This week’s installment of the Huffington Post Gay Voices RaiseAChild.US Let Love Define Family series features Ron Guzman and Ken DeBie, who are now the proud parents of a young man training to be a Los Angeles firefighter.
Sometimes it pays to be brutally honest. On their very first date in Studio City 21 years ago, Ron Guzman, now 59, told Ken DeBie, now 57, about his desire to be a father.
“Ken said that it was not in his stars, that he never intended to be a father. Frankly, after that evening I thought it might have been the last time that I ever saw him, but he came back.”
Ron reported it took about 12 years to convince Ken. “He held up crosses and holy water and everything else that you could imagine,” chuckled Ron. The turning point came after the couple needed to care for their two nephews temporarily for three and a half months. After juggling three meals a day, baths, homework and all other challenges of parenthood, Ken looked at Ron and said: “I think I can do this.”
It took Ron less than an hour after Ken’s declaration to download all the necessary documents from the Los Angeles County Department of Children’s Services (DCFS) website and begin filling them out. But as it turned out, overcoming Ken’s resistance was only part of the battle. At the time, in 2004, DCFS was slow to process applications and Ron described the experience of dealing with the bureaucracy of the agency and the court system as gut wrenching.
“I’m a very driven individual and when I see the end goal, it’s get out of my way, I know how to get there,” said Ron. “As I come across obstacles, I try to identify ways to get around them or to not make them obstacles. We had submitted our application, we had finished all of our classes, but then we were told we had to wait for the State of California to contact us and it would take about three months for them to contact us to come to our home and review our home to certify us to be a foster family."
“I thought that was one of the craziest things I had heard and it was unacceptable to me,” he continued. “So I started looking online and I found that they had an office in Woodland Hills where we live so I picked up the phone and called them. In a matter of minutes, I had scheduled the appointment for a couple of days after. A very nice lady came, went through our home, we passed with flying colors and I think we did it within two weeks versus three months.”
After completing the home study, the next hurdle was being matched with a child. Having learned about the thousands of waiting children in the system through their orientation and training classes, Ron and Ken were frustrated by the long wait for a placement.
“We had passed all of our background checks, all of our letters were submitted, we supplied our financials, everything was in order -- I could not understand how here you had a financially sound family that was ready and yet nothing was happening,” Ron recalled. “I got to the point where I got so frustrated I wrote a two-page letter to the head of child services and I said exactly that. That here you have a family that’s ready, our home has been certified, we’re financially sound, what in God’s name could be taking so long?”
To their delight, the head of DCFS did respond and it was she who recommended they change their criteria on the age of the child. Ron and Ken had specified child ages of 3 to 7 but with her guidance, they raised the maximum age to 10. Within a week they received a call about the nine-and-a-half year old boy who was to become their son.
Despite the frustration, today Ron is reflective. “In retrospect, everything worked out as it should because we have the most amazing son on God’s green earth and it was all meant to be. So I can’t overly criticize it.”
Ron is most proud of his son’s resilience. Michael, now 19 years old, had a rough start in life and had to overcome dyslexia as well. “He is an amazing, honest, caring, and resilient young man.”
Ron never saw being gay, only being single, as an obstacle to parenthood. For his son, having two gay dads has never been an issue -- either as a school boy or now as a Los Angeles County Fire Cadet trainee for the last two years.
“The program is pretty much an all-male club for firemen and Michael has no problem telling his cadets, his stations, his captains, or anyone that he has two dads,” Ron said.
Recently, Ron became a board member of RaiseAChild.US, a nonprofit that encourages the LGBT community to build families through fostering and adoption to serve the needs of the 400,000 children in the U.S. foster care system.
“When I attended a RaiseAChild.US event last fall and heard the founder talk about the mission, it was like a little bell went off in my head,” Ron said. “I was completing my board service at another organization and as I began to learn more about RaiseAChild.US through the website and conversations with the CEO, I felt a personal connection and that some of the skills that I have could possibly help move the organization to the next level.”
Corinne Lightweaver is Special Projects Manager at RaiseAChild.US, a national organization headquartered in Hollywood, California. RaiseAChild.US works with foster and adoption agencies that have received training in LGBT cultural competence through the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s “All Children – All Families” initiative. Since 2011, RaiseAChild.US has run media campaigns to educate prospective parents and the public, and has engaged more than 2,000 prospective parents. For information about how you can become a foster or fost/adopt parent, visit www.raiseachild.us and click on “Next Step to Parenthood.”