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Fathers and Sons

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Sunshine streams into the kitchen as a small, tow-headed boy and his parents bite into breakfast muffins rich with cherries from their backyard orchard in Cockeysville. There's a whisper of white noise from the room monitor tuned to a sleeping baby.

It's a Kodak moment of the '90s: Dad, Daddy and Duncan.

Psychologist Ken Morgen and his companion of 18 years, physician Sam Westrick, show all the enthusiasm -- and some of the fatigue -- of fortysomething parents caring for two children under the age of 3: Their adopted son Duncan is now "2 and three-quarters" and his brother Trevor is 10 months.

And they have broken gay parents' customary code of silence with a book about their efforts to become parents: "Getting Simon: Two Gay Doctors' Journey To Fatherhood." (Simon is a pseudonym for Duncan.)

Dr. Morgen and Dr. Westrick are one of the first gay couples to speak so openly of their quest for adoption at a time when attitudes toward homosexual parents range from enthusiasm to contempt.

State courts aren't sure what to think about gay parents either. Two years ago, for instance, a court in Massachusetts allowed surgeon Helen Cooksey to adopt the biological child of her companion, breast cancer specialist Susan Love, waiving the traditional requirement for legal marriage. Two months ago, however, a court in Virginia awarded custody of a young boy to his grandmother, primarily because his biological mother, Sharon Bottoms, is a lesbian.

In their quest for a biological mother, the Morgen-Westricks placed ads for adoption and for a surrogate mother in the statewide advertising circular, the Pennysaver. During the next year, they interviewed about 90 women, eventually reaching an agreement with a woman in central Pennsylvania who already had children, was pregnant and eager to find a good home for her unborn child.

The arrangement worked out so well that when she unexpectedly became pregnant again, she contacted the Morgen-Westricks to adopt that child as well.

"Gay people don't have unplanned pregnancies; that alone suggests these are among the most wanted children in the world," says Dr. Morgen, who will be speaking at a lesbian and gay parenting conference today at Towson State University. "I liken our story to that of heterosexual infertile couples. The search can be saddening and heartbreaking. There's no manual. You have to be resourceful, creative and tenacious."

As parents who are gay, however, Ken Morgen and Sam Westrick can expect curses as well as blessings. Their story generates a lot of skepticism in a world where most people believe families should include a father and a mother.

As relatively new parents, they have discovered that taking care of babies is exhilarating, emotionally draining and filled with unexpected delights.

"Even if you're used to being on call as a doctor, you still end up being sleep deprived," says 42-year-old Dr. Westrick, who practices family medicine in Charles Village. "Intellectually I expected it, but at the time, I remember thinking, 'Will this ever end?' "

'Tag team' child care

Their initiation began when they took Duncan home the day after witnessing his birth at Franklin Square Hospital in September 1992.

"I didn't realize how much I had to learn about parenting," says 44-year-old Ken Morgen, a therapist in Towson. "The past 2 1/2 years have been one of the most challenging periods of my life. Building this house, getting a Ph.D., was a breeze compared to this!

"Duncan's teaching me about patience, sensitivity, empathy. He's also teaching me more about unconditional love."

The couple shares child care equally in a "tag team" arrangement. One father is at home with the children while the other one sees patients. This schedule, which they began shortly after Duncan was born, allows each to have "quality" time with the baby without feeling overwhelmed by infant care.

While Daddy Sam is at work during the day, Dad Ken is at home. While Dad Ken goes to the office, Daddy Sam feeds the boys, gives them their baths, gets them in their jammies, and puts them to bed: Trevor at 7 p.m., Duncan an hour later.

Next, he fixes supper for the couple to eat at 9:30 or 10. Then it's time to clean up and crawl into bed.

Dr. Morgen says his favorite moments come before the workday begins. "We all wake up about the same time. Trevor has a bottle and Duncan has a glass of milk and we all just hang out together."

"Ken and Sam seem like all my friends who have had young children: Their schedules completely revolve around the kids, and they both seem totally absorbed in being parents," says Judy Glass, Duncan's godmother and a special education coordinator for Baltimore County. "They talk with delight about each little developmental milestone."

Pull up a chair, and you'll hear about Duncan's first steps, Duncan's chicken pox at his second birthday party, Duncan on the training potty holding the Wall Street Journal, Duncan's first word: "apple."

"We have yards and yards of videotape," Dr. Morgen says. "We'll bore anyone who's willing to indulge us."

They also struggle with the typical problems of parenthood. They find it hard, for instance, to devote much time to their relationship. And they don't always agree on how to rear the children.

"You don't know the things you have absorbed from your parents until you face situations with your children: How they should be disciplined, or fed, or what they should wear," Dr. Westrick says. "It's been very important that we get that stuff out in the open and talk about it and adopt consistent strategies."

The children are being raised Jewish, Dr. Morgen's religion, although Dr. Westrick also plans to educate the boys in his Christian faith.

So far, life appears pretty idyllic for the youngsters.

They live in a handsome custom built home (originally an old farmhouse) designed by their parents. It's a show place with comfortable contemporary furniture, computers, David Hockney art work, a wall of framed playbills from Broadway shows and huge windows with breathtaking views of the woods. There is a swimming pool, a tennis court, a vegetable garden, an orchard and a tail-wagging mutt named Winter.

Duncan goes to pre-school at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, where he plays with lots of other 2- and 3-year-olds.

"Duncan is a great kid," says his teacher, Barbara Zadek. "He's funny, very bright, energetic.

"I don't know of anyone who has a problem with Ken and Sam as parents. . . . And all the parents love Duncan."

Ms. Zadek also teaches a 3-year-old who has a "mom" and a "mommy."

"These parents love their kids and are very dedicated to them," she says. "These are wonderful families."

'All kids are different'

Some state legislatures and courts disagree. The states of Florida and New Hampshire have made it illegal for homosexuals to adopt children. And in April, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that Sharon Bottoms' lesbian relationship would subject her 3-year-old son to "social condemnation."

Dr. Morgen doesn't think his children will be ostracized at school.

"My response is that all kids are different in one way or another," Dr. Morgen says. "Some kids have acne. Some are poor. Or rich. Or they are from minority families. Or from single-parent homes. Or they're from another country and haven't mastered English. There's a patch in that quilt for everybody.

"Our kids will grow up knowing lots of kids with two mothers -- and some kids with two fathers. . . . As the boys get more aware of the world, they will possibly go through some difficult times. Right now, they're developing fine and the impact of having two dads is zero. They have two parents who love them."

There hasn't been much research yet on the impact of children being raised in gay and lesbian households. But the studies that have been done so far don't indicate much difference between those children and ones from comparable heterosexual households, according to Charlotte Patterson, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Virginia.

"So far, research has shown that the fears and the myths about gay parenting are unfounded, and that lesbians and gay men can make wonderful parents," says Jana Singer, an associate professor at the University of Maryland Law School who specializes in family law.

One common concern is that children who grow up in gay households will also turn out to be gay; lesbians and gays point out that most gay Americans grew up with heterosexual parents. "I fully expect the boys are going to grow up to be straight; the odds favor it," Dr. Westrick says.

Others believe, however, that gay or lesbian adoptions deprive children of a relationship with a mother and a father.

"The research is very, very clear that children need a father figure and a mother figure and, by definition, a gay or lesbian household is missing one of those," says Kristi Hamrick, spokeswoman for the Family Research Council, a conservative group in Washington that strongly opposes gay and lesbian adoptions. "Men and women are not interchangeable puzzle pieces. . . . That doesn't mean that a mother isn't an effective mother or a father isn't an effective father, it means that a child needs both."

'A family unit'

John Westrick, Sam's father, expects the couple to withstand whatever criticisms come their way.

"Sam and Ken are both pretty solid guys, and I think they can handle any of the challenges facing them," he says. "It's possible they might run into anti-feelings when the kids start school, but that's the way the ball bounces. They know what they got into and they're determined. I have a lot of faith in them. Whatever it is, they'll weather it."

When the family goes out on errands, people often assume Dr. Morgen and Dr. Westrick are taking care of the kids to give their wives a break. When the four of them travel together on airplanes, however, they generate a few second looks.

"It seems that people quickly understand that this is a family unit and don't seem to have a big problem with it," Dr. Morgen says. "They say things subtly to let us know they support it. . . . The general flavor is 'This is unusual, it's courageous, it's cute.' From women, it generally goes, 'Now you're going to see what it's like to raise children!'

"I'm sure there are people who disapprove of our family, but we haven't met them," he says. "I have the sense that the four of us will be able to come off fine. If we predict a good life, it will happen -- it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. We don't ask for (x acceptance, we expect it."

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