THE PARENTS: Jim Guyon, 52, and José Lugo, 47, of Williamstown
THE KIDS: Brandon José, 11; John Joseph, 13; Michael Anthony, 12, and Jimmy Thomas, 10, adopted Sept. 1, 2017.
HOW THEY STAY ORGANIZED: A whiteboard tracks the boys’ chores, shower schedules, and bedtimes. “We play hard and work hard,” Jim says.
On their first “date” at a Chinese buffet, after he’d proudly shown off his new shoes and before he got so nervous that he spilled his soda, 8-year-old Brandon looked Jim and José square in the eye.
“So, I’m going to have two dads?”
That’s right, the men said.
“And no mom?”
“Will I have my own room?”
The answer was yes.
“Sometimes, if I’m scared, can I leave a light on?”
By the end of the meal, Brandon was leaning his head on Jim’s chest and giggling with José. “I knew he was going to be my kid forever,” Jim says. “I fell in love with him.”
For the men themselves, it wasn’t love at first sight. They met at a club in 1995, dated briefly in 1998, and didn’t see each other again until Black Friday 2003 — in an early-morning line of fevered Walmart shoppers.
“We went on a date the next day, Saturday,” Jim says. “The date has not ended yet.”
The timing was synchronous; their temperaments clicked. Despite surface differences — José adores cartoons, and Jim prefers documentaries; José is a coil of energy while Jim has a steadier vibe — both cherish core values of family, loyalty, and monogamy.
The biggest challenge, at first, was that José was publicly out, often doing television interviews about his work with HIV/AIDS education, and Jim was closeted at a conservative law firm.
When discussing weekend plans with colleagues, Jim simply switched pronouns. “José became ‘Josie,’ ” he says. “I’d say, ‘Josie and I went to the movies,’ or ‘Josie changed the ceiling fan.’ ”
It wasn’t until Jim became a paralegal at Campbell’s Soup Co. that he came out at work. Shortly afterward, the pair moved to New Jersey, along with Jim’s mother, Beatrice; his 93-year-old aunt, and his 19-year old niece. They wed just days after marriage equality became legal nationwide — Jim made the appointment with Williamstown City Hall before even texting José — and they doted on the nieces, nephews, and second cousins who called them “uncle.”
But they wanted to raise kids of their own. “A lot of our friends were adopting from outside the country or getting surrogates,” Jim says. “But there are so many kids already out there who need homes.”
After attending classes on foster parenting and adoption, they learned that each passing birthday diminishes a child’s chance of being adopted. “Babies in the system [get adopted] fast,” José says, “but older kids might not be adopted if we didn’t do it.”
They were licensed as foster parents in early 2014; soon, they spotted Brandon’s photo and bio in a list of kids available for adoption. He had already lived in seven foster homes. There were more meals, with a caseworker present, then an unsupervised day-long visit, followed by weekend stays. Nine months after that Chinese buffet dinner, Brandon officially joined their family.
“In many ways, Brandon completed us as a couple. But we did not complete Brandon,” José says. “He needed a sibling.” So on the day they adopted him, the men half-joked to the social worker, “If you have another one, let us know.”
The social worker smiled. “Watch ‘Wednesday’s Child’ on NBC10 this week,” she told them. The National Adoption Center’s weekly spot featured John, an 11-year-old who was Brandon’s opposite: wiry and exploding with energy. The boys bonded quickly, but the men felt uncertain, especially after John erupted in a tantrum on his second day in their home, thrashing and screaming, “Don’t give up on me!”
They didn’t. Instead, they watched their sons become “instant siblings.” Brandon, who struggles with reading and writing but is a masterful organizer, helped John tidy his room and find misplaced objects, while John would read and explain ideas to his brother.
“We were thriving,” Jim says of the months following John’s April 2016 adoption. “We went to Disney. John was playing baseball, Brandon was playing basketball, both were in karate. Our evenings were hectic: schoolwork, dinner. We had no thought about adding more children.”
Until a social worker called to tell the men about Michael and Jimmy, brothers whose mother had died and whose father could not care for them; they needed a weekend’s “vacation care” from their foster home.
During their stay, Jimmy asked bluntly, “Would you consider adopting us?” And once they’d dropped the brothers at their foster home, John said, “There’s something wrong with my heart. It hurts. We have to save those kids.”
They called a family meeting. Two more kids would mean shuffling bedrooms; Beatrice offered to move to the smaller room, and Brandon and John agreed to double up. José decided to take a sabbatical and be a stay-at-home dad — or “Papi,” as the kids call him. (Jim is “Daddy.”)
Michael and Jimmy joined the family last November; in June, the whole clan moved to a bigger house, flush against a woodsy area with a six-mile running trail. Next door is a couple who adopted seven children from the foster care system. The yard is ample enough for ball games, the quiet streets perfect for bike riding. The doorbell rings nonstop with kids wanting to play.
“We went from a street where no one understood our situation to a street where, next door, someone knows intimately what we’re going through,” Jim says. They tell the boys that every family is different, and that while some people might question or tease them about having two dads, “as long as there’s love in the family, it doesn’t matter.”
In their clan, Jim’s the nurturer who makes sure lunches are packed; José is the handy-person who also hems the boys’ pants and cuts their hair. Their favorite moments are the unscripted ones after 9 p.m., shut-off time for electronic devices, when the whole gang tumbles into the living room, roughhousing, giggling, asking questions, talking — as families do — about nothing and everything.