In this Huffington Post Gay Voices / RaiseAChild.US “Let Love Define Family®” series, contributing writer David Humiston shares the story of Manny Velasquez-Paredes, Jose Vega and the family that his life’s experience has helped him to create.
When Manny Velasquez-Paredes was a child, he and his fearless friends wanted so much to ride every roller-coaster they could. He says that if only we could maintain that fearlessness as adults -- the joy of the rises and drops, the bumps and twists -- we would all be better off. He has certainly ridden the bumpy path. Born in Peru, he was raised in a home with an abusive father who took his own life when Manny was only nine years old. His kind mother moved the family to Miami, where Manny found himself immersed in South Beach culture, which was then largely Jewish. Manny was one of only a few Latino boys in his school and the only one among his friends, so he integrated. He temporarily set his culture aside because he viewed it as a possible hindrance. As an adult though, he would celebrate that same cultural heritage. Just because one doesn’t get to choose the ride as a child, doesn’t mean you can’t find joy in it.
Manny’s Mom assumed the roles of both mother and father for a time, and life was good. She likely showed him how each parent can embody either parenting role -- an early lesson that shaped his own parenting abilities. Manny’s Mother remarried when he was 11 or 12, and he recalls seeing, for the first time, how two loving partners could share the roles of parenting. Not so much as salt and pepper, but as oboe and cello: each could carry the melody at times, and each could provide harmony, even rhythm to family life. Same-sex couples are strikingly more adept at this, I think, though the modern perspective for couples in general is changing rapidly.
There are no rulebooks for parenting, it is said, but Manny and his husband, Jose, took parenting classes through an organization near their home in Long Island called You Gotta Believe, which specializes in fostering older children. They stress that there are different ways to become a parent: surrogacy, fostering and adoption. You have to “…figure out what is best for you, and consider what is fiscally possible as well.” Surrogacy can be expensive, and there are a lot of wonderful children already out there that need loving homes.
Manny and Jose became foster parents somewhat accidentally. They had just completed all of their parenting classes and became certified as foster parents when the State asked them if they would be interested in becoming foster parents to Max, the 13-month-old son of a couple they actually knew. So, just days before Manny’s own birthday, he would welcome a life into his and his partner’s world that would change all of them forever. Manny points out that their agency continued to be helpful, though Max was not placed with them through the agency, and that they have continued to provide support through their second fostering appointment, Max’s sister Jaslene, who came to them a month later when she was only three.
There were friends who questioned their need to be parents but, as Manny says, “Whomever needs to be there will be.” They continue to make new friends and even change the perspective of those who were on or even just over the fence. Their decision to become parents has even made them into adoption mentors among friends and acquaintances. Manny says that they are now the “godparents” -- at least in spirit -- and an encouraging example to possible future parents in their area.
Manny and Jose stress to their two children that people are not colors or shapes, they are people first and foremost, people with their own perspectives and valid choices that should be encouraged and championed if need be. After encountering a young male cashier with strong feminine mannerisms in the grocery store one day, Max asked his dads if he was “a boy or a girl.” Manny’s response was that we should see everyone in the same light and that the best approach is to always get to know them “as a person” first. On her first ever school bus ride, and first trip to summer camp, Jaslene experienced some taunting from a girl on the bus who said her parents were “weirdos.” This same girl continued to harass Jaslene at times, so Manny, who was well known because he chaired the pre-K school parent committee, had the school put a stop to it with a well-placed call to the parents and words to the child. Letting them know that “there are people on her side,” says Manny, was the best thing we could do. We told her that “there are going to be people who don’t like your hair, your nail polish, or your parents, and that knowing there are others who will always have your back will encourage the world to change.”
I asked Manny if he had ever been given useful parenting advice from a friend or colleague that he could pass on. He said that a nun once told Jose that sticking to a strict schedule, especially at bedtime, would avoid a lot of fuss and bother, and that has largely worked but the rest he has “winged.” Ironically the one funny story he shared was how Max, knowing the bedtime routine, i.e., glass of milk, shower, straight to bed, refused his milk one night. Thinking he just wasn’t thirsty, Manny ushered him off to his shower, overseen by Jose, who in short order called out for help with a suddenly sobbing Max. It seems Max wanted that milk after all, but he wanted it after his shower. Apparently, Max was well versed in the bedtime schedule, but cleverly felt he could get back downstairs for the milk by foregoing it as a first step, thus prolonging his “stay-up” time, Manny shared with a laugh. Well, chalk it all up to another lesson learned, says Manny. Kids are more clever than we expect and the roller coaster does indeed still provide odd dips, bumps and the occasional crying child, but it’s all more than worth it.
Manny Velasquez-Paredes is a multicultural & diversity marketing professional focusing on the Hispanic and LGBT communities and the Editor-in-Chief for Connextions Magazine, the travel and lifestyle Magazine for the LGBT Traveler. You can also read more about Manny and his family here.
Have you considered building a family through fostering, adopting or weekend hosting?
RaiseAChild.US is the nationwide leader in the recruitment and support of LGBT and all prospective parents interested in building families through fostering and adoption to meet the needs of the 415,000 children in the foster care system. RaiseAChild.US recruits, educates, and nurtures supportive relationships equally with all prospective foster and adoptive parents while partnering with agencies to improve the process of advancing foster children to safe, loving and permanent homes. Take the next step to parenthood at www.RaiseAChild.US.