At 26, Greg was all set to get married when Frank walked through the door of his workplace. It was love at first sight. Greg put aside all thought of blending into the straight world. The two men have been together ever since.
One thing, however, didn't change for Greg: his intense desire to have a child. "I think that's the main reason why he came out as late as he did," says Frank.
Frank was "the one," but he was also living with HIV. For a while, his health was too shaky for him to consider parenting. Then, just around the time of the new HAART (Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy) era in 1995, when his health greatly improved, the couple read a story about a program for orphaned children near their home. "It really struck me. We're highly educated and have many resources to share with a child. It started us talking about being parents."
Those conversations continued over a long period of time. Frank continued to enjoy good health. Greg's family began to have children. "The more I spent time with my nieces and nephews, the more I felt I wanted to be a parent."
The two men joined a gay parenting support group. "Within a year, most people were adopting. Every time you turned around, there was a new baby. I started thinking about things that were missing in my life. My health was stable -- a great gift that I never expected. I wasn't thinking in terms of one year or five years anymore. I could see into the future."
Finally, Greg and Frank were ready. They had already spent years talking with other couples and weighing several options, including a surrogate mother and international adoption.
The couple, however, did not understand the passion many people have for a "biological" child. "I always want to say, what does it matter? People probably feel they can't love an adopted child as much without that biological relationship. We never saw parenthood that way. Greg and I are strong supporters of adoption." Moreover, they wanted to adopt a child who may otherwise not be adopted.
They began the paperwork with an adoption agency that helps gay couples. Greg, especially, felt very comfortable with this agency. Because gay couples face special problems in adopting, Greg, who is HIV-negative, was adopting as a single parent. The process often involves separate agencies, each with its own philosophy, rules and sometimes, even legislative jurisdictions.
First there was a home study. Why do you want to be a parent? What do you think your parenting style will be? What was your childhood like?
Then there was a health form, which differs from region to region. All "roommates" had to complete the health questionnaire. "This was a big let-down to me emotionally," Frank says.
They consulted two different lawyers. One suggested Frank go to a "doc in a box" clinic to get his paperwork done. But they wanted to run an HIV test. Frank walked away. Feeling hopeless, he talked to his own doctor about the situation. Having been Frank's physician for a long time, that doctor felt comfortable signing off on a health form. He knew Frank is the picture of health.
With all the "T"s crossed and the "I"s dotted, within a year, Greg and Frank had a child. After the adoption was completed, they were able to both register as Michael's parent in their city.
"The day we got Michael was the happiest day of our life," says Frank.
Greg and Frank now have a beautiful, playful child who's full of charm. He's also a very smart kid who keeps them on their toes.
Frank has survived HIV for 20 years. He's completely healthy. "I'm more worried about my heart than I am about HIV!" he says. He's getting older, and though he's slim and trim and works out regularly, his older brother, a non-smoker, recently survived a heart attack, giving Frank "family history" to consider in terms of his own risk. During the adoption process, Frank -- like many expectant parents -- was afraid for his health. He says that, "Having lived through so much suffering and death, I was afraid of dying and leaving Greg alone to raise this child." He's not anymore. All is well.
"I feel that already six or seven years later, everyone has forgotten what it was like from 1986 to 1996. I don't want to re-live it, but there seems to be a deliberate move to forget, even by people who lived through it. The losing of so many friends. It will always be a part of my life. But it makes me a better parent.
"[Adopting Michael] is the best decision I've ever made in my life, no doubt. I'm glad I did it when I did it. HIV was no longer central to my life. I'm old enough to be able to offer a lot to parenthood, and I'm enjoying it."
"I've always tried to not let this virus and this disease take away anything that I really wanted. I always said, 'You're not going to have the upper hand.' "