Author and proud, gay Dad Steve Disselhorst released his new book just a few days before Father’s Day. Aptly entitled, “Determined To Be Dad,” this new, cathartic literary offering chronicles Disselhorst’s trials and tribulations of self-discovery, acceptance, building a new reality and finally the joys of creating his own family through adoption. With this tender and painful story, Steve offers his journey as a tribute to his desire for familial connection, overcoming self-imposed handicaps, and facing the harsh realities of two men trying to create a family.
I was privileged enough to interview him recently, though unfortunately I missed my intended deadline of Father’s Day. So, I hope you will enjoy the interview nonetheless, and join me now in wishing Steve a belated, but very well-deserved, Happy Father’s Day!
CA: Your book is about your determination to be a dad, which involved overcoming obstacles years ago and your perceived societal limitations that might have made it impossible to become a gay dad. But today you and your partner have two adopted children.
You shared with me that you both were able to take paternity leave for three months when you first became fathers. That’s progressive. Where do you live?
SD: Yes, we live in California. Our state laws are really progressive and have been for years, but you know specifically with paternity leave, it is basically a federal law. It’s like you can get up to three months, unpaid by the federal government, but California pays six weeks of those twelve weeks and is considered “disability” by insurance.
CA: It’s so odd that they have no different classification for a man on leave to take care of his child other than something called “disability.” You know, it’s not like you’re a pregnant woman or something, but I guess if you get the money and time off, that’s what matters most. It’s just funny that we’re so primitive still with that classification for fathers.
So you were raised Catholic in the Midwest. When did you have the realization of your sexuality and evolve to self-acceptance?
SD: I was so far in the closet, but I had an idea at seven or eight years old. I was in such a heteronormative culture, though. I can remember my first thought was about the sixth grade, where I was on vacation and like found myself gazing into the eyes of another kid my age. He had beautiful blue eyes. And then all of a sudden I was like, whoa, that’s a boy. I can’t do that. I told myself it was not a possibility; instead, I went into complete denial, throughout school until college.
So it was really in my senior year of college that I started to think about it again. I thought I was bisexual because I always wanted to have a family. It was the early nineties; there weren’t many gay men having families. I had sexual relations with women but then also started to have sexual relationships with men.
I really felt at home being with men. It didn’t feel right for me being with women. So I was about twenty or twenty-one years old when I started to think, um, ok, this is home.
CA: It’s common that many guys don’t come out until much later and for similar reasons, as you’ve mentioned, like the social norms, etc. They are constrained in their parent’s homes, but then they finally move out of their parents’ house and be who they are. You share in your book that years ago, you had settled on the idea that gay men could not even have families; it seemed abnormal at that time; it seemed strange?
SD: Yes, just the notion of Two Dads, during a time when it was not so progressive as today. But of course, we have a whole different world now even with high profile people like Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen – celebrated for being dads.
CA: So, what do you think about that transformation in society?
SD: I think it’s tremendous. I mean back when I first came out it was about 1990, and back then, we were still amid the AIDS epidemic. At that point, gay men were just trying to stay alive. Like this is before PrEP. We had no antivirals, and it was just about trying to remain uninfected as you lived your life. I lived in the East Bay of the Bay Area, and that was basically my life everyday in San Francisco.
There were some gay dads, but they were mostly gay men who had been in heterosexual relationships, and then came out later. The idea of being out, gay, coupled parents was an anomaly in the early nineties and there wasn’t a lot of adoption happening for gay men either.
I unsuccessfully tried to meet a partner with similar interest in parenting, but by the end of the 90s, I thought maybe I’ll do it on my own. Then, I met my husband. It was 2003. I was thrilled. We hit it off, we were the same age, and he also wanted to be a dad.
CA: That’s awesome! It’s a plus to have someone equally as committed to being a parent. I think many gay men or people, in general, don’t realize what a big commitment it is, and it’s expensive to raise children – even the material stuff, but I mean necessities like health care as well, etc.
SD: Yes, but, as for adoption, if you go through the Fostercare system to adopt, for example, in California, you pay $400 for an application, and that’s all you pay. And everything else is covered by the state to assist in adopting your child. They pay you a stipend also until your child is 18 years old and that payment is basically what they would pay if that child had stayed in the Fostercare system. So it helps pay for things like childcare. So, I often tell people if you can get past wanting to parent only your own, physical DNA offspring, there’s a lot of good to be done through the adoption process.
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CA: Wow, that’s beautiful. I have friends who were adopted, who later themselves became adoptive parents, and they raised terrific kids. I do think if I were to become a parent, I would likely consider adoption, to give a deserving child a safe and loving home. Steven, Thank you so much for sharing your story with me and our Instinct Magazine audience. What would you like people, gay men especially, to take away from reading your book?
SD: The first I would say is that whenever I talk to people – men or women, or any LGBTQ person thinking about going through a non-traditional way of creating a family, they often say they found my story inspiring. They share that my story gave them help and hope in their process of becoming parents. That got me to thinking, well, how can I reach and help more people? Then, I learned of a research study in 2017 or 2018 by Family Equality, an organization based in New York. It showed that there are like 3.6 million millennial LGBTQ people considering becoming parents. I think the rate was like 72% of them considering becoming parents, which for my generation was much lower because we didn’t have that hope and the dream.
So, I focused on helping people out there who need hope and also some practical information. My book covers aspects of the process, but it also includes the emotional journey of what you might through along the way.
On an even more personal note, I was diagnosed with cancer in 2018 and had this come to Jesus moment like, I had lived my whole life up until that point, you know, like most people – thinking we’re going to live forever. And suddenly, I had to make decisions about bout my health, trying to beat my cancer and pondering what I wanted to do next in life. I decided it would be helping people. So I started a coaching certificate program as a leadership coach to help people break through barriers that hold them back from achieving their dreams. In many ways, my book is an extension of that.