Terry Snider describes himself as "relentless and focused" during his mission to build a family. In this installment of the Huffington Post Queer Voices RaiseAChild.US "Let Love Define Family ®" series, contributing writer Beth Hallstrom tells Terry’s story of how stepping outside the box led him to his son, Vincent, and fulfilled his desire to have a family.
Growing up gay in Ohio, Terry Snyder was surrounded by “Leave It To Beaver” -type families, yet he never once doubted that someday he too would be a dad. Why couldn't there be Ward and John, he thought, instead of Ward and June? Or, why couldn't just Ward raise a child on his own?
Thinking outside his Midwestern box served the 51-year old IT director from West Hollywood, California well, because Terry has been dad to 14-year old Vincent since he moved in 2005 and Terry adopted him a year later.
"He's a wonderful boy, well, young man now. He's talented, outgoing, a big ham and wants to be a doctor or an actor," Terry said proudly.
Terry's journey to fatherhood began long before he met three-year-old Vincent at the boy's foster home. In the 1990s, Terry and his then-partner decided to conceive a child through surrogacy.
"At that time, I wanted a biological child; I think everyone goes through that phase, you know, when they want a little mini-me.
We wavered on the issue and were daunted by the cost, which, at that time, was around $75,000. Then, we separated for good in 2002 and the matter was closed," Terry explained.
"So,” Terry continued, "when I was 38, some friends reminded me that I wasn't getting any younger. By then I must admit my thinking was different. I learned how many kids are in foster care that really want families. I thought it made sense to help a child who was already here.
"I spent my 20s and 30s working at a good job and spending money on expensive toys or amassing a huge DVD collection and I thought, is this it? I came. I saw. I consumed. I died -- is that the mark I'm going to leave? So, I began seriously looking in to fostering and adoption and I came to the conclusion that it would be a great way to fulfill my desire to have a family and leave the world at least one iota better than I found it," Terry explained.
Terry went outside the box again when he began his foster care certification by not seeking help from any agency outside the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services.
"I was flying blind and self-taught. I didn't even know there were adoption agencies to help. By the time I learned I could align with an agency, I was too far into the process and I'd have to go back to square one.
"I was relentless and focused. I did the research I needed to, I took some classes and I probably drove my caseworker nuts with all my phone calls. But I was on a mission," he said.
Terry received his foster care certification in 2004 and by that autumn started receiving possible matches. The first was a pair of brothers.
"I never thought about two children, but I was so excited about being a parent I thought I might make it work. Then, their six-month old sister came into the picture and that meant I would need another child's bedroom for her. So that was strike one," he said.
The next match was a little boy who ultimately decided he wanted a mom and a dad, not a single parent. Strike two.
"That was around Christmas and I was getting kind of despondent, so I amended my foster care certification to include younger children, babies to three-year olds. That happened in January. Around that time, a guy I knew was matched with a kid and I have never been that happy and so jealous at the same time. I was wondering when it was going to be my turn," Terry said.
Soon after, Terry learned about TIES for Families, a program based at Mattel Children's Hospital at the UCLA Department of Pediatrics. TIES stands for Training, Intervention, Education and Services and is a resource for families that facilitates adopting special needs children.
TIES assesses children who have been exposed to drugs and alcohol prenatally and offers classes to prospective parents about the possible consequences of the exposure.
Through TIES, Terry heard about Vincent, who was 18-months-old when he entered foster care.
"At the time, my son's biological family had some serious issues that left them unable to care for him. I never have or never will sugar coat my son's history. I told him in stages and in ways he would understand. You learn in parents' class to never lie to your child or you'll set yourself up for a moment of truth somewhere down the road," Terry explained.
"After a year and a half in foster care, Vincent was three-years-old. I was a little overwhelmed by his issues because of what I learned about prenatal drug exposure, but I went ahead and set up the meeting at his foster home.
"I'm not a particularly religious person, but I did say a prayer on the way over asking God to give me a sign that Vincent was -- or wasn't -- the one. Well, when I arrived, the first thing I saw was his little face peeking out at me. He was the most beautiful child I ever saw and I knew I had my sign," Terry said.
Within a few weeks, Vincent moved to Terry's home and, he said, "We were just like any other family. LA is so wonderfully diverse, there is no 'normal' here."
Terry said he took 12 weeks of family leave from his job and soon found himself exhausted and overwhelmed by the energy level and activities of a toddler.
He recalled, laughing heartily, "Adopting a child after 40 is not for sissies! I was talking about this to the moms I knew at the park we went to every day. She told me, 'He needs to be in preschool, like now!'"
So, he enrolled Vincent in the Fountain Day School in West Hollywood and, while Terry caught his breath and up on the laundry, at preschool Vincent burgeoned into an excellent student.
"He was the Valedictorian of his class at Fountain. With what he learned in school and with our one on one time, he just blossomed. He went on to Larchmont Charter School and the speech delay that had been identified when he was younger was addressed through therapy and is completely gone. Now, he's a very well-spoken young man and he even participates in forensics competitions!"
"He got straight A’s last semester and he was a black belt in Tae Kwon Do when he was nine. Now he's a typical teen and into SnapChat, Instagram and Minecraft. I really got lucky with this one. He came prewired to not swear, be kind, polite and a wonderful son," Terry said.
Thinking about the past 10 years and watching Vincent grow from toddler to accomplished young man, Terry said his son brought amazing experiences and wonderful people in to his life -- things he would have missed not realizing his dream of being a dad.
"If I had to give advice to anyone thinking of fostering or adopting, first, I would tell them to go for it, absolutely! I have to say it's not easy, but anything you go through makes it so worth it," Terry said.
"Looking back on my life," he continued, growing up gay, it could be tough. Sometimes you think about how weird you must be, but you do grow up and you build the family you want and then realize you were never really weird at all. In fact, you're just another family. And that's what we are -- another normal family."
Have you ever thought of 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 of the United States. 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 or call us at (323) 417-1440.