Melbourne university student Grace has two gay dads and one mum.
Growing up in this “modern Australian family”, she spends one week with her dads, Anthony and Chris, and the next with her mum, Jane.
“Grace is the real benefit here,” Anthony tells 7Life.
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“She gets each of us with 100 per cent of our batteries charged.”
While on paper it may seem like the parenting trio have nothing but differences, they are in fact the very best of friends.
“Every birthday, every Christmas, every crisis – we are all here for Grace,” Chris smiles.
It takes a village
After 14 years of marriage, Anthony and Jane divorced amicably.
With their beloved Grace to consider, the pair vowed to put their marriage breakdown aside and make their daughter their top priority.
“Jane and I made the decision that, no matter what our feelings were, Grace would always come first,” Anthony says.
So, their daughter spent half her time with her mum and the other half with her dad – and all the while, Jane and Anthony remained close friends.
But two years later, Anthony met Chris at the gym – the romantic spark catching both men off guard.
Neither Chris nor Anthony was openly gay.
“I was confused for 30 years,” Chris shares about his sexuality.
Anthony was also coming to terms with his new-found attraction to Chris.
The couple entered a romantic relationship and both slowly came out to their nearest and dearest.
Anthony recalls the moment he nervously introduced his new boyfriend to his ex-wife.
“Jane welcomed Chris with open arms. She instantly brought him into the fold,” he says.
Chris also remembers the angst of introducing his male partner to his large Greek family.
“I remember my first Christmas, my family were just coming to terms with me coming out just a few months before,” he explains.
“I was like, ‘This is my boyfriend Anthony, his daughter Grace, oh and his ex-wife, Jane’.”
Despite their apprehension, Chris and Anthony were warmly embraced – and Chris was instantly welcomed as a co-parent to Grace.
For her part, the youngster beamed with delight over her “two dads.”
“Grace and I would strut down the aisles of the supermarket like supermodels,” Chris smiles.
Anthony adds: “There was so much change for Grace. First mum and dad split up and now dad has a new boyfriend. It was a lot.”
Like any family, the blended unit had ups and downs – with Grace often trying to sway the parenting situation in her favour.
“There was a lot of, ‘Well, mum said I could do that’ sort of thing,” Anthony says.
“But because we are so close, I would just call up Jane and ask her.”
Before long, Grace understood the parenting dynamic – and was proud to claim Chris as her “other” father.
Two dads, one mum
For her early education, the parents opted to place her in a “progressive school” where other children also engendered diverse family units.
“It was great. She wasn’t the only one at school with two gay dads,” Anthony says.
But as Grace grew older, she began meeting people outside her “bubble” who had conflicting opinions on her home-life situation.
“We realized that this sort of support doesn’t exist all over Australia, and even all over the world,” Anthony says.
Seeing Grace come home with questions about the family unit deeply resonated with her two dads.
Having kept their sexuality secret for so long, for fear of ridicule and rejection, both men had experienced bullying growing up.
“Chris was teased because he was fat, I was teased because I was too skinny,” Anthony reveals, adding he endured three years of name calling because he wore a back brace for scoliosis.
But for Chris, the bullying went far deeper.
Every day at lunch, school bullies would consistently throw cruel jibes, including branding him fat and a nerd.
The constant taunting built ever up in Chris’ mind and, as a teenager, he became suicidal.
The trauma of his adolescence remained with him well into adulthood.
One day, he was triggered at work and the playground trauma resurfaced.
He was recently diagnosed with PTSD as a result.
“Bullying starts because of differences and labels,” Anthony says.
making a difference
Luckily for Grace, she didn’t share the same experience, although some of her friends did.
During COVID-19 lockdowns, feelings of isolation among her cohort grew.
“Grace was telling us how people were going,” Anthony says, adding that the parents were horrified to hear her speak of her peers’ experiences with anxiety and depression.
The men couldn’t bear the thought of any child suffering through feelings similar to their own at that age.
According to research by social analyst company McCrindle, three in five students have reported bullying – a statistic the fathers just can’t fathom.
So they wanted to try to make a significant contribution towards youth suicide awareness and prevention programs.
They decided to launch a non-for-profit skincare company – and give 100 per cent of the profits to the cause.
“We want to celebrate everyone’s differences and embrace them,” Chris says.
“The more you expose people to differences, the less confronting it becomes.
“And we want kids to be proud of who they are, and their own differences.”
As the pair began early work for the project, they turned to Grace for inspiration.
“Grace said, ‘Dad if I want to kiss a girl I want to kiss a girl, if I want to kiss a boy I want to kiss a boy, and I don’t people to label me,’” Anthony says.
So the idea of naming the brand Unlabelled was born.
Everything for the products is sourced and made in Melbourne.
All profits from every purchase of Unlabelled go directly to one of Anthony and Chris’ four chosen charities: Headspace, Kids Helpline, the Black Dog Institute or Qlife.
Journey isn’t over
Chris and Anthony hope their not-for-profit work, and their personal story, will help others embrace ways of life that might be different from their own.
After all, they say, Grace, her mum and her two dads aren’t that different from every other Aussie family.
From their family group chats, to dinner once a fortnight, Jane, Anthony and Chris will always share one thing in common – their immense love for their daughter.
If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondblue on 1300224636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.
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