There are many pathways to parenthood as well as learning how to be the best parent, particularly a father, that one can be. In Ventura County, the often overlooked unconventional families are particularly special; from these many can learn valuable lessons. For the celebration of Father’s Day, local fathers and their respective families share their important life journeys and what it takes to make things work.
Providing a good life
During their 11-year relationship, Troy Wright and Eric Gilbert discussed the possibility of adopting a child, but never really had the time to take on fatherhood 100 percent.
The lives of the Oak Park couple changed when Wright needed a haircut at a local salon, where they were approached by a woman from Inner Circle Foster Care and Adoption Services.
“She asked if we have ever considered being dads, we told her that we do talk about it but have not done anything to make it happen,” Gilbert, 50, recalled. “She gave us her card and we left it at that.”
Two years later, Wright needed his regular haircut and Gilbert went along for the ride.
“And again, the same lady was there and approached us and said, ‘Do you remember me?’ ” Gilbert said. “And we both laughed and said yes, and that we have been talking about adopting again.”
In January of 2015, the couple started their classes at Inner Circle to get the ball rolling, and in April of 2015, they received the call about a newborn baby boy.
“On our ride to see him, we were so excited to meet the little guy, we spent two days with him before bringing him home to start the process for foster-to-adopt,” Gilbert said. “We fell in love the moment we saw him and the bond was so special.”
Gilbert and Wright cared for the baby for five weeks before his mom decided she wanted him to be adopted by the family that had his sister back in Florida.
“We had to say bye to our first little boy and know that we had given him a great start to his life,” Gilbert said.
In September of 2015, Gilbert received the call about another baby boy who was born nine weeks early and remained in the NICU for the first month.
Wright was in Germany at the time on a work-related trip through Amgen.
“I had to go to the hospital to meet up with the nurses and social workers,” said Gilbert, who coordinates special events for the Hyatt Regency in Westlake Village.
To Gilbert’s surprise, several serendipitous coincidences connected the baby boy to his new parents.
“His birthdate is my parents’ anniversary date, he has the same birthday as our best man for our wedding, and his doctor’s first name was my last name,” Gilbert said. “I knew immediately that we were taking him home.”
Gilbert and Wright are currently in the process of adopting the baby they named Finn, who will celebrate 22 months the day before Father’s Day.
“He came into our lives and has blessed us,” Gilbert said. “It is amazing how a baby changes your life for the better. He has been a joy to watch grow and has brought many happy faces to our lives.”
Wright said he is looking forward to watching Finn grow, develop, learn and thrive in today’s world.
“Today’s world is very complex and not easy to navigate,” said Wright, 46. “Given this . . . I focus on providing Finn a good life and the tools necessary to thrive and deal with what each and every day may bring.”
Wright hopes to instill Finn with a genuine love for family and friends and respect for others.
“Being a father is amazing and has truly made me look at life differently,” Wright said. “Those things that I thought one day to be important are no longer. My life is about growing my family and developing a man who will do good and give back to society.”
For Gilbert, “It’s all about values and giving back to his community.”
“I feel that most kids today are not learning what we learned about taking care of each other and giving back for what you have,” Gilbert said. “If he is anything like us, he will be a kind and loving person that looks at taking care of others and making sure all is well in his world.”
When Martin Rosenblum became the father of his first and only son, his initial vision was that of the stereotypical norm: for his son to grow up, get married and have kids — and to be successful.
“We did all of the father-and-son things growing up — sports, karate, Boy Scouts,” recalled Martin, 57, of Oxnard.
Sometime in 2015, Rosenblum started noticing things were different with his son, Steven, who was beginning to demonstrate more female traits with wardrobe and mannerisms.
“As time went on, these traits became more prevalent, as makeup was being introduced,” Martin remembered.
In February 2016, his child came out as transgender, and that she wanted to be called Michelle. The conversation took place in their Oxnard home, where the two have lived together for about two years.
“I told him that I was going to be girl . . . and that I was going to be presenting accordingly,” Michelle, 29, recalled.
When his daughter came out, “I wasn’t really surprised, as Michelle had already been transitioning months before,” Martin said.
During this conversation, Martin told Michelle he was “perfectly OK” with her decision. He also said, “You’re my child and my love for you is unconditional. Who you are on the outside doesn’t matter, so long as who you are on the inside doesn’t change.”
Martin admits, however, that he experienced “a mixed bag of emotions.”
“Sad was more the initial feeling, as I felt that I was losing my son,” he said.
“At first, it was a little bit of a struggle, as I needed to process all of this,” Martin said. “As a parent, it is our first instinct to be protective . . . my concerns were that of her personal safety and how others would react or accept her.”
As time went on, Martin witnessed how others accepted Michelle’s decision.
“Fears subside, and things just become more normal,” he said. “Realistically, except for the fact that she now wears a dress, it’s as if nothing really has changed. Actually, I see Michelle as now having more confidence with the person she has become.”
When Michelle came out to her father, he asked a lot of questions and wanted to learn more about what she felt — and how long she had felt that way.
“Even though he didn’t understand, he was very accepting,” Michelle said. “Most of all, he was just concerned for my safety. He was worried that I would be made fun of or hurt in public. He was worried about my career and if people would take me seriously — all very real concerns.”
The best thing her dad did was accept who she was and give her a safe place to grow.
“He referred to me as Michelle and his daughter to his friends and colleagues. He helped my daughter Roe get me a mother’s day gift. He also supported me in many ways when I had to fight for my rights to be a transgender parent. He continues to be a strong pillar in my life.”
Michelle admits that she and her father have had their ups and downs.
“But these last couple years have brought us closer than I could ever imagine,” she said. “I hear about many trans people who have been disowned by their families and I couldn’t be luckier to have a dad that has my back no matter what.”
Rosenblum said Michelle is the child he’s always envisioned: “an incredibly smart, talented, loving and caring person — whom I am proud to say is my child.”
“I will never understand how any parent could disown their child, just for being who they want to be,” he said. “It’s unfortunate, as I feel that some parents let their egos get in the way of what is really important, or simply worry about how this is somehow a reflection on them.”
Being a dad is a journey unto itself, filled with extreme joys, along with its trials and tribulations, he added.
“The impact we have on our kids and the relationship that we create with them, ultimately defines who they become,” he said. “In watching Steven transition into Michelle, there is only the person that has always been. This experience has gifted me the opportunity to completely understand the power of unconditional love.”
A blended family
Not all blended families have a storybook ending. But for Virginia and Jeff Hayward, bringing their families together more than two decades ago was one of the best decisions they have ever made.
The couple’s romance began with an introduction by their mutual friends at the Brunswick bowling alley in Simi Valley, where Virginia instantly resonated with the cowboy with amazing blue eyes.
“He was a charming, sweet gentleman,” recalled Virginia, 52. “I thought, this is rare. You don’t meet these kinds of guys all the time. He’s a genuine gentleman.”
Her heart for Jeff grew even bigger when she discovered he had a daughter from a previous marriage, who was around the same age as her twin boys from her previous marriage.
“That was the attraction because his very first picture in his wallet was of his daughter, and he carried a book of things she made in his truck,” Virginia said. “The way he was a dad to her, that’s why I started falling in love with him.”
Jeff was not only a great father to his daughter, Amanda, he immediately took on a fatherly role with Virginia’s twin sons, Kyle and Kory Quiroz, after he exchanged wedding vows with their mom.
“I always felt that any kid deserves fair chance to have the best they can get,” said Jeff, 54. “They’re innocent people when they’re little, so you have to give them the opportunity to let them become who they are, and instill proper morals and a good foundation.”
Kyle and Kory were around 4 years old when their mother brought Jeff to the family.
“Having a young mind, of course it was hard to accept Jeff as a father at first,” recalled Kyle, 26, who lives in Maine. “I have a father with an active role in my life. Jeff already had a daughter, and my brother and I were just a new addition.”
In the beginning, “We had to learn to love one another,” Kyle said.
“Jeff had a tough love mentality . . . He definitely didn’t let us get away with any form of misbehavior towards our mother,” remembered Kyle. “So the process seemed hard at first to accept him as a father role because I felt like he wasn’t on my side.”
Kyle soon learned, however, that Jeff was in fact on his side, “and we learned to love each other. He embodies a lot of what a dad should be, even his desire to protect my mother and our family.”
Jeff said he always believed in being a parent first.
“You can be their friend later in life, but you gotta be a parent first,” Jeff said. “Every kid deserves to be loved and treated with the utmost respect, being our next generation.”
Kory remembers his stepfather providing support for their entire family, which expanded when Jeff and Virginia had a daughter, Katelynn, who is now 20 years old.
“He took on me and my brother; he also had his own daughter, and they had another daughter together — he was able to provide for all of us,” Kory said. “He had a lot on his plate obviously. He had to work a lot just to be able to provide for our family. That’s what stood out to me — he always did whatever it took to care for us.”
The nice thing about having a blended family is that it helps you understand what family really means, Kyle added.
“Family looks past blood and history; it’s a choice,” Kyle said. “Jeff is a great man and a great father. His life changed when he married my mother, but his character did not. He was a father, who gained two more, and eventually had one more.”
This Father’s Day, Kory wants Jeff to know how thankful he is for coming into their lives.
“I am thankful for what he has done, especially for my mom,” Kory said. “It really means a lot to me that he’s been there for us.”
Looking back on the success of her blended family, Virginia admits that every once in a while, she has to pinch herself.
“I really believe God had his hands on us,” she said. “My kids and Jeff are the biggest blessing I’ve ever had in my life.”