In this week’s installment of the Huffington Post Queer Voices RaiseAChild.US "Let Love Define Family®" series, and in honor of Father’s Day, contributing writer Eric Criswell talked with John and Brian Pica-Sneeden about how they created and expanded their family over three decades.
“It is simple, really, you just treat them with respect; you treat them like people.” This is the advice from John Pica-Sneeden, and he should know. John and his partner Brian have been parents for a long time and have adopted five children over the past three decades. Yes, long before marriage equality was actually a "thing" and Whitney Houston ruled the radio waves, John and Brian were doing what others only dreamed about -- creating a family based on respect and love.
It was New York in the late eighties and John had a girlfriend that wanted him to meet this guy, Brian. She was sure that they would hit it off. What none of them knew was that their connection would last a lifetime and they would change the lives of four boys and a girl from a farmhouse in Connecticut. “If you had told me in my twenties that in the future I would be married for thirty-one years, have five kids and live in a home in the country, I would have said you were out of your mind!”
But that is exactly what happened. According to Brian, “We just thought of our lives as very normal. We met, fell in love, moved to Connecticut, built our careers and then decided we wanted children.”
A woman that worked with John mentioned adoption. Skeptical, John didn’t think that an agency would allow them to adopt. Her response was, “Who knows? Let’s call them!” Shortly after that call, John and Brian attended an open house event and spoke to the executive director after the meeting. Brian asked if they had a problem with a gay couple being foster/adoptive parents, and the response was quick, short and changed their lives: “I don’t."
It was three long years, but finally they got their first son, Carl. Because of the laws, only one of them could legally adopt, but both of them went to the courthouse, and the judge asked Carl if he knew what this was all about. Without coaching, or hesitation, Carl put his arms around both John and Brian and simply said, “Yes!” And with that, they began their lives as parents.
“I don’t know that we were fully prepared for the next twenty years, but who is?” says John.
The next twenty years weren’t always easy. After Carl, they adopted three more boys over the next eight years; Charles, Adam and Anthony. Their dream of having a big family had become a reality, and they received recognition by the state as one of the best adoptive families in the area. Soon they were speaking at various events around Connecticut as advocates for adoption, and not specifically gay adoption, which was still very rare at the time, but for the foster/adoptive system in general. According to Brian, “we felt it was important to lead by example. We were just being loving parents and it was great that our family was not only being accepted, but recognized for providing a home and support.”
One of the most important things for both John and Brian was that they provide a history of memories for their children. It started when their kids first entered their house, they would take a picture and make sure that photo was framed and on the wall by the next time their child came into the home. They spent time doing activities, holiday gatherings with all the extended families, and twice a year would go on vacation. “We’re not rich,” says John, “but we know what is important, and so we live within our means so we can take the family on vacation twice a year, it has meant a lot to all of us.”
Both John and Brian make it clear that it hasn’t always been an easy path of parenthood. It can be difficult for most families to make it through puberty and the teenage years without some drama and scars. John and Brian weathered the joys and the struggles of raising four boys and always believed that their duty as fathers was to show love, discipline and patience for their children. And their sacrifices have not gone unnoticed, Carl sums it up best, “I would probably be dead or on the street if it wasn’t for Daddy and Poppie.”
Just when they thought they might be done raising children, they got a call about a little 5-year-old girl who lived in the same town. Brian had always wanted a daughter, and after meeting Selina, the two decided they were still ready, willing and able to be fathers.
In their late fifties, John and Brian admit that their energy level isn’t what it used to be and that Selina will be their last child. She is currently the only kid living in their home, as all the boys are grown and living their lives. “Selina has really been a blessing for us. She is now in high school and very involved with chorus and drama club, and will graduate with honors.”
John feels that the system has evolved very little in the past thirty years, although the ability for LGBT families to foster and adopt is much better, the state of the system still feels very overburdened and the staff overwhelmed. His hope is that something can be done to bring in more social workers and potential families to help with the vast number of children in the system.
“It’s been a very normal life,” John reminisces. "We were just two people who fell in love, created a home, had children, and did the best we could with what we had.” Nothing could be more normal than that.
Have you ever thought of building a family through fostering, adopting, or weekend hosting? 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.
Please consider attending any of these following events:
Father’s Day Brunch:
Austin, TX June 18, 2016 www.TheHandsomeFather.org
Dallas, TX June 18, 2016 www.TheHandsomeFather.org
West Hollywood, CA June 19, 2016 www.RaiseAChild.US
New York, NY June 18, 2016 www.TheHandsomeFather.org
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