After spending 17 years together as a couple, Thomas Ecks and Terry Grogan felt something was missing in their lives. There was some sort of a void they didn’t quite know how to fill. Then they realized the missing piece was children.
Both had come from strong, sturdy families with siblings, and it just seemed natural to want kids. But as gay men, they knew that would take some extra work. So, Terry began researching, and the couple decided the way to go was to foster then adopt children.
“We looked at all the options and we saw a need in the community,” Terry said. “This just seemed like the best fit for us … I had always wanted kids, so I told Thomas, ‘Don’t give me the green light if you’re not ready for this!”
Thomas’ initial hesitation was about children moving into then out of their home. And, in fact, the first two children they had, 2- and 3-year-old siblings, stayed with them for only six months. But through the classes they attended, they accepted that foster homes most often are temporary.
“We learned we can do this successfully,” Thomas said. “That doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt, but we gave these children the foundation for a lifetime.”
Then in January of 2012, Asia, who is now 4, and Ace, now 5, came into their lives. Between the other foster homes they’d been in, plus being briefly reunified with their biological family – who later became homeless – this became the children’s fifth home.
One of those foster homes included another sibling, Antonio, who is now 13. For months, he would visit Ace and Asia at the home of Terry and Thomas.
“We established a relationship with him,” Terry said.
“He was a good kid and we could see he really loved his brother and sister,” Thomas added.
Then Antonio asked Terry if he would be able to stay with them. Terry thought he meant overnight. Then Antonio brought it up again.
“I mean like all the time!”
The couple told him that a lot of people would be involved in the decision and that “it has to be right for you, Ace and Asia, and us for that to happen,” Thomas said. “But from our perspective, there really was no reason to say no.”
Then things got a bit strange. A former foster mother and father were walking in front of Terry and Thomas’ home, on July 4th, saw the kids, and told them they wanted to get re-licensed so as to adopt Antonio. This was the same day he had asked to stay with Terry and Thomas. His current foster parents also were willing to adopt.
“With three families involved, I think he felt a bit empowered!” Thomas said with a laugh. “But he really wanted and needed to be with his siblings. There was a very strong connection there, so we went back to the licensing person, and ultimately Antonio was placed with us and his brother and sister.”
During the process of formalizing the adoption of the three children, Terry and Thomas maintained their relationship with their biological father. And he still sees the kids weekly.
“We can’t be strong enough advocates to have biological families part of the decisions about kids’ lives when appropriate” Thomas said. When they first went to court for the children’s father’s termination of parental rights, the judge noted that the man was deferring to Terry and Thomas, so he delayed final action for 30 days.
The couple felt that it was important for the biological father to explain to Antonio why he was going to give up his rights. He did, and ultimately everything worked out just fine, in great part because Thomas and Terry stressed they were committed to keeping the dad’s connection with his children.
“People who saw Antonio within that 30 days said he was a different kid, happy smiling, interacting. We could see there really was a weight lifted off of him,” Thomas said.
Terry and Thomas wanted to be sure that Antonio understood they were a gay couple, so they sat him down and talked to him.
“We said, ‘We’re a couple, we love each other, and we’re in a relationship,’” Terry said. Antonio told a kid at school they were brothers. “So, we tried again. We said, ‘We’re not brothers; we’re not related. Do you understand what a gay relationship is?’”
“Yeah, I just don’t like to say it,” Antonio answered. Although he apparently was concerned about the kind of reaction he might get at school, teachers and fellow students have been great, and there have been no problems at all, Terry said. It really has become a non-issue.
“We’re seeing a rapid change in our society, beyond the question of whether this is an appropriate home,” Thomas said. “We’re simply living our lives in front of everybody and we’re not worried about their perspective.”
But the love and normalcy the family exhibits has changed perspectives, including some firmly held beliefs. The children’s biological grandmother, who lives in Texas, is very religious and thought this home was wrong. Because Terry and Thomas felt she was a vital part of the children’s lives, they were committed to keeping the lines of communication open. Eventually, when she was in town for a visit, she and her husband took the family out for dinner. Now she calls weekly, really wanting a connection with her grandchildren.
And the family has received much welcomed, yet unexpected, support from their community. People have stopped them in the park across from their home and thanked them for being in the lives of these children. They have left packages on their doorstep.
“They’ve really recognized that raising children successfully is a community effort,” Thomas said.
“And SaintA has been extremely welcoming and supportive,” he said. “They have embraced us as a family. They’re doing great things without any concern for the color of our skin, nationality, our relationship. None of that is important. Nothing has held us back at all.”
In fact, the couple have grown closer with each other, they said, supporting one another in child rearing, complementing each other’s personalities. Recently they went to dinner and Thomas asked, “How’s this going?”
“I think we’re doing really good,” Terry answered. “I can’t imagine our lives without them. Actually, I barely remember our lives without them.
“Except we had better television!”