A long but heartwarming read for Sunday.
Steven and Roger Ham, gay men raising 12 children adopted from foster care, were recently named to Esquire magazine’s list of the 10 best dads of 2012. But the two had no idea until it was pointed out to them.
They’re a little busy.
Steven spent six years at home taking care of the growing family. In January, he went back to work full time now that Olivia, the youngest, is 3 and eager to go to preschool like her siblings.
Roger, who works as a school-bus driver and had the summer off, took 11 of the kids on a three-week, 4,248-mile road trip that involved four DVD players, three iPads, a 11/2-pound dog named Zeus and a tiny orange kitten that Elizabeth, 13, found recently.
Vanessa, 17, the oldest, bailed out of the 15-passenger van at their first stop in Las Vegas. She opted for a sibling-free visit with Steven’s brother and his wife while the rest of the clan headed up the West Coast, camping near beaches along the way to Washington state to visit family, and then back to San Diego.
The family appeared in a story last year in The Arizona Republic chronicling the dads’ efforts to adopt in Arizona.
Roger and Steven, partners for almost 19 years, have pieced together their large family here in Arizona, where two men can’t marry and where conservative lawmakers have tried a half-dozen times to keep single people, including gays and lesbians, from adopting foster children. Last year, lawmakers passed a bill that moved married couples to the top of the waiting list for adoptions.
After the story, the pair got calls from journalists around the globe and accolades from human-rights groups.
The publicity even garnered Steven, 44, and Roger, 48, two spots among 10 fathers “who showed us how it’s done” in an issue of Esquire dedicated to fatherhood.
Amid all this, they also got a phone call from Washington state that would bring their family even a little bit closer.
A family this large attracts attention, especially with so many young children so well-behaved at dinner.
Steven met up with Roger and the kids on the road trip in San Diego, and one night in a Joe’s Crab Shack, Steven said, little Olivia turned her charms — cute smile, contagious giggle and corkscrew-curly hair — on another diner. The woman came over to the table and asked to be introduced to the children.
For the next half-hour, he said, she worked her way around the table, hugging and chatting with each child. She was delighted that she and Olivia had the same kind of hair and told Roger and Steven that she was proud of them for how they were raising their kids.
The woman was Grammy Award-winning singer Roberta Flack. She invited them all to see her perform with the San Diego Symphony as her special guests.
While strangers recognize the Hams as a family, the legal documents that bind the family create challenges.
Arizona does not allow same-sex couples to marry or adopt, or for a same-sex partner to adopt a partner’s children. So legally, the 10 children adopted in Arizona were legally bound only to Steven.
The two other children, Isabel, 14, and Logan, 8, had been adopted in Washington, which allows same-sex couples to adopt, so both dads’ names appear on their birth certificates.
Because they can’t co-adopt in Arizona, Roger legally changed his last name to Ham in 2007, so everyone would have the same name and there was less explaining to do when he picked up the kids from school or took them to the doctor.
Years ago, an attorney drew up papers that, in case something happened to either dad, guardianship of the children goes to the other. Medical releases ensure that either dad can take the kids to urgent care, and paperwork filed at school means either can pick the kids up.
With only one legal parent, children in gay households are not entitled to health and Social Security benefits, inheritance rights or child support from the other parent. If a gay couple splits up, only the legal parent has custody rights.
Steven and Roger could re-adopt the kids somewhere else that allows same-sex couples to adopt together, but it is expensive, about $1,500 for each child. Steven says there always seems to be more pressing financial needs.
Besides, names on paper don’t mean as much as what the kids experience every day. The kids call Steven “Dad,” and Roger “Papa.”
But Shelly Krebs, an attorney in Vancouver, Wash., who did Isabel and Logan’s adoptions, made the Hams an offer. She would handle the adoptions of the 10 other kids for about the cost of one.
Reached by phone last week, Krebs brushed aside what she had done as her work: “I basically made happen what could happen under the law.”
She helps place children with no families into stable homes where they will be cared for by parents who love them — in this case, both parents.
“As a businessperson, it’s a little more paperwork, and it’s a little more time for me,” Krebs says, and pauses. “The world is not always about time and money.”
The big day
At 2 p.m. July 13, Steven said, he told his co-workers at Activator Methods, where he is director of customer service and events, that he’d be a few minutes late to a meeting. Then he closed the door to his office.
At home, Roger says, he gathered the children around the dining-room table, put his cellphone on speaker mode and placed it on top of the huge bowl of apples, oranges and bananas. He gave the kids watermelon slices to keep them still and quiet.
“The judge came on the line and said, ‘I’m real excited to be doing this,’ ” Steven recalls.
One by one, each child, leaning toward the phone, identified him- or herself to Clark County Superior Court Judge Diane Woolard. It was over in minutes.
Steven bolted to his meeting 20 minutes late, grinning, and his co-workers stood and applauded.
‘Really my dads’ now
One night not long afterward, while Roger made nachos for dinner in the kitchen, with Vanessa smashing avocados and Elizabeth browning ground beef, Steven swooped his youngest into his arms and asked, “Olivia, did you get adopted?”
Mostly, the kids say they thought it was weird because they already are adopted, and their dads already are their parents.
“We were already a family,” Michael, 14, says.
“The best part was we got to eat watermelon,” Madison, 9, says. Her twin, Jackson, nods in agreement.
But now the children’s birth certificates will have both men’s names on them, and Vanessa says that is important. It means it is official. No one can ever take them away.
“Now you can actually say, it’s really my dads,” Vanessa says.
School starts Monday, so plenty of the talk around the dinner table in the last few weeks has been about going back. Vanessa is a junior this year, an upperclassman to Isabel and Michael, who are freshmen. Isabel has signed up for ROTC and flag line; Michael already was named one of six captains of the freshman football team.
Madison is eager to start fourth grade: “At first, summer is fun but then it gets boring.”
Boring? Around here? Sometimes, said Andy, 12, who was collecting seeds for a vegetable garden he wants to plant. At school this year, he’ll wrestle and run cross-country.
Elizabeth has filed down her nails for basketball. Logan and 6-year-old Marcus can’t wait to play baseball.
Five-year-old Ambrose will start kindergarten, along with Cooper, who’s nearly 5. They already are sounding out words.
Olivia recites the names of colors she is learning in preschool.
Andy pokes his head out of the kitchen: “Can I get started on the dishes?”
It is Michael’s turn, but he’s at practice. Madison gets a broom; Elizabeth wipes down the table.
Steven watches, smiling, and says, “It’s all about helping out. That’s a family.”
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