As part of our Family Friday series, every week we spotlight one family, share the story of their love and send lots of love and support to them from our own huge family all over the world.
Since we've launched our Family Friday series, we've gotten so many beautiful submissions from you and we've been genuinely touched by your stories. Your families are beautiful. Thank you.
As always, we're constantly looking for great families to share with you all. This week, we have a special blended family who has a truly inspirational story. Meet Emily and Devon's family.
How did you meet?
Emily: We met while attending different colleges in Kansas City, Missouri. Devon was at UMKC on a full ride debate scholarship and I was at Rockhurst University on a full ride scholarship for basketball. We lived four blocks from each other for two years and never ran into each other. We met while employed at Applebee’s. He was a bartender and I was a server. He pursued me, using his mad dancing and poetry skills. It didn’t take long for us to fall in love.
Devon: I had been in one serious relationship prior to Emily, but I fell in love with her. First and only woman I loved (still love, just differently).
How long were your married? Tell us about your marriage, children.
Emily: We were married while he started law school at the University of Kansas, as I finished up my degree in English. It was a lovely wedding. He cried nearly throughout our entire ceremony. It was very touching to everyone who attended.
We became involved in an evangelical church, met wonderful Christian people, served with the youth and led Bible Studies. For all intensive purposes, we were a perfect couple. Little did I know, but Devon began struggling to “overcome” his gay-self then. He hid it well. If he wants to, I will have him share his attempt at trying to deal with this, particularly his experience with Exodus International, a reparative therapy group. I didn’t even know he was trying to find “help.”
Our marriage really was wonderful. We communicated well, had a great sex life and enjoyed each other’s company. Devon is a very intelligent, handsome and funny guy. He is liked by everyone who meets him and he can have a conversation with a rock and make it feel special.
Our conservative life, while I didn’t know it at the time and Devon didn’t intentionally recognize it, gave him a good way to cover up what was going on inside of him. Now that I know what I know about him, there were many times where I’m sure the words he heard from others inside the Christian community were hurtful and caused him much shame. I myself espoused this thinking, unaware that I was hurting him in the process.
We had three children in four years. I was a baby factory. They are so wonderful (of course). They have my looks and humor, and they have Devon’s intelligence and drive.
Maddie is our oldest. She is the one who remembers the most about the timeframe where Devon came out to me. The other two were pretty young and don’t remember much. Maddie is very mature for her age (they all are, really) and she is able to balance emotion and logic very well. She is now 13, has read more books than I have (I’m an English teacher so that’s saying a lot) and is able to have very adult conversations. She is beautiful and all the boys think so, but she said to me the other day: “Mom, I’m just not ready to think about boys and relationships. I have too many important things to accomplish.” These things include her complex writing, art, goals to be a doctor and her volleyball. She already has her sights set on an academic scholarship to a respected university. She has mentioned Stanford and Kansas in conversations.
Kate is our socially sensitive one. She has a wonderful heart for all people, especially the downtrodden. She is what people would call “strong-willed,” but we don’t see this as a negative thing. We know that as she matures this will cause her to become a strong leader. She could be a circus performer, attorney, math professor or CEO of some major company. The girl can do anything and thinks she can, which makes for wonderful experiences and conversations around our house. She is very good at math and very coordinated. She will not stop at just learning something. She wants to become an expert and perfect at whatever she does.
Thomas is loved by everyone. He is kind-hearted and very respectful to adults and his peers. He is very good at math, but he excels in athletics. Everything he does (especially basketball and football) he is the leader of the team. His coaches love him for being coachable and his teammates respect him for the example he sets of hard work, both in athletics and academics. It is very fun being his mom as I get to help coach him, and sometimes his team, in basketball. Devon and Felipe are his biggest fans. If things continue to go well for Thomas, we are certain that he will go on to college on a full-ride athletic scholarship somewhere (and others think so as well, not just his rose-colored-glasses parents).
All three of our kids are involved in Gifted and Talented programs. They are very smart in every way. We also get them involved in charities (like the local soup kitchen, Zonta International and local LGBT organizations). The world does not revolve around them and they are aware of this in a good way.
Devon: I did seek out “help” from the Exodus folks. That was a disaster. I even contemplated suicide during that dark time. I am fortunate that my family was supportive and loving.
Devon, when did you realize it was time to come out?
Devon: Just shortly before or after we both turned 30 was the tipping point. I also saw Brokeback Mountain and it profoundly affected me. I also saw Emily (a brilliant and gorgeous woman) stuck in a marriage that was unhealthy -- I figured better now than when we were both 40 or 50 and had little chance to “start over.”
How did Devon come out to you and the family? How did the children react to the news? Was it a hard adjustment for them?
Emily:How he came out to me:
We had been having marital problems, mostly due to financial debt and busy schedules, but I knew something wasn’t right at our core. I couldn’t quite pinpoint it, but I began to have suspicions that he was having an affair, even though it was truly difficult to image it actually being true. It just wouldn’t be like him. When I asked him about this, he was kind in his response and assured me that he was not.
I wasn’t satisfied, though. In an effort to find something, I looked on our bank account statements. Believe me, this was something I barely knew how to do since he was in charge of our finances as “head of the household.” As I looked, I became suspicious that a particular charge was to a hotel that I knew nothing about. It turned out to be nothing. But when I confronted him about it, he quietly and with conviction said: “I’d never cheat on you with another woman.” So, I jokingly blurted out with sarcasm: “What are you then? Gay or something?” His silence spoke volumes. After what seemed like an eternity, he asked, “So you knew this whole time?”
Well, no I didn’t. The thought was never even a thought once in my mind. It was simply a joke to say.
The next few hours were the one time in our relationship where I felt the closest to him that I ever have. He spilled everything. He may not have been having a physical affair with Felipe, but there was something to it. More importantly, his true core was revealed to me and at that moment, I felt I really strong him. It took 11 years to get there, but it changed our relationship completely.
I tried for nearly a year and half to try to make our marriage work, based on our Christian beliefs that his gayness was a “choice.”
Here are two quotes from one of the posts on our blog that speaks volumes about the struggle to get to where I am today:
“I felt that there must be some explanation -- some way to fix things. I tried everything I could. I quoted scripture. I got others involved who I thought could help change our situation. I used the kids against Devon. I tried to love him so much that he wouldn’t have any other choice but to desire to be with me in spite of his true core.”
“The day I accepted him and the inevitable death of our marriage and subsequent divorce, was the day that I accepted his 'You’re the only woman I’ve ever truly loved' as a compliment. He used to say this phrase after his Big Reveal to me. I would get all butt hurt and take it as a slap in the face. The day I accepted this as truth was the very day that I decided that it was okay to let go. It just clicked and no amount of scriptural prodding or Christian guilt trip could deter me from my place of peace.”
Devon: I remember it was a Sunday night, I had been at a tennis tournament in Northern California. It was in our spare room. Emily was folding laundry. We cried a lot.
How Devon came out to the kids:
Emily: We planned ahead of time how he would tell the kids. Like usual, we did it all together in a comfortable place, his living room. Devon proceeded to tell them that he was in a relationship and he wanted them to know about it. I believe Kate said something like: “Who is she?” I laughed inside. How funny that they still didn’t suspect anything after four years! Devon said, “It’s Mr. Felipe.” There was silence, but they all seemed very happy about it. They have known Felipe for at least four years at this point, they were living together (but separate bedrooms still since the kids didn’t know) and loved him very much. I believe one of them said, “Good!” and they all followed up with exclamations of happiness. Devon explained that he is gay. They didn’t seem to be bothered at all.
Questions did follow from them when I was with them. Why didn’t you tell us sooner? I wish we would have known so we could help you through it, Mommy! But at that point, for me, it was all water under the bridge, I was in a relationship with a wonderful man whom they loved, and it didn’t affect me negatively. I explained in different ways that we couldn’t tell them ‘til Daddy was ready, because otherwise it wouldn’t have been right. I also told them that they needed to be kids, and what Devon and I were going through (while it affected them) was between the two of us and was an adult thing. They know now that we did the best we could given the circumstances and the way we handled things ended up being the most non-bitter way to go through it. They accepted Devon whole-heartedly (including Felipe). Kate even said one time when I asked her about how she felt now that she knows: When he told us he was gay, I don’t think I was too surprised, not because I knew, but because it didn’t make him any different to me.
Isn’t that beautiful?
Tell us about your divorce.
Emily: Essentially, after realizing that he and I could not be on the same page and being at peace about it (see quote in #4 regarding realizing that I am the only woman he has ever loved), I decided it was ok to get a divorce.
This realization happened when we went out for dinner together one evening. We were discussing his recent trip to see a friend of ours in Kansas City, and when he told me that they discussed us (our marriage) Devon said: “I told him that marriage was one of many options.” This hit me like a ton of bricks. I think he had told me this before, but for some reason it didn’t dawn on me until that moment that we were not operating from the same viewpoint. For me, marriage was the only option. I knew then that I needed to let him go; let him be who he needs to be and who he will become. I needed to let myself go… my idea of having control was erased in that moment. Honestly, it was peaceful. I remember holding his hand in the parking lot as we walked to our separate cars and saying the words: “I think we should get a divorce.” We both started crying. He didn’t fight it. I knew it was the right decision.
That night, I cried a lot before I went to sleep, mostly from relief. It was weird. What was even more astonishing, was that I slept for 14 hours straight and woke up happy. I didn’t even realize that over the last year and a half I hadn’t slept a good night’s sleep even once. Getting that 14 hours of sleep confirmed that I had made the right decision in letting go.
Our divorce process was not difficult. Thankfully, he is an attorney and I worked for a family law attorney, so we decided to do our divorce papers on our own. There were things we did right and some things that we did wrong.
We wanted to get papers rolling fairly quickly, but Devon lost his job before we could complete this, so we decided to live like we were divorced without the papers until he could get another job and we could establish a salary that he could base his child support and alimony on. We also decided to declare bankruptcy and foreclosure on our home as married to cut down on headaches and cost… since we figured we’d both be declaring bankruptcy after the divorce anyway. It was close to two years that we waited to officially file for divorce once the decision to divorce was made. I hope that makes sense.
We write a blog about amicable divorce and getting along with your ex (samesides.wordpress.com) where we use our story to encourage others to give and take as much as humanly possible. Thankfully Devon and I were both of the same mind: getting along will only help ourselves heal and in the long-run be the best for our children.
Did we fight? Sure. Especially about the details of our divorce decree. But eventually we compromised. Do we ever fight now? Rarely. I’d say the things we fight about now stem from conversations we have where Devon relates to me like we used to when we were married (him, head of the home; me, submissive wife). That’s my perspective, anyway. These patterns were hard to break at first, but with time, it’s gotten easier. If we ever do bicker, we always make up; sometimes we even make up in front of the kids.
How did you both work to heal the wounds of this long process and become friends?
Emily: Well, for me, I’d say I just allowed myself to feel feelings and confront him about them when necessary. Writing became the biggest therapy for me. I wrote all the time, sometimes all day. Talking to friends about us really helped.
Honestly, I’d say that the biggest amount of healing happened (on my part) for two reasons: 1) Devon became more comfortable coming out, so it relieved some pressure that I had put on myself to somehow be secret about our lives. Secrets lead to depression and feeling like you can’t be yourself. I couldn’t be myself, my transparent self, because I still worried about him and his reputation. Once he came fully out to everyone, I felt free to truly love him. I don’t know how else to explain it. 2) When I got cancer, all of the love between all of my family members was tested. Devon was able to show his true colors by stepping up and being as unselfish as I’d ever seen him. He took the kids full time for several months, and while he could have stopped paying me child support because of this status (legally), he didn’t. He and Felipe sent me cards, bought me things, attended my chemo sessions and doctor appointments. They didn’t go to everything, but they took the kids and loved on them… which took so much pressure and guilt off of me so that I could fight that nasty C word.
I felt so loved.
People who know our family are amazed at how we relate to each other. We sit together at events and even go out together. We laugh a lot, and Felipe and I really like each other. They are happy together, which makes me happy. We have gone to the movies together, dinner, celebrate holidays together, break bread at their house (Felipe is a ridiculously awesome cook) and coordinate schedules together. Honestly, Felipe is so wonderful to the kids. He takes them to and from school and sporting events… even when it’s my week to have the kids. I have said often to Devon: “If we didn’t have Felipe, we’d be lost.”
Let’s be honest here: This whole situation is about me. I will never have an evil step mommy to deal with. I will be the only mom my children will ever have. My children have two amazing men in their lives. Seriously? How perfect is this?
Devon, How did your children accept your new partner?
Devon: They honestly view him as an equal parent I believe. We’ve not yet heard the dreaded, “You can’t tell me what to do, you’re not my Dad” but I’m dreading it... He is an amazing partner and parent. He has a different bond with each of them and it is different from mine. He’s their biggest fan for sure. We all try and communicate with one another as best as we can so that helps.
What advice do you have for other families going through a similar transition? How can they make the most of their blended families?
Emily:We have written quite a bit about this subject in our blog. If I were to sum everything up, I would say that the key is accepting what is and fully accepting that you cannot control others. If you do that, then bitterness can be dealt with in a healthy manner. If you hold on to bitterness, then not only are you hurting yourself and stifling your own growth, you hurt all of those around you, including your children. Now, it takes two to tango. This perhaps is the most tragic thing of all: when one person is willing to make things work and the other constantly throws their bitterness in the other person’s face… maybe even uses the kids against the other parent. That is a tough one. I suppose that’s where a person needs to swallow their pride and kill the person with kindness, even when they don’t deserve it. Sometimes you have to be the bigger person all the time, which is taxing, but it’s the right thing to do, all the same.
If a person’s situation is amicable, then intentionally doing things together can bring a bunch of healing and help open up communication to higher levels. Intentionally building relationships causes empathy, understanding and communication to happen.
We suggest regular family meetings. I know it may sound hokey, but it really does show that we are at least interested in having communication, even if the communication isn’t perfect.
The divorced couple should also go out to lunch or something every once in awhile. You can discuss each other’s lives and the kid’s lives without the significant other or kids around. They are YOUR kids, after all, and you chose to be married at one time in your life. You still have to parent together, so you may as well get used to communicating effectively about that.
Always stick up for the other parent in front of your kids (even if inside you disagree). Don’t ever make decisions about what your kids are going to do without discussing it with the other parent. Be willing to compromise or even give in in order to keep the peace. Choose to fight for what really is important, not mundane things like: no, they can’t go to a sleepover with their friend because I don’t know the parents (when the other one does). Show solidarity, even if you don’t feel it. Sometimes “fake it ‘til you make it” is the only way to handle a situation.
Devon: Blended families have to communicate, call, calendar, cherish! Have regular outings, do spur of the moment stuff. Ignore the tendency to keep score. Life is precious and we have to treat everyday as if it could be our last. Laughter and love keep us from all going insane.
You can see a few photos of Emily and Devon's family below. To see more families and learn how to share your own, scroll to the bottom.
REMINDER: If you'd like your own family featured on a Family Friday, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember that family is what we make it, so if your family is you and the pack of LGBT folks who you'd go to the mats for, send them over. We want to see them, too.