’re just a boy in a dress right?”
I almost choked on my coffee but she laughed it off as she put the cheeky bugger down and he trotted off to find something else to do.

As we got ready for the nights show our producer Steve and I sat down with him to give him the run down on how to behave for the night. Covered in tattoos, piercings and facial hair Steve was a formidable straight main with an unshakeable passion for supporting our community. He took Flash under his wing but put him in his place pretty firmly as he showed him around the studio.

Once the camera’s finished rolling I looked around as Flash walked back into the room.
“Everything ok sweetheart? Did you like the show?”
“Yeah… it was ok, pretty cool…”
Casually evasive, he was up to something, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

We all worked to pack down the set, gather our things and head back to the production room for a debrief. As we became enthralled in the conversations around the episode and plans for next week, his little eyes began to flutter as he grew tired. Suddenly there was a knock on the door, a uniformed police officer stepped through revealing several officers behind him.

“Is everyone ok in here?”
“Yes, we’re all fine mate, is there something we can help with” replied Steve
“Well… we received a call for help from this building, we’ve been through the place and you’re the only ones here.”
“A call for help?”
“Someone dialled 000, said ‘help me’ and hung up”

Every set of eyes turned in unison towards a certain someone suddenly very awake in his chair looking around the room in wonder as to who this mystery caller might be.
Steve looked at him, then at me.
“Maybe we should step out for a moment?”

I followed him out with the officers into the hall shaking my head in exasperation.
“I’m so sorry, we all know who this was.”
The boys in blue weren’t impressed, Steve was not impressed, I was not impressed.
Flash, was packing it.
“I didn’t do it!”
Which was his code for “I definitely did it. Please don’t arrest me.”

Thankfully the police were gracious in their departure and saved him from a drilling,  passing it on to me instead. However he wasn’t saved the wrath of Steve who was chilling and calm in expressing his disappointment but graciously allowing him to return again, providing he was kept under observation at all times.

One would think it was a lesson learnt, but who are you kidding? He’s a teenage boy, this was our snapshot of the future ahead of poor decision making, stupid pranks and an absence of logic and forethought that only teenage boys can truly possess.

View the complete episode here


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The Next Chapter

The saying “time flies” seems like such a cliche, something your mother always says that makes you roll your eyes a little.

Fast forward and I wake up a few weeks ago to realise it’s been 5 years. Yes, a whole 5 years since our lives were changed forever.

The most fascinating change in 5 years in the difference in perception, where before he was just complex, now he’s a teenager.

“Oh how is Flash going? He must be getting so big now?!”
“He’s a monster who eats everything in sight, won’t stop growing, slams doors and refuses to talk to me when I ask basic questions like ‘how was your day?'”
“So… he’s a teenager?”
“Exactly”

Five years is a short time or a long time, depending how you look at it.
Just 5 short years or half a decade, but a lot can change.

From the stability of primary school he launched into high school, three new schools in just two years, moving house and the constant upheaval of our lives has put a test to our determination, our willpower and our strength, but ultimately as they say, love prevails.

It’s been a testing time to say the least and for the most part it’s the trials and tribulations of life as a teenager on a journey that’s new and unexpected for us all. We’ve watched him grow and develop, change, mature to become a resilient young man with more attitude and sass than we were ever quite prepared for.

When I say sass, I mean this boy is going to outdo us one day and rule the world.

We’re sitting on the verandah and a baby next door starts crying.
“Dad, they should have a mute button on babies”
“Yeah, one for teenagers too”
“Yeah or one for fat hairy old gay men too.”

*Mic Drop*

Yeah, he’s good, we’ll give him that.

He’s growing, he’s becoming an adult, but not quite there yet. His struggles at school and at home have been more than we could have ever expected. The highs have been high and the lows have been so very very low. But that’s what this has been, the next chapter. He’s graduated from the life he had to a time of friendship and development for himself and us as a family. More than anything we’ve opened and closed a chapter that is so intricate I may never find the words to show, but I’ll try.

So that is where I shall take you from here, to the next chapter.

Yes, I know these last few years the writing has been few and far between and the production of the original book has been so far delayed it’s hard to think it will ever eventuate, but it’s almost done!

So stay tuned, for the next chapter….

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A Point Of Difference

A week ago he walked out of his room, his wide brimmed school hat perched on his head with his curly untameable fringe sticking out over his eyes. His socks were pulled up to his knees awkwardly and his shirt was roughly tucked into his pants, his belt on too tight and his pants pulled too high, I gazed at him and smiled.
“What?” He laughed as he looked down.
“I just can’t believe it” I said
“What? Dad?”
“I can’t believe you’re actually in year 8, already!” I began to tear up a little.
“Daaaad” he sighed, do you HAVE to keep saying it?
“Do you HAVE to keep getting so big?
“Daddy! Can you make him stop, please. He’s embarrassing!”
It’s a good thing I didn’t get to take him to school, although it was the same school as last year and the same uniform I would have made him stop for several hundred photographs before he got to the classroom. It was just under 4 years ago when we first got to drop him to a year 4 classroom, but watching him prepare for his first full year as a high school student was over whelming.

Only a year ago he began at his new school, a huge change that we had instigated in an effort to get him ready for the challenges of high school. His new school was offering a middle school transition year to help students moving from primary into high school, we had bravely taken the plunge and were terrified. Where we felt terror he felt anxious, a lifetime at the one school whilst fraught with good and many bad experiences had created a sense of comfort, short of moving in with us this was to be the biggest change of his life. In a way it was a severance of the final ties that bound him to his old life, a chance to really start fresh and create a new beginning, which was a thought that played on his mind.

A few days before his first day we were making dinner in the kitchen as he entertained himself in the living room. He was rattling off a million questions about what to expect and we were answering what we could until something we said threw him.
“We can’t wait to take you in for your first day tomorrow, we’re so excited and proud of you!”
He went silent.
A moment later his face appeared around the doorway into the kitchen, he looked at us quizzically.
“Are you BOTH taking me to school tomorrow?” he queried cautiously.
“Well, yes. Of course we are, why wouldn’t we be?”
“Oh… well, I thought it would just be one of you…” he cast his eyes downwards.
“Is that going to be a problem” I queried?
His eyes remained on the floor.
“Well… no…. I guess…” He walked away slowly into the living room again and was quiet.

We turned and looked at each other. It was one of those moments where we didn’t really need words, we’d both reached the same conclusion.

He didn’t want to be the kid who turned up to school with two dads.

Somewhere in our minds we’d prepared for this day.
We knew that at some point there would come a day he may become embarrassed by us or be worried about what people may think of us but we were not prepared for it now. He had never been shameful about us before, we’d watched him meet new kids before and do the explanation;
“That’s my dad and that’s my other dad” never with an air of shame, always with pride or simple nonchalance.

Perhaps that was the sting, the turn around in attitude from what was to what is in a heartbeat, it made my head spin and my heart ache.

We sat down over dinner a while later, he picked at his food with his eyes downcast, not saying much.
“Mate, do you want to tell us why you don’t want us both there tomorrow?”
He sighed without looking up
“No….”
“Mate, you need to be honest, you won’t be in trouble but we need to talk about it”
He sighed, again, but his fork down and looked up with tears in his eyes and gave the most unexpected answer.
“It’s just… if I turn up to school and everyone sees me with two dads… well… they’re going to know I’m adopted… and they’ll think I’m weird.”
A wave of relief washed over me and I almost had to stop from smiling.
He had definitely been worried about being seen to be different but not for fear of the judgement about having two dads, but for fear of being identified as a child of the foster care system.

His innocence was astounding, where we thought him to be so quick to fear judgement about our lives he had not seen it as a point of difference for judgement but merely an indicator that would give away his own past.

We hugged him tight that night to reassure him that everything would be alright, we could sense the relief that he had got his worries off his chest. A big new chapter lay ahead, with no idea how to navigate it and us as his only guides, it was definitely going to be bumpy ride.


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Words on a page, moving to the stage.

Life is hurtling forwards for us, as per usual, we’re reaching the end of another year and we’re just racing to keep up.
It’s been eventful, dramatic, moving, exhausting and fabulous, I’ve simply lost the time to write about it at all of late.

I have however been offered the opportunity with the Brisbane Powerhouse and the MELT festival in 2015 to present our story, live on stage. It’s an interesting opportunity, I’m not a comedian, but when I saw the opportunity I simply thought that there is so much to our story to tell, only so much can be brought to life using words on a page, what better medium than to speak them?

So on February 12th at 6pm I will take to the stage on my own, Flash isn’t allowed to join us and my darling husband is more terrified of microphones than he is of snakes and spiders. So it will be just me presenting our story, warts and all, in a room full (hopefully) of people to give just that bit more of an insight into what it’s like in the world of Two Dads & Me.

To make it all happen of course we need the love and support of our Brisbane audience, tickets are available for purchase online and are now starting to sell, I would really love to see a full house and really kick this show off with a bang!

Tickets can be purchased here
http://brisbanepowerhouse.org/events/2015/02/12/two-dads-and-me/

You can also spread the word, spread the love and register your attendance via the Facebook event here.
Even better you can use the event to invite your friends and spread the word.
We are just a little show, with a little budget, tickets are going to sell on word of mouth more than anything (They’re only $25 too!)
https://www.facebook.com/events/1575423732691546/
Copies of our book will also be available on the night too (finally!).

We look forward to seeing you all there and thank you again for your continued support

MJ, Ant & Flash
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Onwards and Upwards

2014 has been creeping along at a slow and steady pace with so much happening I can barely keep up. I’ve slowly been working on the draft for the book so we can get it out, which has delayed new content for the blog, oh no!
But in the meantime I have been doing some writing in other places.
Most recently I’ve been invited to become a blogger with http://www.gayswithkids.com a great parenting site that I discovered that is filled with blogs by Two dad families as well, there are some truly beautiful stories there, so please head on over to check them out.
Recently I also submitted a piece with the Star Observer, as it was a first time piece for the Star it recaps some of our story that we’ve already covered so far, but also contains some little extras, I’ve included it below.

Don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for the release of our book, which will be able to be purchased online around the world!

http://www.starobserver.com.au/opinion/soapbox-opinion/at-25-i-went-from-party-town-to-dad-town/121126

IT’S funny how life can change.

Three years ago at 25, life was racing along at a pace I could barely keep up with. I was working 70-hour weeks and powering through a seemingly unstoppable social life. It was busy, it was hectic, it was great — but there was always that lingering knowledge something more was about to come.

 As I write this, it’s a Friday afternoon at around 3.30pm. After a day of working through a pile of work strewn around my office at home, I hear the car door close and the slow and steady footsteps of my husband ascending the stairs, followed very closely by a very quick and excited set of footsteps behind him.

The front door creaks open. “We’re home” he calls out.

The excited footsteps continue through the house, and the cheeky smile of my 12-year-old son emerges around the doorway of my office: “Dad, I’ve got a surprise for you!”

He drops his school bag on the floor and starts rummaging through it. “Don’t look!” he says.

He searches some more and comes up with his treasured possession: a wooden shield, with the crest in the centre comprising of a small copper press image of a pokeball. He hands it to me, glowing with pride.

“I made it for you! Do you like it?” he asks.

There’s no questioning it. I love it.

He then trotts about the house to set himself up for his afternoon routine, preparing to get to work on his tutoring before we have Friday night take out and a movie night at home. It’s part of his routine. A routine that gives him stability, love and support — and gives us a sense of family.

How this all came to be is not a story you would usually expect. Most stories about gay families usually revolve around IVF treatments, surrogates, overseas trips and adoptions. Foster care is not an option many people consider when they think of same-sex parent families. The system is littered with horror stories, inaccuracies and assumptions. However, for us it has lead to a life of love and hope that we could never have expected.

In Queensland, our laws are slightly different to other states and for the most part couples I’ve spoken to have always told me that because they know it’s illegal for same-sex couples to adopt here, they had assumed fostering held the same restrictions.

While legally there are no restrictions, the differences in processes and intentions are what separate fostering from anything else. You don’t come into fostering with the intention of settling down and creating your own family so to speak, but it’s a system you enter because you’re prepared to do something for someone else. It’s a system that can be arduous and bogged down in paperwork and departmental mechanics, but it’s an experience you will never regret.

Our situation is rather unique. We didn’t know that we would end up with a child who would be with us for the rest of his childhood.

About 30 per cent of children in foster care never return home, with the other 70 per cent part of a reunification process.

Our son’s history is long and unpleasant, but his resilience and tenacity is astounding and his mind is sharp, remembering and questioning everything as only a child can and testing the boundaries around him to the best of his ability.

He took every opportunity to test these limits when he first moved in. Mornings turned into dramatic scenes like something from a movie. Asking him to brush his teeth meant that he would run away down the street, half undressed and screaming. Introducing consequences and boundaries within the house saw kicking and screaming, holes appearing in walls. There was also a day he decided to try and jump from his two-storey high bedroom window.

But we persevered.

When he came to us, he had lived in a residential care house, a small three-bedroom house where he lived alone, with no other children and only a handful of youth workers who would work shifts that started and finished at 2pm before the next would take over to care of him.

When we visited the house in the early days, it was one of the saddest places I’d ever visited.

Now, we have bought a house that we all call our own, complete with a sandpit and a large drooling canine. It’s not only our home, but the first home he has ever known.

He has his “dad” and “daddy” and for the first time in his life has come to know what it is to be loved. Through all the ups and the downs we’ve continued to love and support him and the terrible behaviour began to desist.

His life has changed and so has ours. The three of us have come together to create a family, in what was perhaps the least-expected manner. It’s been a long hard road, but worth every step.

So next time you consider your options for your future, have a think, is fostering something you could consider?


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Won’t somebody think of the children?

I think one of the most hilarious questions we get is “How does he deal with having two [gay] dads?”, which can usually spin in to general conversation about how he goes with other kids at school dealing with it, general public, personal acceptance and so on and so forth.

Quite often I think it’s really easy for us all to forget, children don’t care about these things.

Recently I was at Flash’s sports day to see him compete, two young boys walked up beside me.
“Excuse me, are you his dad?”
“Yes”
“Cool…. Where’s his mum?”
“She’s not here.”
“Oh, is she like, at work?”
“I’m not sure, she doesn’t live with us”
“Oh, so is it just you and him?”
“No, it’s him and I and his other Dad”
“Oh, so he had two dads?”
“Yup”
“Cool, so did you like, adopt him?”
“Ummm, kind of.”
“Oh, Cool! See ya!”

I mean seriously we have no concept of exactly how important it is that there is an appropriate amount of time allocated to the afternoon to play lego, bounce on the trampoline, pat the dog, beg for computer time, read a book and maybe watching some TV. Like that is some serious stuff in the world of a kid and we want to consider if they’re bothered by who is loving who?

It was always going to be interesting as we progressed forwards on this journey and became friends with more and more people who had children that the concept of “Two Dads” would become more fluid, but we were always a little trepidatious to begin with. There’s the fear that someone may think you’re attempting to “educate” their children when it’s not your place or simply finding yourself in an awkward encounter with unpleasant parents, but overall it’s been much smoother than we ever expected. The new parental friends we’ve all made have been nothing short of amazing, from “Mum & Dad” parents, to “Two Mums” and even our amazing friends who are “Mum and “(Trans)Mum” the support, guidance, love and acceptance that these people give to their children is what is helping us to raise a generation of amazing people who accept and love without prejudice and it’s these teachings, coupled with the beauty and innocence of young minds that makes life that much easier for us.

Acceptance for Flash was instantaneous, he sees no issue with it, he simply thinks it’s great that he gets two dads and his issues with other kids in the playground has only ever happened once.

I got the call to collect him from after school care one afternoon, he was having a meltdown.
When I arrived I queried what had happened
“He got up and told everyone to ‘get fucked’ and ran out of the room and down to the oval”
“Interesting… have you asked him why yet?”
“Well… no, he’s just waiting in my office”
Brushing aside my annoyance at him failing to actually investigate the issue, noting he was now calm and collected we headed off home, he was silent in the car ride home, we got home, showered and sat down for dinner.
Across the dinner table I asked him what had actually happened.
His eyes were downcast and he didn’t want to tell me.
“It’s ok” I said,
“You’re not in trouble, I just need to know”.
“Well” he said, “I was sitting with this kid and he was talking about his mum and dad and I said ‘You’re really lucky you get to live with your mum AND dad, I don’t, I just have my two dads’ and he said to me ‘Well, they’re really gay then aren’t they.’ and I got really mad and upset because he was being nasty about you and daddy and I didn’t like it, so I yelled at him and I ran away”.
Well, that certainly was an interesting story to take in.
“Why did you get upset? He wasn’t saying anything mean about us?”
“But… I thought he was?”
“No honey, he’s right” I said “Do you remember when we first talked about Daddy and I, ‘Gay’ IS a word to describe two men or two ladies in love, it’s not a bad thing at all. I know sometimes you might hear kids use it as a word to describe things they don’t like, but when they’re talking about Daddy and I, it’s right and it’s nothing to be upset about”.
You could see the relief wash over him and a smile lit up his little face.
The issue hadn’t been about our sexuality, the issue had been about someone being nasty about his dads. It had been that long since we’d talked about the word “Gay” that it was still registering as a negative word in his head. He’d simply heard someone speaking ill of us and was upset, he didn’t know how to control it, so he lashed out and ran off.
We told him if anyone ever said it in the future again to say “Yes, they are!” and to be proud of it because there’s nothing to be ashamed of and he has been ever since, he has proudly acknowledged us as “gay” many times and today that it occurred again, in the most interesting of places.

For paid work at the moment I do a variety of things, freelancing and community work if you will, one of those things is supply teaching, I end up in different schools doing different things. I’m never one to be coy about my sexuality, in any school I’m very open with my co-workers, even when I work in Catholic schools, I’ve even worked in a Catholic high school where all the students found out, it’s never been a huge drama. Lately I’ve been doing more work than usual in primary schools, a recent contract has had me working in learning support for a primary school with some very lovely young people each day.

The thing about primary school children is that they want to know EVERYTHING about you, where you live, what car you drive, do you have pets, where you went to school and what colour socks you’re wearing? As a teacher in any school we’re always taught to draw those lines in the sand regarding allowing students in to our “personal lives” as such, that and if we answered every question they ever asked we’d simply go mad. The lines are pretty easy to draw around what is appropriate for me but one of the things that I chose not to deal with is the issue of sexuality. It’s certainly not about shame, but moreso, life is so much easier if we put that to the wayside, the logistics of having to tell a classroom full of 8 year olds that you’re married to a man and you have a child together is enough to do anyone’s head in, so it’s best just to keep that to the side. However, along came Flash.

I have a particular student who loves to pry, he’s from my learning support unit and he’s adorable but he wants to know everything, in the nicest way possible.
Now unfortunately Flash was home from school for the day and owing to conflicting schedules Daddy had to work in the afternoon and leave while Dad was still teaching, I had clearance to leave for the afternoon so Flash was getting dropped off at school and I was taking him back home for the rest of the day.

The car pulled up near my building, I walked down and we had a chat as Flash leapt from the car to say hello.
Sure enough my little inquisitor rocked up to say hello as well, full of questions again.
As we went to walk upstairs he was walking behind us chatting
“So where’s you’re girlfriend?”
“Sorry mate I don’t have one”
“But don’t you have a fiance? You’ve got an engagement ring”
I’ll chat to you about it later mate” I said
Flash rolled his eyes
“You just met his fiance”
“What?”
At this point Flash must have thought the boy was an idiot, clearly he had the impression that surely this boy should have known, so he simply turned around and politely said
“Don’t you know, he’s GAY”

What followed from there was nothing short of beautiful, to me anyway.
The kid just let out a long “ooooooooooh” as we continued to walk, we reached the stairs and I turned to speak to him
Mate, there’s nothing wrong with what he just said, but I’d just like you to understand that that’s personal information and it’s a conversation that’s happened just between the 3 of us.”
“Oh no, it’s ok sir, my mum’s got a couple of lesbian friends, I’ve been around it heaps before, you’re cool sir.”
He smiled at me and reached out to shake my hand
“Besides sir, you’re my mate, It’s cool”
It was just so genuine and real, it was very adorable.
We got upstairs and he followed us in, as we packed our things down and went to leave he went to shake my hand again and looked me in the eyes,
“You’re ok mate, I love you mate.”

It took me by surprise, but certainly made my smile, I could write a lot to describe why this boy felt it the need to say it, but funnily I think it partly tied in with his religious upbringing, the great relationships he has with his regular teachers and obviously the great exposure he has previously had in life around “gay” people that was able to speak like that, it floored me, but couldn’t stop me smiling all day.

But I think today I’m really very sure, we ARE thinking of the children and in the words of the movie, The kids are alright.


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Rejection and The Fear of Failure

Two of the all to familiar triggers for behavioural issues experienced by children in care are rejection and the fear of failure, for some it can be all consuming, overshadowing their lives in the same manner which someone with OCD may experience. They yearn for a level of acceptance and love that they have yet to experience in their lives and with each step forward for them comes with it a very real fear that they may fail, fail to impress, fail to achieve, fail to succeed. From getting dressed in the morning to reading a book or writing a simple sentence, each of these things present themselves as a challenge to a child that they may fear they are incapable of fulfilling, creating a cross section in their decision making, do I attempt this? or do I give up and cry because failure comes about so often, how can I possibly succeed?

Rejection comes hand in hand here, all too often their lives are established on the foundations of rejection, they feel that people will not like, cannot like them or love them. When they take steps forward and attempt to make these things happen and they feel a sense of rejection or failure the consequences for them can vary from the quietest and most gentle of reactions, to behavioural explosions that leave you reeling and wondering what just happened?

In the first few weeks as we got to know him we would visit his place for short visits and he would visits ours in turn, working our way towards sleepovers and eventually moving in with us. During his first visit I remember all to clearly experiencing his fear of failure and rejection, which took us completely by surprise.

He arrived for his first visit at our house, wide eyed and eager, wanting to know every detail about everything;
“How long have you lived here?”
“How many rooms are there?”
“Like, um, do you have lots of visitors?”
“Will you live here forever?”
“Which room will be my room?”

Once he was satisfied he knew everything he wanted to know and we had eaten (Spag Bol, his favourite), we decided to play Mario Kart, an easy enough game which he was incredibly excited about. He was so excited, he didn’t seem like he could lose the smile on his face but we didn’t have the heart to really compete against him, we just wanted to enjoy our time together. Admittedly however, his skill level wasn’t quite up to speed with ours and after a few races he eventually lost. Before we could figure out what had happened the controller was on the ground, he was on his feet and out the door as fast as his little feet could take him.

We were slightly bewildered as to what had just transpired and looked to the youth worker who was sitting in on the visit, he reassured us it was ok and went out to see if he could calm him down. It didn’t take too long before he was back inside and ready to play again, meanwhile we were still scratching our heads, had we done something wrong? As they left we both got huge hugs whilst being strongly reminded of our next visits and requests for food and entertainment and even a promise to call him in the mean time, we also got a moment to debrief with the youth worker as to what had transpired.

He felt like a failure, in that moment when he was so desperately trying to impress us and show us how fantastic he could be he had felt his inability to beat us in the game had shown some weakness, he thought we wouldn’t like him, we wouldn’t want him, he had completely blown his chance as living with us. In that moment he’d decided to give up and leave, feeling rejected and like a failure, over such a minor thing.

We were to find out over the course of the next 2 years that this behaviour would become all too familiar, particularly socially around other children as he struggled to make friends and adjust. Situations where other children didn’t show interest in playing with him could trigger complete meltdowns involving swearing, kicking, screaming and breaking of poor defenceless inanimate objects. It was something you could never predict and something we could only try to work with in building his confidence through love and support.

Ultimately what we couldn’t predict was the leaps and bounds that he could progress with this behaviour, in the early days sitting and discussing these things with youth workers, teachers, case workers and the like we were reminded that things like after school care, parties, sleepovers and such would be out of the question for a considerable amount of time, they reminded us that it would be a very long time before anyone expected him to be able to break down these barriers and work past his fear of rejection and failure.

Proving people wrong is always a great thing and today it really feels like we have, the fear is still there, but it is worked through, he is confident and brave, he tackles it head on and when it hits him he works as hard as his little mind can to process it and deal with it in the best way he can.

We did something with him last weekend that they never thought we would be able to do, we went to a party.

It was a great night, a grown ups party that was planned to accommodate the 15 odd children that were in attendance as well, including a jumping castle. Yes, that’s right, a jumping castle all to themselves.

It was fantastic to watch him ditch as soon as humanly possible and take off to the jumping castle and photo booth with the other kids, returning only to be fed and watered at appropriate intervals, until an hour in when I spotted him power walking through the event, that steely look in his eyes that I knew something had happened. He reached me and I managed to stop him;
“What happened?”
“The older boys just stopped playing with me! They went outside and they said I can’t go with them!”
“That’s right mate, you can’t, but it’s ok there are still heaps of other kids to play with, they’ll be back”
Two years ago he might have exploded, blown up, thrown things, cried, kicked or screamed, instead that night he gave me that indignant look that I thought was generally reserved for teenagers who’s parents don’t know anything particularly useful in times of great importance, turned on his heel and headed back to the jumping castle. I followed closely behind and watched him march over behind it, take some deep breaths, mutter something underneath his breath and low and behold he went back to the other kids, who by this stage were now mostly young ladies. I kept my eyes on him for a few more minutes, he was still calm and he had even started smiling again, the other boys seemed to be furthest from his mind now.

Several minutes later he strode up to me with a proud pronouncement;
“Dad, I’m going to get a date!”
Then turned on his heel and marched off.
To my utter amazement he asked 3 young ladies who all politely turned him down, each time without missing a beat he continued on until lucky girl number 4 conceded or was won over by his dashing outfit purchased by his  stylish fathers and carefully chosen by himself for this evenings event. Regardless he had single handedly taken 3 consecutive rejections and persevered without incident, we couldn’t have been more proud. As he marched over to us hand in hand with the young lady he proudly announced upon his arrival;
“Dad! I found one! This is….”
He turned to her, “What’s your name again?”
“Jessica, this is Jessica, she’s my date!”
Off they strode together to the dance floor, where they proceeded to dance hand in hand, complete arms length apart awkwardly swaying side by side for about 2 complete songs before two of the mothers intervened to help them shake it up and enjoy the dancing.

He has had some pretty adorable moments from time to time, but this was certainly near the top of the list.

Although the date was adorable, the simple fact that he was able to socialize, take risks, feel rejected, handle his emotions and continue to enjoy himself was a beautiful testament to the incredible steps forward he has taken in his journey. He is complex, beautiful, daunting, challenging, emotional, moving, draining, loving, caring, thoughtful, dramatic and everything in between and most specially, he is our son.


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A Moment In Time

Continued from First Contact…

It was certainly an interesting introduction, but also quite fitting, presenting a quick snapshot of what life would be like with such an energetic little person running around in it. We were a little taken aback at first, having the child running screaming from us wasn’t exactly what we expected to encounter, but we were assured it was simply excitement. Flash had been in this house almost 2 years, the prospect of something and someone new was an overwhelming set of emotions for someone so young to comprehend, you couldn’t really blame him for not knowing how to process it.

As we made some light conversation we heard a rustling sound coming from the garage, he had commenced his approach, the youth worker called out to him gently to coax him out of hiding and come say hello. He emerged from the garage, a huge cheeky grin on his face, beautiful brown eyes peering out from underneath a little mop of curly brown hair, he took a moment to survey us up and down as we said our own timid hellos. Overcoming his shyness he immediately wanted to start guessing which of our names was which, after that we were off, he took us on the the grand tour, which was heart breaking.

It wasn’t that he lived in squalor, it was more the depressing nature of the house, he had his own toy room littered with race cars and teddy bears, beautiful indicators that a child most certainly lived here. But it was as we walked towards his room that we spotted the holes in the walls and doors that we were consumed with the gloomy nature of this existence, we later found out these were caused by extreme temper tantrums and break downs. His bedroom was a typical little boys room, messy and littered with toys and clothes, we were introduced to his teddies, Bubbaloo, Buzz & Woody from Toy Story and the different pictures that littered the room and the house. A lot of effort was placed into fostering self esteem and identity, pictures of himself at places like Movie World and parks and playgrounds were a plenty, always with an uplifting message written alongside them, so many of the pictures were always of him alone.

We would later find out about the trouble he had making friends and adequately socialising and developing relationships with his peers, his situation being so uniquely different, coupled with behavioural issues that had struggled to be contained had left him with few friends and school and a social circle that extended to his neighbours, youth workers and other children in care who he would socialize with. He didn’t have anyone that he could really call a friend.

Dinner was Pizza, as Friday night was takeout night, we sat down to eat together and could see he was nervous and inquisitive, he wanted to know what we did, where we lived, what our house was like and pretty much every question you could imagine. At the same time he was eager to please, he wanted us to like him and was doing his best to make an impression on the both of us. We finished dinner and as the clock ticked away we decided to play a game of “Trouble” together. As we played he told us, matter of factly, that we were there because we wanted him to live with us, we told him that we were, if he wanted to and when he was ready.
That would be really cool” was his reply, we could tell he was trying to maintain his composure as his excitement built and truth be told we were trying to maintain ours.

Trouble, our first game together

Trouble, our first game together

I’ve never had 2 hours go past so quickly in my life, before we knew it we were being told that it was time to go, but as a parting idea we had been encouraged to take a picture together. Standing together with Flash in between us we got to capture our first visit together, we have the picture framed now and it sits proudly in our kitchen, he pointed it out yesterday when he came out for Breakfast and stated (as he routinely does),
“I remember when that picture was taken
I reminded him that it will be 2 years exactly in a couple of days since it was taken, he yelled,
“It’s our anniversary!” and took off through the house giggling to himself.

As we left we were given huge hugs and goodbyes, we promised that we would return as soon as we could, this was the start of the journey for all 3 of us and it had set all our hearts racing.

As the door closed behind us and we walked towards the car we heard an audible squeal of excitement and laughter coming from within the house as a certain someone struggled to contain his excitement. We drove down the road and pulled over at the park and got out.
We looked at each other and he simply turned to me and said

“I don’t think I’ve ever believed in love at first sight, until today”

“I couldn’t agree more”