Joshua Todd and Stephen Dunlevy are two dads living in Southeast Portland with their adopted daughter and son, Charity, 8, and Aaron, 7. The dads are young, handsome, fit, and wearing near-matching T-shirts and cargo shorts. They are thoughtful, reflective, and attentive. So attentive that Dunlevy gets up at least three times during our hourlong chat because he thinks he hears the kids stirring from their naps.
In 2004, Todd, then a single foster father to Charity and Aaron, founded a social networking group called Daddies & Papas, which meets at Portland’s Q Center. (More than 65 couples show up regularly to the group’s monthly meetings.) He says that he and Dunlevy, who now run the meetings together, spoke at great length about their parenting and domestic-life philosophies before they committed to each other. “Luckily, we realized we both had a very structured approach,” Todd says. “So that was one less stress to deal with.”
Both men work full-time for Multnomah County—Todd as a youth-empowerment advocate and Dunlevy as a mental-health social worker for adolescents—so, to save themselves time, they’ve started to chart the family’s weekly schedule. From homework to tae kwon do to bath time, the family business is mapped out and posted in the kitchen.
“Our kids have a hard lot in life,” says Dunlevy, 39, laughing, as he shows me the chart. "It’s kind of like we’re running a business around here. But it’s really good for them to have this structure, and it helps us a ton.”
Todd, 32, admits that the chore chart was born out of moments when “inequalities crept in before we had the task delegated.” He says that he and Dunlevy were increasingly prone to arguments in the vein of “Yard work/laundry is harder/easier, therefore you should have more/fewer chores.”
“We realized the arguments weren’t about the chores, but about being appreciated for what you were doing,” Todd says.
Caden Cooley Reedy is prancing around the living room wearing nothing but a diaper, while Scott Cooley, one of his dads, peers into it from behind to see if Caden needs a change. Caden’s other dad, Kevin Reedy, stays put on the couch and watches all of this transpire. The dads are discussing dinner plans. It’s too hot to cook, so how about dinner at Justa Pasta in Northwest Portland?
“It’s very kid-friendly,” Cooley tells me, then chuckles to himself. “I never thought I’d be excited about that kind of stuff on a Saturday night.” Reedy nods in agreement.
Cooley asks Reedy to take Caden upstairs to get dressed and wash his face (he drank some sticky watermelon juice at the Mississippi Avenue Street Fair). Moments later they’re back, Caden prancing around in a green T-shirt and baby Bermuda shorts and Reedy realizing that he forgot to wash the toddler’s face. Cooley sighs and grabs a wet washcloth from the bathroom. We then pile into the family’s Ford Escape and Cooley chauffeurs us out of Alameda toward downtown Portland. The summer sun is still brilliant at 6:30 p.m., but apparently it’s not bright enough for Caden to don his blue sunglasses, which he places in my hand for safekeeping.
On the drive, Cooley tells me about his conservative Southern Baptist upbringing in Texas and the letter his older brother wrote to him after he and Reedy adopted Caden. It outlined the “cruelty” the two men were inflicting on this “poor child” by raising him in a gay household, and how Cooley needed to bring the Lord into Caden’s life as soon as possible.
“I didn’t write him back, but he ended up meeting Caden shortly after that,” says Cooley, referring to a visit he and Reedy took to Texas when Caden was 5 months old. “He’s coming to visit for the first time in August because he fell in love with Caden. People are just so scared sometimes of what is unfamiliar.” Cooley doesn’t know whether his brother will ever fully accept his family, but he says his brother has demonstrated “genuine love” for Caden.
Reedy turns his head to check on his son, who smiles back. “You’re such a good boy,” he says, beaming.
Later, Reedy tells me that he and Cooley rarely, if ever, think about the fact that Caden has two dads. By all accounts, he is just a happy, well-adjusted little boy. And Caden’s happiness, he says, is the couple’s only real concern. “Isn’t that what we all want for our kids?” he asks.