I sometimes look back on my journey and realize though I felt our story was filled with complexity, there are families that have even more layers to navigate. This Japanese American family is one family that I met that symbolized the complex nature of families and their LGBTQ+ journey.
Erik was a divorced father of two children, a boy and a girl. Stacia was a divorced mother of one child, Alex. They met 14 years ago when Stacia was a recruiter, looking to see how their two companies could work together.
While Erik and Stacia were dating, Stacia’s child spent every other weekend with their father. Erik’s two children had a similar type of arrangement. Four years after meeting, Erik and Stacia decided to get married. They were now a blended family.
Shortly after they got married, Stacia’s ex-husband decided that he needed to move back to Japan. That in essence made Erik more of a father to Alex, who was now 10 years old. And though in a blended family Erik says you tend to be more hands off with the child that is not biologically yours, “my role seemed to change because Alex’s father was no longer in regular contact with his child.”
Then, Alex was diagnosed both gifted and with a learning disability. Although a sensitive, bright and independent child, this paradox brought on challenges.
At the time, the pressure of all of this fell on Stacia, who needed to be both father and mother because Alex was not comfortable interacting with his stepfather on delicate issues. Not enough trust had been built up. And Erik openly admits that he was not confident in connecting with Alex during these initial years. What is my role? How can I support Alex and Stacia? How do I keep both my children and Alex connected to me? Another complexity was added.
Besides the academic issues, Alex began to exhibit signs of depression and anxiety. Professional help was sought. Stacia researched, patiently worked with both Alex and Erik, and the two parents worked hard to support each other. It required both listening to each other and expressing how they felt.
Then, Alex came out as transgender. He was a child assigned male at birth but felt like a girl for a long time. Now, another layer of complexity was added.
Talking to Erik made me realize the many layers that parents, stepparents, children and stepchildren have to face. We have our own personal history and experiences, our relationship with our spouse, our relationship with our children and our relationship with our families. We have our work or home responsibilities, and for many, we have our own parents who are aging and need our support.
And yet, our journeys are filled with many experiences that help us to be better parents, spouses, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and human beings if we are open to them. Many times, if we persevere, we can see how all our risking and vulnerability can manifest into showing us who we truly can be.
Erik is a vp at Southern California Edison. As his relationship with Alex grew, their bond of trust grew as well. One day, Alex came to Erik and asked what was Erik doing in his position of influence to amplify the LGBTQ+ topic at his work. This made Erik reflect on how he could use his position to bring about change. And so, Erik advocated for a flag raising at SCE locations during Pride month.
But Erik didn’t just advocate for a Pride flag at SCE, he was asked to speak at the flag raising as well. Erik shares, “I spoke about my daughter’s coming out and the importance of being an ally. I talked about creating a place where people can bring their best selves to work and be proud of who they are. It was a moment for me because I was selected to raise the flag at one of our locations, and our CEO of SCE raised the flag at our other location.”
When I interviewed Erik, I could also hear a deep sense of pride in speaking up and doing something that he would have never done, except for his daughter’s encouragement to be more visible. I also felt in Erik a deep sense of gratitude for his daughter that made this moment possible, trusting him enough to share her thoughts.
This past summer the blended family went to Hawaii together — Erik, Stacia, Alex, Ryland and Chrysti. Erik admits he still struggles with pronouns. Chrysti corrected him when they were in Hawaii. But he says all the children respect each other’s space, and he is learning and growing as a father and stepfather.
In the end, this blended family has had to find their way. And with their commitment to work together, listen to each other and share how they feel, I can see how they are succeeding in staying connected where others have failed. It has opened my eyes to the intricacy blended families face, but it has also shown me the richness of what bringing two families can bring to the whole.
Marsha Aizumi is an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community and author of the book “Two Spirits, One Heart: A Mother, Her Transgender Son and Their Journey to Love and Acceptance.”