Les Sewell and Jarrod Scarbrough
As a child, Les Sewell’s sister Sheri promised she would someday give him and his soul mate, Jarrod Scarbrough, a baby. As a woman, she kept her promise. Today, a sister’s unconditional love is On Our Radar.
Les Sewell and Jarrod Scarbrough were friends before they were lovers. They met when Les was 22 and Jarrod was barely 20, in those years where males are still part boy and part man. Jarrod was nursing bruises from a relationship in a death spiral, and Les gave him a place to stay and a space to mend. There was an instant bond of friendship between the two, but it wasn’t until months later, in the wee small hours of the morning,that they first spoke of their growing feelings for one another. Because they were never allowed to legally marry, they celebrate that first day in October, the date on which they first revealed their hearts to one another, as their anniversary. I think they have earned that right. It is now 20 years later, and they are still whispering together in the dark.
Their families took the news of their romantic relationship like so many families with gay members do. Some were supportive. Some were definitely not. Most tried to be positive and to hide any misgivings they may have felt, at least when Les and Jarrod were in the room. But there was one family member who had no hesitation about where she stood. Sheri, Les’ 12-year-old sister, the youngest of the four sibling in the Sewell family, loved her big brother, and if Les loved Jarrod, she would open her heart to him too.
It is easy to imagine the kind of things a 12-year-old “fly on the wall” might have heard, back then. People underestimate how much children comprehend. Did some of the regrets her parents privately expressed plant seeds of worry in her mind? Did she overhear their concern that being an openly gay couple would make Les and Jarrod targets of Fundamentalist hatred? Did they voice their sadness that Les, with an affable, patient nature that made him seem born for the role of dad, might never have children? Who knows how much of the family conversation swirled into young Sheri’s sphere of consciousness?
What I do know is that when Les and Jarrod announced their commitment to one another, Sheri tried to rescue her big brother from the sad fate the grown-ups feared he now faced. But what can a 12-year-old do to make the world a better place for gay couples? She couldn’t stop the hatred. She couldn’t change the laws. But young Sheri was not without a plan. Her big brown eyes filled with love, Sheri promised that someday, when she was grown, she would have a baby for Les and Jarrod. She would save them from that lonely, childless future the grown-ups feared.
But life so rarely goes as planned, and a decade later, it was Sheri who needed her big brother and Jarrod to save her. She was, by then, the same age as the men were when they had first met, part woman, part child, and she was mother to a beautiful brown-eyed baby girl named Kristine. Les and Jarrod didn’t hesitate; they gave mother and baby a place to stay, and space to figure out her future. Without hesitation, Les and Jarrod jumped into the role of hands-on uncles, helping Sheri to raise her beautiful baby, who looked so much like her Mama.
As Sheri watched the men fall in love with little Kris, she couldn’t fail to see that they were meant to be fathers. With Kris in it, their house was always filled with laughter. Sheri must have carried in her heart the burden of what a great loss it would certainly be, when the time came for her to leave with little Kris. So, just as she had once surprised them with such a selfless offer as a child, Sheri surprised them again. “Remember when I told you someday I would carry a baby for you?” She began.
Les and Jarrod were stunned. They had no inkling that she had even been considering such a wild and crazy, yet completely wonderful idea. They struggled just to get their minds around the possibility. But Sheri had been making this plan since she was 12 years old. She told them she would use her own egg, and Jarrod would be the biological father. That way, the baby would carry Jarrod’s DNA, and because she and Les shared their genetic traits, the baby would be a part of the Sewell family too.
The dads-in-waiting were able to share the nine long months of her pregnancy with Sheri, at least as much as any father can. Les accompanied Sheri to all of her doctor’s appointments, and both men paced the Emergency Room corridor for many an anxious hour when a health scare near the end of her term threatened the pregnancy.
Les and Jarrod spent those months of waiting with little else on their minds. Suddenly all their extra cash went to pink outfits and Hungry Caterpillar books. Together they assembled a white Jenny Lind crib, with its elegant spindle rails, perfect for a princess. After hours of pouring over books of baby names, they picked out the perfect one – Alegra, which means “joyful”. Jarrod said they chose it because that was how they envisioned their future family – joyful. When Sheri finally went into labor, the nursery had been finished for a month, and the dads-to-be had laid away a year’s worth of clothes. The night Alegra chose to make her debut, Les went with Sheri to the hospital, and Jarrod raced to the delivery room just in time to cut the cord.
Les and Jarrod were now Daddie and Papa.
The new dads spent their first night of parenthood taking turns at the side of their new daughter’s isolette. Les says he remembers being in awe of how small Alegra was. He recalls though, that her helplessness didn’t worry him, or cause him to doubt the wisdom of their decision. It made him want to take her home and get on with the business of being her dad.
The second day, they took Alegra home; home to the nursery they had so lovingly prepared, but now discovered couldn’t bring themselves to use. They could not bear to be separated from that precious sleeping bundle. They needed to be able to hear her breathing. To reach out and stroke her dark silky hair. To breathe in her baby smell. To touch her tiny foot, or the miniature fingers of her curled fist as she slept, reassuring themselves that she was not an apparition. This was not just some wonderful dream that would fade with the dawn. This was their daughter, and they could not be parted from her.
That night Alegra slept between her fathers. That would be her place for the next two years.
It has been a decade now since Sheri gave Les and Jarrod the gift of a family. Les has been a full time parent to Alegra, who is by all accounts bright and happy – joyful, like her name. She’s a jokester, like her dads, and they’ve instilled in her a love of books and music. The dads say she has a “passion for singing”, that life with Alegra is like living in a musical; she sings from morning til night.
Always on the front lines of the fight for LGBT equality, Jarrod discovered that becoming a parent made him even more determined to change the world into a more gentle, accepting place for his daughter. The dads will often bring Alegra with them on marches for marriage equality, where she happily waves a rainbow flag or holds high a sign to show her love for her dads. It is hard to find a photo of Alegra where she isn’t smiling, and there’s always a sparkle in her big brown eyes, so like her mother’s.
Alegra knows the story of her birth. In the wonderful way modern families have of working these things out, she calls Sheri “Aunt” and thinks of Kristine as a sister. When her dads held a commitment ceremony during Pride Week a few years ago, Alegra was the ring bearer. It is the hope of the family that someday soon they reprise that ceremony, complete with a marriage license.
I asked Les and Jarrod what they want the world to know about Sheri’s selfless gift to them.
“What my sister gave us changed our lives.” Les told me. “We can’t tell her thank you enough. She truly did something extraordinary and special. When people ask me about our family, they always talk about what an incredible person my sister is. I couldn’t agree more.”
“Every single day, I face a reminder of the amazing and incredible gift Sheri gave us.” Jarrod added. “We are forever grateful for this gift. Without her kind heart, Father’s Day would be just another day for the both of us.”
As a child, Sheri promised she would someday give her big brother, Les Sewell, and his soul mate, Jarrod Scarbrough, a child to love. As a woman, she fulfilled that childhood promise. Today, Father’s Day, we stand in awe of her example of unconditional love.
Jean Ann Esselink is a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle.
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