“I’m Daddy and he’s Papa,” says Frederick Reinhardt, gesturing to his partner of nine years, Jed Miller, sitting across from him in their self-described “shabby-chic” home in North Austin. “I wanted to go for Captain and Sergeant but Jed wouldn’t go for it.”
Sitting on brown leather couches in their living room one afternoon in late March, while their two sons, 4-year-old Adrian and 3-year-old Nathan, run around, play and bicker the way that boys do, Miller and Reinhardt exude a contentment that comes from following your heart.
Reinhardt and Miller both always wanted to be fathers and began pursuing options in earnest about six years ago by signing up with Child Protective Services here in Texas. They describe their experience as atypical, for gay adoptive parents-to-be, with a wait time of only two months.
“Our social worker, who found Adrian, was raised by two gay dads,” says Reinhardt. When Adrian celebrated his first birthday, the social worker said his biological mother was five months pregnant and asked if the couple wanted to take his sibling.
Travis County is friendlier toward GLBT parents-to- be who want to adopt, at least compared with other, less-progressive parts of Texas. Currently, the state does not have a law on the books explicitly barring gay adoption; however, that doesn’t mean it’s an easy path for potential parents.
The couple adopted Adrian, brown-haired and seemingly the quieter of the two boys, in 2005 when he was nine months old; Nathan was adopted at birth the following year. Their connection with Family By Choice, a social services organization based in Austin that assists gay and lesbian adoptive parents with a host of issues, began after the adoptions were finalized.
Family By Choice formed in 2004 to be a clear-cut place where gay and lesbian folks interested in adoption could go for support; however, they aren’t a child placement agency. It’s an all-volunteer non-profit and it provides the majority of its services for free. The organization aims to service any needs that LGBT parents might have that aren’t being met elsewhere.
“We didn’t see anyone out there who was saying that they were gay/lesbian friendly,” says Susan Griffith, LBSW, and program director for the group. “People were just calling agencies, never sure what they would be told and not knowing what agencies were friendly and what ones weren’t.” Family By Choice is comprised of two parts, one for gay male parents (Daddy-Os) and one for lesbian parents (Mommy- Os).
The organization also works with the Human Rights Campaign, identifying and assisting families who’ve been selected by CPS but have run into problems – such as when a judge in a particular area isn’t gay-friendly. The group – which hosts annual outings for the families and their children to places like the Waterloo Ice House on Loop 360, the San Marcos River Park and the Austin Children’s Museum – connects gay families to one another, but also to the gay community at large, including a bigger presence at Austin’s annual pride festival.
Both men say it’s been smooth sailing in terms of the community’s acceptance of them as gay parents. Both of the boys are in Austin Independent School District schools now, “and nobody has batted an eye- lash,” Reinhardt says, noting that their families and neighbors have been supportive.
If anything, their struggles are the more mundane, day-to-day ones faced by any parent – gay or straight. “We can’t go to happy hour,” Reinhardt, a 20-year resident of Austin, says. “None of our single gay friends calls us on Friday night to say, ‘Hey, let’s go dancing!’”
During our chat, Adrian, clad in denim shorts and a Longhorns jersey, who Miller describes as a “typical boy with boy opinions,” bounds into the room, jumps on Reinhardt’s lap to give him a big hug and say, “I love you.”
Although this heartwarming tableau has become more common, it still turns heads. “The gay community is so diverse,” says Miller. “We’re just a new aspect of it that not everyone has gotten used to.”
Both men work 40 hours a week, Reinhardt at a law firm and Miller in human resources, and they rely on day care for extra help, so they cherish the time they have with their sons. Does being gay give them a unique perspective on parenting? “The people who do end up being gay parents, for the most part really have to want it,” Miller, a 15-year resident of Austin, notes.
“I appreciate every single second I have with my kids” says Reinhardt, noting that because of other peoples’ perceptions (or misperceptions) about gay parents, they tend to tread more carefully than their straight counterparts. “When I think of Adrian turning five in July, I wonder where the time went.”
Within the walls of their cozy home, generously adorned with pictures of them and their sons – Reinhardt points out that they’ve replaced their art with Crayola drawings – these guys are reluctant spokesmen for the gay adoption movement. “I certainly don’t feel like a pioneer,” Reinhardt says. “It’s such a hot-button issue right now.”
Smiling throughout our conversation, occasionally leaving the room to check in on the boys, Miller offers his unvarnished perspective on parenthood. “It’s a lot of laundry, diapers and dishes.”
Family By Choice
8716 N MoPac Expy
Austin, TX 78759 | 512-267-0181