During a dark time of the AIDS crisis in the gay community, Larry Bennett found light through the Big Brother/Big Sisters Project.
“You know, I really wish you were my real father.” These were words that Larry’s “little brother” said to him during their first year. At the time, no one had any idea that this “little brother” would one day become his son.
In his words:
My name is Larry Bennett and I’m from Washington, DC.
I think the reason I got involved with the Big Brothers was in spite of the AIDS crisis was my love of children and my desire to mentor and so the combination made a lot of sense to me to be able to help a child if I could and if it was right. That was very meaningful. So although many of my friends were dying, and had died, and were in the process of dying, I got out of that realm of death and HIV and reached out to help a child. Whether it was cause and effect, whatever it was, I can’t tell you the reason, it just seemed like a very natural thing to do.
It dawned on me that maybe somehow some far-fetched reason which I didn’t tell them was that I would meet a child that would become like a son or a close friend. They presented me with this 8-year-old little boy by the name of Andre, and how would I feel about him and they showed me pictures of him and told me about him and the fact that he lived with his mother and that his father was out of the picture, he had deserted the mother and Andre and how would I feel about being a Big Brother to him? And I said, “Well, this sounds very interesting.”
And they said, “Well, how about we set up an interview with you and his mother.”
So his mother and I had a couple of interviews at my home and we clicked and we decided that we were going to form this relationship of Big Brother, Little Brother.
So I went to the house and his mother met me at the door and walked in and Andre came in the house, his mother called him in, and he came in the house. And she said, “Andre, this is Larry. Larry, this is Andre.”
So the first time I picked Andre up, we went out to Golden Gate Park and I had taken a bag of bread and thought, “Well, how fun to go out to the park and feed the ducks.” And that’s what we did.
There were a couple of instances I remember from the first year, one of them we had gone out to the beach or something, some place like that and he said to me, “You know, I really wish you were my real father.”
Well of course that just melted me to nothing. And what occurred to me is, how could a father, a birth father, desert a child like this. That was one of the first things that came to my mind.
Andre’s mother was made aware of the fact that I was gay before she met me because in the process of making a match between a Big Brother and a Little Brother, as much background is given both to myself and to the parent, as possible. I think she and I decided that when he was 13 that he was old enough to know that I was gay. So one day I said, “Andre, let’s take a walk.”I said, “I am a gay man and do you know what gay means?”
And he said, “Yes.”
And I said, “What does it mean?”
And he says, “Well, when a guy likes another guy.”
And I said, “That’s right.”
And we didn’t discuss it a whole lot.
So I wanted him to know and that in those days, 30 years ago, it wasn’t very fashionable to be gay and it was made fun of, and certainly his peers, if they knew I was gay, could use him as a target. So it was important for me that he was well aware because he was always a very sensitive person and still is and I wanted to protect and guard him as you do anyone and he was fine with that.
I had decided to take Andre and his mother to see The Nutcracker Ballet. And at intermission his mother said to me, “I just wanted to tell you that I’m going to be getting married. And I’ve been seeing a man from Tiburon and we’re going to be moving to Tiburon.”
And with that I just thought my world was falling apart. And I was devastated.
So as it turned out, his mother married this gentleman in Tiburon and she asked me to give her away at the wedding. It was a small wedding and they, she and her husband, said that they wanted me to continue my relationship with Andre and so that of course made me feel very good. And Andre would come up and spend summers with me in Friday Harbor where I had a home and that continued.
I guess the next big jolt came when they, when Andre said to me, “Jack wants to adopt me as his son.”
Another pit in my stomach. And I said, “Really?” And I said, “Well, how do you feel about that?”
And he said, “Well, Jack’s okay, I don’t like him that much but I guess it’s probably what I should do.”
Because Jack had a son that was two years younger than Andre and Jack decidedly favored his son over Andre and I knew this. Our relationship continued even though he was adopted, so that marriage lasted for 3 years and just before Andre was 16, they separated. Probably a year later at around his 17th birthday, I don’t remember exactly, I said to Andre, “What would you think of me adopting you officially?”
And he said, “Yes, I would really like that to happen.”
His mother was in favor of going forward with the adoption because she knew that I had been a constant in his life, how much I loved and cared about him and I think that she wanted to ensure his future and knew that by our adoption this would really solidify and cement our relationship. One of the other issues around the adoption was whether Andre was going to take my name. And I asked him what he wanted because this had to be his choice. And he says, “I’ll think about it.”
And some time later he came back and said, “If I’m your son I want to have your name.”
And that of course made me feel really good. So on the day he was adopted he became “Andre Bennett.”
My relationship with Andre at this time could not be better or stronger. I would say that Andre is probably my best friend. When my partner Patrick passed away 11 years ago, that’s when Andre stepped in to probably this best friend role because he was very close with Patrick and their relationship was strong and I think that he kind of moved in to pick up some of those pieces because it was devastating for me to have such a horrible loss. Andre has been “Andre Bennett” for almost 21 years and I am so proud of him and so happy for our relationship I can’t begin to tell you. It is a true blessing.
Originally published at ImFromDriftwood. I’m From Driftwood envisions a world where every lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer person feels understood and accepted, and every straight person is an ally.