#KudosForAll Spotlight: Brian Rosenberg
Today's #KudosForAll Family spotlight is shining brightly on Brian Rosenberg, Kudos friend and Founder of Gays with Kids. Kudos is so proud to be serving as the official diaper expert for Gays with Kids and to support Brian and team's important work in helping gay couples navigate the process of expanding their families. Read our full interview with Brian below!
Hi Brian! Thanks so much for sharing your story with us. To start, can you tell us a little a bit about your family and how you met your husband Ferd?
Ferd likes to say that our story is the oldest story in the world: boy meets boy at the gym. Back in 1993, that’s where a lot of gay men met each other. Incidentally, our first date took place on Sunday, June 20, which was Father’s Day. So I guess you could say we were destined to become dads!
Interestingly, we’ve always celebrated June 20 as our anniversary and got married on what was our 20th anniversary – June 20, 2013.
This year is only the fourth year since 1993 that Father’s Day has fallen on June 20, meaning we’ll be celebrating our anniversary and Father’s Day on the same day. Can you please remind our kids that they better prepare!
When did you and your husband decide to grow your family and what did that process like for you?
I became HIV-positive several years before I met Ferd, who remains HIV-negative to this day. Back in the 90s, we were living in Boston’s gay neighborhood, the South End. For the first three years of our relationship, we probably attended some 25 funerals of friends and neighbors…all gay men who died due to AIDS, mostly guys in their 20s and 30s.
I don’t know why I survived when so many others didn’t, but I did. I’m sure the love and support I had every day from Ferd helped tremendously. Ditto from my family and friends, who continue to be solid anchors for me, and now for my family. Of course, I also took advantage of Boston’s incredible medical community and was lucky enough to be connected early on to one of the pioneers of HIV/AIDS care. Thanks to him, in 1996, some eight years after my initial HIV infection, I received a new treatment for HIV, a new class of drugs that finally fought back against HIV, the so-called AIDS cocktail.
It took several more years before I felt like I could finally focus my attention on the future, one that did not revolve around my HIV status. That’s why we eventually moved to New York City, to graduate from the city to The City and experience all that we could as healthy, happy, out and proud gay men. First, we moved to Chelsea in the heart of the gay epicenter, and later moved to Hell’s Kitchen, the new epicenter. Once there, we discovered Central Park, where we took many, many walks. That’s where we saw first-hand just how many New Yorkers had pets, and we fell in love with Chihuahuas. We brought Duke home from the pet store in 2005.
While we always loved being an uncle to our many nieces and nephews, we really fell in love with pet fatherhood! Within a couple of years we realized that we both yearned for more…we wanted to be dads to a human. Ferd insisted that fatherhood was in my DNA, and that I’d forever regret it if I didn’t start become a dad. After getting the greenlight from my HIV doctor, we started to investigate our options. We both agreed that adoption seemed best suited for us.
You’ve described Gays with Kids as a labor of love. What motivated you to start GWK?
My now-husband / then-boyfriend Ferd and I became first-time dads to our son Levi through adoption 12+ years ago; we brought him home from the hospital when he was just 5 days old. During these early days of parenting, I had two parenting epiphanies, the first of which actually occurred the day before Levi came home.
Let me explain…we received a call from our adoption agency a few days after Levi was born, and we had just two days to prepare to bring him home. We were living in New York City at the time, and neither of us had family nearby. So after the call from our adoption agency, we hurried over to a giant baby retailer. While walking around the store I was struck by how many items – from clothes to bottles and baby food to accessories and toys – had labels on them touting messages of solidarity and support from and for women. Labels with messages like:
- Made with love by moms.
- For baby, from mommy.
Because mommy knows best!
Seriously, these labels were on well over half of the items we were purchasing. Leaving the retailer, we visited two other boutique stores for new parents; each of these had a name that left no doubt who their target market was: mom!
My second parenting epiphany came within a few months. At some point I realized that I had spent a lot of time explaining my family to people…to the pediatrician, at the daycare facility (to staff and other parents alike), to prospective sitters, even strangers on the street or in a restaurant. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to understand why Levi was with two men. While I had come out some 15 years before becoming a dad, here I was having to come out again and again to explain to people that Levi didn’t have a mom, he had two dads, and, yes, we were a gay couple.
I longed to meet with other gay dads who could relate to the alienation I felt within the parenting community, and of the unique challenges we faced as parents. But what I didn’t share yet is that, several months before Levi was born, we were paired with a mom who was planning to give up her infant for adoption. We met her and her baby a couple of times, and she told us that she wanted us to raise her son. But after a couple of months, the baby’s birth mom decided that she wanted to raise her child herself, and we never heard from her again.
Concerned that adoption was not proving to be a successful path to fatherhood for us, we learned about surrogacy and decided we’d try that route. But first we had to investigate the rumors we had heard about a research lab that had helped other HIV-positive men (like me) become bio dads through surrogacy and IVF. After a few weeks working out all the details of how we could make surrogacy work, we signed a contract with a surrogacy agency and gave them a large, non-refundable deposit. Three days later we got the call from our adoption agency letting us know about Levi. Not wanting Levi to be an only child, we decided to continue ahead with surrogacy. Levi’s twin sisters Ella and Sadie are just 17 months younger than him.
It wasn’t until after all our kids were out of diapers, eating solids and at pre-school or daycare that I thought again how great it would be to connect with other gay dads. In addition to connecting with other dads, I thought that I could help other prospective dads by sharing our experiences creating our family through adoption and surrogacy, and as an HIV-positive man. Much to my surprise, there were no on or offline platforms to do any of this. So we launched Gays With Kids. That was March 2014, seven years ago.
What is your #1 goal with GWK?
I have two equal goals, which are stated in our mission statement: To help gay, bi and trans men become dads, and to help these men navigate fatherhood once they do. I also want to make sure every queer dad, regardless of his path to fatherhood or where he lives, feels welcome, represented, and connected. (Sorry, I know that’s more than one!)
What has surprised you most about your journey with GWK?
Our impact. Not a week goes by without hearing from someone somewhere thanking us. Whether it’s the mom of a newly out teenaged son who thanked us for showing her, her husband, and their son what his life could look like. Or the closeted gay dad thanking us for giving him the courage to live his authentic life. Or the gay man living in a country where homosexuality is a punishable crime thanking us for instilling him with hope that some day his life will get better. Or the lonely gay dad living in rural America thanking us for giving him a community. These messages, received via email and across all our social media channels, have kept me and the team going throughout the years.
As a parent, what has surprised you most?
For us, the greatest surprise is one possibly not shared by most, or even many dads: How we fell in love with our kids. To be very honest, we didn’t love them from the moment they came into our lives. They made us happy, sure, and we thought they were incredibly cute, and we wanted to take care of them. But love, the real, deep, everlasting we-will-do-anything-for-you kind of love, that kind of love grew slowly, over the course of weeks and months. And it continues to grow every year.
What’s the #1 piece of advice you have for new parents?
It’s true, newborn humans are much needier than other newborns. But they’re also a lot sturdier than many new parents realize. So relax, I’m sure you’re doing just fine!
Questions? Email us at email@example.com