At age 36, Donald Taylor Jr., a single gay man, adopted a 13-year-old boy. This weekend, Taylor celebrates his first Father’s Day. Beyond his inspiring personal story, Taylor is part of a growing trend of gay parents who are offering homes to the more than 100,000 children in foster care awaiting adoptions — a movement expected to gain steam in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s expected ruling on gay marriage later this month.
I became an official father this spring and am celebrating my first Father’s Day with my adopted son, Paul. He’s 13 years old.
I met Paul two years ago when he stayed at my home for a couple weekends to give his foster family a break. I had just been approved as a foster parent and was interested in ultimately adopting a child. I’ve always wanted to be a Dad and imagined doing all the things with a son that I did with my father: tossing a ball in the yard, fixing cars or going camping.
But as a gay single man, I worried that fatherhood wasn’t in my future.
I didn’t have a partner, and despite increasing acceptance of gay marriage and parenthood, I never forgot that some states had laws forbidding gays from adopting kids. But at age 34, after my grandmother and dad had died months apart, I asked myself. “What am I waiting for?” I realized there would never be a perfect moment to become a parent, so I contacted a foster care agency in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky and inquired about the adoption process. When I asked the assistant director if being gay would prevent me from being seriously considered, I was relieved when she told me: “We’re looking for the best parents we can find, period.”
Unlike most people who want to adopt babies, I was seeking an older child. I didn’t want to deal with diapers, and I like my naps too much. Besides, I’d worked as an executive director of a youth organization and knew that in the U.S. foster care system, nearly half of the 100,000 kids who were available for adoption were over the age of seven.
I couldn’t believe that an 11-year-old was still in the system or that Paul had spent more years of his life bouncing around foster homes than with his biological family. Although Paul was small for his age, he seemed older than other kids I knew. He was extremely polite and guarded and worried too much about things kids shouldn’t have to think about, like whether he had enough money or would get his shoes muddy.
But I was moved by the gentle and loving way he played with the family dog. When we bought a Lego set of a tanker truck, he spent hours assembling it with perfect precision. I could tell he had it in him to do what he set his mind to do. He just needed someone to give him a real chance.
I can’t explain it, but I knew right away that he would be my son. Within a couple weeks, the agency let me know his current foster parents would no longer care for him, and I said I wanted to adopt him.
When you adopt a kid on the verge of puberty, no one gives you a baby shower or drops off casseroles at your house. I’ll admit I was naïve to think we could just pick up at that stage in his life and bond as father and son, but he brought years of abuse and abandonment and behavior problems. Paul was full of rage and threw frequent violent temper tantrums. Sometimes if we were driving, we’d have to pull over to the side of the road until he could calm down.
The more I tried to reassure him, the more he pushed me away. I wanted to shout, “I’m giving you a loving home, and you won’t accept it!” But then I had to remember it would take time to build trust. Until now, everyone else in his life had gotten rid of him. Through counseling and lots of reading, I had to learn on-the-spot parenting skills and try to help him learn healthier coping behaviors.
But there were moments of grace that let me know I was getting through to him.
He face isn’t so scrunched up, and his voice is softer. We’ll read before bed, which is a need he didn’t get met when he was younger. Or we make S’mores on a little campfire in the backyard.
I knew he was my kid when we both sobbed while watching the film "Marley & Me." This summer, we’re rehabbing an old RV and can’t wait to tour the beautiful sites of Kentucky.
Of course, I was a proud Papa when he made the honor roll this spring.
On April 1, we celebrated his finalized adoption called “Gotcha Day” when we officially became a family. Paul still has a hard time believing it’s real, and he recently asked my Mom, “No judge can take me away from my dad, right?”
No, we're stuck with each other now and despite our worst days, I’m not going anywhere.
The house is a mess. We live paycheck to paycheck, but we’re making it. How can that happen if we’re not meant to be? I’m fortunate to get financial help from the state that covers his therapy and tutoring. Plus, I get a huge tax break, and his college is paid for.
Sometimes people ask me if I missed the early years with Paul, but I guess I don’t know what I don’t know. Despite our challenges, I’m blessed with an awesome child, and I wish more people would give kids like Paul a chance. It’s never too late to give someone a happy childhood.
-- As told to TODAY contributor Sarah Richards