After trying parenthood Brian Blythe and John Kristiansen thought they didn’t get the part; however, they got called in for a second audition. In this week’s installment of the Huffington Post Queer Voices RaiseAChild.US "Let Love Define Family®" series, contributing writer Beth Hallstrom talks to them about their starting roles as fathers to their little girls.
Brian Blythe, 45, and 47-year old John Kristiansen left the glitz of New York City to become suburban dads in West Orange, New Jersey. Together since 2004, they took all the classes, completed the home study, bought a house and earned their foster care license in 2011. Bring on the diapers, the car pools and the toy-strewn living room -- they were ready to be dads.
According to Brian, that chance finally came on an otherwise lazy Sunday afternoon in September 2011 when the couple received a call for an emergency placement of a two-year-old toddler. The child stayed with them 11 days and the experience allowed Brian and John to come to some serious conclusions about the future.
"We decided parenthood was absolutely not for us. We decided to close the house, sell it and return to New York to be fabulous theatre people. We closed our case file. We were done," Brian explained.
The plan was for Brian to return to directing, and for John to throw himself completely into his business, John Kristiansen New York, which builds costumes for theater, dance, film, television and live action entertainment.
There was just one hitch in the plan: while their file was closed and everyone at Children and Family Services knew Brian and John were no longer available as foster parents, one supervisor never got the memo. And so the phone rang again.
Brian recalled, "Eventually, we went to the office to meet the caseworker and the supervisor, to make sure we had a good working relationship." The conversation went like this:
John: Have you ever worked with a gay couple?
John: Are you scared?
Everyone at the table laughed. It was a great ice breaker. The supervisor added, “The kids don't care; they just want love. Do you want to meet her?"
Brian, John and the caseworker left immediately to meet the child, who will be referred to as Miss S for this story. They learned that the little girl, who was living in a group home, had some health issues and minor developmental delays.
"Well, we both knew right then it was all over. She crawled into my lap and was so sweet. There was such a warmth about this little girl. There was a light about her," John said.
Brian said they visited with Miss S for about an hour, or about the time it took her to wrap them around her little finger. Suddenly, the glamorous New York life was put on the backburner, but not abandoned. Today, Brian works as John's business manager and John continues to produce sumptuous costumes -- adding Halloween costumes for girls to his portfolio. But, that night, on their way home, all they talked about was how soon Miss S could join their family.
"That was on a Thursday, she came home with us the following Tuesday. She was always very curious and could read at four. She just graduated from kindergarten and the only thing she needs help with now is keeping up with the busy social life of a six-year old," he said.
"She's still sweet and warm and a light. Our job now is to make sure her light never goes out," John added.
Then came the call about Lady V, an infant they brought home from the hospital just days after she was born.
"It's as if she's always been part of our family and Miss S' sister. She's the least quiet member of the family and likes to sing and dance. She recently wowed some adults at a party by belting out some of Adele's hits,” Brian said, laughing.
Brian and John fostered a third baby, to be called Baby A in this story, but she would only be with them temporarily until she could be reunited with her biological family.
While they keep in touch with Baby A, visit her once a month and still consider her a part of their family, John said their resource worker directed them to bereavement counseling after she was gone.
"We did it for almost a year, which was paramount in our processing the loss and dealing with our grief. I encourage any foster parent in the same situation to investigate such services," he notes.
"One of the lessons we learned," John continued, "was that traditional fostering was not for us because we get so emotionally attached. We also learned, and believe it's good advice for prospective parents, that, once you have that foster child in your home, keep the child in your home as long as you can so they aren't placed in numerous homes. You are the only voice for that child and that's an important responsibility."
While Baby A was with them, Brian said he wanted to meet the child's parents and the caseworker was puzzled by his request.
"I said, 'If your child was going to spend time with another family, wouldn't you want to meet them? Eventually, the birth mother also asked to meet us so the case worker decided to set up a meeting. When the case worker told the mother we were gay, she was completely unfazed and said, 'Of course they're gay. She's the best dressed child on the planet!'" he recalled.
"She was with us for 14 months and we’re still able to see her -- which often isn’t the case. I believe that's because we met her parents and didn't judge them. We were just introducing ourselves as her foster family. It's important to remember not everyone grew up with the advantages we had as middle class white people. Don't judge," Brian said.
Miss S was officially adopted in 2013; Lady V’s adoption was finalized in March of this year. Because both girls are African-American, Brian said he and John have continued to work hard to immerse themselves in the culture.
Brian emphasizes that when LGBT families adopt, they should be prepared to be seen, especially if they make up a mixed face family, and, by being seen, realize they are representing the LGBT community and all those who came before and fought for their rights to be parents.
"Whenever we go out, we get noticed -- often covertly with a glance or quick smile, but more often, very overtly. We constantly get comments and questions from strangers and usually they are very positive. We've had our share of stupid questions too, but we don't need to focus on those."
"We get asked, 'Who does her hair?' We do, because two white guys can learn to do black girl hair with the help of books, YouTube and good, old-fashioned asking for help," he said. “We recently took the girls to a local salon for African-American women to consult with the owner, Miss Kim. She showed us some new tricks and gave us some great advice."
Of all the family's stories, Brian said his favorite enfolded unfolded almost three years ago while going through security at an airport on their way to California to see Brian's sister.
"At the time, we had a three-month old, a six-month old and a three-year old. A TSA worker came over to tell us, 'What you're doing is a beautiful thing.' Mind you, we were a tangle of girls, two Baby Bjorns, two infant carriers, diaper bags, bottles, sweating bullets as we tried not to hold up the line-we were feeling anything but beautiful."
"But it was a beautiful, ridiculous scene. And to be acknowledged like that filled us with pride. We hope, as more LGBT families are created, we will all be noticed as just another family going through the regular routines of daily life," Brian added.
RaiseAChild is the nationwide leader in the recruitment and support of LGBT and all prospective parents interested in building families through fostering and adoption to meet the needs of the 415,000 children in the foster care system of the United States. RaiseAChild recruits, educates and nurtures supportive relationships equally with all prospective foster and adoptive parents while partnering with agencies to improve the process of advancing foster children to safe, loving and permanent homes. Take the Next Step to Parenthood at www.RaiseAChild.US or call us at (323) 417-1440.
The Art of Love:
If you live in the Las Vegas area or plan to be there on the evening of July 16th, please consider attending a very special RaiseAChild benefit event at the Martin Lawrence Galleries at The Forum Shops. Tickets and event details at www.RaiseAChild.US