TORONTO—When Brian Rosenberg and Ferd van Gameren first brought their adopted son home, the couple headed online to find other gay dads who could share similarities to their new experience—only to come up empty.
“Almost everything was written by moms, for moms,” Rosenberg recalled. “And we said: ‘There’s got to be something here that we can relate to that we felt talked to us.’ And there was nothing.”
The couple started thinking about creating a community for fellow gay dads. But with newborn Levi at home—later followed by the arrival of fraternal twins Sadie and Ella (born through surrogacy), they were busy enough with diaper changes and bottle feeds to add further to their list of daddy duties.
With their son acting as ring bearer and daughters serving as flower girls, Rosenberg and van Gameren tied the knot on June 20, 2013—their 20th anniversary. Recently, the couple marked another pivotal milestone: the launch of their website Gays With Kids.
“It’s good for gay dads around the world—especially in countries that are not very welcoming to gay parenting—to see that they’re not alone, to see that they’re a lot of other gay dad families out there,” said van Gameren, 54, seated alongside Rosenberg, 49, on their sun-drenched backyard deck in Toronto.
The couple contributes posts about their parenting experiences as the site seeks to address issues of relevance to gay fathers. In “Yours Truly Mine,” Van Gameren writes a touching letter addressed to Levi’s birth mother about how he came to be part of their family, while sharing the boy’s candid queries about why his skin colour differs from his younger sisters.
The site currently features posts on subjects like known sperm donor arrangements and creating a family through surrogacy, as well as tips on raising a newborn, navigating the dating scene and dealing with life after divorce. There is also a family spotlight section with portraits of gay dad-led households.
“One thing we’ve found that has just been amazing is the great tremendous diversity in the way that gay dad families are created,” said Rosenberg.
“That’s been important to us since Day 1—to make sure that we represent any gay dad out there, regardless of how he became a father.”
Rosenberg said the site also features writers and award-winning journalists that are covering “some pretty cutting-edge topics” he said aren’t typically covered in-depth by the mainstream media. He points to a piece called “Positively Dads” about HIV-positive gay men becoming biological fathers.
As Toronto prepares to play host to World Pride festivities later this month, Gays With Kids co-founder Jonah Arnold said they’ve been thinking of families visiting the city and highlighting activities that would be of interest—both connected to and outside of the event.
Arnold, who is a straight married father of two, said having the chance to give a greater voice to dads online has made him a better father.
“It’s made me think about all aspects of parenting without a focus on gender, with a focus on what’s best for children: my children, what’s best for Brian and Ferd’s children and all of our collective children.
“Whether I learn from women or men, straight or gay, has really been less important to me. It’s been very much a learning experience and I’m very thankful for that.”
It hasn’t taken long for the site to attract followers, crashing within a few hours of being up due to traffic, said van Gameren.
The couple said they’ve been hearing from people all over the world, including Australia, the U.K. and the Philippines. But Rosenberg said what’s taken them by surprise is outreach from another unexpected group: moms of high school kids who have recently come out to their parents.
“They think: ‘Well, first of all, you’ve showed us what life can be like for our child. And you showed our child what life can be like for them. And so for that, we’re really grateful.”‘
As they work to give greater exposure to gay dads, the former New York residents have been encouraged by the increased recognition and rights being afforded to gay couples, particularly in the U.S. as more states move to legalize same-sex marriage—a move van Gameren described as “long overdue.”
The couple has also been buoyed by the increased visibility of same-sex couples and gay-led families in ad campaigns.
“It creates a tremendous amount of goodwill in the gay community and in progressive communities,” said van Gameren.
But above all, both are relishing their roles as parents to Levi, five, and Sadie and Ella, aged 3 1/2, an experience that van Gameren said has made their lives happier.
“We have a lot of nieces and nephews who are much older than our children, and I always loved hearing ‘Uncle Brian,’ but I knew that hearing ‘Daddy’ would be just different,” said Rosenberg.
“And even though I knew that, it was still surprising to me how much more impactful and powerful that is to hear.”