We asked a gay dad what 'family' meant to him. This is the story he told.
Fred Swanson always knew he wanted children, but how that was going to happen was a giant question mark.
"One of the biggest struggles for me in coming out was not having clarity on how I would have kids," Swanson says.
Swanson is gay and came out in the 1990s. At the time, he says, there weren't many models of gay men having kids of their own. Furthermore, there were several legal roadblocks for same-sex couples. Many states banned gay parents from adopting or fostering children. Even as recent as 2016, the state of Mississippi had a ban on same-sex couple adoption.
Then in 2003, a chance meeting online brought Adam Diamond into Swanson's life.
Swanson (left) and Diamond. Photo courtesy of Fred Swanson.
The two began dating, and as their relationship grew more serious, they started planning a future together. Both men were invested in having kids. Swanson had the idea to foster kids then eventually adopt.
Foster care and adoption made sense to the couple; they saw it as a way to show up for another human being.
When people talk about foster care, it often falls into a kind of savior narrative, Swanson says, but that's not the story of their family. People all over the world help each other out — Swanson and Diamond were just fortunate enough that the way they could help was to open their home to their kids.
"When someone needs a hand, you step up and you try to help out," Swanson says.
There are about 420,000 kids in foster care in the United States at any given time and those kids are disproportionately LGBTQ or black. Those are the numbers that motivated the couple to start working in 2008 with Amara, a Seattle foster care support organization, to prepare to welcome a child into their life. They left their too-cramped-for-kids home in Seattle and bought a house in Burien, a suburb about 20 minutes south.
In 2009, they welcomed 3-year-old Jaylen into their home.
But just as Jaylen was about to move in, Swanson and Diamond got a surprise. Jaylen's mom had just given birth to a newborn baby, Jaylen's little sister Jade, and wasn't going to be able to care for her. The question came up: Would Swanson and Diamond be interested in fostering a newborn as well?
It was a bit of a shock. "Neither Adam nor I had imagined that a newborn baby was going to be part of our plan," Swanson says.
Yet, two days later, they were driving down to Tacoma to pick up Jade.
"That was both exhilarating and also terrifying," Swanson says. Adding two kids, including a newborn, to their family was tremendous and sometimes overwhelming but joyful for the new parents. And, as Swanson points out, it's hard to not fall in love with a newborn baby. The couple officially adopted Jaylen in 2010 and Jade in 2014.
Over the years, their family has grown in love and size. A third child, Noah, arrived in 2012 and was adopted in 2015. There have been a few small challenges, of course, some around being LGBTQ parents — a little teasing at school (which has since stopped) and some ire at the Boy Scouts.
For the most part they're a happy, healthy family unit. Their house is full of toys. Swanson is "Daddy," and Diamond is "Aba," the Hebrew word for father. It's a life of fidget spinners and roller-rink birthday parties.
Having a family has redefined Swanson's relationship with the world.
[rebelmouse-image 19530293 dam="1" original_size="650x480" caption="Clockwise from top left: Fred ("Daddy"), Adam ("Aba"), Jaylen, Noah, and Jade. Photo courtesy of Fred Swanson." expand=1]Clockwise from top left: Fred ("Daddy"), Adam ("Aba"), Jaylen, Noah, and Jade. Photo courtesy of Fred Swanson.
It's changed his relationship with the future. "Creating a just and equitable world for my kids is different than creating that for myself," he says.
He's proud of the family he's built along with Diamond — a happy, healthy, and, yes, LGBTQ one.
Most of all, it's reaffirmed his feeling that the most important thing we can do is simply to reach out and support each other. "It really starts with 'how do I show up for you as a human and what do you need?'" Swanson says. "Parenting is a big piece of that."