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The Parent Trip: David Jackson and Jermel Johnson of East Falls

In their first phone call with the birth mother who had chosen them - a young woman, eight months pregnant - she asked a question that took Jermel and David by surprise:

Parents Jermel Johnson (left) and David "DJ" Jackson with son Jaden,
Parents Jermel Johnson (left) and David "DJ" Jackson with son Jaden,Read morePhoto credit: Danielle Foster Creation Photography.

In their first phone call with the birth mother who had chosen them - a young woman, eight months pregnant - she asked a question that took Jermel and David by surprise:

If the baby grows up and turns out to be interested in girls, would you let him?

Both men flashed on their own life stories: David, whose friends call him DJ, grew up in Lancaster and became a firefighter and paramedic; for a time, he wondered whether being gay and having a family were incompatible. Jermel, raised in Baltimore, was the first black male principal dancer in the Pennsylvania Ballet.

Both men had broken barriers. Both had watched others grow more accepting of their differences.

"We explained," Jermel said, "that being gay or straight is not a choice." They also told the young woman that fatherhood had been a shared dream practically since the day they met in 2007 on MySpace.

DJ was the affable-looking guy posed on a fire truck. Jermel was the dancer with the dazzling smile. When they talked online and by phone, then began meeting in Philadelphia for movies and ballet events, they discovered their life maps - commitment, a house, a family - were in sync.

For DJ, that meant a move to Philadelphia: farewell to farms and cows, hello to Center City and parking hassles. He'd never been to a ballet; he was stunned to watch Jermel dance in Carmina Burana.

"I had a newfound respect for ballet dancers, the endurance their bodies go through . . . and how beautiful he looked on stage, how much respect he got from the audience."

When Pennsylvania legalized marriage equality in 2014, they jumped: a small wedding in an East Falls chapel with close friends and their families, who were meeting for the first time, followed by a cruise to Bermuda.

For DJ, his "I do" resonated beyond the two of them; it was an emphatic nod to how much society had changed.

They continued to check items off that wish list: a house in East Falls, a yellow lab and a chocolate lab (DJ's Christmas gift to Jermel after a performance of The Nutcracker), and three cats.

A female friend offered to be their gestational carrier but later learned she had a medical problem and wouldn't be able to carry a baby to term. It was a hurdle, but not a dead end; they'd have to create family in another way. So DJ researched adoption agencies, and the two drove to an informational meeting at A Baby Step Adoption in Bryn Mawr. The warm, friendly atmosphere felt right.

They began the adoption process in February, rustling up life insurance policies and financial documents, preparing a profile book with pictures of DJ on the fire truck and Jermel dancing the role of Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Social workers visited their home and talked to their relatives.

Then, one April afternoon, a caseworker called with bad news: A birth mother had been interested in them but ultimately chose a different couple. DJ and Jermel barely had time to absorb the disappointment when another call came that evening.

"The caseworker said, 'A birth mother came in, and she picked you. She wants you if you're interested,' " DJ recalls. They scheduled a conference call for the next day.

"It's an awkward phone call," he says. "You're ecstatic, excited, scared that she won't like you. On the other hand, she's giving up her child. There are so many emotions."

With just a month until the young woman's due date, DJ and Jermel leaped into action: outfitting a room off the master bedroom with a Monsters, Inc. theme, buying a car seat, packing a diaper bag. When the call came - the birth mom was headed for the hospital, a scheduled Cesarean delivery - they hopped into the car for an eight-hour drive to North Carolina.

They arrived an hour after Jaden was born. Euphoria and anxiety knotted together: Here was their newborn son, and here was the mother who could still, at any moment, change her mind. "Right away, she said, 'Here you go, you can hold him,' " DJ recalls. "Being a paramedic, I'd been around kids. But with Jaden, I knew he was mine."

Jaden was calm, alert . . . and hungry, slurping Similac at three-hour intervals. His birth mother grew teary when they said goodbye at a mall near the hospital. She gave Jaden a pair of minuscule Nike sneakers and a denim outfit. DJ and Jermel promised to send photos a few times a year.

And then they headed home - DJ at the wheel, Jermel with one arm slung over the backseat, a finger clasped in Jaden's tiny palm.

The dogs had trained them to lurch out of sleep for potty breaks - the animals would ring bells that hung from a strap on the men's bedroom door - so nighttime parenting wasn't a complete shock. It helped that DJ's mother lives with the pair and could step in as caregiver when they went back to work.

Jermel loves each day's start: the hearty "Good morning, handsome!" that coaxes an instant smile, the breakfast of oatmeal/rice/apple cereal, the way Jaden babbles along with "Do Re Mi" or the alphabet song.

DJ's sweet spot is the end of the day, when he returns after a long work shift to a baby who grins and flaps his arms in delight.

For both, a capstone moment was the finalization of Jaden's adoption last month in a Reading courtroom. The baby wore a bow tie. His fathers promised to love and care for him forever.

And then their dream was stamped, sealed, official. They want Jaden to understand the journey that carried them to that moment. They want him to know acceptance and grit and possibility.

"I've seen the world change in front of me," Jermel says. "I hope, if there's something he wants and works for, that he'll be able to attain it."

The Parent Trip

If you've become a parent - for the first, second or fifth time - within the last six months, e-mail us why we should feature your story:

Giving birth, adopting, or becoming a stepparent or guardian all count.

Unfortunately, we can't respond individually to all submissions. If your story is chosen, you will be contacted.