Fatherhood has given Jay Billig a unique understanding of and appreciation for the concept of synchronicity–that everyone and everything is connected. As the tenth of 13 children who grew up in the small town of Little Falls, Minnesota, he was often being cared for by one of his older siblings or acting as the caretaker for the younger members of the family.
“Having kids has helped me see the world through their eyes, where there really is nothing but possibilities,” Billig said. “It gives me such hope and even anticipation for a great future to see a new generation taking shape that knows deep in the core of their being that they are really the same as anyone else.”
Growing up in a household that large (the age range from oldest to youngest is 22 years) was all Billig knew, so it was perfectly normal. The concept of privacy is something Billig didn’t fully appreciate until he had his own bedroom in his last year of high school. Though he always considered adoption as the means for achieving fatherhood, it wasn’t until his former partner signed them up in the summer of 2004 for a class at Lutheran Social Services of the South, an adoption agency, that it became viable.
The adoption of Gabriel and Andrew was smooth. Billig’s main challenge, like with any other parent, has been to stay in the present moment–since his children can’t help but always inhabit that space. “As a parent, if i can stay in that groove with them, it’s good,” he said, adding that his main philosophy as a parent is to always stay real. Additionally, Billig views the boys’ split
Time between him and his ex as a net positive, allowing him to recharge. “When the kids are with me, i can be fully present. A lot of parents can’t do that or don’t feel that they can–in a lot of ways, i feel like i get the best of both worlds.”
Both the boys have their gregarious moments and generally play well together, according to Billig. Five-year-old Gabriel, half Mexican by birth and adopted when he was two, is a bit more introverted and always trying to figure things out, whether toys, games or puzzles. Andrew, four years old and darker skinned, is Billig’s “ambassador,” always friendly and chatting up people in different settings.
During a walk through McKinney roughs Park, they came across a couple riding horses. Being boys, they were curious and wanted to pet the horses. “The couple asked, ‘are you guys best friends?’ Billig said. “Andrew said, ‘oh no, we’re just brothers.’ ”
Still, they are both at difficult ages, transitioning from one phase of childhood to another. In the fashion typical of raising children and trying to find a structure that works, Billig utilizes what he calls “redirection.” That can mean using the breath work he developed years ago from practicing yoga. In particularly stressful situations, taking time out for a cleansing breath allows his two sons–and sometimes, him–to refocus on what matters.
What matters, of course, is the boys. Although Billig and his former partner split after just over five years together, they maintain a strong connection as coparents of Gabriel and Andrew.
For his part, Billig said their sons are comfortable at both places and that he’s in a better place with his ex now than when they were together. “We make time for each other and for the kids when other family members are in town visiting,” said Billig.
If they’re not spending time at home playing around in the backyard or entertaining and visiting with friends, Billig will take his sons hiking through the Blunn Creek nature Preserve, which has an active spring-fed creek, a range of Central Texas vegetation and exposed volcanic rock, located just north of St. Edward’s University. Billig also enjoys kayaking on Lady Bird Lake, running the hike & Bike trail or going geocaching with his sons.
Geocaching is a GPs-guided treasure-hunting adventure that anyone can do, provided you have the right application on your cell phone.
Billig thinks of himself as a parent who happens to be gay rather than a “gay parent.” Indeed, he sees his sexual orientation as a nonissue and said that he hopes his children will be able to handle any feedback they might receive. “My hope is that the kids are prepared enough to answer that question–if it comes–the way they’ve been taught,” he said. “That it doesn’t matter. The answer is that people are free to love who they want to love.”
Although Little Falls wasn’t the most liberal place in the north star state, Billig did notice a relatively progressive vibe in the town. An older brother, 10 years his senior, had come out as gay while Billig was attending Crosier, an all-boys Catholic boarding school that has since closed. At that point, around the age of 13, Billig came out to himself. His older brother’s process helped make Billig’s a bit easier.
While Billig was in school at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, he’d begun to visit Austin after coming down for another older brother’s wedding in 1987. After college (he studied music but did not earn a degree), he moved down as fast as he could. His realization that music was not his passion was a partial catalyst for his pursuit of what was, at that point, a consistent interest and focus: design.
Billig, who loved to draw as a child and who’s entirely self-taught as a designer, has built furniture and done his share of woodworking over the years. His very first design project, at the age of eight, was to cull together the necessary spare parts in the family garage and build himself a bike. Other than that, his first actual project was a dining room table and chairs in 1993. These days, the design/build company that he formed in 1994, the Whole Place, handles everything from color consultations, basic or advanced renovation/ additions and full-on home builds. Recently, his firm completed a full redesign of a home on Lake LBJ that basically transformed a smaller house into a vacation getaway with a large, open porch for two families.
In the midst of parenting and running his firm, Billig makes time for giving back to the city. As a former head octopus for the octopus Club, which is a grassroots, volunteer arm of AIDS services of Austin that raises money for the Paul Kirby emergency AIDS fund, he served two terms and helped organize a range of major events–including the city’s first art erotica– and he cofounded tapasgiving, another annual successful fundraiser.
Though his schedule doesn’t allow for as much volunteer work, one event he’s stayed with consistently is the Hill Country Ride for AIDS. Having started out volunteering the third year of the ride as a bike mechanic, HCRA executive Director David smith eventually asked him to work on logistics and production, which is what he did this year. “I absolutely love the ride, the way it all comes together,” Billig said.
Billig’s early experience in Austin, living in a rental off Enfield for a now-unheard-of $450 per month, has influenced his perspective on what he terms the city’s “affordability crisis.” his first job in the city, as an accounting clerk, paid him what many folks make now as a starting salary. However, that same apartment off Enfield is renting for $1,800 per month. Billig added that organizations such as foundation Communities, a nonprofit that empowers low-income families and individuals to thrive, is making incredible strides in building well-managed affordable housing units. Sadly, the need for those types of units far surpasses any one organization’s ability to build them.
“We’re working on trying to produce some more affordable units now,” Billig said, adding that his firm is in the research and development phase. “It’s much easier to work on projects for people who don’t bat an eye and just write checks.”
Still, he’s an optimist about Austin’s transformation from college town into increasingly urban metropolis– and he looks forward to watching it unfold as his sons enter school and his business evolves. “I absolutely love the flexibility I have to be a creative problem solver and help people realize their dreams.”