Single gay dads give tips for first-time parents: ‘I created the village around myself’

·12-min read
Single dads Len Evans, José Rolón, Bret Hunter, and Phelan Dante Fitzpatrick (clockwise from top left) share what they've learned about the journey of fatherhood. (All photos are courtesy)
Clockwise from top left: single dads Len Evans, José Rolón, Bret Hunter, and Phelan Dante Fitzpatrick share what they've learned about the journey of fatherhood. (All photos are courtesy)

Whether you’re part of a traditional or non-traditional family, one thing is certain: parenting is no walk in the park. But for single parents, the journey of parenthood can be difficult without the right support.

That uphill journey is even more nuanced when the single parent is part of the LGBTQ community.

While same-sex adoption has been legal in the United States since 2015, as of last year each state is able to make its own laws about LGBTQ discrimination in foster care, second-parent adoption and parental presumption. To date, 11 states have given welfare agencies the right to refuse working with LGBTQ people if doing so conflicts with their religious beliefs, as noted by the Movement Advancement Project.

Sadly, despite findings from the National Survey of Children’s Health and the American Sociological Review showing no overall difference in a child’s health whether they were raised by same-sex or opposite-sex households, LGBTQ people still face discrimination from welfare agencies. 

Yet, despite the hurdles, nearly 15 percent of the 1.1 million same-sex couples in the United States in 2019 had at least one child under 18 living in their household, compared to nearly 40 percent of opposite-sex couples, according to data from the 2020 U.S. Census.

According to the Family Equality Council, many children in non-traditional families are being raised by a single LGBTQ parent. In fact, gay single dads are part of a growing movement that has seen a significant surge of interest in the last few years, as noted by the New York Times

To get a more complete picture of the joys of fatherhood, Yahoo Life spoke to four single gay dads who prove that love is what truly makes a family.  

José Rolón, wedding planner and TikTok trailblazer

José Rolón with his son Avery, 8, and twin daughters London and Lilah, 6
José Rolón with his son Avery, 8, and twin daughters London and Lilah, 6. (courtesy photo)

When Puerto Rican TikTok star José Rolón came out at 18 years old, there were few public examples of gay fathers. Always knowing he wanted to be a dad, he took it upon himself to ask his boyfriend (who later became his husband) on their third date the inevitable question: “Do you want to have kids?” When he said no, Rolón was crushed.

Thankfully, after a few years of being together, Rolón’s partner changed his mind. After they got married in 2010, the duo found a surrogate and had their first child, Avery. A couple of months later, they decided they wanted to extend their family, so they went through the surrogate process again. Only this time, something unexpected happened.

“We went through the 10-week appointment and found out that it was twins!” Rolón shares with Yahoo Life.

Sadly, the joyous news ended up being short-lived. One week later, Rolón’s husband passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack. The dream of raising a family together was crushed, and though Rolón was seriously considering giving the twins up, thinking, “Who am I to raise three kids on my own?” he decided to follow through with their dream.

Fast forward seven years, Rolón, a wedding planner by trade, and his three kids — son Avery, 8, and twin daughters London and Lilah, 6 — have turned their tragedy into purpose through TikTok by posting heartwarming videos about the joys of fatherhood and being a family.

Their viral videos have earned them segments on Today, Good Morning America, Tamron Hall and Ellen. The family was also featured on the cover of Parents Latina magazine. Their recent video (a cheeky callout to the #FreeBritney movement) has been viewed nearly 6.4 million times and garnered 1.6 million likes to date. 

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“It's been such a wild ride and my kids have loved it,” says Rolón. “I've been really focused on making sure their mental well-being is on point and that we find moments to be really, truly present instead of dwelling on things of the past and not looking too far ahead.”

While the family is certainly winning hearts on TikTok, Rolón points out that although their joy is ubiquitious, it’s not always easy. His advice for other single parents? Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.

“I lost both my parents many years ago and I did everything wrong,” he says of the early years of parenthood. “I made a very conscious decision, in the beginning, to never say no to accept help because I was not going to burn out. I see two-parent households exhausted all the time because they're not willing to let other people inside.”

Phelan Dante Fitzpatrick, small business owner and former politician

Phelan Dante Fitzpatrick and his daughter, Artemis. (courtesy photo)
Phelan Dante Fitzpatrick and his daughter, Artemis. (courtesy photo)

Phelan Dante Fitzpatrick grew up with a strong role model in his single mom, who worked three jobs to bring up her family. In hindsight, it was his mother’s example that allowed him to dream of having a family of his own.

“We had first looked into adoption,” Fitzpatrick explains to Yahoo Life. “But after everything is said and done, adoption for gay men is still really difficult."

Fitzpatrick and his ex decided to do surrogacy. Working with a company called Circle Surrogacy, they found a Utah-based surrogate and were lucky enough to have “one of our best friends” donate her eggs. It wasn’t long before their daughter, Artemis, 4, was born.

Though he and his ex split three years ago, they continue to co-parent Artemis, which served Fitzpatrick well this year when he ran for New York City Council. He lost the election but had he won he would have been the first Black council member ever elected in District 3. During his campaign, he earned the endorsements of names like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Amanda Kloots, and Olivia Munn.

“We're basically co-parenting experts now,” he quips. “But, on the downside, our daughter does a lot of traveling back and forth throughout the week. There isn't a day that one of us doesn't see our daughter, whether that's dropping her off for school or picking her up. Every day, either one of us can see her, which is really great. Although we're not together anymore, we have worked really hard to maintain our family.”

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Fitzpatrick, whose father, a gay Black man, was killed senselessly by gun violence in the parking lot of a gay bar when Fitzpatrick was 18, says that fatherhood gave him unique opportunities to turn his painful past into purpose through the love of his daughter.

“I volunteered before the pandemic at the LGBTQ Center and at churches. But this past year, running for office was an amazing opportunity for me and my daughter to do those things together,” he shares.

“I think that gay parents make the best parents in the world,” he says. “The trials and tribulations that we go through, as LGBTQ people, those lessons, we pass them on when we're raising our own children. Things that we're scared to talk to our parents about or the hardships that we endure in elementary school and junior high school. We're basically experts on how to deal with conflict and how to deal with heartache. I think that those give us experiences a lot of straight couples, when they have children, don't necessarily have. We also have an endless amount of patience. I think that's really important when you're having kids.”

Len Evans, PR professional and proud papa

Len Evans and his son Conner. (courtesy photo)
Len Evans and his son Conner. (courtesy photo)

For entertainment publicist Len Evans, having a child was always a dream, but never did he think he’d be tackling it as a single dad. Now, he says fostering a child has been the “best accomplishment” of his life.

In his 20s and 30s, Evans immersed himself in work — hobnobbing with A-listers, going out, dating people on and off, though no one really “stuck around.” When he entered his 40s, however, something shifted.

“As you get older, your friends drop out and they become very few in your life,” he explains to Yahoo Life. “A lot of gay men, as they get older, become lonely. They find themselves trying to relive their past, but it's not the same, so I think you have to find a new hobby. For me, having a kid was like a new hobby. I feel like I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing.”

Evans recalls receiving inspiration from celebrity blogger Perez Hilton when they worked together on NEWSical the Musical!. One night, Hilton, a single gay dad who's welcomed three children via surrogate, opened up to Evans about the joys of fatherhood and his own journey. It was a conversation Evans would never forget, and one that would eventually inspire him to take the leap.

Evans considered doing surrogacy but opted not to because of the high costs. Then, something unexpected happened.

His business partner had adopted twin boys and began fostering a third child named Conner, then 10 years old. According to Evans, the chemistry between Conner and the siblings wasn’t working out, but Evans grew attached to Conner the more he visited the family. So, his business partner asked if he’d consider fostering Conner, who was suffering from emotional trauma due to his prior housing situation.

What happened next was a tedious two-and-a-half-year process. Evans started driving nearly three hours to Connecticut every weekend for an entire year just to see Conner. At the time, he was working with the Department of Children and Families (DCF). Once DCF saw he was committed, it ended up reaching out to the Children’s Aid Family Services in New Jersey (where he lived at the time) in order for Conner to be placed in his care and to cross the state’s border. 

Additionally, Evans had to be licensed as a foster parent, which itself was a rigorous process that includes background checks, financial calls, education on sexuality, suicide and trauma, among other things.

Conner became Evans’s legally adopted son in April when the court threw a ceremony via Zoom, officially changing his name to Conner Evans.

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While being a dad is one of the most rewarding things to have happened to Evans, who has since relocated to Miami with his son, he admits there are “rocky moments, but I’m trying to figure it all out.”

“What I've learned about myself is that I have a lot of patience,” he says. “You need to have patience with a child. I can learn to decompress now, whereas before I never knew how to turn off work. I was always working 24-7, quite honestly, because I had nothing else to do. My career was my life so I lived and breathed work. Now, I'm able to manage family and downtime.”

“I was going through that emptiness of growing older as a gay man and not having a significant other and not having the life I once lived, and not understanding where I was going,” he continues. “That emptiness and loneliness has disappeared. Having a child has filled that void tremendously. I don't have time to be alone.”

Something he looks forward to these days? Daddy naps. “I know all these gay dads who do it too. We all take a little daddy nap!”

Bret Hunter, attorney and part-time lacrosse dad

Bret Evans with his young son, Ronan, now 9. (courtesy photo)
Bret Evans with his young son, Ronan, now 9. (courtesy photo)

Bret Hunter was living the fast life of a successful attorney for two decades before having his son Ronan, 9. But those days have taken a pause — something he says is inevitable when having young children.

“If you don’t have a bunch of friends who already have kids, you're not gonna see them much,” Hunter quips to Yahoo Life. “You don't have a lot in common anymore because all your time is spent being a parent. I dealt with some isolation after I first had a kid that I hadn't really expected. People stopped asking me to do things because I couldn't. To do things, I had to really plan ahead and when you have an infant or toddler, sometimes you’re just exhausted.”

“Certainly those friends show up for your kid's birthday,” he clarifies, “but a lot of your social network starts becoming other parents.”

Hunter, a successful divorce attorney with his own private practice in Los Angeles, says he was badly bullied as a teenager for being gay. Growing up, his parents routinely moved the family from state to state, making it impossible to build roots and find a community of peers. So when Hunter decided it was time to raise a child of his own, creating a stable environment for his son to flourish was the top priority.

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“I created the village around myself,” Hunter says of raising Ronan, whom he had via surrogate when Hunter was in his early 40s. Strangely enough, a few members of that village have appeared in a surprising number of ways.

“Going to court, for example, has softened my relationships with some,” he explains. “Overall, the community of lawyers and judges were really empathetic, supportive and interested. Every time I went to court after my son was born, judges from the bench would say, ‘Hey, how's your son?’”

Of course, that’s not the case for all single parents, something Hunter acknowledges and continues to call out. “I see parents who feel like they're neglecting their jobs when they pick up their kids or need to have a parent-teacher conference at school that’s scheduled at a certain time,” he says. “They look stressed out and they will even say, ‘I'm going to get fired.’ It's an overwhelming pressure.”

In many ways, watching his son grow up has been a healing process for Hunter. Something he's most proud of is Ronan's "confidence" in tackling life, which he says "comes so naturally." 

“It’s both his personality and, I hope, the things I'm doing for him that’s giving him confidence, which is a huge thing for kids," he explains. "He easily marches away from the car drop off saying, ‘Bye dad!’ whereas I might have been a little clingy as a kid when I was that age. He readily goes towards situations and picks up the bat or the lacrosse stick — and he's good at it. I never had that. I always questioned myself.”

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