By Tamara Juarez
Starting a family is one of the biggest decisions a couple will ever have to make. It takes love, trust, and unwavering commitment to raise a child, especially one that has never had a place to call home.
From early on during the adoption process, Brian Hatfield and his husband Steve Zeidman wanted to assure their son felt safe and welcomed into their lives by naming their new family “Team Solid” as a reminder of their unconditional love for one another and their unbreakable bond.
It has been less than six months since the Phoenix couple opened their doors to 11-year-old Tristan, whom they describe as one of the most kind-hearted and free-spirited souls they’ve ever met. However, many things have changed within that short period.
Hatfield and Zeidman have traded in the keys of their townhouse in central Phoenix for a more spacious house on a cul-de-sac located near a large park and good school district. Instead of planning exotic trips abroad, the two fathers now spend more time meeting with tutors, scheduling swimming lessons and attending Taekwondo lessons with Tristan.
Despite the drastic change of pace, the couple wouldn’t have it any other way and are excited to embark on the journey of a lifetime.
“It’s a very different reality for us, but it is incredibly rewarding,” said Zeidman. “I used to be one of those people who didn’t want life to change, but now I can’t imagine what it would be like if we didn’t have Tristan -- it would be so unfulfilling.”
Adopting a special needs child was not something Zeidman and Hatfield had planned or discussed in detail before they tied the knot two years ago, but the idea slowly grew on them as they watched a close friend complete the adoption process in California.
Zeidman became the godfather of his friend’s adopted child and enjoyed spending quality family time.
“When I saw the way he interacted with his godson, how he went out of his way to nurture this relationship, that’s when I knew,” said Hatfield. “That was one of the primary things that attracted me to Steve as a man.”
With the encouragement of friends and family, the couple decided to take the next step in their life.
“It helped that we had friends who had taken this route before us. We had a little bit of a leg up because we knew it could be done. That paved the way for us and opened up the doors to the possibility of adoption.”
Both men are in their mid-forties, a fact that made them cautious when considering the idea of adoption.
“We had honestly thought that train had come and gone. It was something that stayed in the back of our minds.” Zeidman said. “But we both wanted something deeper. We both love children and just seemed that we were ready for the big adventure of adopting a child. We both knew this would not be a short-term commitment; it would be a lifetime commitment. We were ready to do that.”
As members of the LGBTQA community, Hatfield expected to face special obstacles but was happily surprised to find nothing but support and respect during each phase of his new life with Zeidman.
“We just want the same opportunities in life like anyone else. With the passage of marriage equality, we got to experience that freedom to get married. However, we always hear about how there is no greater love than the love of a parent for a child, which made me think, ‘I don’t want to go through life and not get to experience that if it is truly the greatest type of love.’”
From the moment of their engagement to their wedding to the final days of the adoption process, the two men received tremendous support from the community and various organizations, such as Arizona’s Children Association and Equality Arizona.
“We benefited from the knowledge & experience of other couples who were pioneers in LGBTQA adoption and laid the foundation for our journey,” said Hatfield. “Not all agencies work with gay couples, but Project Jigsaw [a collaborative program between Equality Arizona and Arizona’s Children Association] works diligently to attract and support LGBT families.”
For Hatfield and Zeidman, adoption had always been the only option, because as avid volunteers, they both knew that there were thousands of children in the state looking for a forever home.
“Steve and I easily decided to adopt an older child from the foster care system. Older children five and up are less likely to find a forever family,” explained Hatfield. “As we got more involved in the adoption community, we opened our adoption criteria to include special needs children and ultimately adopted our son, who is high-functioning autistic.”
According to Arizona’s Children Association, there are approximately 17,000 children in the state’s foster care system who are searching for a caring family. Unfortunately, many children continue to age out of the system, especially older minority youth.
Most children in foster care have experienced unique struggles, and Tristan is no exception. The bright, fun-loving boy was removed from his biological family and placed in numerous group homes foster families before he found stability with Hatfield and Zeidman.
The adoption process took about one year to finalize, and on Feb. 25, Tristan moved into his new home, just three days before Hatfield and Zeidman’s two-year anniversary.
“Tristan is the most loving and big-hearted person I have ever met in my life,” said Hartfield. “I have no idea how that happened, and we certainly can’t take credit for it, but he is an absolute sweetheart.”
The 11-year-old is very affectionate and has a special love for policemen, firemen, and first responders.
“I swear, there is not a single policeman in Phoenix who I have not met, because when Tristan sees them, he has to walk over, shake their hand and say, ‘Thank you for your services.’ When we’re out, if we see a firetruck, he’ll be climbing it within a matter of minutes.”
As a result of their experience with the foster care system, the couple has become increasingly involved with organizations that advocate for child welfare and protection.
After adopting Tristan, Zeidman decided to follow his heart and volunteered a significant amount of his time to making a positive impact in local communities. He was later named chair of Dancing for Arizona’s Children, an annual fundraiser held by Arizona Children’s Association.
“Steve’s entire career has been focused on saving lives, either during the HIV/AIDS arena or pet lives, so we knew we wanted to adopt a child who would most likely not be adopted,” said Hatfield. “Us choosing to adopt a special needs son aligns with our values as a couple.”
Hatfield has also noticed significant personal growth.
“Now, life has more meaning, and a greater purpose than I ever thought was possible,” he admitted. “While I might have sacrificed some trivial choices, I’m ultimately more fulfilled than I ever imagined.”
Moving forward, Hatfield and Zeidman hope to serve as role models for other LGBTQ+ families who are interested in adopting. With time, they hope couples like them will help change perceptions about gay parents and families.
“We know what it feels like to not belong,” said Hatfield. However, the resources are there for LGBTQ+ couple who are searching for help and support. “I'd like for more LGBT couples to think about opening their homes to foster kids... we can make a difference for these children.”
In the meantime, the new parents will continue to enjoy their time with their son.
“We’ve seen such incredible progress. I’m looking forward to watching our son explore a new realm of possibilities. I’m looking forward to watching him grow into his own, special unique person. As much as I try, I can direct or manage that. I’m looking forward to seeing the person he matures into.”