Being Dad: Joel Cruz-Davis
Joel always wanted to be a dad. As one of four kids growing up in north central Florida, his mom went to work as a lawyer, while his father stayed at home to be a full time dad and run the non-profit school, Jordan Glen. He learned early on that gender stereotypes were simply stereotypes and that men could be the primary care giver. As someone with a background in education, he always had a love for children and knew that one day he wanted to have “Dad” as his job description.
After marrying his husband, Yuli, in the summer of 2008 in San Francisco, the pair embarked on a long and arduous journey to parenthood. Because adoption was not really a possibility for gay parents at the time in Florida, they explored egg donation, IVF and surrogacy. However, fertility clinics in Florida wouldn’t even work with them due to their marital status, which led them to the more progressive state of Massachusetts.
To make matters more complicated, a couple months after their marriage, Proposition 8 was passed, which again banned same-sex marriage in California. Joel and Yuli didn’t know if this would nullify their marriage. Since their entire baby process depended on a legal marriage, they were terrified this would halt all of the progress they were making.
Joel explains, “It stinks to have discriminatory laws and policies dictate your life and your ability to have children, but that’s the reality sometimes. This hiccup just meant our journey would involve a lot of people, perseverance, money that we didn’t have, long contracts, detailed discussions with endocrinologists, genetic testing, birth orders with judges, five egg donors, three rounds of IVF, and two surrogates.”
Luckily Proposition 8 went to California Federal Court and the beloved Judge Walker overturned it and their quest for fatherhood could continue.
“Those were trying times – the years that we were trying to have children. Lots of ups and downs. So many things way out of our control. I wouldn’t want to go through the process again – my nerves couldn’t take it. I can’t begin to explain it. It’s so hard. But it worked out in the end. My heart goes out to couples with any type of fertility issue, and even though our issues were different to other couples, we were all in the same clinic trying to accomplish the same thing. The financial burden just makes everything that much harder, although some people are lucky enough to have insurance that covers certain fertility treatments and medications. Not for us. Ring, ring. Mr. Cruz, this is Freedom Pharmacy, we need your credit card again. A few thousand bucks here, a few thousand bucks there. It’s a real challenge for couples, and there can be stigma attached to fertility issues and treatment, to top it off. But we did it. We got our twin boys who will be eight this fall.”
Even though bringing their kids into the world happened in an award winning Sundance film way, their day-to-day life is like any other parent’s.
“On a normal work and school day, my husband, Yuli, would be the first one up and out, although I am often already awake in bed. If not, I am after I nudge him awake after his alarm goes off. He has to go the furthest and be at work the earliest. He owns a dental practice where he is the only dentist. Eventually the kids and I rush – no, just I rush – to get the kids out the door and to school on time. It’s my family’s school and it’s very close by, but it’s somehow still a daily challenge to get there on time.
I do a lot of my work from home, running the family businesses, and I try to get some housework done here and there too. In the summers, our school is a day camp, and I run the camp. So basically I plan and direct fun and funny activities for six weeks in the summer, but I have to plan for it for over half the year. We have great children at our school and camp, and so many different types of families, which is one of the cool things about living near a college town.
When it comes to sharing parenting roles, there are some things that we both do, and some things that one of us really dislikes, or which the other one is so much better at, that sometimes one person does that thing. For instance, Yuli tends to bathe the kids and is always the one to clip their nails. I think of him as my Specials Teams Unit. I’m home more and have a more flexible schedule, so I’m the de facto primary caregiver. That title comes with any number of duties and skills, most of which you just have to figure out through trial and error. That’s why being a parent is so fun! As the primary caregiver, I’m a Marathon Man, because being a parent is 24-7.”
Q + A with Joel
How do you treat yourself to ‘me’ time?
I definitely don’t have as much of a ‘me’ concept as I did before being married with children, but one thing I like to do is get acupuncture every month or two. Why I want to stick needles into myself to unwind, I’m not sure, but I like the concepts behind Chinese medicine, and love how I feel after my acupuncture treatments.
What is one piece of advice given to you by a family member or friend that has resonated in your life?
So many things. All those pieces of advice coming flooding back, and they make so much more sense now. I was lucky to have such a strong presence of immediate and extended family in my life, amazing people who shaped me that I could think of hundreds of one-liners right now.
My grandpa would see us and say, “You gruesome!” You know, grew some. He would also say, “Do as I say, not as I do.”
My dad would say, “Don’t bullsh!t a bullsh!itter.” and “Pick your battles and choose your wars.” My dad is also a giant proponent of love. Loving yourself, thy neighbor, your enemy. My dad is not a passive person. He has a very strong personality. But he also has an enormous love for all of life. He’s been able to share that spirit with generations of children at our school.
My mom taught me a lot about psychology and communication. She’s a lawyer and specializes in mediation, and she teaches mediation in law school. She taught me, through actions and words, to use good judgment. A lot of her advice I remember in warnings. Puddles in the road called ‘washouts’ that could make you swerve off. Or overcorrecting the steering wheel. Or swerving to avoid an animal. Or lightning. Suffocating. Sink holes. Cliffs and edges. Our eyes. Bodies of water. And that’s a giant one as a parent and summer camp director in Florida. There are pools and bodies of water everywhere in Florida. Drowning and heat are real dangers.
I think my parents have taught me to look at the big picture when it comes to not getting hung up on the little stuff, not holding a grudge, not being too inflexible. But they’ve also taught me to look at the little picture and to appreciate nature, family, health, education, and other things that we often take for granted when we have them.
How did your childhood shape the person/ parent you are today?
My childhood shaped me, and that is why I continue to work at my family’s school, helping to run it, improve it, and to give students the same types of experiences that my peers and siblings and I were lucky enough to have growing up. My parents are both from big cities – Chicago and Detroit – but they raised me in the country, outside of a college town. Then my dad made his own little world for us on our 20 acre property – our school and summer camp – and those have been some of the main factors that shaped my upbringing and outlook, as well as my desire to connect with other people in a positive and helpful way. My parents and grandparents worked hard and sacrificed to give us the opportunities and values that they had. I always want to honor them and make them proud.
What’s your proudest dad moment?
I just love that my children are uniquely themselves. They have their own personalities, their own styles, their own closest friends, and I just love them. They surprise me all the time in so many ways, and life is never boring or meaningless with them around. It’s great to see the world with the understanding of an adult but with the freshness and curiosity of a child, as well as the pure joy for the smallest of things.
Do you have any important family traditions that you want to share with your children?
This is such a fun part of having children – reliving traditions from your youth, even ones you’d almost forgotten about. And then your new little family puts its own twist on the traditions, and often you come up with your own. We are Jewish, and Judaism is a great way to celebrate and experience life as a family. We are also Cuban, American, American Indian, African, and so many other things, both because we have diverse backgrounds and also from the influences in our lives. We live in a world of cultures and traditions, and my family isn’t afraid to embrace the spirit of friends’ holidays to be able to celebrate with them. If you’re celebrating and you invite us, we will be there!
What’s your biggest professional and personal achievement?
For me, I am happily surprised at the number of things that I have learned in the past years while getting more involved with running family businesses, and all while raising children. Our school and camp are still going, now over 40 years, and then my husband and I have the dental practice. And I have a small medical practice with my brother, which has been another highly interesting family adventure.
What are the attributes you find to be most important and that you’d like to impart on your kids?
I want my kids to be respectful, to be kind, to be courteous. To people, to animals, to objects. I want their actions to produce a positive energy. Instead of throwing trash on the ground, I hope that they’ll pick it up. Like all parents, I hope my children will be healthy, happy, successful in their relationships and work endeavors. I hope that they love learning and that they continue to pass down that tradition. We have many teachers on both sides of the family. I value someone who is well rounded. In my family, we all do academics, we all do sports, we all appreciate the arts, nature, movies, wine, jokes, family get togethers…we just love life. And my grandparents were the best example of that for us. To us, they personified living a full life. They were married 60 years, and their love for each other and for all of us was endless.
What do you find most difficult/daunting about being a dad so far?
For me being a dad is full time, so it’s very rewarding, but at the same time it can be overwhelming. What’s hard is that it’s non-stop, and things just get busier and busier. And then when I see how quickly my children are growing, and all the kids before them who are now young adults, and that combined with all the crazy things that happen in the world – if you try to make sense of it or compartmentalize it, it becomes too much to process. For me at least. The hardest thing is just worrying about your children.
What do you love about being a dad so far?
Every day is different, even when you do the same things, because your kids grow so quickly, the seasons turn, the years go by. I love the physical closeness of being with my kids. I love the cold mornings when we are huddled together to keep warm in bed after they sneak in in the middle of the night. I love my kids calling me Dad, or Daddy, and knowing that they mean me and only me – Yuli is Papi. I love how my children make me want to do better. They make me more optimistic. They make me less anxious, even though they make me more anxious too. And they are very forgiving and unconditionally loving.
Describe your first father’s day in three words.
Two times Two
Learn more about Jordan Glen HERE.
Learn more about Cruz Davis Dental HERE.
Learn more about FMD.green HERE.
This piece was originally published on The Tot.