L-R, Matthew, Lorevic, Steve, and Kaitlyn
L-R, Matthew, Lorevic, Steve, and Kaitlyn


April 23, 2020

Determined To Be Dad

Steve Disselhorst lives with his husband and children in San Francisco. Steve works as a leadership coach and consultant and has now written a book about his childhood, coming out, and about his path to parenthood through adoption. His book, Determined To Be Dad, A Journey of Faith, Resilience, and Love, is publishing June 2020. In the following interview with Gay Parent Magazine, we chat with Steve and learn a little about his life.

You grew up Catholic in the Midwest, that’s two strikes against you as a gay person. Did you think you would have a Catholic wedding and marry a cis woman?

I grew up in an Irish and German Catholic family. My parents had a short courtship after meeting at the Chicago Young Christian Worker’s Dance in Waukegan, Illinois. It was love at first sight, and they got married. There were four of us within five years—an infant, a two-year-old, a four-year-old, and a five-year-old. Shortly after I was born in Grant Hospital in Chicago, my parents moved us to Skokie—a middle-class suburb outside of Chicago—to buy a house and create an independent life. I went to Catholic elementary school until I was in the 5th grade before my parents transferred me to a public school.

While I grew up in one of the most Jewish suburbs of Chicago, I didn't know any Jewish people until I went to public school. In the late 1970s, Skokie was a community of around 68,000 people. During my first year in public school, there was a horrible incident that would have a significant impact on the rest of my life. The Illinois neo-Nazi party wanted to hold a rally at Skokie City Hall to espouse their hateful, racist, and anti-Semitic beliefs.  At that time, Skokie had one of the highest percentages of Holocaust survivors—about 7% to 8% of the population had survived. I remember seeing the numbers that had been tattooed onto the arms of people who lived through the concentration camps.

I always envisioned having a Catholic wedding and marry a cisgender woman with a similar upbringing. While there were hints of my homosexuality at an early age, I pushed those feelings far away and didn’t recognize those feeling until I was almost 20 years old.

When you finally came out, was raising a child the farthest thing from your mind?

When I came out in the early 90s, I mourned the loss of being a dad. I came out during the early 90s and the queer community was in the middle of the AIDS epidemic. Most gay men weren’t having children, they were trying to survive. During this time, there was no same sex marriage. It felt like a binary choice between being a parent in a heterosexual relationship or being gay without children.  

I met my husband, Lorevic, at a beer bust on a Sunday afternoon. We dated for a couple of years before moving in together. In 2011, eight and half years after our first meeting, we decided to bring together our families and celebrate our union with a wedding which was presided over by an Episcopal priest. We got married again in 2015 after the supreme court ruling allowing same sex marriage.

When did you realize you wanted to be a parent?

I always knew that I wanted to be a parent and have a family. It was part of the fabric of my being from the beginning of my life. A family is what made me feel happy and connected to humanity. The personal connections with family from across the country and around the world, the festivities of life through parties and celebrations, I loved all of this and wanted this for my own family when I grew up. This desire to be a parent felt predetermined, like the color of my eyes and the way I walked.

It was a mutual decision for my husband and I to start a family. We were on different time lines since there is an 8-year difference in our ages. It took us some time and reaching some career and education goals prior to starting our family.

Your book is titled Determined To Be Dad: A Journey of Faith, Resilience, and Love. That title sounds like your journey to being a father was difficult. Did you and your husband experience discrimination or setbacks?

We did not face discrimination in our journey to become parents. We were very deliberate in our choice of an adoption agency that was completely inclusive of LGBTQ families. We faced a very long and arduous road with both of our adoptions.

In the two years we waited for our daughter, we were contacted by 14 different women in varying stages of pregnancy. Most were legitimate, while others felt like they were running scams or that their stories just didn’t ring true. Yet, we took every phone call, email, and text that came through seriously, wondering if our future child and birth family were on the other side of the call. None of these contacts resulted in an actual live meeting until our daughter’s birth parents connected with us.

For our son who came to us through the foster-to-adopt program, we were told when we received the call for his placement that his birth parents were no longer involved and while their parental rights had not been terminated that the adoption would be straight forward. Two days after his placement in our home, his birth mother re-emerged and was provided reunification services which resulted in bi-weekly visits and a plan to return our son to her. It was a long and draining road of ups and downs prior to his adoption.

What are the personalities of your children and how do they address you and your husband?

We have two children–our oldest, Kaitlyn, is eight years old and came to us through private, open adoption. Our son, Matthew is four and a half years old and came to us through the foster-to-adopt program. Kaitlyn is a sweet, calm, kind, loving girl. She is emotionally aware and introspective. She is very social at school and has a wide network of friends. Matthew is a very energetic, happy, smart, affectionate little boy. He is always moving and does not like to go to bed at night. He too is very social and has a lot of friends at school. I am called papa and my husband is called daddy.
 
Briefly describe your work as a leadership coach and consultant and your involvement with the San Francisco Evryman Group.

I am a co-active trained coach that focuses on an integrated personal and professional leadership development approach. I help clients become emotionally aware and authentic in their lives and work. I work with clients to pursue both short and long term goals and bring awareness to barriers in achieving them and creating accountability.

I also provide consulting on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion with organizations that aspire to create people-first cultures, through trust, honesty, and a deep caring for employees, customers, and the end-user. My work involves creating leadership development programs to advance historically under-represented groups into senior leadership positions, facilitate trainings to improve organizational effectiveness, and design learning solutions to foster culture change. I work with each client to achieve their unique goals.

The San Francisco Evryman group focuses on bringing men together to exercise their emotions so they can lead more successful, fulfilling lives. I am a long-time member. We meet weekly for 3 hours where we meditate and check-in emotionally. We help each other grow deeper in understanding our emotions and create a space for men to safely express complicated feelings.

Due to the pandemic, the world has changed a lot since the time you started writing your book. What has it been like so far for you and your husband to be raising young children during the pandemic?

Like everyone else living through the Coronavirus, we are muddling our way through working remotely and homeschooling our two children. We are facing the unique challenge of teaching a four-year-old boy and an eight-year-old girl who are developmentally at very different levels.

We start our days with snuggles and breakfast. Both of my children start their days with Zoom meetings at 9:00 AM. For our son, the zoom meeting is a way to connect with his classmates, and the teachers provide some instruction for the day, but the utility of providing him with activities for the day is limited. For our daughter, the teacher sends an email in the morning with the lesson plan for the day. During my daughter's Zoom meeting, the teacher walks the entire class through the lessons for the day and answers questions. This meeting is a fantastic way to understand her work for the day and to take responsibility for her work. It's super helpful because the teacher is giving direction versus her parents, where there is usually a lot more resistance. Throughout the day, we tag team based on our individual schedules. When one of us has an important meeting, the other will watch the children. We try to keep the kids off their iPad and doing their workbooks. In the afternoon, our son naps and our daughter reads on her iPad. The afternoons are filled with playing or walks or backyard time. Evening is the usual routine.

What can readers gain from reading Determined To Be Dad?

Determined To Be Dad tells a story of self-discovery and persistence to make my dream about becoming a dad a reality. It is filled with ups and downs and is very heartfelt. It provides LGBTQ people with practical information about the process and necessary steps in creating a family. It also provides insights into the unforeseen emotions and feelings that happen along the journey. It’s a story of triumph to overcome self-imposed restrictions as well as societal restrictions. Readers can expect to be moved by reading the book and it will conjure up memories of their own journeys of living a life of truth and authenticity.

For more information and to order Determined To Be Dad visit www.stevedisselhorst.com/book.

Photo courtesy of Steve Disselhorst

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