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Becoming Dads

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Howard Liebman, Tyrone Flowers, Aliyah

A number of gay men dream of fatherhood, but don’t know where to begin. Hotspots spoke with couples to find out how they started the process, how they decided on the adoption or surrogacy route and what advice they would give to future fathers-to-be.

Wilton Manors residents Tyrone Flowers and Howard Liebman went with the adoption route last year and now they are fathers to 10-month-old Aliyah.

Flowers said he always wanted to have a kid.

“I was never sure which route I would take or when it would happen,” he said.

As a school superintendent and someone who has been active in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of American program, Liebman said his life has always been around kids, but he never thought he would have a child of his own.

“It really started last May 1,” he explained. “We went to see my father and he said, ‘Would you ever consider having kids?’ And we got on the expressway and we said, ‘Let’s do this.’”

Flowers was furloughed from his job at Marriott where he would sometimes work 90 hours a week– and the couple were both home together, surviving off one income. After three months passed and everything was shut down, they decided it was time to start the paperwork.

“Life was slowing down, and I figured it was the perfect time to raise a kid — we were both home,” he said. “The pandemic put everything to a halt and put everything in perspective.”

The couple was surprised at how quickly the process went.

“You have to apply for a home study, which takes a month. We did it from May 15 to June 15. We hired an attorney on June 25, we were selected on June 26 and Aliyah was born on July 12,” Liebman said.

“We had no frigging idea what we were doing,” he added. “We hadn’t read one baby book.”

“We didn’t have a single Pamper, a crib or anything,” Flowers said.

The couple said it is rare to go through the process so quickly.

“Our attorney said this is very uncommon– this rarely happens. It takes some people up to 3 to 5 years to adopt and match,” Flowers said.

The couple chose to do an open adoption, (which means staying in touch with the birth mom) and agreed to see Aliyah’s birth mom once a year.

“There’s this misconception that birth moms are these deadbeats, but our birth mom– she has her shit together,” Liebman said.

He said they were told that open adoptions are very common nowadays and are now highly suggested due to technology and the ability to find information.

“Keeping an adoption, a secret is not long-term,” he said.

They said they are very open with Aliyah and call the birth mom her “tummy mommy.”

Flowers and Liebman, who are in a support group with 4 or 5 other gay men with kids, said that they have heard about some hard experiences.

“They’ve had some tough stories — failed adoptions, changed minds at last minute, a baby born that is drug addicted,” Liebman said. “We did not have that.”

Flowers said that part of the reason they were able to adopt a child so quickly was because they didn’t have any restrictions.

“Some people are gender specific, some people are religion specific — we were very open. We didn’t care. Some people are very [concerned] with alcohol and drugs,” he said. “Our attorney coached us that alcohol isn’t the worst thing, some drugs are not that bad — some you want to steer clear from. We didn’t have restrictions or limits.”

The couple said they would suggest to those who are interested in adopting a child to go through an LGBT adoption attorney.

“Multiple friends warned us about going through agencies because there are several that scam,” Liebman said.

The couple said that they learned a lot about themselves since becoming parents.

“I am much more aware when I am out of my surroundings. In the car, I wait at a yellow light. It has programmed me to think about things that weren’t a priority,” Flowers said.

Liebman said he tells other people that having a child gives your life a lot of meaning and “context that’s indescribable.”

“My life feels much fuller,” he said.

The couple has advice for fathers-to-be:
“Don’t give up,” Flowers said. “Your baby is out there.”

Tom Godart, Brenden Berleen, Caroline

Tom Godart and Brenden Berleen went the surrogacy route. Their daughter, Caroline, is 4 years old.

The Fort Lauderdale residents began the process in 2014, when Godart was 56 and Berleen was 32.

“I said, well, if we’re going to do something we’ve got to do it soon. I’ve always wanted a kid. I always felt like I missed something in my life because in the era [I’m from] it wasn’t an acceptable process,” Godart said.

The couple started the adoption route and met with several attorneys who specialized in adoption, but on a trip to Fire Island they met several same-sex parents and began to discuss adoption vs. surrogacy.

“They told us, If you can afford to go the surrogacy route, that DNA that belongs to you,” Godart said.

He said he chose surrogacy over adoption because you always run a risk of the mom changing her mind at the last minute, you have no control over health DNA, and you don’t know the health of the child.

“We were in the fortunate position to do the surrogacy route, which was very, very expensive,” Godart said.

Berleen said the process took two years.

“It was really long,” he said.

Godart, who works in real estate development, said they hired the company who worked with Elton John and his family.

“What you want in an agency is somebody who will really do the due diligence,” he said.

Godart said that the egg donor and the surrogate who will carry your baby are two different people and there is a lot of research in picking the right person.

“You look for someone who resembles your family. You dig in, you want to know health history going back three generations,” he said.

“You’re almost pickier with this than someone you’re going to marry,” Berleen said.

The couple said that it is also important to find the right IVF (In vitro fertilization) doctor.

“In the beginning, we met someone who seemed great, and we really liked her and then we found someone else and saw statistics,” Godart said. “The lady we liked was at the bottom of statistics.”

The couple chose a surrogate in Spokane, Washington.

“We are very close with her,” Godart said.

The couple said that it is very important to go about the process the right way and use a surrogacy attorney.

“If you do it with friends, then you really don’t delve into medical history. You’re kind of gambling that way,” Godart said. “At the end of the day, you want the best chance of success.”

He said that gay couples are so grateful when they finally have their baby. They put so much work into making it happen, unlike a lot of heterosexual couples who typically have an easier time having a child.

“Other couples have their baby when they are hot and horny,” he said.

Berleen agrees.

“When you go through a three-year journey — you’re completely invested,” he said.

The couple has learned a lot about themselves since becoming fathers.

“I realized I have a level of patience I didn’t know I had,” Godart said.

“I never realized I could be responsible,” Berleen joked. “It’s tough keeping a baby alive. It’s not easy.”

He added, “I never realized that I would feel pain when she’s hurt. If she skins her knee, I could totally feel it.”

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Oakland Park resident Robert Lamarche is a father to three children, and he is a licensed clinical social worker and executive director/attorney for ACF Adoptions.

Lamarche has been a social worker focused on adoption since 2000 and has worked in adoption in both the public and private child welfare. He became an attorney in 2012 and has worked at ACF since.

“I get to wear both my social worker and attorney hats here,” he said.

Successfully challenging Florida’s gay adoption ban when he adopted his first child is what led him to go to law school.

For those who are interested in adopting a child, Lamarche suggests they start by talking to other similarly situated people that have adopted recently to learn about their experiences and the professionals involved.

“Look for Adoption/Surrogacy Attorneys that are a member of the Academy of Adoption and Assisted Reproduction Attorneys or agencies licensed by the state of Florida,” he said. “Consider foster-to-adopt through the State. Consider private adoption through an agency like ACF or attorney.”

He said to take advantage of free consultations and don’t be afraid to ask questions. He also recommends attending info meetings.

He said it is important to educate yourself.

“Find ethical/experiences professionals, be patient and flexible,” Lamarche advised. “Enjoy couple/single time while you wait for your little ones!”

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