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Glenn Hussey: Faith, Family and Fatherhood

Episode 49

Glenn Hussey: Faith, Family and Fatherhood

Welcome to the Loved Called Gifted Podcast. This is your place to come for musings about spirituality, identity, and purpose.
I’m your host, Catherine Cowell.

I'm really delighted today to be joining Glenn Hussey in the Huxley building at Keele University.

Thank you ever so much for doing this.

Is there anything that you are kind of sitting with that you feel that you'd like to share?

G: In terms of the adoption journey, I wish I could change the world.

So I wish I could make it mandatory for medics to discuss all options for parenting when talking to couples who are experiencing problems in the area.

For some people adoption is the first choice, for many it's the last choice.

I think there's a compromise to be had somewhere where clinicians whilst talking about alternative fertility treatments should also be talking about adoption in a similar way so that people can make proper informed decisions.

I wish the school and the education system would focus more and listen more to the needs of looked after children.

They're some of the most vulnerable children in our community.

They are magnifying glasses to the emotional experience that all children will be going through.

And I think instead of trying to get them to blend in, they could change the system for the better for everybody by learning those lessons.

When we went through the panel the first time, one of the questions they asked was, "Why Jack? Why this child?"

And we had an answer, the blonde hair, the blue eyes, the J, the dates, it was like destiny.

When they asked us the second time, we had a parallel.

We say, "Both of our sons have family members in Western Supermare and Stoke. I can see them both on a pier in Western Supermare retracing their roots. There was that synergy."

When they asked us the third time, I was just really angry with the question.

I said, "What a ridiculous question. What do you mean, why this child? Why not this child? Why any child?"

This is odd.

And people were asking me, "Why did we want to go a third time?"

And I said, "Well, if you've got the love and the compassion and the resources to make a home and open your heart for another, then isn't it a moral obligation to do so if you know that you can benefit somebody else's life."

So my message would be, if you're thinking about adoption, it's a life-changing experience.

It's an enriching experience.

It's brought me closer to God.

It's brought me close to my family.

It's led to promotion at work.

It really has enriched every aspect of my life.

It's been very challenging.

It's been very difficult.

We've had physical disabilities.

We've had emotional challenges.

None of that has lessened the pure joy that we've received from that.

I think the message is to see the potential in people and advocate for them and to love them unconditionally.

If your child isn't able to return that at the time, that's okay.

If they aren't able to fit in, that's okay.

Just believe in them and give them time and the nurture that they need.

C: Yeah.

G: Yeah.

C: So thank you very much.

C: Do you want to introduce yourself a bit?

G: Yes.

My name's Glen.

I'm 45.

I met my husband in 2000.

We were together for about six or seven years until we kind of thought about adoption.

We had our first son, Jack, when he was three.

A few years later, we asked Jack if he'd like a brother or sister or an Xbox.

Surprisingly, he said a brother or sister.

Actually, a few months ago, he did go back to that decision and said, "Maybe you should have chosen the Xbox."

But it's too late now.

So we then adopted Logan, who was two.

And then a few years later, we went a third time and were offered a sibling group, Rogan and Rhiannon, who we said yes to.

So father of four, working at Keele.

C: So what do you get up to at Keele?

G: I wear a few different hats.

So I used to work at the hospital as a biomedical scientist.

So if you get a blood test done or submit any samples, it's people like me in the hospital who used to process that work.

So I was the geek in the dark room, looking down a microscope, kind of having a look at what's going on.

I then started teaching at Keele about what I used to do at the hospital.

People think I'm really clever.

I'm not.

I just tell people what I used to do.

And I quite enjoyed that.

When we adopted our second son, having two part time jobs is quite demanding.

There's no such thing as a part time job.

Every job wants you full time really.

And that was fine until we had our second child and then something had to give in order for me to be able to prioritise the family.

Keele is a more flexible employer.

So I made the decision to come here full time.

It was the hardest decision I've ever made, actually, harder than becoming a father.

Because I had a real bond and real connection with the people of the hospital.

And I think the work was really quite humbling as well.

Whereas when you're a university teacher, everybody thinks they must be like being a student again.

But being called Sir every day does not make you feel young, I can tell you.

And despite contrary belief, I don't get the summer off.

But it does give me that flexibility.

So there are very few things at school, for example, that I've missed for the kids.

I've usually been able to work around things like that.

C: Yeah.

So what was humbling about the hospital work?

G: The hospital work, I think you don't really realise until you step out of the environment.

But every day, you know what you've done, you know what the workload is, you know the number of people you're helping.

You know that sometimes when you've looked down the microscope and see assertion results, you know what that means to somebody.

And you're the first person to know that.

And that's quite a humbling experience.

And we get involved in every step of the diagnostic pathway.

So screening, diagnosis, monitoring, and patients never know who we are.

So it's kind of like the hidden police force of the NHS.

Nobody really knows us.

And I think that's quite humbling.

So you're not in it for the fame, not in it for the glory.

You are in it mainly out of a desire to give back to your community.

And I think every role in hospital, doesn't matter if you're a consultant or a cleaner, is important.

I think if a consultant does his job wrong, a patient dies.

If a cleaner does their job wrong, somebody gets infected and a patient dies.

So every job really is valued and you really do feel like part of a team.

I think that was quite a humbling experience.

C: Yeah.

G: Yeah.

C: That sounds like that keys in to your values and who you are.

G: It does a little bit.

I didn't realise it at the time.

It's funny how life takes you, isn't it?

I think when you're a teenager, you make decisions based on what you think is right.

And it's only later when you look back and reflect on why did I make that decision that you realise that actually maybe it is values.

And I know for me growing up as a Catholic, I guess I had quite a lot on my mind around sin and my own value.

And I feel as though a lot of my drive in life is around trying to prove to myself that I'm a good person.

I don't know when I was a child, I knew I was different.

I didn't know why I was different.

Obviously, I didn't really know what sex was.

I didn't know about sexuality.

I just knew that the life that I would lead in the future would be different to the lives I see around me.

And obviously this was in the early 80s.

So it wasn't acceptable to be gay in communities.

There were no role models, there were no positive influences.

So I guess for me growing up, I had this sense of difference.

And I guess because of the Catholicism, I knew that when I became an adult, I would sin.

I had a very happy childhood.

But I did used to pray on a fairly regular basis between the ages of eight and 14, I would say, for God to end my life.

I wasn't suicidal.

But I just used to pray that I would rather die young and innocent and spend eternity in heaven, than live a little bit longer, sin and spend eternity in hell.

So I used to pray that God would take me before the world had happened.

When I was around 14, I began to realise what that difference was, mainly because of a single English teacher, who a character in a book that we were reading was bisexual, and nobody knew what that meant.

So the teacher said, "Well, being bisexual meant that you could fall in love with anybody."

And it was like a light had switched on in my head and I just knew that that was me, which was good.

I had an understanding what that difference was.

But it was also quite scary because at the time, we're now in the 90s, an HIV pandemic was quite rife.

The only role models that were about was on remember those AIDS advert with a big gravestone.

So to me, not only was being gay unacceptable, it also meant you're going to have a very lonely, solitary lifestyle, often in the shadows hidden from others.

And that was best case scenario.

Worst case scenario was you're going to get infected by AIDS and die young.

C: So most of the role models that there were, many of them were becoming ill and dying?

G: They were, say Freddie Mercury, people like that.

I can't remember the comedian, obviously his name and the best possible taste.

C: Kenny Everett.

G: Yeah, Kenny Everett used to love him as a comedian.

C: Obviously he died young, didn't he?

G: Yeah.

When I came out to my parents, I was about 22.

I'd only come home from university a couple weeks before.

So I'd just graduated, came home and I had a date with who I ended up spending the rest of my life with, a chap called Chris.

And I was in the car with my two brothers, my mum and dad.

And my mum was saying, "Glenn, what are you doing tonight?"

I said, "Oh, I've got a date."

And she said, "Oh, who with?"

I said, "Oh, it doesn't matter."

And so then she thought she knew who he was.

So she was trying to guess these people.

And normally in the past, I'd give a female equivalent name, like Christine or something.

And I just thought, you know, I can't keep it up.

I can't keep the lie up any longer.

So I just said, the name's Chris.

You don't know them.

And my mum stopped and said, "What do you mean?"

And my dad said, "I think he's trying to say he's got a date with a man."

My mum told him not to be so stupid.

And there was a bit of friction there.

My dad was fine with it from the start.

My mum took a little bit longer to get her head around it.

And actually, I think she took quite a few weeks to get her head around it.

It took me quite a few years to understand why.

But I do understand why.

I think from my mum's point of view, the moment you conceive, you plan the future of your child.

You see them being successful.

You see them married with 2.4 children and all of that.

And my mum's influences of LGBT communities was the same as mine growing up.

It was, it's not acceptable.

It's dirty.

You'll be bullied.

You'll be attacked.

You could get infected.

You could die.

So to my mum, it wasn't just that she was coming to terms with my sexuality.

The future that she had envisioned for me from before I was born was taken away from her.

And I think there's a loss there that we need to acknowledge.

And I think that loss then turned into fear for my future.

And I think she was worried about my happiness, my health and wellbeing, where that would take me.

And that led to a paralysis, I guess, which we did overcome.

And we're very, very close.

But it just took a while for that understanding, I think, to sink in.

C: Yeah.

So there was those years between 14 and 22, that moment of understanding something about who you are and coming out to your parents.

That's quite a long stretch of time.

G: It is.

So I guess one of the hardest things for me about coming to terms with my sexuality, there were two things.

One was reconciling my sexuality with my faith.

That took quite a few years for me to do.

And the second aspect was coming to the realisation that I'd never have children.

I'm the oldest of four.

We spent most of my childhood with all my cousins.

All the cousins used to go mi’ Nan’s after school.

So life to me was about family.

And I did see myself as a father.

And I think when I came to the realisation of 14, obviously, to my mind, that meant, well, that future is out of the window.

And I guess it's similar to people coming to terms with infertility.

And I know when we started Adoption Journey, there is lots of conversations around infertility.

And I think one of the advantages of LGBT adopters is that we had all of that turmoil quite early on in our lives.

And actually, for me, realising that that could be an option was a huge, huge boon in my life, actually.

It was just a huge ray of light in my life that I never thought I deserved, never thought that I would be able to have.

C: Yeah.

So you said that you'd always seen yourself as a father.

Can you remember how young you were at the point when you saw that as part of your future?

G: So a few years ago, I've got a group of friends from school, sorry, high school.

They'd be bummed every now and then.

And one of them are laughing saying, “remember how you used to talk about your brothers?”

I said, “what do you mean?”

She said, “you always used to call them your kids.”

And it's true, I did always used to think of my brothers.

And my sister to some extent, but my sister's closer in age to me.

My two brothers are eight and 10 years younger than me.

And I have always thought of them as my kids, they'll probably kind of disagree.

Although I used to take them swimming and things like that.

And they used to call me dad.

We used to get some funny looks off other parents as it was only about 14, 15 at the time.

But I think it's always been in me really.

I think that's what life has always been about for me.

About family and about fatherhood.

C: So that's run very deep for you.

So that loss at the age of 14 of thinking ‘that's never going to be me’, that must have cut.

G: It was surrender.

So I would say that my teenage years were quite difficult.

I had a happy home life.

I had lots of friends around me.

And it was almost like I had two lives.

There was the life that people saw and there was what was going on inside.

I think inside there was a lot of turmoil around coming to terms with my sexuality, coming to terms with my eternal life and what that might mean.

Thinking about what that means for my future in terms of ‘what's the point of a life that's not shared?’.

And on top of that, I also found out that so I've got three fathers.

My dad, who I call dad now, I met when I was five or six and he raised me and I call him dad, but very close.

He's my third dad.

My second dad I thought was my real dad.

I thought he was my birth father.

And growing up when my mum and him, his name was Peter, but when my mum and Peter divorced, it was quite upsetting.

I think again, in the early eighties, divorce wasn't very common.

I think there was only two people in my class who were the product of divorce and it wasn't talked about.

I wasn't bullied for it.

Nobody teased me about it, but I don't think people have to put those things on you because you put those things on yourself.

And again, he made me feel different.

It was really annoying because my mum changed our surnames to my third dad's surname, but the teachers refused to change the name in the register.

So I was called by my old name for several years and he really used to wind me up and nobody listened.

I would complain, I would speak out, I would ask the teachers not to.

I asked my mum to come in and ask the teachers and they just used to keep slipping back.

So he was kind of throwing that identity in my face quite regularly.

And I think that one of the ways I reconciled that from a very early age was that I thought about those children that never had the opportunity to meet their parents.

And I thought, well, I might not be in contact with my dad because he drifted away, but at least I knew who he was.

And I used to feel sorry for people that didn't.

And that was kind of my coping mechanism.

When I came to the age of 13 or 14, I was home alone one day.

My mum was out shopping with my brothers, my sister and mi’ nan.

And this figure appeared outside the house, a middle-aged man who was drunk.

He was shouting my mum's name over and over.

And when I stood up to look out the window, we both saw each other, we both froze because I'm the spitting image of him.

And it turned out that he was my birth dad.

And actually, Peter wasn't.

And that was a huge shock.

So I then had, well, actually, I've just spent 10 years feeling sorry for people who are in my position.

So I felt that I had no resilience, I had no preparation for that.

And again, that stripped away a part of my identity and who I thought I was.

In addition to that, my birth father, whose name was David, had led quite an alternative life.

He was in and out of the care system himself.

That led him to steal from a very early age, which then led him down a certain path of violence.

And he spent most of his adult life in prison.

So when I found out about him, my mum and my nan in particular were quite concerned that I would follow that path.

So they spent quite a lot of time, particularly my nan, telling me what my dad used to do.

You know, the abuse that he used to perpetuate on people, including my mum while she was pregnant.

And they were doing it out of love.

They were doing it to say, that's not for you, you know, don't follow in the footsteps.

But they're also saying this man who you are biologically related to, in whom you are trying to suss out your identity, is like this.

C: That's right.

G: And I keenly felt his blood flowing through my veins.

And I thought, “well, if my biological dad is a violent man, does that mean I'm going to be a violent man?”

And so I became quite fearful of myself.

So there was quite a lot going on.

We also had a house fire at around that time.

But I guess that's another story.

But there's huge challenges to your identity growing up, just huge, and a huge amount of being isolated and alone in it.

I was never physically alone.

I have quite a big family.

I was quite close to all my cousins.

You know, as I said, we all used to go up mi’ Nan's after school and things.

But internally, psychologically, I was very much alone.

Those role models weren't out there.

It was difficult.

I used to have panic attacks.

So I used to hyperventilate and kind of become immobile.

Nobody knew what they were at the time, but they resolved eventually.

When we adopted Jack, when we came through that process, one of the tasks our social worker asked us to do was to think of one event from every year of your life.

And it was really interesting because obviously the early years, naught to three, naught to four, you can't remember, can you?

But I know, for example, when I was a baby, my granddad entered me in a beauty contest and I came second.

And my granddad was furious because the baby that came first was the judge's grandson.

So I've had a story to tell that makes you think, well actually my children won't have those stories because there's nobody to pass that knowledge on.

So he was quite illuminating.

But the other thing he did was say, actually, it looks as though I had quite a traumatic life.

Because if you think of one incident per year, you tend to focus on the trauma, you tend to remember the negatives.

And it takes a conscious effort to also remember the positives.

And so I'm quite keen and I'm sharing my story with anybody.

But yes, I have gone through what I've gone through, but I did have a very happy childhood as well.

There's a lot of love growing up every day.

And I guess that love is normalised compared to the trauma.

C: Yeah, but that sense of part of yourself being something that you're needing to hide when actually you're in the midst of trying to work it out.

And it's always easier to work those things out in company, in community with other people, isn't it?

So having to do that alone is tricky.

You've talked quite a bit about your faith.

When did you become aware of being a person of faith, do you think?

G: I think I always have been, it's always been a part of me.

So we always used to go to church as a child.

I was an altar boy.

I perhaps shouldn't share that the first time I was drunk was as an altar boy.

My cousin and I were preparing the wine for Mass and we'd say, "It is one for Jesus, one for me, one for Jesus, one for me."

We only did it once.

I've always loved carols, celebrating, I love singing.

I'm not particularly good at it, but I get a really strong sense of self-satisfaction.

I feel a strong sense of closeness to God through those songs.

So we used to have hymn books at home.

I used to sing songs from the hymn book when nobody was listening.

I used to want to be a priest at one point.

I don't know if it was the thought of the dress, I'm not sure, but I've always felt that connection.

During the teenage years, I rebelled a little bit.

So I stopped going regularly, although I did still attend infrequently.

So I never walked away, but I did stop a little bit.

C: So what was your image of God?

G: My image of God?

C: Or your experience of God, or maybe both?

G: What I've always argued is, the whole point of there being a God is that he's beyond our comprehension.

So how can one person truly understand the fullness of God?

I used to think that God was kind of like oil.

The oil is black, but actually is made of lots and lots of different colours.

We can't perceive the blackness, the whole entity of God.

What we perceive are individual colours or individual aspects of God.

Each colour would be a different religion, but within each colour, there's an infinite different shade of that colour.

So I feel as though God has shown me the aspect of him that I can understand.

But I don't think that invalidates anybody else's faith.

And I also see God very much as a father figure.

I think God is the creator who loves his children and loves what he's created.

I think the closest one can get to truly understanding God is through parenthood.

I always used to pray.

I always used to say my silent prayers.

I always used to kind of thank God on a more or less daily basis for different things that happened.

I'm not sure if I truly believed it as a teenager.

I don't know if it was true faith or habit or a coping mechanism really to purposefully find something good every day.

My belief in God gave me the strength to do that.

And I guess that was true up until adopting Jack.

I think through adoption that brought me back to God.

And I think when we first adopted Jack, he was three, one of the effects of his experience in care was that he was exceptionally well behaved.

And actually family and social workers used to say, "Oh, you're so lucky.

Look how well behaved he is."

And I used to think, "He's not meant to be well behaved. He's a three-year-old. He's meant to be mischievous. Why is he being so well behaved? Is he being well behaved because he's terrified we're going to kick him out if he's naughty? Is he well behaved because he's afraid we're going to abuse him or neglect him if he makes a mistake?”

So we spent quite a lot of time at home teaching Jack to be naughty.

So Chris and I would kind of be naughty around the house and we'd tell each other off and things like that.

So Jack could see that actually it's okay to be mischievous.

And we might tell you off, there might be a consequence, but there are limits to that and we're still going to love you and that's still okay.

So whilst that we were trying to encourage him to be a bit more mischievous around the house and he's very naughty now.

So he's learned that lesson well and good.

But while we were trying to teach him that you don't have to conform as much, you don't have to make everybody else happy because you can't live a life like that.

We thought we also needed to be teaching discipline.

So we thought, “well, why don't we go back to church?”

So we started going back to church, and church I think is a really nurturing environment, particularly for children like Jack, because it's an area where that discipline is natural.

Adults as well as children are expected to contemplate.

There's a reference there, isn't there?

And I thought that was important that that discipline isn't just directed at him as a child, but all of us as adults.

It was really nice that he was kind of just sit on my knee or sit right next to me, cuddle up to me for an hour.

We didn't let him take colouring books and things like that.

So he was just around the physicality and the quiet contemplation really.

And I think the other important aspect, particularly for previously looked after children, is the theme around forgiveness.

I think for me, I had to be able to forgive my father for the things that he'd done because his blood was running through my veins.

I think how I thought of my biological dad reflected on how I thought of myself.

I think that's true of looked after children.

It's very easy to demonise birth parents, for example, and the experiences that they've had.

But those birth parents are and always will be a part of who my children are.

And that's quite a complex tension.

So I wanted to teach my children from a very young age, the power of forgiveness, and that it's okay to forgive somebody that's hurt you.

It's okay to love somebody that you can't trust.

I think those are very strong themes throughout Catholicism.

And I think through that, I then we found my genuine faith and realised that actually, it was there all along.

I always had that faith.

And I do genuinely believe it's not just there for routine or what have you.

And I remember one day a few years later, walking for the equest and Jack was kind of walking on mi’ tiptoes.

So he was on mi’ tiptoes while we were walking up.

And I just had a flashback to doing the exact same thing with my granddad.

When I was a kid, so there's that continuation there as well, I think.

And each week we used to light a candle for Jack's mum.

She's alive, but I thought it was important that Jack knew that it's okay to talk about her.

It's okay to remember her.

So it was just a really positive healing space.

And the church community were really, really quite accepting of us, which was also quite nice.

C: So have you lost that sense of, because I'm gay, I might go to hell?

G: I don't know, is the answer.

I think that if that was true, God wouldn't have given me the opportunities he's given me.

I don't think I would have been blessed with the four children that I've got if that were true.

So the vast majority of me thinks no, God has given me a certain skill set.

He's shown me a certain path in life and he's given me certain opportunities in life, which means he believes in me.

And being LGBT isn't a conscious choice.

It's an innate part of who I am.

God made me.

So you could only assume that God made me who I am for a purpose.

And I don't think we'd make somebody to throw them away.

C: No.

And I picked up on, you'd said earlier in the conversation that God loves his children, who he's made.

And also what prompted that question partly was your description of the place of forgiveness and all of the different reasons it's okay to love somebody and to forgive somebody no matter who they are or what they've been like.

And that was in the context of talking about faith in God.

So I was wondering to what extent that has filtered into how God views you now, really.

G: I think it has.

And I think that those core beliefs have always been in me and I don't think that's changed.

I think my understanding of those beliefs has matured and become more comprehensive.

But I think the core values were always there.

I really do.

I can't remember a time when God wasn't in my life, to be honest.

The fact that there's still that kind of bit of doubt that, you know, it is really testament to how sticky some of those things that we're told are and how powerful the way that other people interpret God is.

I think all of us have that voice in our head that tells us we're not good enough.

We all have that voice that says, you know, you need to do better.

You know, you could have done that differently.

Other people are better than you or stronger than you.

I think when you have any minority characteristic, mine happens to be sexuality, but you can think of others.

I think that voice is amplified because you have less role models, there's less people around like you.

The more obvious differences there are, the louder that voice becomes.

We all have it.

It's just that our ability to kind of dampen it is different, which has led to the work I'm doing with inclusion, actually.

C: And it sort of, your journey is really reflected, isn't it all kind of mirrored in the way that you are now parenting your adopted children who also are coming with those sort of aspects of minority, aren't they?

G: Yes.

C: Yeah.

G: Yeah.

It's been a journey.

It's a continuing journey.

I think we've learned so much through parenthood.

My kids have taught me an awful lot around community, around positivity, but also around some of the challenges we have in our community and how easy it is to presume we know something about other people and how easy it is to judge.

And humans' morbid fascination with the negatives.

And I think it's that voice in our heads and that ability that, like I said earlier, if you were to think of one thing from a year, you tend to remember the negatives rather than the positives.

All of those kinds of things stack up against looked after children and just exacerbates the fact that the victim becomes responsible for their own circumstances somehow and that's quite hard to shake, I think.

C: Yes.


I think it is a lifelong journey actually getting to the point where we understand that we are all right for most of us, for most of us.

And the more baggage that you're carrying and the more kind of trauma to that sense of identity that there's been, I think the more challenging that journey is.

G: It's a big amount in decline.

That's right.

C: Yeah.

G: Yeah.

C: It is quite exciting though that that spiritual journey continues.

And I've interviewed quite a lot of people through doing this podcast.

And one of the themes amongst the people I've interviewed who are people of faith is that very often what they will say is that their understanding is of God as much more accepting and loving and unconditionally loving.

G: I think so.


I mean, the other benefit was church.

The children are exposed to people of all generations.

I think one thing our society has done, there are fewer meeting places or a few communal places.

Working in university, I work with a lot of teenagers and mental health is deteriorating amongst that generation.

I was having this conversation with a student the other day actually.

There was a report that came out a few weeks ago that said that reporting mental health issues has never been higher than it is in our current teenage generation.

And yeah, if you look at their physical health, they're actually physically fitter than any generation before them.

And they actually are safer than any generation before them.

And they have more opportunities than any generation before them.

But they're self-reporting these anxieties.

So there's a disconnect somewhere.

And there's lots of possible explanations about why that is.

One of them is that people will talk about it more.

I don't think that's the whole of it.

But there is that.

Which is really good that there is freedom to talk about this stuff.

I think we've hidden mental health issues for a long time and ignored it.

So it is really positive.

It's just a shame at the same time.

I think increasingly students are told, you've only got one life.

Live your life.

Live your best life.

I was never told that growing up.

And that's a big bar to set.

Because we all make mistakes during teenage years and early adulthood.

We all have our ups and our downs.

But if you are told the only way forward is up and you have to be happy all the time, when you're not happy all the time, you think, well, there's something wrong with me then.

And it becomes a bit of a vicious circle, I think.

C: Whereas part of your sense of vocation has been around family right from the get go, hasn't it?

So around community and being with others.

G: It's funny.

So when it came time to choose a school for Jack, we chose Catholic school.

I wasn't sure if they would allow him in, to be honest.

So I did speak to the head teacher and said, you know, ‘we are a gay couple, is that permitted?’

And he said, you know, ‘that's fine, obviously. We can't discriminate.’

I said, ‘okay.’

When Jack was four, we asked for Jack to be baptised.

Baptising a four year old is a bit different baptising a baby because they know what's going on.

C: Yes, I was four when I was baptised.

I was, yes, in an Anglican church.

G: It's interesting, isn't it?

I think the baptisms I'd been to in the family were always babies.

So there's no prep involved, really.

But when you're four, you do know what's going on.

So at the end of mass one day, I said, Jack, next week, you're going to get baptised.

And so what will happen?

So I picked him up, but I said, I'll hold you over the front and father will come and pour some water over your hair.

And the Holy Spirit will come and it'll just settle in here.

And he said, ‘what the Holy Spirit's going to settle, in my throat?’

I said, ‘well, yes’.

He said, ‘and the baby Jesus’.

Although maybe not the baby.

I thought he was going to have nightmares of choking on the baby Jesus.

I says, ‘maybe not’.

But we'd been going to church for about two years.

We asked our priest at the time if we could baptise Jack.

And he said, ‘yes, come along to the training course’.

So he went along and after the first session, he asked Chris and I to stay behind.

So he stayed behind and he said to us, are you two brothers?

And he said, ‘no’.

He said, ‘oh, are you just really good friends?’

I said, no, we're partners.

He said, ‘it's a business partners.’

I said, ‘no, we're in a civil partnership.

I say husband, because I don't know what the other acronym is.

We're not married.

We are in a civil partnership.’

Civilised, I guess.

I don't know what the term would be.

I said, ‘but you know, that's how it is.’

And he said, ‘oh’, and he was in his late sixties from Nigeria.

And he said to us, ‘oh, I'm not sure we can baptise Jack.’

I said, ‘right.’

I said, ‘why?’

And he said, well, obviously LGBT lifestyles are not in sync with Catholic faith and Catholic preaching.

I said, ‘right.’

I said, ‘but you can't blame a child for the sins of the parent.’

I said, ‘I aren't going to get into an argument with you or discussion with you around whether or not LGBT is a sin or not.

I've spent a long time debating that with myself, but that's not the issue.

Even if it was, you can't blame a child for the sins of a parent.’

And he said, ‘oh, I know, I know’, but he just needs to check.

‘But there are babies born out of wedlock that you baptised and there are babies that are product of affairs that you baptise, but all sinners, if you're going to look at it, what makes my sin worse than anybody else's?

And again, why would you blame a child for that?’

Actually I think it was more to do with the fear of the media and not wanting a big story to escalate from this.

So in the end, he had to speak to the Archbishop to ask for permission in his council.

A week later, so Chris is church of England.

I'm the Catholic.

So a week later, father called me back on my own and asked for me to go see him one to one.

And I think there was something a little bit lost in translation because what he said to me as a Nigerian priest was, how deep is your sex?

I wasn't prepared for that question.

I responded in a similar way, at which point the priest, I think, realised what he'd said and got quite fuffled.

I said, ‘no, no.’

And I think what he meant was, ‘how committed are you to Chris?

How deep is your connection?’

At which point I was able to say, ‘we've been together this amount of time.

We are in this civil partnership.

We're both Jack's joint parents.

I think we're as committed as any couple can be.’

And the reason he was asking was that the Archbishop had said, ‘yes, it's okay to baptise Jack.’

He acknowledged the fact that I was a Catholic and could be involved in that ceremony.

But Chris as a non Catholic could only be involved if our commitment was strong enough and he was deemed to be strong enough.

So we were both involved.

So it wasn't an obstacle, but it could have been if I'd reacted differently.

I think if I'd have taken offence, for example, and walked away, I think that could have happened.

But I wasn't going to.

I do put my faith in God.

I do believe in people.

And we got there.

And a few years later, when we have four kids, I don't know if you can remember, a few years ago, the Pope wrote a letter that we read out in all churches and this letter essentially was saying from the Pope, LGBT lifestyles are not approved by the Catholic faith.

However, it's not our place to judge.

So we don't recognise the relationships, we don't recognise the lifestyle.

But likewise, our job is to support.

So you could argue it was a fairly homophobic letter that was dressed up in niceties.

As this was being read out at the start of Mass, we were running late.

So as we came in, the doors of the church flew open.

Me, my six and a half year old husband and my four kids all kind of came in halfway through this letter.

And almost the whole congregation as a whole just turned around and froze and looked at us.

And there was this awkwardness.

Anyway, we sat down, Mass went on.

After that Mass, I can't tell you how many parishioners came to me and said, ‘Glenn, we just wanted to say you're doing a fantastic job.

The kids are wonderful.

We really love having you part of our community.’

And that message came from people my age, from people younger than me, from people in the seventies and the eighties.

It really was transgenerational.

So I think that support is there because Catholicism and faith is based on love.

And at the end of the day, if love is what's compelling, it's really quite hard not to accept others, I think.

C: Yeah.

G: Yeah.

C: So you really got a good dose of Christ's love through your fellow parishioners.

G: Yeah.

C: Absolutely.

G: Absolutely.

C: I would love to know about your adoption journey and that moment of kind of realising that maybe you could adopt.

G: So I'd assumed I would never be able to have children.

Chris had a very different family life to me growing up.

He thought family are people that let you down.

So he didn't have that connection.

He didn't have that drive.

So he never wanted to have children.

He never saw himself as a parent.

I think if your parents weren't good to you, you assume you're going to be a bad parent to others.

So I think he didn't have that confidence in himself.

So he'd assumed he was never going to have children and was actually kicked out of his house at the age of 16 and was homeless for a few months.

I know the story.

So when we met, we never talked about it.

We just had both already independently assumed that wasn't going to be an option.

So neither ones brought it up.

A few years later, two of our lesbian friends asked us if we were to have a child with them.

And we said, "No.

If I'm going to have a child, I'm going to have a child.

I'm not going to have a child purposefully to share with another couple."

But it did make us think about it for the first time.

And so we looked at surrogacy initially.

We'd literally only spent a few hours looking.

And I just thought ‘there's absolutely no way I can do this.’

So we said, "The only way that I could see myself becoming a parent is through adoption."

And we said, "There are enough children out there who are lacking a home.

If we have the love to provide a home, then that is the only way that I can see that happening."

So we went from assuming it would never happen to suddenly starting thinking about it, exploring one or two alternatives very, very briefly, literally a couple of hours, and then settling on adoption.

But we said, "Well, the house wasn't ready.

It was a bit of a mess.

Some rooms needed knocking down and things like that."

So we said, "Well, why don't we leave it here, think about it for a year and see how we feel a year on."

So in that year, we got the house finished off.

We decided to have a civil partnership, mainly to demonstrate commitments to each other, which we thought would be important if we were going to be raising kids.

And after a year, I do a show every year called The Hospital Show.

And on the back of the tickets a year later, there's an advert for adoption.

So I thought, "Well, this must be a sign."

So I called the number and I said, "I'm interested in adoption."

I said, "We're a gay couple.

I don't know if that's legal."

Thankfully, it was.

They'd legalised it a few years before.

And that was the start of it really.

And it just kind of snowballed from there.

And if you look at Jack's early life, there are parallels as well.

So the month that our friends asked us to consider having a child with them was the month that Jack was born.

The month that we called the adoption line was the month almost to the day that Jack was moved into care.

There's this parallel, I think, which was quite powerful to us.

C: Yes.

G: Yeah.

C: A sense of divine care going on.

G: Yes.

C: Yeah.

And actually, all the boys in my family of his generation all begin with J.

There's a James, there's a Joshua, there's a Jacob, there's a Jordan.

And then there's a Jack.

He said, "Well, this is perfect, isn't it?"

Most of my nephews have got blonde hair, blue eyes.

Jack has got blonde hair, blue eyes.

There was this real sense of, this is destiny.

Jack's got a little bald patch on the back of his head here.

And we always told him that when he was born, he wasn't safe.

So an angel came down and kissed him to keep him safe until he met us.

And that's the story he tells others now as well.

C: What was parenthood like initially?

I mean, because one has a vision of what it might be like.

G: Well, I mean, the adoption journey itself initially was overly focused on sexuality.

I think that there was homophobia in the system.

I think there is a reason why four years after legalisation no other male gay couple or so-called drenter had adopted.

I thought that was unusual.

C: Yeah.

Was that very different from the national picture?

G: I'm not sure what the national picture was, to be honest.

Our social worker when we first met him was very honest with us, very transparent with us and said, "He's never worked with a male gay couple before."

And we said that he'd probably make mistakes, pick him up on it if he does.

And so he was very open with it.

So that some of the stories I'll say may be a little bit shocking.

I found them a bit shocking.

But he was always very supportive and we owe our family to that social worker.

So overall it was a very, very positive experience and he pushed us in ways that we needed pushing.

But there were aspects of that journey which weren't appropriate.

So one of the tasks we had to do is, we were given, I think it was a three or four page booklet with lots of different behaviours on it.

And we were asked to consider how difficult we would find dealing with each of those behaviours and why.

So we were given a week or two to do that.

When he came back, we talked about it and there were two behaviours that we found most difficult.

Some of them were like bed wetting or having a tantrum in a supermarket.

But two of them we said we would find particularly hard and that was self-harm and self-mutilation.

And also for example, why do you find those so difficult?

And so for two reasons.

One, if I was to walk in on my teenager, for example, cutting themselves, I would like to think I’d have the presence of mind to know that if that was their escape mechanism, then nothing I'm going to do or say is going to change that in the moment.

And that my role really is to support them.

So I would like to think I’d have the presence to say, ‘okay, I'll step out of the room, I'll close the door, but I'll let my child know that I'm on the other side.

I'm here if they need me.

I've got bandages if they cut too deeply.

I've got a phone to call an ambulance if need be.

And together we can work through that.

And I would hope I wouldn't be naive enough to think that's going to be a quick fix.

That that's going to take a couple of years maybe.’

I said ‘on the other hand, I'm just as likely to walk in, completely panic, go crazy, yell and shout in panic and essentially drive my child to do the same thing in the streets on the road with a much more dangerous environment.’

I said ‘what I find scary is I don't know which way I will fall, but I know both are a possibility.

The second reason I find it so hard is because neither of us have done that.

So why would a teenager believe the advice I've got to give if I've never done that myself?

Where's the empathy?

Where's the authenticity?’

And our social worker said, ‘are you sure you've never self harmed or self mutilated?’

And I'm pretty confident that if I was a straight couple, he wouldn't have gone down the avenue.

And I think when we went to panel, some of the questions we got were things like, ‘how could you have a girl?’

And they said, what do you mean?

They said, ‘well, how would you buy her clothes?’

I said, ‘well, I'm gay, darling.

We're not known for inability to shop.

I think that's okay.’

And the number of single dads out there or actual dads in the relationship who buy their daughter's clothes or men who buy their nieces, it's nonsense.

And actually, when Jack moved in, so for the first six months or so, parental rights are shared, aren't they?

So birth family has a minority and then adopted families and social services retain the other half.

So social services have a duty of care, don't they?

It's funny, really.

Some people think social services come to visit to check up on you.

I don't think they do.

They're desperate for this family unit to work and they're there to support that family unit really.

But the visiting social worker that we had to our house was the regional boss.

And she said she was coming along as a training kind of exercise.

I thought it very convenient that the first male gay couple to adopt a child happened to be the family that was chosen to be overseen by the regional boss.

And as she came in, we sat in the living room and Jack was in the kitchen.

He was three.

And this lady was saying, "So how is Jack?"

He said, "He's doing wonderfully well.

He's really settling in."

And he said, "And how is he doing without a female role model in the house?"

And before we could answer, Jack came in wearing a pair of my high heels, a pearl necklace and one of my wigs.

I said, "He's fine."

And names actually.

So at first Jack used to call us Daddy Glen and Daddy Chris.

And I'm not particularly pretentious.

I don't need him to call me dad.

I don't need him to love me actually.

That's not parentage.

It's about the love you can give, not the love you can receive.

So names weren't that important to us.

And actually Jack had had several dads.

He had a dad that left him and neglected him, a dad in foster care and two dads in his forever home.

So that label could be filled with all sorts of emotions.

So we were quite relaxed about naming and he settled on Daddy Glen and Daddy Chris.

But when we used to go to parks and used to call us Daddy Glen, you'd get a look at that from other parents.

Because he sounds unusual, doesn't it?

He was just odd.

So we tried different names.

And at the time, Chris had tried to reconnect with his father.

It turned out to be a 12 month thing, but he was kind of about at the time.

And Jack had called my dad, granddad, and Chris's dad, grandpop.

So one day when he was three, I was in a rocking chair.

They used to read a book to him just before bed.

And he said, if you want, you can call Daddy Glen ‘Dad’, because Granddad is dad's dad.

And you can call Daddy Chris ‘Pop’ because Grandpop is Pop's dad.

He said, ‘oh’, which is quite a lot to take in for three.

But he got it straight away.

And he had a thing and he said, ‘can I ask you a question?’

I says, ‘yeah’.

He says, if you’re dad and Daddy Chris’s pop, ‘what do you call me?’

I said, well, ‘we'll call you son because you're mine son and your pop's son.’

And he smiled and he said, ‘oh’, got it here I think.

And he said, ‘can I ask you another question?’

I said, ‘of course you can.’

He said, ‘if I'm the son, who's the moon?’

And then two or three years later, when we adopted Logan, just before he moved in, Jack said, ‘is this the moon?

Is this the moon coming in?’

So he'd remembered that story, which I thought was quite nice as well.

C: So you've now got the sun, the moon, the stars and the galaxy.

How do you think parenthood has changed you?

G: I think all of my children have changed me in a different way.

The child that has changed me the most is the child that we may not have had the first time around, which is unusual, isn't it?

So the first time we went through the process and the process has changed, so I don't think this is still the case.

But the first time there is a form we were asked to complete to help us consider what type of child we would take.

And there's all sorts of things on there like hearing impaired, visually impaired, HIV status, heroin addiction, all sorts of things on this form we were asked to consider.

The first one was gender.

I said, ‘I can't possibly, how can I arbitrarily choose between gender?

How can I rule out half of the population based on what?’

So I couldn't make that decision.

And because we couldn't make that decision, we couldn't make any of the other decisions.

So we said yes to everything, which we then immediately panicked thinking, ‘oh my God, we're gay parents.’

They're going to be a bit nervous about matching anybody with us.

And we've said yes to all of these things.

We're going to have that one child out there that's got Down syndrome, three arms missing, that's blind and HIV positive army because that child's there and they'll struggle to match them.

So we had all this paranoia.

That didn't happen.

Jack didn't have any of those particular issues.

And he's a lovely little lad.

The second time, we were a little bit more careful because it wasn't just considering what our capacity was to parent.

It was the impact that we'd have on Jack.

And I think anybody that's got children will think about the impact of adversity on those children.

And Jack wasn't just kind of an average child.

Jack was a child that had spent three years being neglected, being passed through the care system.

So he didn't necessarily have the resilience that other five-year-olds might have.

So the second time around, we did say actually we need to be a little bit more careful.

The third time around with Rogan and Rhiannon as a sibling group, Rogan had lots and lots of disabilities.

So he was a global developmental delay.

He was pre-verbal.

He had complex epilepsy, megaencephalous hyperdismability.

He had a long list of these things.

And I think if Rogan had been our first child, I don't know.

But I think the odds are that we may have been tempted to say no, I'm not sure we can meet their needs.

Because of the time, I'm a very independent man.

I've overcome a lot of internal challenges.

And to me, life is about family and independence.

And a child like Rogan will never be able to reach independence.

So I don't know how I would have coped.

Actually, he's taught me far more about life than I think anybody else I've met.

Because he has this joy for life.

He hugs every tree, he hugs every lamppost.

He's 14 now.

He still hugs every tree and every lamppost.

When you come home, you know when the kids are little, and you come home from work and they come running up to you, none of the other three do anymore.

Rogan still does.

He wakes me up at three in the morning by licking my chin, all of my face and over my bald head.

Which he thinks is hilarious at three o'clock in the morning.

He's got that mischievousness that I think children have.

He went to mainstream for a few years, just two days a week in mainstream.

And the school asked me to speak to the children about what it was like parenting a child with special needs.

And I said, there's the good, the bad and the ugly.

I said, good is the complete innocence that he has.

There's no duplicity, you know, with him, what you see is what you get.

And I said, ‘that's a profoundly humbling thing to witness.

It's a profoundly enriching thing.’

I said, ‘and that goodness ripples out.

You know, Rogan brings out the best in everybody around him.’

We all live in our own lives, don't we?

We all have our own bubbles and we all have, you know, what's going on in our own heads.

So often when we walk down the street, we don't really see each other and we don't really communicate to each other anymore.

We pass each other.

When I walk down the street with Rogan kissing trees and kissing lampreys and all the rest of it, people notice, funnily enough, and they smile.

And I think that's a connection that that person has had that they wouldn't have had otherwise.

And that's because of Rogan.

So he brings out the best in others.

And he just had his first oral communion at the time.

So he'd had his first oral communion, but he didn't have the first confession.

So I was saying to the children, ‘do you know why he didn't have his first confession?’

And I said, ‘they don't know.’

I said, ‘because he's not really capable of sin because sin is deliberate choice.

He can't do that.’

So he's sin free really.

And that's quite a powerful thing.

So he's the one that's taught me the most.

The others, so Logan, who struggles at school quite a lot.

So Logan has attachment disorder, he has sensory processing disorder, has those kinds of things.

We didn't have very many issues at home because he felt safe at home.

He needed to trust the people around him.

That's difficult to trust a class full of 30, 40 strangers.

So he struggled through school.

And what that has opened me up to is the pressure that we put on all children.

We spent a lot of time, particularly primary school, having lots of one-to-ones with the Senco teachers, with the head teacher, with all of these different support people who were there trying to put something in place to help Logan, which was great.

But my main argument throughout all of that was it's great that you're considering all of these reasonable adjustments for my son.

But can I tell you the feelings that my son is experiencing are not unique to him.

He just doesn't have the filters or the resilience of other children his age.

And so he responds differently.

But just because the other children aren't responding doesn't mean that they aren't feeling the same pressures and the same triggers.

They're just burying that.

And that will come out at some point, maybe 10, 15, 20 years down the line.

What are teenage mental health like?

Not great.

And is that because of the way we're educating our children?

So maybe instead of thinking about what reasonable adjustments my son needs, maybe use my son as a lens or a magnifying glass to think about how we teach affects the emotional status of all children in that room really.

C: That would be quite a revolutionary transformative way of looking at it, wouldn't it?

To say, if the children with emotional needs and attachment disorder, if those children are happy and learning well, then everybody else will be.

G: That's absolutely right.

And that's so...

C: That would be incredible.

G: Nicola, who you know, so I know Nicola because together we're putting together a new inclusive education framework across the university.

My main drive for that, my main inspiration of that is this experience that I've had with Logan battling the school system and trying to say, stop isolating him by giving him the reasonable adjustment.

His experience is just an exaggerated version of what all the children that classroom are feeling and what's good for him will be good and nurturing for all of the children in that room.

C: Absolutely.

G: Primary school never got there and it's some way to go.

And actually Rogan, so Rogan was a year above Rhiannon and when we met him, he was three and he went to a special needs school full time.

But the head teacher of our mainstream school asked if Rogan could attend there.

I said, ‘I'm not sure because he's not like Logan.’

So there was a child at that primary school who was older that had Down syndrome and he said, "Oh, you know, such and such had a really successful journey through the school."

I said, "Rogan hasn't got Down syndrome.

He hasn't got attachment disorder.

He has profound complex needs, physical as well as mental and developmental.

Are you confident you can look after my son?

Do you really want him at this school?"

And the teacher said, "Glenn, there's an advantage to every child and being exposed to children like Rogan."

I'm going to get upset because that was just such a beautiful thing for him to say.

So I thought, ‘you know, this teacher gets it.’

This head teacher really gets the value of diversity.

So we said, "We'll give it a go."

Rogan went to mainstream two days a week and special needs school three days a week.

And he was also in the year below his age group so he could be in his sister's class.

So he actually started a nursery.

Because Rogan was in nursery, the teachers had to learn Makaton because that was the only form of communication he was starting to develop.

And I can tell you, having a class that learned Makaton helped so many other children in that class that also had delayed speech.

And you could see their confidence building.

And the teacher said, "It's been a really positive experience for other children as well because Makaton isn't just for those that can't speak.

It's for those that struggle with communication.

And it's a real strong support for that."

And he stayed at that school for about four years, maybe five.

But I would argue that that year group was one of the kindest and one of the most nurturing year groups that that school has had for quite some time.

And it was really obvious how they looked out for each other.

And I suspect that Rogan was a big part of that because seeing how the other children just included him, even when he was ignoring them and all the rest of it, the skills that they developed and the compassion that they developed.

And I think as an individual child, they were never the worst child in the class because Rogan was the one who would be having the tantrums or the one who would have the seizures or he'd be the one who couldn't do any of the actual academic work.

And he was accepted by the teachers and he wasn't told off for it.

And he was kind of encouraged and emboldened and people focused on his strengths.

I think if the kids could see the teachers treating Rogan that way, then that meant they were less afraid to failure themselves.

So there's all sorts of really powerful messages, I think, that led to that real strong cohesion within that year group, which I think Rogan was a big part of as well.

C: Yeah.

And that kind of reflects what you were saying about inclusion here at Keele, that if you can create a system that works for everybody,

G: yeah, taking who is the person with the most needs and if we can make it work for them, it'll work for everyone.

And I think for all sorts of reasons, and some of it's just common sense really.

Say some people who are neurotypical will have a reasonable adjustment.

They say, "Oh, don't ask them questions on the spot because it's a trigger."


But in a class of 200, I suspect if I ask any 18 year old a question on the spot, it will be a trigger.

So maybe we should just stop asking people those questions on the spot.

Maybe there are other ways of doing things.

Maybe we could ask the whole group a question, give them a couple of minutes to think about it and talk about it and just go around and speak to people quietly rather than ask them to speak out loud.

So I think there's a lot we can learn by what we're calling mainstreaming of reasonable adjustments.

Clearly not all adjustments are mainstreamed, but a lot can and it can really change.

So Logan at the moment is 15 and he completed primary school, but towards the beginning of his second year of high school, mainstream clearly, clearly wasn't working.

So he moved out.

It was quite a turbulent time.

And in the end, we managed to find a nurture school, which is fantastic.

There's lots of therapy.

There's lots of nurture embedded into every day.

So in mainstream, when things got too much for Logan, he had a card he could hold up and he could leave the classroom to have a break.

And that was thought to be a reasonable adjustment.

But that's not really levelling the playing field because to admit to yourself at the age of 12, you've got a problem is a huge issue.

How many 12 year olds can admit that to themselves?

How many adults can admit that to themselves?

And then to be expected to self manage that problem is a huge challenge and unrealistic expectation I would say.

Again, a lot of adults struggle with that.

Why would we expect a 12 year old to be able to do it?

And then to leave the classroom and kind of make yourself stand out to make yourself different to say, right, I'm not like all of you people in the class.

I can leave now.

You can't.

It just exacerbates that difference, which is another trigger because he just wanted to be normal.

He just wanted to blend in and he couldn't.

In the nurture school, they just include that.

So the way they run their classes, instead of doing an hour's class on something, they'll say, right, spend 15 minutes, go through worked examples of algebra, for example, and then we'll take a short break.

And then when you come back, we'll go through some worked examples and then take a short break.

And then you can have a go at it on yourself for 15 minutes and then you can take a short break.

So actually those breaks are built in to the way it's teaching.

Well, we know through research that the average attention span of most adults is only about 10 to 20 minutes.

So why are we asking children to work longer than that when we know adults don't have that attention span?

And if we know that the children are low and they really can't cope with it, then you can expect that most of the kids in there are also beginning to get anxious or nodding off or distracted and they're not keeping up.

So why not build those breaks into the routine because all those issues go away and everybody comes a little bit more positive and a little bit happier.

C: Yes.


I think it's been really clear listening to you just what a vocation and calling fatherhood is, something that's sort of run really deep.

And it's been a privilege to listen to your story, Glenn.

G: Thank you, Catherine.

Nice to meet you too.

C: Thank you very much.

G: Thank you.

Hope you enjoyed this episode of the Loved Called Gifted podcast. If you’d like to get in touch, you can email You can find a transcript of this podcast at and that’s also the place to go if you’re interested in the Loved Called Gifted course or if you’d like to find out about spiritual direction or coaching.
Thank you for listening.

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