Sean and Joe have been together for a long time. And yet, they’re still young. They met 18 years ago in 1998, when they were both working part-time at a Gap store in a New Jersey mall.
Joe was 19 years old at the time; and Sean was even younger, 17, a senior in high school. On their first date Joe drove Sean around Jersey City where he grew up. That night, they talked non-stop for five hours.
When they started dating, Sean was still living with his parents. He had had a boyfriend as a sophomore, but when that did not go down well with his peers, Sean transferred to a different high school and began dating girls. With that history, his parents weren’t shocked when Sean introduced them to Joe.
On August 22, six months since their first date and after Sean had started college, they moved in together in Jersey City. They knew that they were living lives very different from those of their peers: Sean reveals that they have been in an exclusive, monogamous relationship since the very beginning. Quite a few people tried to get them to second-guess themselves because of this serious commitment. But ultimately neither one of them had any interest in looking outside the relationship. Sean and Joe both knew that this was their forever.
In 2000, the men moved to Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan. Sean was 20; Joe was 22. They registered as domestic partners in 2004, but were always looking towards marriage.
“We got married as soon as we could,” said Sean. “I was following marriage rights very, very closely. I think it was in 2008 that Massachusetts was finally allowing out-of-state people to marry in Massachusetts. And the state of New York had begun recognizing out-of-state marriages in early August.”
They already had a trip planned to Provincetown later that August, as they vacationed there every year for their anniversary. As soon as he found that out they could get married, Sean suggested to Joe, “Let’s get married while we’re there!” And so the couple celebrated their 10th anniversary on August 22, 2008 by getting legally wed.
Sean says he and Joe have different personalities, but share the same values. And one of the things they always agreed upon was the desire to be dads. “I made lots of life decisions expecting that we would have children,” shared Sean. “I didn’t know exactly when it would happen because I knew it wouldn’t be easy, and I knew it would be expensive, but I just knew that it would happen.”
Their original plan was to adopt, but fate presented them with a different path. In 2006, when they were out for dinner with Sean’s best friend Miki, she offered to be their compassionate (altruistic) surrogate. Miki had been a friend from their years at the Gap and had remained close with the couple for seven years. Carrying a baby was something she had always wanted to do, but she had no desire to have her own children. Sean knew that if anyone could do this, it was Miki.
It would take another four years before Sean and Joe began their journey to fatherhood with Miki by their side. By this time, they had moved into an 1850s brownstone in Jersey City and were performing extensive restorations to the historic property. (Restoring historic homes would become a big part of their relationship.) Miki was going to be a traditional surrogate (a woman who is the egg donor and carries the baby), and Sean and Joe found an amazing attorney in New Jersey who drew up the surrogacy agreement. Even though the men had a long friendship with Miki, their agreement was written in a professional and traditional way to protect all involved.
The first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage at 10 weeks, which devastated the dads-to-be. “It was one of the hardest things to go through, to want a baby so much and then to lose the baby,” Joe remembers. A year passed before they agreed to try again.
In December 2013 they found out that Miki was pregnant once again; in January they learned that she was carrying twins! Joe was ecstatic by the news, whereas Sean felt shocked. At the 10-week scan, they found out that one of twins hadn’t made it. Their hearts sank. They worried that they might lose the other baby as well. But subsequent scans allayed their fears: a healthy baby was growing! In September 2014, Sean and Joe’s daughter Katherine was born.
In 2015 the new family of three moved to South Orange, New Jersey, and into another fixer-upper: a 1920s four-story house.
Katherine is now 18 months old, and Miki is very involved in her life, as are her parents, which was a big and welcome surprise for Sean and Joe! Miki’s parents, who are Japanese, often take care of Katherine during the day. Joe shared that Katherine’s first word was “Dada,” but her second and third words were Japanese!
Both Sean and Joe refer to themselves as Dadda; they want to see what Katherine will come up with on her own. They’re still figuring out what they’d like Katherine to call Miki, but they’re in no rush to come to a decision. They want to wait until she’s a little older and better able to understand the relationship, and then they’ll figure it out together.