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Nontraditional is becoming more traditional in modern Oklahoma families


November 18th, 2010

We are what future families will look like, Joye Swain, a former teacher and travel writer, told one of her adopted children more than 20 years ago. "All races. All different colors and backgrounds and interests."

/> Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender adoption laws vary by state, but in most cases, GLBT single-person adoptions are allowed, while some states allow same-sex couple adoption or second-parent adoption. In Oklahoma, single GLBT adoption is allowed, but second-parent adoption is unclear.

While being both a same-sex and interracial family sets them apart in a conservative state, Walker and Fields say they initially felt conspicuous, but don't feel it anymore.

"If they see no discomfort, they won't feel it," Fields said, noting that overall, people have been very supportive.

"When the marriage initiative issue began heating up, many of our friends told us knowing us in person changed their views and made them more accepting of it," said Walker.

While the high-profile couple tries to stay nonpolitical, Fields said, "With recent issues like bullying, 'don't ask, don't tell,' and the gay marriage initiative coming to a head, we feel as if our silence is not helping."

The couple has been together since 1995, when Walker saw a business ad featuring Fields at his salon in the Oklahoma Gazette and told friends, "That's the guy I've been waiting for."

Two years later, they had a commitment ceremony at Stage Center with more than 100 people present to witness. Adding children to their family in the home that was once owned by a married ACLU attorney from the 1950s felt like a full-circle moment.

KIDS INCORPORATED

The modern family with the toughest schedule of all can be that of the blended one, dealing with custody arrangements, holidays and special occasions.

Ryan, a real estate agent, and Brooke Hukill, a stay-at-home mom and Pampered Chef representative, have been married five years, bringing a ready-made family with them. Brooke has an 8-year-old son from her first marriage, while Ryan has a 19-year-old son and 16-year old daughter. Together, they have two sons, ages 3 and 9 months, and all but Ryan's college-aged son live in their home.

It's clear in the Hukill home, there is no "my," only "our." To keep track of the custody schedule, Brooke has a spreadsheet she refers to for birthdays and holidays, since they take turns with their ex-spouses.

"We do everything together as a whole, not celebrate half and half," said Brooke, who was a child of a bitter divorce in the 1980s. "We try not to schedule two of things, and try to incorporate all families into one," meaning keeping the peace is paramount. "Even if it means not celebrating a holiday on the actual day, like Christmas, it's still more important for us all to be together."

When Ryan Hukill was 18, he discovered that the man he thought was his father was actually his stepfather, but that didn't change the way he felt about him. The love he received from the man he always knew as "Dad" secured his belief that it's not about biology.

"Anyone can become a father or mother, but stepping up to the plate and taking responsibility and being a role model is what matters," he said. "There are no labels in our home. We are each invested in our kids whether biological or not. So many parents are absent these days, and it's sad because they are missing out on a lot."

Brooke sees a big difference in the way divorced dads deal with their kids in modern day.

"They fight for their rights to be active in their children's lives more than when I was growing up," she said.

Swain agrees that times have changed. In decades past, she used to get sideways looks from passersby when she was out with her interracial family, but now out with her little ones, she gets no reaction at all.

Asked how her grandchildren are dealing with the transition, she said they are doing well and loving school. Even the 2- and 3-year-olds go to part-time preschool.

"I'm a strong believer that you make your life and don't sit around and whine about what could've been and should've been," Swain said.

Ryan Hukill's real estate team, Show Me OKC, touts the benefits of raising a family in Oklahoma City.

"Where the city is going is very exciting," he said. "There is so much to do here, and it's so affordable compared to rest of country. I don't have a desire to be anywhere else."

Walker is on the front lines of bringing exciting things to Oklahoma City with his position at the Philharmonic, including the recent concert with Oklahoma native and Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth.

Fields added, "It's great to be a part of the city that is experiencing such growth and change. It's a cool thing."

'FAMILY' TIES
The article was inspired by the Emmy-winning ABC sitcom "Modern Family," featuring the lives of three families within one extended family. The show has been credited for saving the family sitcom via its portrayal of humorous real-life situations viewers can relate to. Patriarch Jay is married to the gorgeous Columbian Gloria, and her wise son, Manny, isn't like all the other kids.

Jay's daughter, Claire, is married to the enthusiastic real estate agent and wannabe cool dad, Phil, and together they have three kids: the pretty, eye-rolling teen, Haley; the smart girl, Alex; and the spacey Luke.

Jay's son, Mitchell, an attorney, and his life partner, the free-spirited stay-at-home dad, Cameron, adopted a Vietnamese baby, Lily.

Timothy Fields said they watch the show together as a family.

"It's so well-cast with good writing. You see something from your family in nearly every episode. Of all things, it points out that all families are normal and there are so many options and types of families out there," Fields said.
 
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