Happy Father’s Day! To celebrate Father’s Day this year, we invited BJ Barone his husband Frank, and their son Milo to speak about what family and being fathers to Milo means to them. Every family looks different, and we think that should be celebrated.
Here is their story in BJ’s words:
Growing up, both Frank and I never thought about getting married, let alone ever having a child.
I just thought it wasn’t in my cards. But I knew from a very young age that I was gay, I always knew that I was different from everybody else. When kids would say ‘gay’, I would always feel weird because I felt that they knew my secret. I was afraid that they would know that I was, so I would become very quiet. For a while, I lived my life for everybody else because I was afraid of not being accepted. I came to a point where I was miserable, I was doing things for everybody else, but nothing for myself. So I ended up going away, traveling a lot, and leaving my family because I just couldn’t handle it anymore. When I moved back to Canada, I met Frank and I think having that somebody or just being with someone who provides that support was huge. If it wasn’t for that support, I probably would not have come out. I would’ve continued leading a miserable life trying to please everybody else. I was thinking about what I would’ve told my teenage self the other day, and it would have been ‘be yourself and do not be afraid of what other people think or say about you.’ We always think the worst, but in retrospect, coming out to my family wasn’t that bad. I expected a huge blowup and everything, but my mom told me ‘you’re my son, and I love you no matter what.”
Frank and I met in 2007 and a year later I came out to my family. I moved up to Toronto, where shortly after he proposed to me to marry him. We got married in 2010. Right from the first night meeting him he mentioned he wanted to have kids and a family. I didn’t make a big deal about it because secretly I wanted that too. We took parenting classes soon after we met, and he kept asking me when we are going to have a baby and I kept telling him I wasn’t ready. I think I was scared of losing my freedom, hanging out with my friends, and not having to be responsible of taking care of someone else! Frank kept asking me when we will start the process, and I kept putting it off. The day I signed my contract with my school board I said to him, “Ok, let’s do it. Let’s have a baby!”
We met with many women who would be potential surrogates, and one day, after many emails back and forth, we met with the most amazing woman named Kathy, who would become our surrogate. We began the journey with Kathy and after one failed transfer we were finally pregnant! The nine months passed quickly (for us anyways!) and the day came for our son to be born.
In the delivery room, there was Frank and I, Kathy and her husband Kris, our midwife Heather, a doula and Lindsay (Kathy’s friend) who is a birth photographer. I remember seeing his tiny little head emerge and Heather, our midwife who helped Kathy bring our beautiful son into this world, say ‘Shirts off!!’ We both took our shirts off so quickly, the baby was placed on Frank’s chest and I wrapped my arms around both my husband and our son. We were instantly overwhelmed with love that we began crying! Kathy made our dream come true. She gave us a family. She gave us hope that there is good in this world. During Milo’s birth, we completely forgot that Lindsay was even in the room snapping pictures of the birth. We are so lucky she was there because we have such beautiful photographs to look back on.
The next day Lindsay sent us one of the photos she took and asked if she could post it on her social media for her photography business. The first time we saw the photo, we were probably still in shock from being new parents, it didn’t have the impact on us that it did one or two years later. We were busy trying to learn how to change diapers and keep a baby alive, so we looked at it and thought ‘beautiful!’ and we put it away. When we look at it now, we cry every time because it brings us back to that moment and that initial love you feel for meeting your child for the first time. It was one the most powerful moments of our lives. After the photo was posted, it soon went viral and we received so many wonderful messages of love and support, and of course some negative ones too.
Fast forward two years later, and we didn’t know that our birth photo was being used in the way that it was. My cousin in Italy had messaged me that there was a political group using it. I also received messages on Twitter saying that politicians in Ireland were also using it. We were taken aback by all of it, and we couldn’t understand how or why they were using our photo to support their right-wing propaganda campaign against same-sex marriage and surrogacy. Looking into it a little bit more, we found out their political agenda so we took action against them. We wanted to fight them with kindness and show them that same-sex partners can have kids, the make-up of one’s family doesn’t matter. In response to their hateful campaign, we wrote a children’s book called “Milo’s Adventures; A Story about Love” As educators ourselves, we know it is important that everyone should be reading stories about different kinds of families, no matter at what age, and that there is no right or wrong way to love.
One would think that we are coming closer to equal rights, but then on the other side of things, we are seeing more hate laws being passed and hate crimes all over the world. Every time that I think that we’re going forward, I feel like we are also going backwards. I mean yes laws in the States and in some European countries are changing and helping gay and lesbian people have more rights, there’s movement for sure, but there are also people working towards taking those rights away.
Luckily for us, we have not experienced any violence, and that’s still what makes us so lucky to live here in Toronto. We are thankful that we live here in Canada. We have all these rights and freedoms, and we make sure, on a daily basis, to use those rights and freedoms that we have. That being said we still have experienced homophobia here.
When the photo came out, we got lots of messages, but the ones that seemed to matter the most were always from former students. Students that were either struggling with their sexuality, or not. The ones who messaged just to say ‘thank you for being you.’ I got one recently that said ‘thank you for just letting us know that gay people are normal, they get married and have kids.’ I told my husband years ago, that seeing it is so important. I didn’t have that growing up, and it’s happening more and more now. Kids might see a celebrity, but they don’t get to see the teacher that teaches them every day having kids, and it’s so key.
The positive messages we get from people make all this worthwhile. It reinforces that there are a lot of good people out there, and a lot of people are accepting. The positivity far outweighs the negative activity that’s out there. The many messages saying that ‘we hope to one day have a family like yours’ or ‘you’re an inspiration to us’ are the ways that we are able to help people who are struggling. It’s also wonderful to see those people who have had a change of heart, who have now seen that it doesn’t matter what one’s family is made up of, as long as one’s happy. They could see all the emotion, and it’s all from this one picture. It’s quite incredible!
Milo was born in a time when a lot of people didn’t and still don’t understand our family, so they have to ask questions and wonder why or how it is possible for two men to have a baby. Hopefully, in 20 years, the world will progress, and a lot of people will ask why it was such a big deal. Families are made up differently, but they’re all created with love. I want him to always be proud to have been the kid who helped millions of people open their eyes to parenthood, and to gay parents. There were a lot of revelations from that photo, and the positive side of its terrible use was from those people who said ‘I didn’t like gay people before I saw your photo, and my mind changed.’ We didn’t know those people, but I am happy that they had a revelation based on that.
Thank you BJ, Frank and Milo for sharing your story! Happy Father’s Day!
– The Love Child Organics Team
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