Photographs by Meikel Reece.
I am excited to introduce you to Josh. He’s made some big changes in his life, and I couldn’t wait to show you how he’s living with his kids. I met Josh when we were in college — his taste and style and sense of humor were excellent, and have only gotten more refined through the years. His thoughts are spectacular, and I imagine they’ll change someone’s path today. Or maybe someday. (If your path needs to be changed, remember: we are all rooting for you.)
A big hug to Josh for sharing his truth – and fantastic home – with us. Enjoy!
Hi everyone. I’m Josh. I live here with my three kids. I am divorced, so my kids are here about half the time and spend about half of their time with their mom who lives nearby.
My oldest Jonah is 12. He is in junior high and is an amazing kid. Funny, kind, level-headed, sensitive, and sweet. He was a big skate boarder and scooter for a while, and recently has really gotten into video editing and loves to post funny things online. He is a great older brother.
Noel is my 11 year old; he and Jonah are about 18 months apart. He is hilarious, kind, and has the greatest laugh on earth. We are currently trying to catch all the Pokemon in the world. Noel is also on the autism spectrum, so he loves to have some alone time. Sometimes he needs a break from the other kids and is wise enough to know when to take it.
And Lila is my seven year old. She will conquer the world someday. Funny, kind, totally fearless, and wise in a really crazy way. Nothing phases her and she rolls with the punches. I’m wrapped around her little finger.
We’re in the Millcreek part of Salt Lake. When I was a kid growing up in Utah I thought I could NEVER live here as an adult. I moved to LA for a while, then back to SLC, then to Portland, and then back to Salt Lake City about six years ago.
It’s home now. I think I will stay forever.
I love Salt Lake. It is a little liberal heart in the center of a very conservative town. And it has such fun restaurants, bars, theater, etc. The new Eccles theater that just opened downtown is amazing and the greatest Italian restaurant I have ever eaten at outside of Rome is in the random strip mall by the Albertsons about a mile down the road from me. Sometimes it’s so beautiful here it literally takes my breath away – I never realized until after I moved away for the first time. I wish Utah was a bit more diverse, both in people and attitudes, and I think that is changing as time goes on. I have so many family and friends here I can’t imagine leaving.
My ex wife and I bought this house when we moved here from Portland. I had been laid off from my job in Portland (it was right in the middle of the recession) and we decided that if I was going to potentially be without work for a while it would make more sense to be in Utah where we both had family to help us out. It was August at the time and we had a visit already scheduled the next week, and we made the decision at the last second to just move back to Utah, instead of just visiting, so our kids could start school there in September.
We drove out and then I flew back to Portland with my sister and packed the whole house up and drove it back to Utah. We lived in my in-laws’ basement for a while while I looked for work. Once I found work we started house hunting and found this one. It was perfect for us.
We didn’t want a house with a lot of square footage in a traditional basement because sometimes they are so dark and unusable. This is a classic 70s split level that are all over Utah, so the basement windows are actually really big. What really sold us was that the previous owners had built a loft type room above the two car garage, just off the kitchen (it’s the room with the TV in the photos.) It gives us a TON of extra space and keeps the kids close by.
There wasn’t a lot of work that needed to be done. I think before us an older couple had lived here and when they passed their kids went through and freshened everything up before the put the house on the market. So the carpet was new, the walls had new paint, the roof was new, etc. Nothing was particularly fancy or high end, but it was clean and big and had a beautiful back yard that backed up to a park. We were thrilled when we got it.
The only thing we did when we moved in was paint the kitchen cabinets. They are the original and had been repainted white. The paint job was sort of thin and we knew we would need to do another coat anyway, so we just decided to do something interesting. For a long time they were sort of an apple green, which I loved, but when I repainted the living room the merlot color this year, they were sort of fighting with each other, so I went with the calmer grey.
Amy and I were married for 11 years. She was/is my best friend. We were LDS and had met in Rome, Italy as missionaries in our early 20s. We were friends for many years after we returned to the states and then got married in 2002.
I had know my whole life that I was gay. When I was a young teenager, I felt like it was part of me that was “broken.” I had always been taught that Jesus can fix anything that is broken, so I felt like if I was a good enough LDS kid that it would go away. I wanted to be like all the other boys: grow up, serve a Mormon mission, get married, and have kids. I never even considered the idea that I could come out.
As I got older I realized it wouldn’t go away, but I felt like, again, if I lived righteously enough that I could control it and never act on it. I NEVER told anyone and never acted on any of my impulses. I didn’t have a lot of friends who were boys in high school; I didn’t know how to connect with them.
Looking back now, it’s because I wanted to be in love with a boy and I wanted him to be in love with me, but that wasn’t possible so I just was weird and awkward and uncomfortable around them. I had a lot of great friends who were girls and had a pretty great childhood/adolescence.
When Amy and I got married, even though we were best friends and got along really well, there was something missing in our marriage. She didn’t know I was gay, so I was always hiding something from her, which meant there was a certain level of intimacy and connection that was missing. We did our best, worked really hard to make things work, and had three amazing kids.
After about 11 years, the weight of it all became too much. We were going through some other personal changes and were discussing what those things would mean for our family and I finally came out. I don’t want to speak for how Amy was feeling, but she was a champion from day one. Incredibly kind and supportive and loving.
At first we didn’t know WHAT it would all mean. Would we stay married? Would we have some sort of open marriage? Would we divorce? We talked about a lot of options and after a few months we both felt like divorce made the most sense for us and for our kids to be happy. At this time I still wasn’t really out to very many people, so we decided to take our time and move through the process slowly. Our biggest commitment from day one was to make sure our kids were happy and protected.
We always said that the decisions we made didn’t have to make sense to anyone but ourselves. So we have always sort of done things in our own ways. For a while we had a shared apartment downtown and we would take turns spending nights there while the other person slept at home with the kids. We wanted to keep them in the same place, same schools, etc. Keep as much constant in their lives as we could. They didn’t choose any of this, so it didn’t seem fair to uproot their lives.
For the most part our friends and family have been great. I am sure it is weird for some of them and I am sure some of them were shocked – to be honest, probably more by the divorce than by me coming out – but they’ve had our backs since the beginning.
Divorce is always hard, so matter how good the circumstances, there have been some hard conversations and fights (both amongst ourselves and with family members/friends) but I think we are in a good place. When decisions were hard I just kept thinking “What makes the most sense for the kids?” and would go with that.
And through all of this Amy has been amazing. She is so kind and patient and supportive, even though she was the one lied to for 11 years. She has every right to hate me and she has always been supportive and loving, even though I know she is going through her own stuff. She’s amazing.
I came out to my kids in the same conversation where we told them about the divorce. We told the two older boys first, and told Lila a few months later. It was one of the hardest and most painful things I have ever done.
I was in therapy at the time and the best advice that my therapist gave me as I prepping for the conversation was “You don’t have to stick the landing.” Meaning, this is not a one time conversation.
We talked about it many times since then and will talk about it many times in the future. It’s just part of our family story, so I didn’t have to have the perfect answers and the perfect explanation in that moment. It was hard. I was terrified. My boys both cried initially and I felt like I had blown up their worlds. But Amy and I told them we loved them, tried to help them see what parts of our lives wouldn’t be changing, and went from there. Once they understood that they weren’t going to have to choose one of us to live with they dealt with it pretty well.
One funny thing is that my oldest son asked “If you guys get a divorce are any of our rules changing?” “Like what?” we said. “Like, can we get a dog now?” he asked. (Something we had always told them we would never do.) It was a well-played move. It was one of the lowest moments of my life and he slid in that request. Sure enough, a few months later we adopted Korra, our pit bull/grey hound mix.
Telling Lila was just as hard. She as little – only five – so she just got really quiet and sad. She didn’t even really have words to talk about what I am sure was going through her heart and mind. It sucked. But she is resilient and bounced back. She told me a few months later she was pretty sure she would have a boyfriend before I ever did – and so far that is proving to be all too true.
They have adjusted quite well. It is such a different time. I don’t want to say for a second that homophobia is done. Especially homophobia directed towards trans people and people of color. But kids today are so much less phased by it than I would have been as a kid.
I remember a month or so after I came out my oldest, Jonah, told me that he had told his friends. I was shocked “What did they say?” I asked. “Did they tease you for having a gay dad?” He just sort of laughed and asked why any of his friends would care that I was gay? I couldn’t believe it.
Again, I am not naive. I am sure there will be times that my kids will struggle with this or be teased about it or wish our family was “normal” but for the most part they are amazing. They are outspoken advocates. My daughter marches in Pride parades with me decked out in rainbows. My son tells kids not to use the word gay as an insult because there is nothing wrong with being gay. They are better humans than me by a mile and I am so lucky to be their dad.
You know that old saying, “Truth finds a way of coming out?” Well, it’s an old saying for a reason. You can’t keep things this big hidden. It hurts you and unknowingly hurts your family anyway.
And I think that is why so many people stay closeted and hiding. They wonder what will happen to their family?
But I am a much better dad now than I was when I was closeted. I think being in the closet caused me so much pain and stress that I didn’t recognize that I was much unhappier as a person. I was short tempered and grouchy and I think I am so much calmer and kinder now. My life is far from perfect and I have things I am working through, but overall my happiness is so much higher.
If someone is in the same or a similar situation to me, I would say this: You’re going to be okay. It is so scary when you are standing on that cliff. But you’ll come out fine on the other side. Find people to be in your corner. Find people to talk to. You can message me if you want. And do what feels right in your heart and do it when you can be safe – like if you are a teenager and you are afraid coming out might mean getting kicked out on the street, you might need to wait to come out until you have somewhere you can go or resources that can help you.
People are gonna get hurt. It’s unavoidable. But wounds heal and people find new truth and happiness. I have never met a gay person who said they wished they’d never come out, even though often peoples’ lives are totally torn apart.
You don’t know the damage the closet does to you until you are out of it. It’s worth it. And you will have a huge community who has gone through exactly what you have gone through who is here to support you and help you.
This is the same home that Amy and I lived in before the divorce. After she officially moved out I felt a real need to make it feel like my space instead of our space. I started with my bedroom – partially because Amy had taken a dresser we had in there with her but mostly because I needed that space to be mine and whole.
I worked a room or so at a time and picked up pieces here and there to freshen things up. The last changes were the living room. Again, Amy had moved into a bigger place and wanted to take a vintage sectional we had in there, and since I needed to get a new sofa I decided to just redo the whole space.
When I am designing I think first about how I want the space to feel and how I want to live in it. And then I start picking pieces from there. For example, in my living room, I wanted it to feel masculine, but with an edge that said a gay man lived there. I wanted it to be a space where I could gather with friends and have drinks and snacks and chat and laugh because what in life is better than that?
So it needed lots of seating – the two ottomans under the console and using the backless bench in front of the railing – and lots of places to set a drink down, so there are several tables that are easy to drag around and tuck into spots.
My friend Debi, who is a designer, found the wall color and it terrified me but when I painted a swatch of it on the wall it made my heart flutter. I would grin every time I saw it so I knew I had to do it.
And that is I think my biggest things with design. Buy things you love because you love them and they’ll find a way to fit into your life. Don’t buy things because they are trendy or because someone else did it. You’ll get tired of those things.
Your house should be full of things that make you happy. For example, I used to work in a furniture store and when that pink leopard painting came off the truck I took one look at it, walked out to the register and paid for it, and then went and crammed it into the back of my Prius. It is probably too big for my space and is sort of crazy but it makes me so glad when I see it, and it is the first thing I see when I walk in every day. It’s my sigil.
Even though my ex is amazing, when you are divorced you are often operating as a single parent. It’s 100% on you to get dinner done and do homework and keep the laundry moving and clean up the dog vomit. And sometimes I’m a grouchy a-hole. I hope my kids forget those times. My hat is off to parents who are single parents 100% of the time. At least I get some days off.
What I hope they remember is that I love them and I have their back. I hope they remember that they have TWO homes that are full of love and traditions and good times. I hope they always remember that their mom and I would do everything and anything for them. And, selfishly, I hope that someday they recognize how hard what Amy and I did in me coming out and ending our marriage was, and that we did it so that we could be happier and be better parents to them. I hope someday they see the courage in that and maybe draw on it when they have to do scary painful things in their own lives.
My kids make me laugh every day. They are hilarious and they appreciate my dorky sense of humor, so I always have an audience for my dumb jokes. They understand my need to sometimes be lazy. I love to say to Noel, my 11 year old, “Tomorrow is Saturday and guess what we are going to do? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!” and he gets a big grin on his face. Then we spend the morning with all three of them (and the dog) in my bed with us all staring at our devices and me drinking a big cup of coffee. That I will miss. I will miss the times where all three of them are playing together and laughing at something stupid that makes no sense to me. They take good care of each other.
I wish I had known sooner that it was okay to love myself and be who I was. There are so many things in my life that would be so much easier if I had come out in my twenties. But if I had done that I would have a totally different life. I wouldn’t have these amazing kids if I had never gotten married under false pretenses. So I would never in a million years wish I could go back and do it over differently. I am so glad my life path led me to this point.
When I had come out to Amy and was trying to decide if I was going to come out to the rest of the world and live as an out gay man (which had big ramifications in my spiritual life as well since I was a member of a religion that doesn’t quite know what to do with gay people yet) the thing that pushed me over the edge and made me decide to be out and open was when I thought about what I would say to one of my kids if they came out to me. Would I want them to hide it and try and enter a heterosexual marriage and just soldier through? Hell no. I would want them to love and be proud of who they are. So I decided to do the same thing for myself.
So while I can’t tell my past-self something, I do want to reach out to kids and teens who are struggling and let them know they are worthy of all the love and light that the world has for them. They are not broken. They are not wrong. They don’t need to change or be fixed. They are perfect. And beautiful. And we need them. Just like they are.
Carol Lynn Pearson, who is an LDS author and poet who writes a lot about the often contradictory ideas of homosexuality and religion, said in one of her books (this is not an exact quote, but I can get the quote for you if you want it.), “You did not choose to walk this path. But you must walk it. It is yours to walk. And you can walk it with fear and shame. Or you can walk it with pride and with your head held high.”
I choose pride.
Cheers. Full on cheers. “I wish I had known sooner that it was okay to love myself and be who I was.” And then this: “I want to reach out to kids and teens who are struggling and let them know they are worthy of all the love and light that the world has for them. They are not broken. They are not wrong. They don’t need to change or be fixed. They are perfect. And beautiful. And we need them. Just like they are.” Josh, you were a gift to a whole lot of readers today, of that I am sure. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
So, divorce. Specifically, living with kids post-divorce. How do you do it? Does the decor and space planning matter more? Or less? What have you learned along the way and what would you do differently? I know this is a tough subject, but some of the most rewarding conversations begin with such difficult issues. (Also wondering if your post-divorce home includes a pink leopard painting? Shame if it doesn’t!)
P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me know! We love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! I should also mention, I have a goal to bring more diverse points of view to Design Mom this year. So if you don’t see yourself or your community reflected here, let’s make it happen — send in your details, or recommend a friend! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.