On Being a Single Gay Dad in Nashville

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Hanna came into my life when she was about six months old. The ex I was dating at the time convinced my cousin that we should take her home with us for an extended period of time. Her family life was pretty bad, so it was an easy decision for them to make. I was 25 years old, and raising a child wasn’t exactly the turn I expected my life to take, as a gay man.

After 2 weeks together, I knew that she had forever changed my life. Within a year I was granted full guardianship. The actual adoption took a number of years, but being a single gay man was never an issue for the courts in Kentucky or Tennessee. Abby Rubenfeld was my lawyer, and she was amazing! In 2012 Hanna officially became Hanna Sawaya, and I was listed as her father on her birth certificate.

Being a single dad can be very difficult. Most of my friends either have kids from a previous marriage, who are now adults, or they are brand new parents with small children. And I love being involved in the gay community, but so much of it revolves around the bar. That makes it hard to include my daughter.

Hotmess Kickball made a big difference for us as a family. I’ve always been extremely open with Hanna concerning being gay. Once I started to play kickball, she was able to meet men and women from different backgrounds and lifestyles. She made friends with the teachers, lawyers, gymnastics instructors—really, everyone she met! Everyone has been very supportive! I don’t let her hang out at the field all day, but she does love to come and support the team.

She loves to watch RuPaul’s Drag Race (when appropriate). She goes to some Pride events with me every year. She is a huge fan of any drag queen! I’ll never forget her 1st Pride event where she met a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence. They are very different looking from Ru’s girls & Hanna was fascinated.

I’ve worked in sales for my entire adult life. I travel, sometimes a lot, with my job. I’ve been able to build a strong support system to help me, when I’m on the road. My best friends, Tina and Lisa Secrist, have been the best aunts (locally) that my daughter could have ever asked for. They have helped her in so many ways and have also been a great resource for Hanna on all things woman. They are our self-made Nashville family!

My family lives in Louisville, Kentucky, and I believe family bonds are important for a child. I grew up very close with my cousins and sister. I wanted Hanna to have those same experiences. My mom and sister often help out with Hanna during her breaks from school. It allows her time to be with the family, and also give me time to have adult fun. She is as close with her cousins and the family as I was growing up.

My family and I have different political and world views, but we are still a very loving family. I don’t want Hanna to only have one point of view to learn from. I want her to learn from the people around her. I want her to be well rounded and understand that not everyone thinks the same way.

Hanna never thought she was any different by having a gay dad until she started school. As she was making new friends, everyone would ask about her mom and dad. Since she was adopted, she has never known her birth mother. That can be extremely difficult for a child to grasp. Some kids didn’t believe her or would make fun of her for being different. This opened up a great opportunity for me to be able to share with her my experiences as a child being bullied.

I told her that there will always be bullies everywhere in life—school, work, on the playground! What makes the difference is how you choose to handle it. We would discuss how it made her feel to get bullied, and how other kids may feel when they are also bullied. She has taken it upon herself to stand up anytime she hears someone getting bullied. She’s not a fighter, but she certainly won’t allow herself or others to be bullied.

When she was in 4th grade, she actually started a support group with her school counselor for kids with only one parent in the home. They talked about things they dealt with and were very supportive of each other! I was so proud of my daughter for being a leader and stepping up to find a way to help others who were struggling from a similar issue she was also dealt in life.

I’ve been surprised about how little pushback I have received from the schools or other parents because I’m gay. Everyone hears about the horror stories, and I really haven’t experienced much negativity. There have been a few teachers I have been uncertain about, but they have always treated Hanna very well. The schools that Hanna has attended have been very welcoming to me, and I’ve become good friends with a few of Hanna’s friend’s parents. I truly believe that by living our lives out loud, we have helped change perceptions about gay families for those around us.

I hear far too often from people that they want a family. They want to adopt or have a child to help give their lives more meaning. Those people should start with a dog! I don’t think people realize what they are giving up from their lives for their child, for the foreseeable future.

Before Hanna turned nine, I was rarely out at events. I didn’t get to go to parties or out on dates. On nights when I had help with Hanna, I didn’t want to go out on dates, because I wanted to spend time with my adult friends.

I never want to introduce Hanna to people I date, because I don’t want her to get invested until I’m sure things are going to work out. I’ve met guys who have wanted to meet her right away, and it really makes me cautious. Granted, we are a package deal, but I have to be certain we are going to be a good fit first.

I’ve only had four long term relationships since Hannah came into my life. Every break up is just as hard, if not harder, on her as it is for me. Each relationship makes me more cautious than the last, because I want to keep her protected. One day I hope to find a husband, not out of a need to have one, but a want to provide a two-parent home.

I wouldn’t trade being a dad for anything in the world. Hanna has taught me so much about myself and the world. It’s challenging as a single dad raising a pre-teen girl, but it’s also the most rewarding experience in my life. I’m so lucky to be able to watch her grow into a strong, independent, caring young woman. None of this would be possible without the continued support of my family and friends! I’m a firm believer that it takes a village, and Hanna is lucky to have such an amazing village!