Becoming a Forever Family: Declan Redwood O’Hare’s Adoption Story
January 22, 2015 / SCO News
The excited buzz in the Kings County Courthouse was more noticeable than you would normally expect for the small group of New Yorkers hanging around a waiting room near Judge Robert Ross’ offices on the morning of April 10, 2014. When Declan Redwood O’Hare burst out of a nearby office and tore down the adjacent hallway, the preschooler was trailed by his laughing pint-sized clone and little brother, Arthur (“Arty”), sporting a dark blue sweater nearly identical in color to Declan’s miniature suit jacket and vest. While the significance of the day may have been lost on Declan, who would turn three the next day, the adults were fully aware of what a momentous occasion it was: Three years after a five-day-old Declan was first placed into their arms, longtime couple Hugo Redwood and Denis O’Hare would officially go from foster parents to legally-recognized dads, when Declan’s adoption was finalized that morning.
Adding to the excitement was the growing awareness among bystanders that in addition to his role as Declan’s father, Denis is a Tony Award-winning actor and playwright, best known for his on-screen roles in the TV shows True Blood, The Good Wife and American Horror Story, as well as the film Dallas Buyer’s Club.
SCO Family of Services, New York City’s largest single nonprofit provider of foster care, was there every step of the way – and this morning was no exception. Adoption Expediter Cassie Flowers was on hand, ensuring everything went smoothly and beaming at what would soon become the newest one of many forever families that she and her colleagues have helped to bring together: In the past year, SCO staff helped finalize the adoptions of over 105 children from foster care, some of which are profiled HERE.
Family friends Graham and Ina Parker were also in attendance, getting a preview of their own special day due to arrive a few months later, when the group would reunite at the courthouse to witness the Parkers’ adoption of Declan’s little brother, Arty.
Finally the time came. The judge said a few words, instructed Hugo and Denis to ensure that Declan’s name was spelled correctly on the adoption form, and then with a quick signature from each, the hard-fought journey to become a legally-recognized forever family was complete.
“We have always been a family – the legal system just caught up,” Denis tweeted afterward. Fellow actor Alan Cummings was among the many well-wishers who sent their congratulations on social media. “This has been an awesome experience; grueling at times, but overall incredible,” Hugo said as the happy group made their way home. “Just to have it legal and on paper really makes our tribe complete.”
Nine Months Later: Swimming, Learning to Read and Seeing a “Shark”
We visited Declan’s new home in January 2015 to check in on the now official family. Declan lives with his Da-Da (Dennis) and Daddy (Hugo) in a bright and inviting apartment located inside a building that was converted from a stable built in the 1800s. Hugo, an interior designer by trade, has filled the house with an eclectic collection of furniture, artwork and artifacts collected or inspired by the family’s world travels.
At three-and-a-half-years-old, Declan is a bright and energetic preschooler who loves to swim and desperately wants to learn to read. According to his fathers, he knows his letters, can count to 20 in French and English, and can read the words “is” and “for.”
The trio recently returned from an annual trip to Mexico with friends over the holidays. A Spiderman bicycle was the high point of Christmas – capped off in Mexico by swimming, visiting Mayan ruins, kayaking and running through the tropical forest with some of the other children Declan befriended at the eco-resort. His face lit up when asked about the animals and fish he saw. “A shark!” he exclaimed. What they’d actually seen, Denis clarified gently, was a sting ray.
Finally getting a new birth certificate, social security card and passport with the name Declan Redwood O’Hare certainly makes life easier, but Hugo and Denis have worked hard to instill a strong sense of family and identity into their son’s life in many other ways. In June, Declan, August and Arthur’s forever families came together to celebrate the finalization of Arty’s adoption. Although the Parkers have temporarily relocated to Pennsylvania, Declan still gets to see Arty, Ina and Graham regularly – in fact, they had just visited the Parkers that previous week. August, the boys’ biological sister, lives just two blocks away with her adoptive family, and the families try to spend as much time together as possible. Denis and Hugo also make sure Declan is surrounded by aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents from both the Redwood and the O’Hare sides of the family as well as by many friends. “He’s very aware of all kinds of family,” said Denis.
Looking ahead, the Redwood O’Hares are planning to begin renovations next year on a home with a backyard. Hugo already has his eye on one of the property’s large trees as the perfect location for the dream tree house he plans to build for Declan. “It’s going to be more of a ‘tree condo’,” he said, explaining that he intends to install working lights and running water.
Finding Their Path to Adoption
Hugo and Denis, who have been together for more than 15 years, have witnessed a dramatic shift in attitudes – both their own and those of society as a whole – about raising children as gay men. When a friend adopted a child from Vietnam 13 years ago, Denis said, “I thought they were crazy. I was like, ‘Why would you want kids?’ But they really were pioneers.” Hugo, who initiated the idea of adopting, noted that, for gay couples, making a family is a focused, chosen effort. They began talking in earnest about becoming parents after Hugo’s brother adopted a young child from Ethiopia at age 51. “That made it seem like the doors went wide open in the world of possibilities,” Hugo said.
The couple found that discriminatory laws and lingering cultural prejudices concerning gay couples limited their options, ruling out the possibility of adopting a child from another country as well as from some private adoption agencies operating in certain U.S. states. They also decided that surrogacy – in addition to being very expensive – just wasn’t for them. “For us, it’s never been important to have a biological child,” Denis explained. “Creating a kid that shares your DNA isn’t the part that matters. The important thing is creating a family. There are already so many kids out there who need families, so why not do that?”
Hugo and Denis decided to adopt a child from foster care after an eye-opening experience in which a private adoption agency indicated that African American boys were such a hard-to-place demographic that the agency provided financial incentives to families willing to adopt them. As a black man himself, Hugo was deeply upset by this information, and immediately afterward told Denis, “We’re going to go local and adopt six little black boys.” They agreed to start with one, but otherwise Denis was on board.
The couple began exploring foster care, and found SCO Family of Services through a friend who spoke highly of his experience working with SCO homefinder Nina Soto.
The couple appreciated being able to operate within New York State’s policies of non-discrimination against members of the LGBT community who want to become foster parents or adopt. They found the staff from SCO and the City’s child welfare office to be welcoming and protective of gay and transgender people on both sides of the foster care system –especially LGBTQ kids in care. “I was really inspired by fact that, of the many hours of training you have to take for your ongoing certification as foster parents, the only class that all foster parents are required to take is a course on LGBT sensitivity training,” Hugo said.
Still, the process included some difficult setbacks and worries – including the uncertainty they faced during the three years “in limbo” before they got legal certification that Declan would be available for adoption – and the couple was grateful to have Nina by their side.
Denis and Hugo married in 2011, less than a week after same-sex marriage was legalized in New York; a major impetus was that their marriage would simplify the adoption process. When Declan’s brother, Arthur was born and needed a home, Hugo and Denis were not in a position to take him. But they invited their friends, the Parkers, to move in with them the very next day as both parties worked hard to speedily secure the necessary foster care certifications. A few weeks later, the Parkers moved out with Arty in tow.
Looking toward the future, Denis and Hugo would both like to have a second child. Although they are apprehensive about jumping back into the process right away, they are outspoken about their experience and they actively encourage other couples to adopt. Now that he’s become a father, Denis said in an interview with OUT Magazine that he only wishes they had done it sooner. “If I were to give anyone advice, I would say do it before you’re ready.”
Last year they were honored with the “Let Love Define Family” award by RaiseAChild.US, a national organization that encourages the LGBT community to build families through fostering and adoption. Reflecting on their journey, Hugo said: “When people think of adoption, they think you just go down a line of cribs and pick out a baby. But in reality, the way it works is someone hands you a child and asks you to love it. Frankly, you have to have balls of steel to go through this process. Foster care wasn’t the easiest route, but look what came out of it.”
Read more SCO adoption stories HERE.
CLICK HERE to learn more about becoming a foster parent.
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