By Desi Rubio, June 2015 Issue.
In today’s tech-savvy society, where it requires very little effort to upload and share photos online, one Phoenix couple continues to document their nontraditional family in the most traditional of ways.
Inside the Bowerman-Fuller residence, hundreds of family photos compete for wall space; canvas prints, also worth a thousand words, add larger-than-life accents; and a myriad of collages sit proudly in frames throughout their home.
This careful display not only tells a story of two dads and their adopted children, but also one of multigenerational acceptance and unconditional love.
Wes Fuller is one of four boys who were raised in Mesa by two moms – Heather Fuller and Shannon Atkinson. From an early age, both mothers ensured the boys understood the importance of family, created their own unique family traditions, spent quality time and took vacations together and did all the same things “other families did.”
Even without the presence of a dad or a father figure, Wes said he never felt as though anything was missing.
“Both moms really complemented one another,” Wes said. “We were never lacking any specific gender role and definitely had our needs met by both moms.”
Wes said he knew his family was unique, but he was not disconcerted by it. And, at the age of 18 he realized that he, like his moms, was also attracted to the same sex and came out to his family shortly after he graduated from Hamilton High School in Chandler.
That same year, 2003, Wes met a man on the dance floor of the club Boom (now Karamba). They danced the night away, but little did Wes know that man, Scott Bowerman, would change his life forever.
Their connection and chemistry was instantaneous. Then, as they got to know one another, they realized they shared the same primary goal in life: to be parents.
“I came out to my family when I was 26 and, although I always wanted a family, I always thought it was impossible,” Scott said.
According to Scott, his attraction to Wes was instantaneous but his love for him was magnified when he discovered that Wes had been raised by same-sex parents. This, Scott said, assured him that it was “absolutely possible” to raise children in household with two dads.
Wes and Scott held a wedding ceremony in Phoenix in 2006 and, surrounded by family and friends, the Bowerman-Fuller family became official. Two years later, the couple legally wed in California. And from there, they embarked on their journey to parenthood.
In 2010, the couple became certified foster parents and welcomed Eli, a 3-month-old baby boy, into their home and hearts. Less than a year later, just as they got the hang of co-parenting, Eli’s younger sister, Hana, joined him at just 3 days old.
Their family of four was complete and Scott’s adoption of both children was finalized in November 2012.
Fast-forward to Fathers Day 2015, now that Arizona has marriage equality, Wes and Scott are working toward second parent adoption rights for Wes and advocating for fostering and adoption.
In addition, these super dads keep very busy. Every day of the week has a theme or routine: Mondays are spent at grandma’s house for family dinner, Tuesdays have become reserved for hosting “Taco Tuesday” at their house and Wednesday through Friday afternoons are filled with soccer, dance or karate.
Eli and Hana are enrolled in pre-kindergarten and, according to their dads, their personalities are blooming more every day. Eli, now 4, loves Spiderman and being outdoors with his dads, while Hana, now 3, enjoys art and playing dress-up. In fact, one of her favorite photos in the house was taken last Halloween when both dads dressed up and took the kids trick-or-treating.
When asked, the children explained that having two daddies is better than one because they get to do “double more things and have fun.” Even at such young ages, it is clear that they both understand that their family story is a very special one.
According to Wes and Scott, their goals as parents have always been to raise “happy and respectful children [and] to provide a safe and loving home for them.”
Through the support of their relatives and friends, as well as the morals and traditions instilled in both dads from an early age, they are confident that they are doing just that. Additionally, they consider themselves regular parents and currently pride themselves in being the “go-to” parents for couples seeking guidance on fostering and adoption.
The challenges of being a same-sex parent today, Wes said, are very different than the ones his moms faced a generation ago. Growing up in the late ’80 and early ‘90s, Wes recalled having to call one of his moms “aunt” in front of his friends, school administrators and teachers. His home-life was closeted until junior high, when his friends grew curious and began asking him about the two women in his house.
Today, both dads feel that Phoenix is continuously becoming more accepting of diverse families. On a daily basis they confidently drop off and pick up Eli and Hana from school and, pay no mind to the occasional looks they receive from other children as they proudly kiss their son and daughter goodbye and wish them a good day.
While the dads agree that they never want to put other parents in a situation where they may have to have the LGBT talk with their kids if they are not ready to explain it quite yet, they do celebrate diversity of all varieties in their own home. In fact, hosting events such as “Taco Tuesday” allows both dads to surround their children with families of all varieties – single moms, lesbian mothers, straight parents and gay dads.
Everyone is welcome in the Bowerman-Fuller home and, according to Scott, it’s acceptance and fellowship like this that has diminished any social or societal apprehensions he initially felt about being a same-sex parent.
On the heels of the Wes and Scott’s ninth wedding anniversary celebration, in March, and just a month before Eli and Hana’s July birthday parties, falls another very special day in the Bowerman-Fuller household: Father’s Day.
Although this holiday is somewhat new to Wes, who was raised knowing the importance Mother’s Day, his family celebrates Father’s Day just as any other traditional family would.
“We just really enjoy fatherhood so much and, although the kids may not fully understand what Father’s Day means, it’s great hearing them shout ‘daddy!’ and being there for them when they need us.” Wes said.
Putting the LGBT in Grandparent
Valley grandmother celebrates the evolution of same-sex parenting
Outside of football season, Monday nights aren’t typically associated with any widely understood or celebrated traditions. Week after week, Monday follows the ever-popular Sunday Funday and ranks nowhere near the popularity of Taco Tuesday or Happy Hump Day.
But for one Valley grandmother, and her nontraditional family, Monday night has become a highly anticipated occasion, one that revolves around the most important elements in her life: family and tradition.
Heather Fuller, her son, Wes Fuller, his husband, Scott Bowerman, and their two kids, Eli and Hana, begin each week at grandma’s for a home-cooked meal, conversation, catching up and, if the kids are lucky, a sweet dessert.
Heather routinely spends her Monday evenings preparing dinner for herself, her sons and grandchildren. And because she lives only five minutes from Wes and Scott, she considers herself a full-time grandma and said visiting with her grandchildren is her top priority.
“My goal as a grandma is to make sure my grandchildren keep memories alive [and] become good people like their dads,” she said.
According to Heather, embarking on adventures with her grandchildren is something she’s been looking forward to for a long time – since her and her long-time partner, Shannon Atkinson, first started their own family more than 30 years ago.
Once upon a time, Heather and Shannon were two women wildly in love. They met in 1987 and together they raised four boys – one biologically from Shannon and three biologically from Heather.
Heather admits that raising the boys in the late ‘80s through the ‘90s in a “primarily Mormon town” was challenging. In fact, she said, living in a same-sex parental household was rare, and if it was happening, it was almost always a closeted situation.
“Back then society was not as open as it is now,” she said. “When my boys were in school, I would always have to pretend to be their aunt.”
Her son, Wes, who is raising his two adopted children in a same-sex parental home, said that, aside from knowing his mom wasn’t really his aunt, everything else about his upbringing was quite normal.
“There were times when it would get interesting explaining to people at school, especially to teachers who were much more inquisitive, about my moms,” Wes said. “However, it was great, we had two parents who took very good care of us.”
Instead of exacerbating the politics and quarrels behind their closeted dynamic, both moms, instead, focused onto creating family traditions and instilling morals in their boys.
“While Shannon was the strict one, I was always the fun mom,” Heather said jokingly. “Our goals as mothers were to make sure our boys were good men.”
The boys and their mothers went on countless camping trips, learned how to fish (Heather’s favorite pastime) and were also taught such fundamental qualities as fixing cars and cooking.
According to Heather, she and and Shannon lived a very happy and well-rounded life with their boys for 20 years. However, in 2005, Shannon became very ill and was diagnosed with cancer for a second time. She passed away peacefully in their home with Heather by her side.
According to Wes, the loss of one mother was tough on the entire family. Not only was it emotionally hard, he said, but it was financially challenging as well.
“It was tough figuring out the social-security benefits because they weren’t technically married,” Wes said. “But, luckily [she] had a biological son who handled everything and she passed away at home where my mom [Heather] could remain by her side.”
Now that all four boys are grown and starting families of their own, Heather has learned to shift her energy into being a full-time grandmother.
“When my son Wes came out to me after he graduated high school, I was worried he wasn’t going to have any kids,” Heather said. “But then he met his husband, Scott, and hallelujah!”
Today, Heather is instilling the same traditions and morals she raised her sons on to a new generation of young minds. And, of course, there are cooking and fly-fishing lessons taking place, too.
According Heather, one of the most fulfilling aspects about her life today is seeing first-hand how the dynamics of same-sex parenthood and pride have changed for the better.
“It is just so different and more accepting now,” Heather said. “I see so many gay couples now walking in hand in hand in Phoenix … pride is so wonderful.”