They cannot have children naturally, but they wanted to start a family. Fifty-seven-year-old lawyer Ivo and his partner, forty-two-year-old civil servant Jakub, therefore decided on foster care, which was practically the only option for them. Now they are raising two Roma boys – five-year-old Milan and eight-year-old Dominik.
Most of the living room in a family apartment in one of Prague’s housing estates is occupied by a large salmon sofa, above which colorful abstract paintings hang. There is a large candle on the table, which five-year-old Milan and eight-year-old Dominik like to light.
“Do you want to see our little room?” the boys ask the Aktuálně.cz reporters and take them to the next room. “I sleep here and my brother sleeps here,” explains Dominik, pointing to the massive bunk bed. The boys address each other as siblings, even though they do not have the same biological parents.
Jakub and Ive first got custody of Milan, and after two and a half years Dominik was also entrusted to them. When they came to the new family, neither of them was even a year old. The foster parents say that on that day the boys were born in their hearts and they celebrate it like a regular birthday.
Eight-year-old Dominik and five-year-old Milan. | Photo: Jakub Plíhal
In order to distinguish their fathers, the children invented nicknames for them. “Ivo is dad, and we call Kuba dad. Dad is a bigger dad, and dad is more Mr. Mom or Mrs. Mom, I don’t know,” laughs Milan. Both foster parents are patient and approach the boys completely openly. “We want them to know the truth, so that they are not surprised by anything,” says Ivo.
Meetings with the boys’ biological parents, which are scheduled twice a year, are also related to this. “It is not always possible to make contact. We have not seen Milan’s mother for two years,” the foster parents explain the situation. But children know their biological parents and siblings. According to Jakub and Ive, boys need to know where they come from and what their mother looks like. “In adolescence, they might tell us that they didn’t like it, but at least we know that we didn’t hide anything from them. We want them to know everything and not be ashamed of it,” explains Jakub.
| Photo: Jakub Plíhal
Ivo describes love for children as something indescribable. He compares it to the chemistry that develops between partners when they get to know each other. “Sometimes it can happen that it doesn’t work out right away. Someone falls in love immediately and the other half struggles with it for a while. They don’t know if this is the right one. And then it just happens. It’s the same with children,” she says .
Children often enter the stories of their foster parents. For example, when reporters ask how long Ivo and Kuba have been together. At that moment, Milan reports as if he were at school, jumping and screaming. “I don’t really know now, about ten years,” replies Milan when Jakub challenges him to answer. “It will be fourteen years already,” Ivo corrects him.
At the beginning of the relationship, Ivo and Jakub dealt with other things than children. Over time, however, they began to live together and, according to them, grew old. “My partner is older and I took it a little differently than he did. At the time, family was not a priority for me, but in the end we came to the conclusion that this move could move us somewhere, and we started to find out what the possibilities are,” he explains Jakub, while playing with Dominik a pexeso to distract him.
Their path was not always easy. They all experienced difficult times before they found a way to work together. The mothers abandoned the boys a few days after their birth. That’s when they experienced their first loss and subsequently went to a nursing home. Then they were taken over by short-term foster parents.
“In their first year of life, they experienced as many losses as I experienced in my 20s. In Milan, I saw from the beginning how he was looking at us, how he was looking at us. He didn’t know if he would stay with us or if we were another transit station. That it was the same with Dominik. We groped each other,” Jakub describes their first moments. From the beginning, according to their words, there was noticeable shyness and caution on both sides, but at the same time sincerity and warmth.
At first, the boys visited their foster mothers, got to know each other and sometimes ate together. “I was throwing the food off the plate,” shouts Dominik. During the adaptation process, Jakub had doubts about whether they could handle everything. “It was very emotional for me. He was another person with whom we have to share a household, we have to adapt to him and find compromises,” he says.
Over time, they fell in love with each other. After another two and a half years, they got custody of Dominik. “He broke everything we had built for two years, all our efforts. He came and was completely different from Milan, so we had to start all over again,” explains Jakub. But Ivo never doubted.
Before applying for foster care, they had to be clear about what kind of child they could care for. Thanks to the previous preparation, which lasted half a year, they came to the opinion that they are able to accept a healthy child with a slight handicap, such as an eye or hearing defect.
“An eye defect isn’t a bad thing, you just have to put on your glasses,” calls Milan to his “new parents” from the next table. They both nod with a smile. In addition, they were also open to children from various minorities. “We took it in the way that, as gays, we are a minority and we will not mind a child who belongs to another minority,” explains Ivo.
However, they would not dare to take care of a child with a severe physical or mental disability. “We wanted the youngest child possible, up to one year at the most. The gender didn’t matter at all, but we rather wanted boys, because after all we don’t have a female element and we didn’t want to deprive the little girl of that. But it’s not like foster parents choose from a catalogue, ” describes the process of assigning children to Ivo.
Ivo and his life partner Jakub with two children they have in foster care. | Photo: Jakub Plíhal
“Everyone doesn’t like that we have Roma children in our care, but we have to accept it as it is. We just don’t talk about it with people, because it’s not worth explaining anything to them. They don’t want to hear it, they have their own attitudes and opinions, but they have to respect , that our decision was like that,” recounts Jakub.
Both foster parents have an open approach. For example, at all the first meetings at school, whether with parents or teachers, they honestly say that the boys are being raised by two daddies.
“We present ourselves openly, although sometimes it’s not entirely comfortable for me, but for the sake of the children, I try to suppress it. People then don’t have as much space and the need to invent some fantasies. We leave it to them to deal with it, and either they accept us as, what we are, or not,” explains Jakub.
Although they have been registered partners for several years, only one of them could have custody of the children. In their case it was Jakub. But that meant that Ivo was officially a stranger to the boys, even though they have just as strong a relationship with him as they do with Jakub. For example, in the hospital, they would not be able to tell him any information about the children.
Foster care is a form of substitute family care in which a foster parent takes care of a child and is responsible for its upbringing. From a legal point of view, however, there is no such relationship between a foster parent and a child as there is between a parent and a child. The foster parent has the right to represent the child and manage his affairs only in ordinary matters and has no maintenance obligation towards the child. In order to carry out extraordinary matters, for example processing a travel document, they must request the consent of the child’s legal representative, or the court.
Children placed in foster care usually know their biological parents. Foster parents have an obligation to allow contact between the parents and the child in foster care, unless the court decides otherwise.
They therefore decided to ask the court to become foster parents for both of them. He complied with them. Even now, they cannot have joint custody of their children as in the case of spouses, but they are now in the custody of one and the other. “After that came guardianship, so we got parental rights to both boys. This decision made our lives a lot easier,” says Ivo.
In the future, they also want to adopt the boys, but they cannot become adoptive parents until they are married. They have no choice but to wait if marriage for all is enacted, which is currently being debated in the Chamber of Deputies. “We want the boys to have the same certainty as children in biological families, to know that we will not postpone them at eighteen. If the law does not pass, we are considering going the legal route again,” adds Ivo.