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Interview

A Best Friends' Pact Leads to a New Life for One HIV-Positive Dad

November 15, 2014

Steven Brandt and Jerryd

Steven Brandt and Jerryd

Steven Brandt thought he'd have enough kids to fill a whole remake of the movie Grease. Instead, he and his best friend made a pact to have a kid together, because they always knew they'd be in each other's lives. In a lot of ways, Steven says his 6-year-old son, Jerryd, made him change his life and grow up fast -- in the best way.

TheBody.com is proud to present this interview as part of a series of interviews with HIV-positive dads done in collaboration with Gays With Kids for World AIDS Day 2014.

Steven, can you introduce yourself and then talk about how many kids you have?

My name is Steven, a recently turned 34-year-old single father of one biological son. He is mine. Me and my best friend made a pact. We both wanted a kid and we thought what better way to have a kid than with someone who would always be in the other one's life. That way we wouldn't have a kid from a broken home, I guess you could say.

So, yeah. My best friend and I had our son. He stays with me. He stays with her. Kind of a back and forth deal, just like any normal people would do. He's a really awesome kid, though.

That's awesome.

He just turned 6 in October.

Wow. Had you always wanted to be a father, growing up? Was that something you always saw yourself doing?

No. When I was younger I always tended to keep to myself. I grew up the only child. And my father was never around. I just always kept to myself and just really didn't want anything to do with other kids. I'd always tell my mom, "I just don't like kids."

I got a little bit older, like starting to hit my early teens, and had a mad obsession over the movie Grease. I told my mom I was going to have kids, and I was going to have enough of them to name them after the entire cast of Grease. Then I just kind of had this weird party phase, and I was like, I'll never have kids, because I'd see people with their kids and -- just the screaming and the yelling. I'd hear on the news how kids were being abused, and I was like, I don't want to bring a child into such a world that's so inhumane.

Then my best friend came up with the idea to see if I would want to have a kid, too. And I was like, well, a kid does sound kind of cool. I did want one of my own, at least, to carry on my bloodline. So, yeah. We made the agreement.

He changed my life a lot. He got me out of the party scene. I grew up pretty fast, having him. I was stuck in a funk. I was just wanting to, I guess you could say, be forever young and party. And when my friend came around it just really hit me that that really wasn't the life I needed to be living anymore.

That's great.

He put me on the right track.

What's your son's name, if I can ask?

His name is Jerryd. It's pronounced "Jared," but it's spelled totally different. Like I said, my real father was never around, so my stepfather is who I consider my father. And his name is Jerry. So my son's name is spelled like Jerry, just with a D at the end. Everyone who sees his name always pronounces it wrong. And it's like, not quite Jerryd.

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When you were first diagnosed as HIV positive, after you kind of dealt with everything that comes with being newly diagnosed, did you think about at all what that meant for becoming a parent in the future? Did you not think that that was even going to be a part of your life?

I really didn't, due to the fact that I found out I was positive in 2004. I kind of had a suspicion I would be, due to how I ended up getting it. I took it really hard. I mean, I knew there was medicine and all this to live a longer life. And I really didn't care to hear anyone's theories on that. I just kind of wanted once again to be left alone, crawl into a shell, with the highest hopes that I would basically kick the bucket.

I met with my doctor at the time. He's retired now. And just his whole attitude and aspect on everything really whipped me into shape, as far as wanting to actually do treatment and get my life on track, as far as having HIV goes. I don't think I could have actually done it without my doctor.

I mean, I have a good support system, as far as my mom and a couple of friends who knew. But other than that, it's really my doctor who pushed, and pushed, and pushed.

I did have the fear that, even being undetectable, when my best friend and I decided to have a kid, that the virus could spread to her, or spread to her and then be passed on to our child. For some reason, we went ahead and risked everything. And everything turned out perfect, like I said. He just turned 6. He's had many a test, and he's fine. And she's fine.

What would you say to other HIV-positive men who were considering becoming parents?

Oh, gosh. I've been asked that by a friend before. Like I said, my son is a real gift, I think. It can be done. My advice would basically be to make sure it's with someone you can trust; and just follow the rules of safety, pretty much. I know that sounds a little weird, as far as safety because you think protection and everything. But if you want a kid, then you really need that -- to basically make sure that they're ready for that leap, and for that kind of dramatic change, along with everything they're already dealing with.

I know your son is only 6, but have you spoken to him about your status, and what it means to live with HIV? Or not yet?

No, I haven't as of yet. He just started kindergarten this year. They're actually starting to learn how donating blood can save lives and whatnot. And they're going to be having a blood drive at school.

I do eventually plan on telling him, but I want to wait until he's a little older and can definitely understand and grasp more of the concept.

It's definitely something I think any parent needs to do, but I think there should be a certain place and time for that to happen -- especially when there's going to be more understanding behind it all.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Mathew Rodriguez is the community editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.

Follow Mathew on Twitter: @mathewrodriguez.


Copyright © 2014 Remedy Health Media, LLC. All rights reserved.

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