Gay dads Darren and Emanuel Kelly-Loulié and their son Jeremy
Becoming a parent is something that many LGBTQI+ people think will be something they’ll never experience – and for the longest time, they weren’t legally allowed to do so through adoption, surrogacy or other channels.
These processes, although they still come with far more administration and social challenges than straight couples are required to undergo, have become more accessible to gay couples of late. It isn’t that unusual to see LGBTQI+ parents with their children anymore.
Gay dads Darren and Emanuel (Manii) Kelly-Loulié are parents to Jeremy, and it was the process leading up to their son’s adoption that served as the inspiration for their popular and award-winning blog, Two Dads and a Kid. Initially meant to document the journey of adopting a child as a gay couple, the blog soon became a valuable resource for South African LGBTQI+ couples that were thinking of expanding their family.
In celebration of Father’s Day, we spoke to Darren and Manii about adoption, fatherhood, and how becoming dads has changed their lives for the better.
Tell us how long you have been together, and how old your son is?
Manii: Darren and I have been together now for over 20 years – yes, it’s a lifetime in the gay world – and married since 2012. We became dads to our 8-year-old son a year later.
When and how did you become dads? And was the process a challenging one?
Manii: I’ve often read that so many individuals put their personal lives on hold, not realising their dreams because they have put the dreams of others before their own. I wasn’t going to be about that life. When I turned 40, I sat Darren down and informed him that I was going to be a dad – was he ready to join me on this journey or not? Either way, I was determined to become a dad, with or without Darren by my side. Fortunately, my gamble paid off and he chose to start a family with me.
Darren: I had never seen myself as a dad, neither as an ‘in-the-closet-straight’ dad or as an openly out gay dad, so my position on fatherhood was completely different to Emanuel’s initially. When Emanuel gave me the ultimatum, I gave it some thought and decided, ‘what the hell!’ I had never shirked away from a challenge and, to be honest, never thought that we would actually ever be allowed to adopt a child.
However, the further the process developed and we met key milestones towards becoming parents, the idea started growing on me to the point where I started imagining going fishing with my child or going camping, or simply reading to them at bedtime.
The process from the moment we filled in the application form to adopt took approximately 18 months, up until we were handed our son as a minute 60-day old baby boy. At the time, it seemed like a really long and obstacle-filled journey we had embarked on but looking back, 18 months really isn’t that long, especially considering how happy and blessed we realise we are now.
Your acclaimed blog is a wonderful resource for gay dads who are thinking about adopting a child, and you’re honest about the difficult issues and questions that sometimes come up. Has the opportunity to think and blog about parenting so much affected the opinions you held before having a child, and if so, how?
Manii: No, because I grew up around kids, and I was fortunate to have been old enough to care for some of my nephews and nieces, and before that some of my younger cousins. So, I had an idea of what to expect as a parent, and it’s pretty much been aligned so far.
Darren: Most definitely. My small part in contributing to the blog was largely cathartic in the sense that it made me realise that if there had been a resource similar to what we had initiated regarding adoption or surrogacy when we were considering the options, I might have embraced the idea of adopting a child more readily. Subsequent opportunities on radio, TV and in print both nationally and globally has affirmed what pioneers we are and that by casting aspersions and the voices of naysayers and doubters aside, we were able to provide a fairly comfortable life to a child through a selfless act of unconditional love and support.
What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced as gay dads? Have you and/or your son faced discrimination?
Manii: Having to empower our son from a very young age to address questions about him having two dads, does he have a mother, how can he call us his dads when he doesn’t look like either one of us? Fortunately, until now, we’ve not experienced much discrimination. When we were looking at adopting, there were many adoption agencies at the time that were very clear that they didn’t support gay couples, as it went against their policies.
Darren: Fortunately, growing up as a gay man in a heteronormative society, you develop a very thick skin and you become oblivious to the stares, the whispers and the ridicule over time, so by the time we had adopted our son, nothing anyone could have said or done would have made us regret our decision. I do think that as a result of how gays and lesbians are treated generally, almost as second-class citizens, we have adopted a very protective barrier around our son in an attempt to protect and shield him from the discrimination he is bound to face at some point in his life as the child of gay parents.
What are some of the most ridiculous questions you’ve received about being gay dads?
Manii: Who’s the mom? Are you coping? Do you know what you’re doing, don’t you need a woman’s help?
Darren: Who is the husband and who is the wife? Does your son have a mother? Aren’t you worried that your son will ‘turn out’ gay, too?
How do you think your parenting approach differs from the approach your parents took? Do you think gay parenting requires a different approach?
Darren: I definitely think that my parenting approach is modeled on that of my parents. My parents were fantastic parents but were not without their shortcomings, which I think all children try and negate and circumvent so that they don’t make the mistakes their parents did in raising them. We all think that we would have turned our more confident or street-wise or assured of ourselves if our parents weren’t as harsh or disciplined or simply loved us more, or were more affectionate, but those are merely fairytales we have brainwashed ourselves with over time. Our parents, like us, did the best they could without the benefit of a ‘how-to’ instruction manual.
The nature vs. nurture conundrum in gay parenting makes it more complicated by default, simply because society has for so long dictated how families should function. In the essence of the ‘modern family’ of the 21st century, ‘parent’ is undefined, so for us, we try to be as open-minded as possible. We have encouraged our son to voice his own opinions and thoughts from an early age, and we agreed that we would never lie to him or hide anything regarding his mother, us, his family, how he fits in, his adoption etc. Empowering him with as many of the answers to questions he might ask or be asked one day was of paramount importance to us as his parents.
What books or other resources would you recommend other gay dads read for inspiration and advice on the arduous journey that is fatherhood?
Darren: There are new blogs regarding the topic almost daily, so that’s a good place to start. You can certainly refine your search more succinctly to be specific. Follow Instagram profiles that are relevant for visual cues on how to be a great dad and what you could potentially face as a dad. A book I was given to read prior to us adopting our son was Straight Parents, Gay Children: Keeping Families Together by Robert A. Bernstein, and Gay Marriage: For Better or for Worse? by William N. Eskridge Jr. and Darren R. Spedale, which was a great resource for me at the time.
What’s your favourite dad joke?
Darren: Want to hear a gay dad joke? I’ve got two of them!
How have your lives changed since becoming dads?
Manii: I’ve become less selfish and now find that life decisions revolve around our son’s needs over my own.
Darren: Definitely less selfish, and I plan and think ahead more. You now have a reason to add ‘legacy’ and ‘granddad’ to your ‘gayle’ vocabulary.
What are your biggest hopes for your son?
Manii: That he gets to be whatever he chooses to be, and one day when he finally meets his biological mother, she is proud of the man she sees.
Darren: That he lives a happy life, irrespective of the path or career he chooses for himself. We will support him 100%, no matter what his decision is.
What is your favourite household hack that very dad should know?
Darren: Learn how to make chocolate muffins as soon as possible. It’s the quickest and easiest way to becoming your child’s hero without having to put on your Superman cape.
Any advice that you’d give to aspiring same-sex parents?
Manii: Be 110% sure it’s what you really want. Children aren’t pets you can give away when they don’t fit your lifestyle anymore. They are not accessories! You can become a parent as a single gay man or single lesbian.
Darren: If being a parent is something you really want to become, then pursue it with all your heart and conviction. Leave no stone unturned and don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.