Most people who decide to become parents don’t undergo a high level of scrutiny before proceeding. Few attend even one parenting class.
The bundle of joy they bring home is usually a delicate newborn, not a robust 4-year-old.
And the parents are not likely to be two men.
Ray Dumont and Rodney Mondor of Portland met by chance in their early 30s. Mondor was invited to a play and Dumont happened to be filling in for an injured actor. On their second date, they discussed children. Mondor always knew he wanted to be a dad, and worried it might never happen.
“The whole thing about being gay,” he said, “I thought would just shut the door, and I was determined to figure out a way I could have kids. I had been in a relationship with someone who didn’t want any and then was single for a while and feeling depressed to think I might never be a dad.”
“If I had said I didn’t want kids,” said Dumont, “it would have been a deal breaker.”
But he did want children. He and Mondor sailed through the second date, and have been together ever since – more than a dozen years. They became engaged the night gay marriage was approved in Maine and plan to marry next year.
A few years into their relationship, they began the long and arduous process of becoming adoptive parents. They decided to adopt a foster child because there were so many in need of a good home. In order to become certified by the Department of Health and Human Services, they had to go through an extensive home study that included answering between 25 and 30 pages of probing questions. They also had to attend a lengthy series of parenting classes.
Once they were certified, the state regularly sent them pictures and information about foster children in Maine who were available for adoption. One weekend, the packet included the profile of 4-year-old Ethan, who had been living in a foster home in central Maine ever since he was a baby.
‘We’re flipping open these sheets with little black-and-white headshots and their names and date of birth and a description,” said Dumont. “I’m reading one and saying, ‘This is our kid.”’
How did he know?
“Well,” he answered, “he liked the Hulk and Spider-Man and Scooby Doo. Hello?”
Mondor added, “He loved sports – that’s me – and cartoon comics, which was Ray.”
The process moved quickly, and on April 15, 2004, Mondor signed the papers to become Ethan’s legal father.
“It was my birthday,” he said. “It was the best birthday present ever.”
At the time, only one of them could be the legal father; Dumont was appointed a legal guardian. In 2007, the law changed and they are both now Ethan’s legal parents.
Nine years have passed since Ethan Mondor first met his new fathers.
“I didn’t really understand the whole concept when I was 4,” he said. “I just thought it was a really long play date.”
Mondor and Dumont were worried that Ethan wouldn’t like them.
“He met us at doorway,” said Mondor. “He was standing behind his foster mother and looked up and asked, ‘You want to be my dads?’ We said, ‘We hope so,’ and he just said, ‘OK, come see my room,’ and he grabbed my hand.”
“He was so charming and so sweet and fun and just glowing,” said Dumont. “The kid has this crazy energy.”
It wasn’t until he was a little older that Ethan began to notice he had two dads and other kids had a mom and a dad, but by then it wasn’t a big difference.
“It doesn’t really affect me,” he said. “It’s just like having a mom and dad except they happen to be two dads.”
But can two men properly “mother” a child?
Mondor says they don’t believe that gender is the primary factor when it comes to mothering.
“He has two loving parents at home and in his life. That is key,” said Mondor. “We are also lucky to have incredible women in our family who Ethan can connect with if and when he needs it. Our mothers (Ethan’s me?me?res) are very involved with Ethan and provide the ‘female’ role. Ethan enjoys spending time with them and they adore him.”
From the start, the two fathers agreed that three things would always guide their decisions as a family. When he was young, every day they would tell him, “We will love you forever, we will keep you safe, and we will help you grow up to be a big boy.”
It hasn’t always gone smoothly, especially now that he is 13. Just ask Ethan.
“A lot of things they do annoy me,” he said.
At the same time, he says, they treat him with love and respect and keep him safe. They volunteer at school and in the community, and Mondor coaches sports and has been on the PTA since kindergarten. Their home is open to all of Ethan’s friends – he has many – and their parents, who have helped Mondor and Dumont realize that many of their parenting issues are just that and have nothing to do with being two dads.
How does Ethan know how much his fathers love him? At the moment, the proof is in basketball.
“They try to do more things for me,” he said. “Right now I’m playing on two basketball teams, so, that means something.”