Case Study: and Daddy Makes Three

Brighton-based dad Sam Milford, aged 42, is father to a young boy and a girl, who were born to female friends. He talked to US about being a father and the arrangements he reached over the care of his children…

Can you tell us how you became a father? Was it your idea or were you approached by a female friend?

It was what turned out to be a very lucky conversation with a mutual friend at a party that brought us all together. I’d been discussing the possibility of having kids and mentioned that out of my friends, there was only one person I’d consider starting a gay co-parent family with. The person that I was talking to at the party said he’d had almost exactly the same conversation with that same friend a few weeks before and that I should get in touch with her. Subsequently, I met up with her and her partner for a drink and we pretty much decided on the spot that this was something that we thought we could make work.

Can you remember what your main concerns were when deciding whether to go ahead or not?

I don’t remember having any huge concerns. I knew that they would be fantastic mums and that the kids would have lots of love from all three of us, which probably helped smooth over smaller worries. I think we were very lucky in having been friends for 20 years or so already – so we knew what to expect of each other.

To what extent did you have agreements or contracts in place with the mother before conception?

I can see that some people quite rightly feel the need to draw up formal agreements when there’s so much at stake – but given that we’d been friends for so long we didn’t feel the need to do this. We discussed how much time I’d expect to see the kids (I remember saying “as much as practical”), but I think we just knew that things would work out without having to have a contract. I think our situation is probably fairly unique, though. On the whole, I’d say that it’s probably a very useful thing for people to draw up a formal agreement.

What sort of arrangement, in terms of custody and parental responsibilities, did you reach with the mother of your child?

It was always going to be the case that the mums would be the central family for the kids. I spent as much time as possible with the babies during the first few months, and then we decided that it would be helpful if we set a specific time each week for me to begin to look after them, which was helpful both in terms of what the kids would come to expect and in terms of organising childcare between everyone.

Have you stuck to those arrangements or have they changed over time?

The arrangement has broadened from me dropping in on the kids for a few hours to me looking after the kids for the whole day – the same day each week – as well as occasional evenings and the obvious birthdays and festive occasions. It feels like we’ve got a pretty good balance of routine and flexibility.

How has fatherhood been for you? Do you feel it has changed you?

I’m sure it has changed me. I’m not quite sure I can pinpoint in what ways, but I’m sure it has! Initially, I found the once-a-week visits quite difficult… I knew it was supposed to be a special time for me to bond – but this wasn’t always how it felt, especially during the first few months. I think it highlighted the fact that I wasn’t a live-in dad – the kind of dad that I’d always imagined I’d be – so I was probably dealing with these feelings as well. Before the kids were talking, there was a lot of space for reflection, and there’s intensity in caring for young kids, which, for me, proved quite challenging. But now that they have started talking, the main issue is trying to get a word in edgeways. My son was born in 2007 and my daughter in 2009. Our kids are absolutely brilliant and playing a part in helping them grow up is amazing. It’s almost always hard work and I’m absolutely shattered by the end of the day – but I wouldn’t want it any other way.Friends may say I’m less of a party animal than I used to be. My week revolves around the kids and I make sure I’m on good form when I’m with them so that I can make the best use of the time I’ve got with them. It didn’t take me long to discover that hangovers and toddlers are definitely not a good mix!

Did you have hesitations about becoming a father as a single man? Do you sometimes wish you had a partner to help you with the kids?

Yes, I do sometimes wish I had a partner – not so much to help out with the kids, since this mostly isn’t down to me, but just to share the experience as a dad. I’ve got a really good relationship with the mums, and my own mum and dad and family are very supportive too – so there’s no sense of me being on my own.

I’ve been mostly single all my life and I’m not sure it’s a situation that is likely to change any time soon. Being a dad has probably made it harder than ever for me to find someone suitable, because unless I think they’d be great with kids then it’s a complete non-starter!

Is there anything you would have done differently? What advice would you give to anyone considering fatherhood by the same route?

I’ve struggled a bit with getting used to being a part-time dad – but as the kids are growing up and I’m finding my feet a bit more, so it’s definitely making more sense. If I had any advice for someone considering the same kind of family setup as mine then it would be the obvious things that I’m sure they’d already have thought of: talk to people who have done it and perhaps find someone who’s going through it at the same time so that you can share your experiences. I’ve never used any of the support groups out there, but I’m sure it would be worthwhile checking them out – and Stonewall’s “Guide for Gay Dads” has some really good background information.

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