When Ken Manford, 54, sat down to write the truth about his sexual orientation in a letter to his parents, he made certain they were prepared for the real possibility that he wouldn’t be able to provide an opportunity for them to be grandparents to his offspring. After all, he was deeply in love with Jeffrey Roach, 51, and was certain they were going to spend the rest of their lives together despite Roach being incapable—yet willing—to create a child with him in the natural progression of their 25-year relationship.
“This doesn’t mean anything to you as my parents, except for the fact that you may not get grandchildren from me,” wrote Manford in his coming out letter.
In hindsight, his use of the word may turned out to be a small sliver of hope for Manford, his parents and eventually Roach, now his husband and father to their adopted son Jackson.
“Deep down I always knew I wanted a family and children, even though I maybe never vocalized it,” says Manford.
“I always knew that I was gay and I always just thought—I’m never gonna be married, I’m never gonna have kids. I actually thought I was always going to be on my own,” says Roach. “There was no ‘Modern Family.’ There were no examples that this was all possible.”
“PopDaddy,” the recently released memoir written by Roach, chronicles the couple’s journey towards becoming parents via an international Guatemalan adoption of their son Jackson, now 14, proving that the Decatur couple’s desire to create a family as gay men was not only possible but it was happening.
The road to Jackson
But where would they start? Manford admits he didn’t have a clue when he and Roach caught baby fever—literally—from Marti, a co-worker in the Dallas, Texas office where the pair worked after she announced her pregnancy in 2001. Would surrogacy, fostering or adoption be the best choice for their family? If they chose adoption, would they go the domestic or international route?
“Someone gave us the advice to hire a social worker. We did some research and I found a lesbian couple in Dallas that worked for child protection services who suggested Guatemala,” says Manford.
“The country has completely opened up adoptions right now, they’re not really scrutinizing, they’re letting single men adopt and there’s been some significant success in that,” he recalls the advice of the social worker. “The timing is really good right now and we think it’d be a good avenue for you.”
“Their counsel was spot on,” he says.
What followed was a series of home visits to ensure the couple’s living quarters were conducive for raising a child, background checks, filing fees, endless paperwork and what felt like an eternity of waiting for Jackson to join their family.
“There was no morning sickness, no baby bump, no Lamaze classes, no swollen feet and no tiny little kicks to remind us of the prize at the bottom of this particular Cracker Jack box,” writes Roach in “PopDaddy.”
It all seemed so impersonal and void of any human connection for this amazing human being that he and his husband would be responsible for loving and providing for over the next 18 years of his life.
“There’s a lot of waiting and hoping. Adoption is one long act of faith and devotion. You’re putting your faith in the system that it’s all going to work out for you and it did for us,” says Roach.
Becoming a trio
It was life-changing for the new parents the day the waiting game ended and the distance between Jackson and his dads became no more than a few steps away from their bed to his crib.
“The minute Jackson arrived we became a trio,” says Roach. “We’d waited so long that we didn’t want babysitters, we didn’t want nannies. Beyond our family trying to help us transition, we wanted to be with Jackson. “
But how would people in conservative Texas react to two men raising a baby? And how would Manford and Roach address the truth about their family to total strangers who felt their awesome trio was actually harmful to Jackson’s well being? A simple trip to the grocery store as a gay dad would prove to be a test.
“When you have a kid and you go to the grocery—you’re out. Every single checker in the world would say, ‘How sweet that you let mom have the day off and you’re doing the grocery shopping,’” he recalls a store clerk commenting.
“You can never hide that [sexual orientation] because your child will see that you’re embarrassed by your lifestyle. It forced me to say, ‘Oh actually he has two dads and his other dad is at home right now.’ The shocked look on people’s faces in Dallas, Texas was priceless.”
We are a family
It’s clear that in a spiritual sense, Jackson chose Manford and Roach as much as they chose him. He assures his parents that he’s not ashamed that he has two dads and would never hide it. The pair has no plans to expand their family now that they’re older and have settled into the groove of their current family dynamic. But there is one last order of business to complete. They’d like the state of Texas to reissue Jackson’s birth certificate with both their names as his parents—currently
Manford’s name is the only name listed.
As for Manford’s parents, specifically his mother, she continues to uphold the belief that mother knows best.
“I knew that letter was false. It was something about that that didn’t ring true,” she’d later tell her son. “And here you are telling us that you are going to have a grandchild for us!” Indeed.