- BC Games
Cover story: Two men and a baby
If the measure of a good parent is the love, attention, and patience shown to their children, then one-year-old Carter has the best parents anybody could hope for.
His biological father, Ray Reitsma, cradles him gently while feeding him his bottle of formula in their Tsawwassen home. Nearby, his other father, Will Fong, is talking about life as a same-sex married couple, and the “blessing” of bringing Carter into this world.
Will had never even held a baby until one year ago today (Oct. 25), when Carter’s surrogate mother gave birth, ending an odyssey five years in the making.
“We tried five years through every model – turkey basters to IVF (in vitro fertilization) – it was our last try,” he says, his voice trembling.
The couple, who have been legally married since 2004, spent $100,000 trying to have a baby. In the end it required Ray’s sperm through a clinic in Victoria, a fertility clinic in Toronto, an egg donor in Kitchener, and a surrogate mother in Chilliwack.
Ray says it was in 2007 that they began in earnest to see whether parenthood was possible.
“We thought maybe we should go for it while we still have time, while we’re still young enough to put all of our energy into it,” says the 47-year-old.
Carter begins crying and Will picks him and begins dancing the waltz with his son. A peaceful look washes over his face.
Unlike his husband, Ray always knew he wanted to be a dad one day, and says he felt it was meant to be.
But being gay meant making peace with the fact it might never happen. He resisted the idea of being gay until his late ‘20s because part of him didn’t want it to be true. He felt that admitting it might be closing the door on a family and parenthood.
Will knew he was gay since his earliest moments and was the first to accept who he was inside.
“I also knew at the time it was not OK,” recalls the 51-year-old, who grew up the small town of Port Alberni where the men are rugged and tough.
Having parents from China made it difficult for Will to “come out” and admit his sexual orientation.
“I remember it was the late ‘70s and my dad and I were watching a news story on TV about a demonstration for human rights and gay rights,” says Will. “And my dad just turned to me and said, ‘homosexuals, that’s disgusting.’ And I just thought, you’re talking to your son.”
In a scarring incident when he was 13, a person spit at him in the streets because they suspected he was gay.
But the couple says attitudes have changed and they feel blessed to live in a country like Canada where it’s OK to have a family like theirs. Will says there are countries, like Russia, where homosexuals are relentlessly persecuted.
“You’ve got one African leader right now who says my country doesn’t have any gay people, and if they do exist they should be extinguished.”
Ray grew up in the Lower Mainland and says he didn’t experience the same kind of homophobia. But the bullies were still there.
Sometimes, people just find a difference to pick on, whether it’s being gay, or just a red-haired kid with freckles.
“As a kid they were kind of hurtful because I still remember them,” says Ray. “Oh, you must have stood out in the rain and your hair went all rusty.’”
When Ray first met Will’s parents in 1999, they shunned him and pretended he didn’t exist. Although he wasn’t introduced as his “boyfriend” it was clear the two were a couple. Will compares it to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy for the U.S. military.
“I think they knew, but they didn’t acknowledge him, literally for seven years,” he recalls. “It was like he didn’t exist.”
Despite being shunned, Will says he was proud Ray didn’t give up on his family. He kept coming to family events, smiling, and being his friendly and warm self.
One day everything changed quietly, but profoundly.
Will says his mother doesn’t show her love through hugs or kisses. She shows it by giving him more home-cooked food than anybody could possibly eat. As they were leaving a family dinner, she handed Will a second bag of food.
From then on if Will ever showed up alone his mother would ask why Ray didn’t come and when he’s coming back.
After Carter was born, that bond grew even stronger. Despite the fact Will doesn’t have any biological connection to Carter, his parents dote on their new grandson.
Two weeks ago when Will went to pick up Thanksgiving dinner, Ray says Will’s mother turned and put her hand affectionately on his forearm.
“She said, ‘Ray, you’re a very good man. You and William are very good fathers to Carter. He’s a very lucky boy.’”
Ray’s voice chokes up slightly as he recalls the moment.
Will thinks perhaps the initial wall built between his husband and parents was that they were “mourning the loss of grandchildren.”
The seniors living in their neighbourhood were just as delighted when Carter was born. They bring by presents and food and leave baby books at their doorstep.
Their next-door neighbour, Dee, insisted on giving them a baby shower and even proclaimed herself Carter’s “honourary grandmother.” But Will says there are several other seniors who would dispute that they, in fact, hold that distinction.
After Carter was born the neighbourhood all pitched in to buy them a high chair and stroller, while others knitted clothing and quilts.
“Both of us got very emotional at that shower because in my world where someone spits on you just because they think you’re gay, to being in the shower of acceptance and having him (Carter) finally realized was just a journey and a half,” says Will, his eyes watering.
Ray says he was surprised at how welcoming Tsawwassen has been to their non-traditional family, but now he feels silly he ever thought otherwise.
“I’m hoping that when we look back 10 years from now we’ll think there’s no need to even talk about it,” he says. “A newspaper wouldn’t even be interested because it just won’t be news.”