Celebrating diversity: our unique path to parenthood
As part of our celebration of Pride Month here at Atlanta, we're excited to share a deeply personal and poignant story that illuminates the myriad ways in which families are formed. Today, we bring you the heartfelt narrative of Graham Bernier, our Communication & Engagement Manager, detailing his journey alongside his husband, Vincent, into parenthood—an adventure marked by love, resilience, and acceptance.
Back in 2015, as Spring, the symbol of new beginnings approached, we embarked on a new beginning of our own. Vincent, an ex-Jehovah’s Witness, and my long-suffering husband, along with our standoffish Boston Terrier, Truman (do dogs become like their humans?), and our constantly licking Pug, Colman, decided to take the plunge. We were ready to bring a kid into this madness. James was on his way.
Living out loud
Being an LGBTQ+ couple in the parenting game wasn’t exactly ordinary at the time. It was a shout-out to the grit, the nerve, and the bulldog determination that often come along when you’ve fought to embrace who you really are. As card-carrying members of the LGBTQ+ squad, we knew a thing or two about navigating the choppy waters of life, being ourselves, and blazing our own trail—we had to.
Vincent’s upbringing and family background played a big part in his drive to offer James something different. A tough childhood and some heavy family stuff pushed him to seek out a new path—one that would give James a loving and tight-knit family to grow up with.
The loss of my own mum hit me hard on our journey towards becoming dads. Her absence was a stinging reminder of how quickly life can change and how important it is to hold onto the ones we love. It made us think about what legacy we wanted to leave behind and the kind of parents we dreamed of becoming. Her memory added a whole new layer of warmth to our path as we often wondered what she would’ve done.
Taking the first step
The social worker conversation is still sharp in my memory—it was the starting gun for our life-changing adventure. I spilled all my beans, airing all the dirty laundry from my past that I was terrified might take us out of the running to adopt. The wild nights (and even wilder weeks), the constant moving from one country to another whenever I got bored, being responsible for no one other than myself.
But then, in a moment that put my heart back in my chest, the social worker cut me off. “Listen,” she said. “Life isn’t about living in a straight line. It’s about taking the detours, learning, growing. You two are evidence of that. Your past doesn’t define you. It shapes you. We need parents that have lived a life.”
Her words hit us right in the feels (yes, I do have some), giving us a solid boost that our colourful past didn’t make us any less capable of giving James a warm and stable home. Thanks to her, our worries faded into the background, and we found the confidence to take the leap into the crazy world of parenthood.
From that initial call to the day when James arrived, turning our lives on their heads, it was a 12-month adoption journey. Twelve months of anticipation, preparation, excitement, and a fair bit of nerves, too. But every moment was worth it.
Once we were on the adoption ride, there were a few rumblings about how we might influence James—even within our own family. Some people were uneasy, wondering if our “gay-ness” might rub off on him. But as James started to grow, it was clear his likes and dislikes had nothing to do with us. He was as comfortable explaining the offside rule or nursing a broken leg after toppling from the tallest tree he could find, as he was rattling off the last five winners of Ru Paul’s Drag Race or debating the worst contestant on the latest season of Glow Up. If that’s not a person that will grow up to take everything the world has to offer in his stride, I don’t know what is.
Along this journey, we’ve also encountered some head-scratching moments. People telling James he’d be better at basketball if he had a mum, which frankly baffled us. There were times when folks would look at us, puzzled, and ask “Who’s the mum?” There were even occasions when he was made fun of for not having a mum—by someone who had two mums. Yes, it was as weird as it sounds.
As dads, our job is to cheer James on as he finds out who he is. We know how crucial it is to give him a safe, accepting space where he can dive into his interests and become who he’s meant to be. We’re here to guide him, encourage him, and create a space that nourishes his genuine self.
Superb support networks
During our journey, I was lucky to have a killer support network at work. My old job had a ton of inclusive policies and forward-thinking attitudes, and they knew the score when it came to adoptive parents—as we do at Atlanta too. They gave me six months off, letting me throw myself headlong into being there for James.
Those six months were a massive chapter in our family story. We got to bond, to build the foundation for a strong, loving relationship. We look back on that time as the starting point for a lifetime of shared memories, growth, and no-holds-barred love. Those six months also saw a lot of sleepless nights as I lay in bed, making sure that I could still hear him breathing until the alarm went off at 7am! Daft now, I know.
Looking back, we’re beyond grateful for the support my old job gave us. They really got how much of a game-changer this period in our lives was and gave us a solid thumbs up for our diverse little family unit.
Our story is a big high-five to workplaces with inclusive policies. They understand that by recognising and accommodating the unique needs of adoptive parents, they’re building a place where families can truly thrive, and children can flourish. We hope more workplaces will put on the same sort of inclusive game face, building a culture that respects and supports all kinds of families.
A unique angle on the parenting gig
As James keeps growing and exploring, we’re so grateful for the golden time we had during my adoption leave. It was a time of joy, discovery, and laying down a solid foundation of love and security. Our family story is a shout-out to the importance of inclusive policies. When employers embrace them, they’re not just supporting their employees. They’re also helping to build stronger, more inclusive communities.
The road to parenthood has been one hell of a ride, with plenty of ups and downs, heaps of growth, and a whole lot of love. We might not fit the traditional mould, but hey, who said ‘normal’ is a requirement for being great parents? We might not tick the ‘normal’ box, but we’re proud to say we’re some of the coolest, most loving parents you’ll ever meet.
Being an LGBTQ+ couple gives us a unique angle on the parenting gig. We’ve learned resilience, self-discovery, and how to handle tough times with grace and authenticity. We celebrate our uniqueness and the diversity within our family, knowing that our love and support will be a beacon for James as he explores the world.
Every challenge has made us stronger, as individuals and as a family. We’ve learned the power of love, acceptance, and the importance of fostering an inclusive and nurturing space for our son. We’re dedicated to raising James with a hefty dose of empathy, compassion, and respect for everyone, no matter where they come from or who they are. I’m still working on acceptance of ugly shoes, but life is a journey, and we’ll get there together.
Allyship through inclusive policies
As we celebrate Pride Month, it’s crucial to remember that all families, no matter their shape, size, or the path they took to get there, are valid and beautiful. In this diverse and vibrant world, there’s room for all kinds of families, and every one of them is a testament to the power of love and the strength of human connection.
At Atlanta, there is a commitment to embracing diversity and inclusivity. There are numerous family-friendly policies in place, designed to support you, your family, and the journeys you may embark on to create yours. We recognise and celebrate the different family structures that our people may have, including adoption, foster care, single parents, and LGBTQ+ families. These policies, among many others, serve to ensure everyone feels seen, respected, and valued.
Here at Atlanta, we understand that supportive environments are crucial in helping individuals to thrive, both personally and professionally. With our focus on inclusivity and diversity, we continue to strive towards creating a workplace that respects and values all our people, regardless of their background or family structure.
Whether you are part of a traditional family, a single parent, or part of the LGBTQ+ community, remember that Atlanta is here to support you on your journey. With a culture that understands, respects, and celebrates diversity, we encourage all our people to be their authentic selves.
This Pride Month, let’s remember that every family is a kaleidoscope of love, learning, and life. Our journey to parenthood might have been unique, but it has been every bit as beautiful, rewarding, and downright incredible as any other. All families, regardless of how they are formed or who they include, are a celebration of love and life. Let’s take this time to celebrate them in all their diverse, vibrant, and beautiful forms. Because at the end of the day, love is love, family is family, and that’s something truly worth celebrating.
Communication & Engagement Manager