It Takes A Family

At heart, we can all be parents, even those of us who don't expect to be.

Photograph via Shutterstock. Photograph by Shutterstock. Photograph by Shutterstock. Photograph via Shutterstock. Photograph by Shutterstock. Photograph via Shutterstock. Photograph by Shutterstock. Photograph by Shutterstock. Photograph by Kip Dawkins. Photograph courtesy of Grooming Lounge. Photograph by Kate Warren. Photograph via Shutterstock. Photograph by Shutterstock. Photograph via Shutterstock. Photograph by Shutterstock. Illustration by Ted Slampyak. Kelly Rogers Hale in the water teaching her swim-float-swim technique devoid of flotation devices. Photograph by Kelly Rogers Hale. Andre, Lily, David, Jasmine, Charles, and Lucas in the family room of their Glover Park home. Photograph by Kate Warren.

When Charles DeSantis and David McDermott went on their first date three years ago, the earth shook.

“It was the day of the Virginia earthquake,” explains DeSantis, and likely a sign of the greater life shift to come. By date number two, McDermott, an affable 43-year-old with a gentle, patient smile, was asking why DeSantis, an associate vice president and chief benefits officer at Georgetown University, had a child’s nursery in his tiny Georgetown carriage house. “I explained that as part of my license as an adoptive parent-to-be I needed to have accommodations ready.”

DeSantis, an outgoing and determined Renaissance man (he has written two books, paints, and also started an art school for orphans in Africa), had begun the lengthy adoptive-parent approval process several months earlier, long before he met McDermott. “It wasn’t necessarily my plan to bring up the conversation of adopting kids that early in the relationship,” says DeSantis, 45. “But it was part of who I was and what I was going through, so I had nothing to hide.” Luckily, McDermott didn’t back away; he wanted children, too.

The couple quickly fell in love and started to get serious. Eight months after meeting, they got a call; not one, but two young boys needed an adoptive home. “Charles asked me what I thought,” says McDermott of the unexpected twist. “I said we didn’t know what it was like to have one, so what did it matter if we had two.” They took a leap of faith and brought home Lucas, who was then four, and his brother, Andre, then nearly two. Almost immediately, the family clicked. “I loved it all, even the hard spots,” says DeSantis.

The foursome settled in, but not for long. In February 2013, DeSantis was away on a work immersion trip in El Salvador.

“I got a call from David, asking me to call him immediately; he said five-month-old twin girls were coming that evening.” (The girls are biological siblings of the boys.) DeSantis panicked; McDermott was home alone, the girls were tiny and in need of urgent care, and he still had five days left in Central America. “David told me he could do it, he told me we could do it.”

At McDermott’s urging, DeSantis finished out his trip. “When I left we had two kids; when I came home we had four.”

Asked how he coped, if he had some intuitive “parenthood” gene that equipped him with knowledge, McDermott smiles and says, “Google. I Googled anything I didn’t know how to do and found the answer.”

On March 27, 2013, the family went to court to legally adopt the boys, who are now six and four. Then the judge stepped down from the bench and married DeSantis and McDermott. Exactly one year later, they had the adoption ceremony for the girls, Lily and Jasmine, now 21 months. “Now we celebrate our adoptions and our wedding anniversary on the same day,” says McDermott, who owns and operates Air Clean N Sheen, which provides housekeeping services for short-term rental properties.

The family has moved to a bigger house, bought a bigger car, and invested in the kids’ futures. “We went from disposable income and lots of dinners out and trips, to disposable diapers and trips to the park,” says DeSantis, laughing at the irony, and the good fortune. The children are lovable, happy, well-adjusted, and healthy. When they need either parent, they ask for “Daddy!” and one comes to his or her aid—otherwise they go with “Daddy David” and “Daddy Charles.”

“We’re both moms and we’re both dads,” says McDermott. “At the end of the story, it wasn’t just that they found us or we found them. We found each other.”