TNF: Your video for #HowWeFamily was beautiful, it made me teary to see you sharing so honestly and openly about your family. I know you and your husband met 15 years ago, what was it about him that made you know he was the one for you?
Denis: When we first met, neither of us was interested in another long-term relationship. My boyfriend had died of AIDS 6 months before and Hugo had just gotten out of a long-term, very fraught relationship. But there was an intense chemistry when we first saw each other in person and from that moment, we spent almost every day together for 2 weeks. It was very powerful. It became apparent that we wanted to be together. We shared a sense of humor, a similar political and spiritual outlook and we both loved travel.
TNF: Did you both want to have kids and tell us about the process of the decision to create a family together?
Denis: Wanting to be fathers was an evolution for me. Hugo always wanted kids. I didn’t. We had a 7 year conversation that was always civil, engaged but in the beginning stages found us on opposite sides of the adoption issue. My biggest fears had to do with Hugo’s career. I was afraid that he would not be able to work because he would be carrying the larger burden of childcare. We had decided early on that I would most likely be the principal wage earner and that if anyone had to stay home, it would be him. I thought he might come to resent this bargain and feel that he wasn’t a success. This of course had nothing to do with what Hugo thought and when I finally really listened to him and to what he wanted from his life, it became clear that being a father was very important to him and it became more and more important to me.
TNF: How did you decide that adoption was the best fit for your family?
Denis: Hugo and I always knew that we wanted to adopt. Neither of us felt that a biological connection was necessary for us to feel like we were a family. After all, I’m not actually biologically related to Hugo and yet he is the closet person in the world to me. We knew that we wanted to be a place where a child who needed a home could come. Our path to foster care was a little more involved. We did interview and apply to several adoption agencies but we did not have a great experience. For us, the commodification involved in the business of adoption was worrying. I don’t judge anyone who adopts from an agency – this is simply our experience. Foster care as a path to adoption was also not easy. It was a 4 year journey starting with training and classes and fingerprints and interaction with many state agencies. We saw the inside of many courtrooms and had our hearts broken on at least 2 occasions but in the end, the world finally legally recognized what Hugo and I had known since April 18, 2011 when he arrived at our house: that Declan was our son and that we were his parents.
TNF: How has having a child changed your life?
Denis: Having Declan in our lives has changed us fundamentally and profoundly – but it happened quite slowly. As he grew from an infant into a toddler and then into a little boy, we have grown into our roles as parents. Logistically, everything changes: dinnertime is 5:30; you no longer go to parties on Friday nights but parties on Saturday afternoons at 1:00 p.m. Your friends are now the parents of your kids’ friends; you find yourself saying “we” a lot more than “I”. I never really thought I’d be a Dad because society had told me that gay men don’t become parents and so I wasn’t prepared for the complex and intense feelings I would experience with Declan. Mostly I just feel an overwhelming sense of awe, pride and love. Frustrations arise, of course. I am surprised that so much of my father comes out in me and I battle the implications of that. More than anything that has occurred in my life, becoming a parent has made me feel more empathy with my fellow travelers.
TNF: How do you balance your family life and career?
Denis: I’m not sure that I do balance it completely successfully. I spend too many days away from Hugo and Declan. I try to talk to Declan at least once if not twice a day. I always try to say goodnight – usually on Skype or Facetime. Hugo and I have a long-standing rule that we can’t be apart for more than 2 weeks. I’ve broken that rule here and there but it gets harder and harder to justify time away from Declan. Every job I take, I think about the consequences and ramifications for Hugo and Declan. In the end, I spend a lot of time on planes.
TNF: Do you have any parenting advice for our readers?
Denis: Don’t wait until you’re ready. You will figure it out. I’ve found that while our boy is beautifully unique he is also a lot like other 1 year olds, 2 year olds, 3 year olds, 4 years olds – and there is comfort in that.
TNF: How did it feel the day of the marriage equality ruling to know that were legally married in the eyes of the Supreme Court?
Denis: I’m a little bit of a militant and so I was definitely relieved and happy but at the same time, I braced myself for the next set of battles. We still don’t have protections in place regarding housing and employment. The emerging doctrine of “religious freedom-based bias” will cause untold misery until it is ruled on by the Supreme Court. But, I was definitely happy. For a minute.
Thank you for sharing your family with us! Here is the #HowWeFamily video that we loved so much.
TYLENOL® – a brand that has cared for families for over 60 years – believes that it isn’t who you love, it is how you love that truly matters most. #HowWeFamily, is a campaign to showcase that while modern families are unique, we all share the same fundamental values that create an enduring family bond. Learn more about this great project by visiting HowWeFamily.com.