Jayson (center), as The Winter Soldier aka Bucky Barnes, flanked by Captain America and Black Widow, at New York Comic-Con this past weekend.
More often than not, gay adoption and gay men and women having children is posited in the media in a contentious way as to create controversy (see: Lesbians upset with their black baby). For the most part however, it's a case of love finding a way. This is one such story. David Brown, who's worked in public education for over twenty years (as a teacher and currently as an administrator) in the Lower Hudson Valley region of New York and his partner Lew Eliacopoulos never intended to have or adopt children. As a matter of fact, Brown often wondered how his parents raised three children without losing their minds or killing one another. As a parent now for only three years, he's often felt on the verge of both. I talked to David about how Jayson came into his life and changed it in ways he never could have anticipated.
When did you decide that you wanted to become a parent?
What's interesting is that Lew and I agreed years ago we were not interesting in being parents. He and I have been friends for about 26 years, got together in 2001 and married in 2007. When we moved in together that was one of the conversations- parenthood? Nope. And it was never brought up again.
So how did Jayson come into your life?
I had started my first year as the international baccalaureate coordinator at the elementary school I worked at. I was assigned lunch duty that year, and during my duty the first graders had their lunch. Of the four grade one classes, there was one transition class; these were the kids who could have been retained in kindergarten because of low skill levels. It was a small class but they were a handful. About a month or so into the school year their teacher came to me and pointed out a little boy she wanted me to keep an extra eye on, as he was just removed from is mother and put into foster care. It was Jayson.
I kept an eye on him, sometimes even visiting his classroom to check in. In March, his teacher told me that the woman fostering him (it was his foster grandmother actually. Jayson's mother was in foster care when she was pregnant with him and had him while in foster care. They stayed with "Grandma Trinnie" until Jayson was in kindergarten) was only going to be able to keep him until school got out in June. She was in her mid 70s then and knew she could not raise a little boy. His teacher suggested I become a foster parent. That's when I broched the subject to Lew. I remember coming home and saying,"So, how do you feel about becoming a parent?"
We actually missed the start of the fostering classes that summer, some had to wait until the next round in September. Grandma Trinnie agreed to hang on to Jayson until we become certified that November. He came to live with us the Sunday after Thanksgiving.
What was the biggest obstacle in the adoption process?
Dealing with the system, the fostering system. The courts have to give the birth parents every opportunity to do what they have to do to get their child back. They could take one step forward, but three steps back during the process, but as long as they are showing an attempt, they maintain their parental rights. Even once it was clear her rights would be terminated, the process dragged. Also, at that point, any blood relative can express an interest, which Jayson's paternal grandmother in North Carolina did. We had to accept weekly phone calls from her, so she could talk with Jayson, even though he really had no relationship prior.
In all, Jayson was in our care for about 2 1/2 years, with the adoption process taking about 7 months. We were told this was unusually fast; other cases go on for much longer.
What advice would you give to prospective gay parents?
Parenthood is a total life changer! You know this in theory, but when you settle in to the day-to-day routine of being someone's parent, it hits you. We have sometimes felt ostracized from some of our gay friends or the lifestyle we were living before, but that has lessened as time as gone on. We've settled into new routines, new vacation spots, different weekend activities.
It also brought Lew and I closer. We started having meals together as a family, to set a good example for our son. We talked more. I saw a new side of Lew; he was always caring and supportive, but now I saw a whole new depth to him as a caregiver, how nurturing he was. I came to love him even more than I did before.
Has being a teacher affected the process (negatively/positively) and how?
Being a teacher really didn't play too big a role in this, other than putting me in a position to help. I'm sure my role as a teacher made me look good in the eyes of the court. It definitely gave me some experience to draw on and utilize as a parent (it's not a joke when they say there is no parenting handbook!). One thing it deepened in me was the awareness of how many children are in need of good care, good homes. I thought I knew, but after going through the fostering training, hearing stories form the social workers and child advocates and the judge, I realized just how many kids were in need, and that many of them were hiding in plain sight, keeping their situations quiet. It made me want to help even more.
From Left to Right: David Brown, Jayson and Lew Lew Eliacopoulos, in court the day they were awarded custody, March 28, 2012.