By Valarie Edwards
Single foster dad Kevin Gerdes relies on his faith and friends to get through the tough parenting times. “My church is there for me. I’m a big believer in prayer and the power of prayer,” Gerdes said.
His supporters include members of Hollywood’s non-denominational Ecclesia congregation who willingly share parenting advice on everything from nighttime sleeping patterns to the neighborhood’s best playgrounds. They frequently offer to babysit the 7-month-old Gerdes is fostering.
“They just love him so much. They see how much I love him and they see our bond. They are my biggest advocates,” added the 35-year-old Southern California realtor.
Originally from the D.C.-Maryland area, Gerdes knew early in life he wanted to be a dad, but as a gay man felt he’d never have the opportunity. He had hoped to marry and have children by the time he hit his 30s and even once considered surrogacy. But in 2021, when a promising relationship fell apart, Gerdes grew tired of waiting. Not wanting to go the surrogacy route, Gerdes was intrigued when a friend suggested foster parenting.
Having cared for nearly half a dozen infants in the past two years, Gerdes considers himself a veteran. However, in the early days, his learning curve was steep.
“Here’s a silly one,” said Gerdes. “I didn’t know (baby bottle) nipples had stages and that you have to replace them. I was gifted an entire set of Doctor Brown glass bottles, $40 on Amazon, they’re great. But when I got them, the nipples were dirty. I didn’t know you could just buy new nipples. Instead, I threw the whole set in the garbage.”
Gerdes also had to learn things like swaddling and recycling outgrown infant clothing, something he hadn’t heard of prior to becoming a foster dad. But thanks to his self-described crash course in single parenting, if you put a new child in his hands now, Gerdes said he’s ready to “rock and roll!”
Every new parent knows the challenges of bringing home a baby for the first time: the loss of a social life, little alone time and sometimes difficulty making time for a love life. Those challenges are magnified when you’re a single parent and even more so as a single resource parent who may have just a few hours to prepare for a newborn.
A member of the LGBTQ community, when Gerdes first searched online for fostering guidance and for a story similar to his own, he found nothing. That’s changed in recent years as more couples learn about growing their family through foster-adoption.
Data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System, indicates that in 2020, there were more than 117,000 adoption-eligible youth living in foster care. However, in some states, taxpayer-funded child welfare agencies have made it difficult for members of the LGBTQ community to adopt or foster youth by allowing faith-based agencies to choose who they will, and will not serve.
And, according to www.HumanWatchCampaign.org, same-sex couples and LGBTQ parents have been forced “to endure a more extensive, time-consuming, and costly process before allowing placement.”
In 2019, the late Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) introduced a measure prohibiting taxpayer funded foster or adoption agencies from discriminating against prospective parents because of sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status or religion. The bill is also intended to ensure children and youth in foster care receive identity affirming, culturally competent care. Re-introduced in May 2021 by Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), the John Lewis Every Child Deserves a Family Act remains stalled in committee.
In California, Gerdes said he didn’t face any challenges getting licensed. He shares his fostering experiences on his YouTube channel, My Journey to Fatherhood. His nearly 1,000 subscribers from around the world offer support and encouragement. Gerdes brushes aside any negative posts he’s received and instead like any proud father, spends his time relishing the many “firsts” he gets to experience.
“It’s watching him grow,” Gerdes said. Watching him hit those milestones, seeing his personality emerge as he grows into a little person. The best part is at the end of the day, when he lays his head on my chest.”
An outspoken advocate for building a forever family through foster-adoption, Gerdes has little patience for those who fear being hurt by reunification. He instead asks prospective parents to consider: “What do you think that newborn, born addicted to heroin and cocaine, is experiencing right now? The one that’s been alone in the hospital for weeks? If you have love to give, how can you be worried about whatever pain you might feel? You’re an adult. Use logic and get over yourself.”
Gerdes suggests those interested in building their family through foster-adoption try fostering a child at least once.
“Even if you think you can’t do it, at least do the research,” Gerdes said. “If you can get through the research, call an agency. Then if you get licensed, accept one placement. If you can accept another placement, do it again. Give yourself an opportunity. Remember, you can stop at any time, but at least try it. And, let go of the outcome.”