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Gay fathers club growing rapidly in Chicago
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times
2015-06-16

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The Gay Fathers of Greater Chicago ( GFGC ) is a network of gay men who have children living with them or apart from them. Some are divorced, some separated and some still married to women. Some are in committed relationships with other men. The GFGC is managed by a volunteer, five-member steering committee whose officers are elected each February. The organization is entirely funded by membership fees and voluntary meeting contributions.

Members simply use their first names, such as, David—a 52-year-old father of four who came out in 2014. He lives in Edgewater and is a retail merchandising executive. There's Darren, 51, who came out in 2012 to his family and close friends. He is a father of four young adults, lives in the Ravenswood neighborhood and works in business development for a global pharmaceutical manufacturer. Scott, meanwhile, is 43 and been divorced for less than a year. He has three children and is a senior technical architect who lives in Uptown. Finally, Mark, 60, has been divorced for 20 years and is now single. He raised one son and one daughter, now both adults, works in media architecture at a local university and has lived in Chicago since the 1980s.

After moving from Boston to Chicago, Jim noticed that the options here were slim for gay fathers—so he spearheaded a group for such men, along with Scott, David and Darren.

Jim—a 48-year-old divorced father of three who works in healthcare administration and lives in Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood with his partner—was part of a successful similar group in Boston and has helped create a group that others could benefit from.

Welcome, the Gay Fathers of Greater Chicago ( GFGC )—a confidential, safe and welcoming peer-led discussion group for gay men with children, with monthly meetings held at the Center on Halsted.

The group's goal is simply to be resource for gay fathers, "to support having a successful life in the LGBT world while raising children to be open and accepting of all," Jim said. It is less of a social group, more of a place for support and access to resources.

"Gay fathers come in many forms. We have men with children from women; gay dads married to men who adopted; transgender [men] who had children. We're open to all," Jim said.

In addition to support meetings, the group offers a regular schedule of social events, designed to help build a supportive circle to socialize, Jim said. Social events include potluck dinners, restaurant outings, sporting events, a Saugatuck weekend, a December holiday party, group participation in the Chicago Gay Pride Parade, networking events and more.

The group has blossomed from four founding members to 47 in just a few months, ranging in age from 26 to 70, with members from Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan, not just Illinois. Many of the members were in a marriage with a women for more than 15 years; some are still married to a woman and closeted, but struggling with their sexuality and how it impacts their family. The group features people from a wide variety of work areas, including lawyers, doctors, engineers, artists, marketing, media, blue-collar, and retired.

Children of the fathers have not attended the meetings, though that may change in the future, or for future events.

Jim said the best part of the club is "being able to vent your issues and hear similar stories of others [who] may be further along the same path that you can learn from and realize you're not alone. It helps sometimes to make what seems a bad personal situation not seem so bad."

At their monthly meetings they discuss a variety of topics, such as coming out, divorce, sexuality, and relationships with children, partners, and spouses ( current or ex ). Each member has the option to put on a name tag with their first name and contribute $2 toward the cost of the web page ( www.gayfatherschicago.org ), business cards, and future items that are deemed necessary. There is open seating and they begin each meeting by going around the room for introductions, including name, marital status, how long they were married, number of children and their ages.

"Each member is free to join in the discussion or just observe; whatever feels most comfortable," Jim said. "Occasionally, our meetings also include speakers on topics of interest for a portion of the meeting. After the meetings, many of us continue the conversation in a more casual setting at a local eatery."

The group has had therapists attend and do various interactive activities. For instance, Mark Hodar, a psychotherapist, has moderated a couple of meetings. He led discussions about masculinity, self-esteem and fear and also led group activities. Marvin Evans, a licensed clinical professional counselor, met with the group and facilitated a discussion on guilt, shame and self-affirmation.

"We look for speakers [who] are invested in helping group members break through their situations and come out a happier person," Jim said. "There are so many things to cover, like stress, self-loving, and nurturing methods as well as developing action plans."

After all, gay fathers face many of the same challenges that any single dad has or any father would experience, Jim said. "We think that gay dads are not different from any other dads. It's fatherhood that is our common link. Some gay men don't want to be with a man who has kids just like some straight men won't date or marry a woman with children.

"Some dads have a more personal struggle, [such as] getting a handle on their own self-homophobia and whether or not to tell their children. Some [are] in emotional fear of telling [their children] because of how they might react. It is probably more accurate to say the challenges vary by generation."

Jim added, "In the late 1980s, some of our men came out of the closet at the height of the AIDS paranoia, so they had different coming-out issues to deal with, as well as understanding the health crisis, and then dealing with the fear of AIDS in our relatives, spouses, etc. Nowadays, with marriage and adoption legal in Illinois, men can adopt and raise children in a completely different social climate than [what the 1980s] was. Some of our members deal with issues of raising boys to be men who are not gay, and remain true to that experience, and still maintain an honesty and integrity about their own sexuality."

The group includes twentysomethings and grandfathers, and it will have a prominent presence later this month in Pride events.

Father's Day is, of course, an emotional one for all group members. Scott, for instance, will embrace his since his divorce became official—and he will be spending the day with his sons, "doing something fun in Michigan," he said.

For Mark, this year will be his 31st as a dad and his 20th as an out gay father. "The difference to me is critical—it's like my kids now really know me and I really know them," he said. "I will get a call from each of them early Sunday morning, as I do every year."

Jim said he is "very fortunate to have my children as a vital part of my life." He is very involved in all aspects of their life and they are in his, he said. "They are very supportive, caring and proud, and Father's Day has been a very special day where I truly feel appreciated and loved," he said. "They also have involved my partner and shared gifts and cards with him on this special day."

Visit GayFathersChicago.org .


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