Both in their mid-30s, the Nelms are professionals who both (currently) work from home.
Ryan, a Microsoft Hub Manager has worked from home since the beginning of the pandemic. He’ll be returning to work in the office in September. Del, an accomplished photographer who launched Del Luis Photography in 2010, decided to work from home the moment he knew he wanted to become a parent.
Del was born in California where his father, a naval officer, was stationed at the time. He moved to North Carolina with his family at the age of two. Ryan was born and reared in Landis. He’s lived in North Carolina most of his life, with the exception of a few years when he and Del lived in Washington. Together, Del and Ryan are parenting three children: Mimi, 21, Lena, 16 and William, 4.
On Main Street in Landis, a small town in Rowan County situated north of Greensboro and south of Charlotte, sits a mill house built in 1912, with a prominently displayed rainbow flag. The Progressive Pride Flag includes the colors light pink, white and light blue, reflecting the trans community, while the black and brown stripes represent LGBTQ communities of color. The flag waves proudly in front of this house, because the homeowners want any child passing by to know people like them exist and the house is a safe space.
Inside the house natural sunlight fills rooms, the sound of laughter fills the air and the love shared between two men and their children fills the heart of anyone lucky to meet and know them.
On the Saturday before Father’s Day, Del and Ryan Nelms (their children refer to them as Papa and Dad) are relaxing in their living room, comfortably dressed in shorts and ready to share their story.
Ryan, how did the two of you meet?
Ryan: We met 16 years ago next month on Yahoo personals. We were both like 20 but my pickup line was “Is it Dill like the pickle or Dell the computer?
Del: [Laughing] I just spelled it for you.
Del, what attracted you to Ryan?
D: It was the line, but in further conversation it was his youthfulness, his cheesiness. No matter what, it’s always fun. When you’re with him your heart takes you back to childhood where Legos take on more importance than they used to. Not because they’re important but because I hate Lego, but he loves them.
Ryan, what made you decide to have children?
R: I always wanted to have children. Del and I had been married for seven years and I was working in Seattle. When I returned we started the process of fostering. Initially, I wanted a little me; I thought maybe use one of my sister’s eggs and a surrogate to carry our child. Del wanted to adopt, and financially foster to adopt was way more affordable. So we found the Children’s Home Society of North Carolina. Their role is to help parents connect with children who are up for adoption either because they’re about to age out of the foster care system or their parents’ rights have been terminated. That’s how we got William. He was only one and his mother’s parental rights hadn’t been terminated then, but the family history indicated they might be. So, we got him in November and by July of the following year, we were officially his parents.
D: We have three children. I have a sister who passed away. When I was a teenager, my sister got pregnant and had two little girls, but my sister and I were close, always together — so her girls were like my girls. Once we got William, my sister got sick, I cared for her until she passed away — then we ended up with my sister’s children. So, within one year, we ended up with three kids.
As men caring for one young child and two girls, do you ever feel at a disadvantage?
D: Gender-wise no. I don’t feel like we have any kind of disadvantage. We’re blessed because there are people out there that don’t naturally have a balance of masculinity and femininity, but I think in our specific situation, the balance is there.
Who do you look to for advice during challenging parenting moments?
D: I think about everything situationally. I very rarely tell the girls no. We will talk it out for hours until one of us sees the perspective of the other. It’s an internal process for me, if I don’t feel I can make a good decision we need to talk about it more. But, my mother visits every other weekend and the girls are starting to learn to work us. My mom leads with her heart, so she knows the struggle of doing what you do because you don’t have a choice. Everything she did was for her kids and I’m motivated by that. I can look at how she’s handled situations and find solutions there without asking her — it guides my internal process during challenging moments with the kids.
Speaking of challenges in LGBTQ parenting, folks can often be rude or even cruel. What’s the rudest thing that’s ever been said to you and how did you handle that?
R: What comes to mind is, I live in a small town and everyone knows me. My dad owns a plumbing business and my sister runs the booster club. We were in a little restaurant, with the kids, all three of them and Myrella [aka Mimi], the oldest told me she heard a lady (who was staring at us) say, “if I was them, I wouldn’t go outside.” I turn around [noticing the woman] and told my daughter, “Everyone has a right to their opinion, it doesn’t mean it’s right.” I wanted to have a learning moment with Mimi, I wanted her to know that if I worry about what people think about me, it will hold me back. I explained to her that you can’t let the haters bring you down. We didn’t tell Del until we left because he would have wanted to fight. I mean, me sitting there and finishing my meal, that was winning the fight.
D: [Agreeing that he would have had some strong words for the rude woman commenting on their family] We stick out in this town. The girls are half Mexican and half Black and the baby is blonde with green eyes.
How important is diversity in raising children, aside from the ethnic makeup of your children, how does that show up in your lives?
R: It’s super important for us but what we’ve learned diversity isn’t the issue for us. It’s a thing that we’ve been blessed to take on the responsibility of — showing the world that this [our family diversity] is the new normal. When we talk about it, it’s more around how the world isn’t used to seeing us.
In light of Juneteenth just being recognized as a national holiday at the same time that elected officials are trying to stop conversations on race from happening in schools — what’s your reaction to that? Do you want your children learning and hearing about race in America in their classrooms?
D: I feel like it should be talked about, if we’re not talking about it, we’re not doing anything but throwing a blanket over it. This is important. You can’t just not talk about race. Race involves culture and how people live together and how people are treated — so to say that we’re not going to talk about it because there’s negative spin is just ignorant. Yes, it’s terrible [much of America’s race-based history], but it’s necessary.
We’ve touched on race, how to handle ignorance and how diversity shows up in your family. But what about outside of your household? Ryan, would you share with qnotes readers a little on how inclusion shows up in your professional life?
R: In five years I’d love to see myself in a more HR oriented position with Microsoft, doing more Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) work. I’m not trying to hold my team back, if they’re not successful I’m not. So I feel like I’m successful in walking the walk when it comes to diversity and inclusion. We’re diverse. Not just in race, but age, sexuality and gender identity and I’m proud of my team. When the “bathroom bill” was in place, we started doing Pride events at my retail location. I wrote a letter to HR and told them I’m not hosting a Pride event until you take men and women [signs] off the bathrooms. Within three weeks every store in the U. S. and Canada got new bathroom signs. Now, the signs [on the] restrooms have no male/female symbols and the same amenities exist in all restrooms. There’s also the family restroom, a single restroom where mothers can breast feed, change babies or folks take care of any specific hormone routines they need to take care of in private. We highlight gender-neutral bathrooms when we do tours with high school students and we encourage them to ask people their pronouns. I did all this in my store before it became policy.
Sounds like a great place to work.
R: It is. Our company allows us to create our own culture within our teams — unlike any other hub. We can be ourselves and I’ve built a family culture within my team – we assist each other [with issues outside of work]. If you need to move or get out of a dysfunctional situation, I can call a team member and we’ll help you move or find you a safe place to stay.
As a career professional, what advice do you have for parents seeking to balance their careers with child rearing?
R: I remember going through foster parenting training and being told how we need to make it about us, as individual[s] and as a couple. So, if you’re that person who enjoys getting your toes done and decide that when you have kids you’re not gonna’ do that anymore, you’re setting yourself up for failing.
How do you make time to keep your relationship fresh while working and parenting?
R: Date nights. Three weeks ago, we went to a drag brunch in Dilworth.
D: But sometimes it’s at home and our outside space, our girls hate bugs, so we spend time outside, gardening and enjoying each other.
Is there anything else either of you would like qnotes readers to know about you, your family, or your lives together?
D: I hope readers find comfort in reading about us. To say that we’re a normal family like everyone else — deprives us of how special we really are because being in a same-sex marriage is special, but it’s just an ingredient in what makes our family recipe.
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