FAMILY LIFE: Gay fathers face an empty nest

FATHERS KNOW BEST | When Lucas Grape-Krueger, center, attends Austin College in the fall, his dads Roger Grape, left, and Steve Krueger will suddenly have plenty of time on their hands. They plan to have date nights, travel and even turn their son’s room into a media center. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

The Grape-Krueger family looks forward to a new chapter as son goes off to college

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Roger Grape and Steve Krueger met in Houston 21 years ago, and were only a few years into their life together as a couple when they became pioneers, of a sort, by adopting a child.

Now, more than 20 years later, the two are again on the leading edge of the “gayby boom,” as they face the prospect of soon becoming “empty nesters.”

Krueger remembers his husband bringing up the idea of children on their third date. Grape doesn’t remember it that way.

But just a few years later, they adopted Lucas through a San Antonio-based agency.

Grape said that it never occurred to him that he couldn’t have children.

“Just because I’m gay doesn’t mean I can’t be a parent,” he said, adding that he always knew he didn’t want to be a single parent.

For Krueger, it was a different story. “I hadn’t really thought of it as a possibility,” he said.

Once the couple was together, Krueger said he realized that parenting was something he could do.

“Neither of us were party boys,” Krueger said, so the couple decided to have a family.

But in 1993, adoptions by gay couples were rare. So Grape approached it like a research project.

He said they had their home study done first before approaching agencies. Then they sent the home study to agencies and asked, “Would you work with a family like ours?” Grape said.

They bought a stack of baby books and then five weeks after they found the San Antonio agency, Lucas Krueger-Grape was born. He went home with his new parents when he was three days old.

Grape said his parents were thrilled when they heard they were going to be grandparents.

But again, it was different for Krueger, who was raised in a conservative family.

Krueger said he told his parents the week before Lucas was born. He said the announcement was greeted with tolerance, but he knew they had problems with the idea. Still, once Lucas was born, “he was a grandkid,” Krueger said.

He said that since bringing Lucas into their family, his parents have even warmed to Grape.

And on both sides of the family, Lucas said he was the only grandchild to carry on the family name.

In 1995, Krueger’s employer, Texas Instruments, transferred him from Houston to Dallas. Grape, who had recently earned a master’s degree in social work at the University of Houston, became a counselor at Oak Lawn Community Services.

On moving day, Lucas learned to crawl. Keeping him strapped in a car seat presented a challenge they hadn’t planned.

Krueger remembers one of the most stressful parts of the move as finding a new pediatrician.

“I came out 12 times today,” he said, remembering how he came home and told his partner, “I’m so tired.”

Krueger interviewed a number of pediatricians who turned them down, saying they “couldn’t work with a family like ours,” he said.

Over the next few years, both came out to strangers many times.

“Just walking around the [NorthPark] mall,” Krueger said, where babies were a magnet, they would have to explain they were both the dads.

Lucas Grape-Krueger knows his family is different than most of his friends’ families: Unlike many of his classmates’ families, his parents are still together.

The teen shrugged off the idea of having two dads. That’s all he’s ever known since he was adopted at birth and noted that he has never had problems in school.

“In sixth grade, people would ask, ‘Where’s your mom?’ I gave stupid comments back,” he said.

Lucas wasn’t a child to be bullied. He has a football player’s build and played sports. To make sure he could protect himself, his dads enrolled him in Tae Kwon Do.

“He worked up to almost black belt,” Krueger said.

Krueger said that Lucas was on all of the school teams. They spent evenings and weekends rooting for their son and got to know all of the other parents.

When Lucas wanted to play more sports,they decided to join the YMCA.

“We got a letter on Christmas eve,” Krueger said.

“The bottom of the letterhead said, ‘Where everyone belongs,’” Grape said. “Evidently not.”

Their membership was turned down.

Instead they joined the Jewish Community Center, which welcomed them.

Grape said over the years they thought of adopting a second child. When Lucas was young, they hosted a Walt Whitman student for a year. Whitman was a school for LGBT students that operated in Dallas in the late 1990s.

But Lucas said he didn’t miss having siblings.

“My girlfriend and her brother always fight,” he said.

Krueger said that being a parent always gave him more to talk about with his colleagues at work.

Becoming gay parents in 1993, Grape said, set them apart. Gay men would ask them why they would do that. Others told them how much they disliked children.

“Our parenting roles didn’t end up the way we expected,” Krueger said.

They thought Krueger would be the disciplinarian. He said he surprised himself with how much empathy he had.

Lucas sees it differently. He said among his friends, he has the strictest parents. But, he said, he knows how to play one against the other to get what he wants.

In June, Lucas graduated from the Winston School in North Dallas. In the fall, he’ll attend Austin College in Sherman, Texas.

Like many of their straight friends, Grape and Krueger are facing an empty nest.

“He’s preparing us,” Krueger said.

“He’s giving us as hard a time as possible,” Grape said.

“It’s working,” Krueger said.

“I can’t remember the last time he met his curfew,” Grape said.

Lucas has a different perspective: “They were perfect,” he said wryly.

To prepare for their new, quieter life, Krueger and Grape have adopted two “empty nest” dogs. Grape is going back to school to work on a masters in library science. He currently teaches.

The couple also hopes to travel more. After a family reunion in New Jersey this fall, they said they might go to New York and get legally married. They’ve already had a ceremony at First Unitarian Church of Dallas.

Grape has become a youth advisor at First Unitarian. Both men are politically active and plan to become more so in the 2012 election. Krueger joined the board of Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance.

And they may do some work on their house.

“They’re threatening to turn my room into a media center,” Lucas said.

But he takes that as an idle threat.

“Nice TV? Sound system?” he said. “Cool.”

He wondered if his parents were trying to get him to come home for visits more frequently.

Although they’ll miss him, his fathers are encouraging Lucas to spend weekends on campus, making friends and enjoying campus life.

“I know we’ll get through it fine,” Krueger said.

“We’re having date nights again,” Grape said.

—  John Wright