One of them always wanted children, the other not so much. In this week’s installment of the Huffington Post Queer Voices RaiseAChild.US "Let Love Define Family®" series, contributing writer Beth Hallstrom talks to Bruce and Kevin Baker-Rooks about how love and fate changed the idea of having a family -- and then came their son, Brayden.
Juggling a long distance relationship is difficult enough, but navigating an interstate adoption is another story. But determination, love, faith and lots of patience gave the Revs. Bruce and Kevin Baker-Rooks and their son, Brayden, the happily ever after they hoped for.
Bruce, 49, and 52-year-old Kevin, who reside in Matthews, North Carolina, are both ordained ministers currently serving South Park Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Charlotte.
They were first parishioners until several resignations moved them to apply for the vacant positions. Bruce is the interim pastor while Kevin is the interim church administrator for the congregation, which was founded in 1969.
Bruce noted the family loves the church because it is a fiercely open and affirming congregation that welcomes everyone.
"When Kevin, Brayden and I walked through the doors, we immediately felt at home," Bruce said in a recent sermon.
Faith and service to others have always been central to Bruce and Kevin's relationship. They began dating in October 2007 in Boston, where both were attending seminary.
"One night I went to hear friends preach at Kevin's church. He was sitting behind me. Don't ask me what the sermon was about," Bruce said with a chuckle.
"We took things fairly slow," he continued, "and our fourth date was the wedding of some friends -- I was the piano player and Kevin was the photographer. By December or January, we were a couple."
They became engaged on their second anniversary in 2009 and married a year later while still living on campus at Andover Newton Theological School in Newton, Massachusetts.
Kevin received his Masters of Divinity degree in 2010 and secured a position at an area church while Bruce completed his final two years of seminary while working as a pianist and student pastor.
"Early on in our relationship, we talked about getting married and having children. I always wanted to be a Dad, a Dad with four kids," Bruce said.
Kevin added, "I didn't always want kids, but after Bruce came along, the idea became more appealing."
Bruce recalled an eerie and, it turned out, quite accurate conversation he had with Kevin.
"This happened even before we got engaged. We were driving to dinner one night and Kevin told me he had a dream that we had a little boy with us. I, of course, peppered him for details. Looks? Age? Hair color? But he didn't remember all the details," Kevin explained.
Then, cold reality intervened and appeared to put the fatherhood issue on hold. Bruce, who still had a year of seminary left, and Kevin moved to North Carolina after learning Kevin's sister was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
"Kevin wanted to be near his sister and wanted to start a church. I took an internship as a chaplain at Duke and we really had a full plate.
"We were still talking about having a family, but it was starting to look as if we wouldn't have children. Besides, at the time, a same-sex couple could not adopt in North Carolina," Bruce said.
But fate took an unexpected turn in 2013 when Bruce returned to Massachusetts for his final semester of seminary, leaving Kevin in North Carolina.
Two months later, a friend in Massachusetts who is a foster and adoptive mother posted on her Facebook page that her foster son needed a forever home. Not wanting to sway Bruce and Kevin, she took the Facebook route specifically with the two in mind as perfect dads for this little boy. Her plan worked flawlessly.
"Well, of course I saw her post and called Kevin about it. He told me to go meet the child so, two nights later, I went to his foster Mom's house, opened the door and two-and-a-half-year old Brayden ran down the hall and leapt into my arms. I knew I was holding my son," Bruce recalled.
Soon, they were seated at a table, holding hands, forehead to forehead, laughing and talking. "It was so natural," Bruce said.
"So, we called caseworkers in Massachusetts and North Carolina and both told us they would make it happen," Kevin said. Bruce added with a laugh, "This is the gay man's version of an unplanned pregnancy. All of a sudden, this is what we were doing. We were having a little boy."
They began the adoption process immediately and Bruce began spending more time with Brayden. Around the middle of May, Kevin came North for Bruce's graduation and to meet Brayden in person for the first time.
"He crawled up on Kevin's lap and then we took a walk around town with Kevin carrying Brayden in a backpack. It felt so good and so right," Bruce said.
The excitement and celebration of graduation was bittersweet. Bruce and Kevin attended a graduation party with Brayden, where he won all the guests' hearts. Then, the next day, they had to return to North Carolina, clutching photos of their son while Brayden remained in foster care with precious photos of his own.
Upon returning home, Bruce and Kevin immediately enrolled in classes and readied for their home study in preparation of securing their North Carolina foster home license.
"It took quite a few months for all the paperwork to be done because it was an interstate adoption. There was delay after delay after delay. We were hoping it would be complete by Thanksgiving, then Christmas, then we were told it would be at least March. It was so frustrating," Bruce said.
Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, social services officials were reviewing all the pending adoptions and, according to Bruce, were aghast that the Baker-Rooks family was not yet complete.
Two days later, Bruce got the call that Brayden would arrive within two weeks and it was full speed ahead. Friends from church, who later became Brayden's godparents, threw a baby shower for the new dads and, in February 2014, Brayden and his foster mother arrived at the Raleigh-Durham Airport. In a repeat performance of their first meeting, Brayden ran up the escalator and right into his dads' arms.
Bruce also invited the church's children's pastor to their home to conduct a special ceremony for the new family called the Service of Blessing and Transfer of Parental Responsibility.
"It's one thing to have the adoption papers, but we wanted more of a ritual signifying the creation of our new family," Bruce noted.
When Bruce first met Brayden, he was told the child had been removed from an extreme situation, was non-verbal and would probably never be able to learn in a regular classroom.
"Today, he is non-stop verbal, in a regular kindergarten class, loves math and science, is very inquisitive and can read some. He is so far ahead of what everybody told us, I have full faith he will be able to do whatever he wants to do," said Kevin, adding, "He's stubborn and doesn't give up and that will take him wherever he wants to go."
Bruce and Kevin attribute Brayden's remarkable success to one simple factor: love.
"It's love, unconditional love and the security of parents who love him beyond reason. We tell him all the time that we love him the whole world and back," Kevin said.
"The LGBT community has so much love to give and a profound opportunity to give foster children the love, care, security and the life they wouldn't have otherwise," Bruce said.
"Many of us have been rejected by our families, churches and friends so we know what it feels like to experience what many of these kids have experienced. There's a special connection there, an unexplainable, wondrous connection. It really goes back to our faith and our duty to care for the least and most vulnerable. In many ways, Brayden chose us, not the other way around, and we are grateful," Bruce added.
RaiseAChild 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 of the United States. RaiseAChild 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 or call us at (323) 417-1440.
The Art of Love:
If you live in the Las Vegas area or plan to be there on the evening of July 16th, please consider attending a very special RaiseAChild benefit event at the Martin Lawrence Galleries at The Forum Shops. Tickets and event details at www.RaiseAChild.US