Balancing Act

Helping gay men navigate the path to fatherhood

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Gay dads

Two men hands as they get married during a collective gay marriage ceremony in Brazil in this 2009 file photo. (DANIEL KFOURI / AFP/Getty Images / June 13, 2009)

Too many men have to choose between authenticity and fatherhood.

Andy Miller wants to change that.

The 43-year-old Texan just launched The Handsome Father (thehandsomefather.org), a national nonprofit organization devoted to guiding gay men toward and through fatherhood, with everything from mentoring programs to adoption and surrogacy resources to gay-friendly vacation planning.

First, about the name. "Handsome," notes the website, "means pleasing, dignified, generous, appropriate, fitting, ample, graceful, bountiful and, yes, attractive. We believe fatherhood is handsome in every respect of the word."

Next, the inspiration.

"When a man comes out, in his internal monologue he often considers what he'll have to sacrifice," Miller told me. "Maybe it's that he'll no longer have a close relationship with his parents, or he won't be able to run for public office. For a lot of men, it means giving up the dream of having children.

"Our goal is to let men know: You can be your authentic self and you can still be a father."

Miller and his partner, Brian Stephens, 42, decided to found the organization together after adopting their son, Clark, in 2006.

"It was a case of stumbling blindly through the process and hoping everything worked out," Miller said. (It did.) "Once you become a parent you become aware of so many different paths, and we wished we had had a more robust collection of resources to look at."

Fatherhood added a layer of richness and meaning to their lives like nothing before or since. They wanted other men who deferred their dream of becoming dads to hear their story and stories like theirs. They tracked down gay dads to contribute blogs at thehandsomefather.org and commissioned profiles of households headed by gay dads.

"Gay men don't always have a lot of role models for fatherhood," Miller said. "Sometimes the relationship with their own father isn't great post-coming out, and even if it is, the chances of their father going through what they're going through (to become a father) are slim to none. There aren't a lot of people to turn to and say, 'How is this going to work?'"

Statistically speaking, there just aren't a lot of openly gay men parenting. The Williams Institute at UCLA's school of law reports that 1 in 2 lesbians younger 50 is raising a child younger than 18, compared to 1 in 5 gay men. Miller would love to see those numbers grow.

"The stories we share show the reality that gay men can be parents and the children do thrive," he said. "And those dads need support raising their children just like all parents do."

Their children, as much as anyone, will benefit from such support. An isolated parent is an unhappy parent. And an unhappy parent is good for no one.

I love what Miller and Stephens are doing to connect loving would-be dads with love-worthy sons and daughters. I also love their message that we're all in this together — sharing this world, raising these children, growing these minds.

"Nameless, faceless statistics rarely change anyone's heart," Miller said. "We're hoping by demonstrating the love in our lives and talking about how other gay dads go through their lives, we'll show people that we're all very similar."

Which means, at times, lost and struggling and beat down.

"Nobody in this life is promised an easy ride," Miller said. "We just do the best we can and hold fast to the things that are important to us."

For Miller, that means helping other men see what their hearts are capable of.

"Fatherhood has changed my world," he wrote recently on his Handsome Father blog. "The least I can do is try to change the world in return."

I hope he succeeds.

hstevens@tribune.com

Twitter @heidistevens13

Join us for a 'Balancing Act' salon

Heidi Stevens will kick off a new series of in-person conversations about parenting, love and life at 7 p.m. June 19 at City Tavern in Chicago. She will join researcher Eli Finkel and couples counselor Jeff Hickey to talk about making time for your marriage in an increasingly hectic world. For ticket information, go to heidistevens.eventbrite.com.

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