From Surviving A Hate Crime To Becoming Dads: Meet Burke And Justin

"If I had been given the option to write the script for how my life is going to play out, I would have sold myself short on possibilities."
08/17/2017 02:23 pm ET Updated Aug 18, 2017

Originally published on Gays With Kids, by Erika Prins Simonds.

Burke Burnett and Justin Carrier were returning from their honeymoon when they first learned they had a son on the way.

They had been dating for a year and a half when Burke popped the question — ring and all — in front of all their friends at his birthday party. (Justin, as you’ve probably gathered, said yes.)

Burke proposing to Justin
Burke proposing to Justin

Their lives have moved at lightning speed from that moment. By the time they were married four months later, they had already become certified for adoption through a private agency.

Both men had dreamed of being fathers when they were young but thought coming out meant it would never happen.

"I'd really given up on it," Justin says. "It wasn't until I met Burke and I found somebody who was so passionate about becoming a dad someday that it actually started to happen."

A traditional guy, Justin felt strongly about getting married before having kids.

"I didn't want to have them out of wedlock," he says. On the way from their Playa del Carmen, Mexico honeymoon, they learned they'd be dads sooner than anticipated.

They flew from their home near Dallas, Texas to Reno, Nevada to meet the birth mother as soon as they could and welcomed their son, Caleb, in February of last year.

Burke holding Caleb with Justin
Burke holding Caleb with Justin

After Caleb's birth, Burke and Justin decided to wait a while for their second kid. That is, until a call came from the adoption agency about a young pregnant couple.

On the phone, they learned the couple had expressed a desire to adopt to a local gay couple willing to have an open adoption.

"They described us," Justin said. He and Burke instantly knew it was a match — and that they would be in for a few more big life changes. They met Cody, their second son, last month.

"We've been married for two years, have bought two houses, had two kids and bought two cars," Burke says. "We've really just had to sort of adjust our lives and the things in our lives accordingly," he says. Their family had quickly outgrown the house they had bought in anticipation of Caleb’s arrival — and they’d needed a bigger car, stat.

Justin holding Cody for the first time
Justin holding Cody for the first time

The house and cars were just the beginning: Learning to balance the needs of two kids required an even bigger adjustment.

“I was really intimidated by ... I didn’t know, logistically, how you have two kids,” Burke says.

They've learned through experience who's better at remembering feeding schedules and who's better at getting them bathed and dressed.

"We're starting to figure out what each other's strengths are. When you have just one kid, it's easier," Justin says.

"But when you have two, you have to figure it out." "We're equally strong in having fun with the boys," Burke adds.

"We're trying to get Caleb to take his first steps. Any day now. Any day now."

Cody sleeps well, so the transition has been easier than anticipated.

“He's not really awake yet and he's certainly not as mobile as Caleb is," Justin says.  “— and as I say this, Caleb is crawling toward the dog dish." Having two kids in diapers can have its darker moments, too. Occasionally, Burke says, it's just a matter of picking your battles.

Family photo at the hospital with Caleb and newborn Cody
Family photo at the hospital with Caleb and newborn Cody

“This morning, I went to pick up Cody and he had peed through his outfit, and his blanket and swaddle, and right as I pick him up, I look over at Caleb and he’s pushing out a number two. And he’s grunting,” he says with a laugh. (He can laugh about it now that it’s over.)

"With one kid, there's only so much that can be happening at one time. But with two kids, you just kind of decide which kid needs help more." It was a banner year, and not just for Justin and Burke’s new family.

In the midst of caring for a newborn and everything else that came with it, Burke also co-founded a support group for survivors of violent crime .

Four years ago, Burke was stabbed and beaten with a broken bottle, then thrown onto a fire by three men shouting anti-gay slurs. The men are now in prison, but Burke, who lived in Paris, Texas at the time, struggled to move on.

"I was beat up and burned pretty bad," he says. "I moved to Dallas shortly thereafter to kind of start my life over. I had a hard time kind of coping after the attack — and I know that most people who go through something similar have a hard time coping.”

Burke with Justin
Burke with Justin

S.O.S (Survivors Offering Support) offers support groups and counseling, and helps hate crime survivors fight for lost wages compensation, recover lost or stolen property, and recuperate medical costs.

"We've had a really nice response from the community here in Dallas, so we're really proud of it," he says. Four years later, Burke has the new life he set out to build in Dallas: a husband, kids, a project he believes in and a strong community of other gay families.

The kids' birth parents have a strong desire to be involved in the kids' lives as part of the open adoption agreements. “Both situations are birth parents that are high school aged and not ready to be parents, but very loving,” Burke says. "We want to share that love with our kids."

They have even found a faith community where they're at home.

Burke sitting holding Cody, and Justin kneeling smiling at Caleb
Burke sitting holding Cody, and Justin kneeling smiling at Caleb

“We have a great church that we feel really comfortable in and really safe bringing our kids to,” he says. “At our church, we’re not the only family that looks like [ours].”

Justin’s twin brother and younger brother both also have young kids — one within just six weeks of Caleb. The families get together often for “cousin parties,” which are as great for the grown-ups as they are for the kids, Justin says.

“We really learn a lot from watching [them parent.]” It’s nothing like how either man thought their life be at this moment. “If I had been given the option to write the script for how my life is going to play out, I would have sold myself short on possibilities,” he says. “It’s a great time to be gay in the world — and I never thought that day would come.”

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