Growing up in the 1970s and slowly realizing I was attracted to other boys was excruciatingly painful. As much as I wanted to have my own children someday, I knew I was different and believed that because I was gay I could never be a dad.
My long road to self-acceptance wandered through dropping out of school, addiction, jails, and learning to live decades in long-term substance abuse recovery. Eventually, I grew up, came out to my Mormon family, and entered a long-term relationship. But despite outward success, something was missing; I still wanted to be a dad.
Five years into our relationship, my partner and I decided to become parents. The world had changed since my childhood, and gay people could legally adopt in our state. Two months before getting matched with a baby, our relationship of eight years abruptly ended. I decided I couldn’t raise a young child alone.
A friend who is a family law attorney knew I wanted to be a dad. She encouraged me to consider becoming a single parent to an older foster child. The boy she wanted me to meet was 10 years old. He lied frequently, stole, disrupted school, and took lots of psychiatric medication. The social workers described him as a “thrown-away” kid destined for jails and homelessness. My head said considering adopting him was crazy, but my heart kept whispering, “He’s meant to be your son.”
Why would a 45-year-old gay man with a lovely home, a six-figure income, and lots of free time adopt a troubled foster child? Although I couldn’t predict it then, adopting my son has brought extraordinary meaning and healing to my life. I discovered that my sexuality has nothing to do with whether I am a good parent.
Because I followed my childhood dream of being a father, my son was saved from a life of foster homes, gangs, overmedication and abuse. Four years later, my 14-year-old is a typical high school freshman. His behavior issues are mostly gone, and I love him as much as I can imagine loving any daughter or son.
It is estimated that there are more than a hundred thousand children, like my son, living in foster care, waiting for adoption. Most of them don’t care if their new parent is gay, straight, male, female, black, Hispanic, white, young, or old. They just want to be loved.
Yet in some states, my son would still be suffering in foster care because gay men and women aren’t allowed to adopt. My son and I, and many other families, are proof that gay men and women can make excellent parents. It makes no sense to me that some people would rather force a child to grow up in foster care than allow a gay man or woman to provide them a loving home.
As November, National Adoption Month, comes to an end, let’s continue to encourage laws and policies that allow as many foster children to be adopted as possible. The ability to love, protect and provide a permanent home for a child, not their sexual orientation, should determine whether someone can adopt a child.
JAKE DEKKER is the author of One Kid at a Time: A Single Dad, a Boy in Foster Care, and an Adoption.