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The New Normal: Stay-at-Home Dads, Gay Parents and More

Lee Clower

Christopher Fraley, 42, and Victor Self, 41 

Parents of 20-month-old Coco

Christopher Fraley and Victor Self have been married three times—to each other. They first exchanged vows in St. Barts in 2008, and again in South Africa on their honeymoon. Then this past summer, on July 24, 2011, they became the first same-sex couple in Rye, NY, to legally wed. Coco, their daughter, was right by their side.

Fraley and Self met in 2003. “I saw kids in my life, and Chris did, too,” Self remembers. Eventually, “we decided to get married,” adds Fraley, who works for an investment fund. He bought Self a ring, but didn’t ask Self’s mother for his hand. “Nobody is the wife,” he insists. “However,” he adds, “Victor and I will be offended if Coco’s suitor doesn’t ask us for her hand.”

While their attitude toward fatherhood is traditional, the way they became dads isn’t: Coco was born through a surrogate, using a donor egg. In expanding their family, Self and Fraley joined the growing number of same-sex parents in America today: somewhere between 1.5 million and 5 million, according to rough U.S. Census estimates, up from 300,000 to 500,000 in 1976.

The surrogacy process took two years: One egg donor became ill, then a first surrogate failed to get pregnant. But in February 2010, Kira, their second surrogate, gave birth to 8-pound-9-ounce Coco. “We post pictures of Coco on Facebook that Kira can look at,” says Self.

Strangers are mostly respectful, which doesn’t surprise Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, headquartered in New York City. “As support for legal gay marriage has grown, along with the body of research that shows same-sex parents to be just as committed, so, too, has the acceptance of gay parenthood,” he says. Still, Fraley admits, people can be insensitive. “Sometimes they ask, ‘Where’d you get your baby?’ like we bought her at Target,” he says. “I say, ‘She was born, just like you.’ Another person recently asked, ‘Whose sperm did you use?’ ”

Coco may face a few awkward scenarios, too, as she grows. “Kids can sometimes look down on children from single-sex households, and tell them their family isn’t real,” Pertman says. “Coco may also start seeing news stories that upset her, like another state wanting to pass an amendment stigmatizing gay marriage. Chris and Victor will need to discuss these issues with her.”

They’ve already steeled themselves for the questions she’ll likely have. “Why don’t I have a mommy?” may be answered with “Because you have two daddies.” It helps that the definition of family is growing, just like Coco. “Is it such a big deal?” asks Fraley. “Look around. All families are different.”