University of Nebraska-Lincoln
$5,000 Scholarship and Hearst Medallion
STORY INTRO: How can we define the term 'family?' Through the years, the concept has evolved from the traditional, nuclear family unit of mother, father and child, and graduated into a broader interpretation. Family can be any group of people who have developed a sense of intimacy, love and support among each other. Families, no matter how different, offer the same comforts of guidance and care. San Francisco boasts a rich diversity of familial lifestyles, ones promoting inclusion and open-mindedness. Robbie McMillan and Marcus Keller have been together for 17 blissful years and married for three of them. Although they were happy with one another, they knew they were missing something they wanted dearly: a daughter. "We needed some female energy in the house," Robbie joked. And so began the search for their next beloved addition to their family. After a year and a half of extensive classes and background checks, they finally met her in June of 2013, when she was only three months old. When they saw her big brown eyes peering up at them, they just knew she was what they had been searching for: sweet Apple. "We actually met at a Starbucks," Robbie laughed. "We showed up with an empty carseat, and left with a full one." Apple was a ward of the court and a part of the foster-adopt system of San Francisco; her mother suffered from drug addiction and schizophrenia, mostly living on the streets aside from brief bouts in shelters, where she received some prenatal care. In fact, before Robbie and Marcus met Apple, they were told she was HIV positive. They were prepared to love and care for regardless, unconditionally. Fortunately, though, it turns out she is not HIV positive. She has since grown into an intelligent and rambunctious 4-year-old, with tight brown curls and a nearly permanent smile. Robbie and Marcus felt they would be ideal fathers for Apple. Robbie is white, and Marcus is African-American. Apple was born biracial, so she fits in well. They recognized the importance of her growing up with a dad who looks like her. "There are a lot of children of color in the system that need foster care or adoption," Robbie explained. "And there are fewer potential parents of color." This essay explores the lifestyle of one of San Francisco's many diverse family units, a family who hopes to impart to the world a quintessential example of a same-sex, interracial couple adopting a child from the foster care system and raising her in a loving environment. In a society that still holds prejudices against nontraditional family units, Robbie, Marcus and Apple are shining a light.
CAPTION: Marcus Keller (left), Robbie McMillan (right) and their daughter Apple ascend the hill outside their home, en route to drop Apple off at preschool on May 30, 2017 in San Francisco, California. "Apple is the only student in her school of 32 children with two dads. She asked about her mom because she is in a world full of people with moms and dads," Robbie explained. "But it's a challenge that is able to be worked through. We balance it by having great women around her in her life." They wish they could tell Apple more about her mother, but she stopped showing up to visitations and has since fallen out of touch.
Apple Larue Keller-McMillan is four years old. Her best qualities, as described by her dads, are her "outrageous outgoingness" and ability to love other people without reservation. In their wildest dreams, Marcus and Robbie only wish for her to live a fulfilled life. "We don't have any expectation for her being any one specific thing in life, but we absolutely want to instill in her to be happy, to give all her life to the things she cares about the most. We tell her, 'don't forget about other people,'" Robbie said.
Marcus and Robbie kiss Apple goodbye for the day, as they head to work and she attends preschool. She is currently going through a phase where goodbyes are tough, and she demands excessive hugs, kisses and high-fives before the inevitable departure. As they stroll back to the car, they hear a chorus of "daddies" from the schoolyard.
Robbie stirs Apple awake for school around 7 a.m. each day. He starts by rubbing her head and back, and then switches on the lamp and opens her blinds. "She is a good sleeper. I can set off the fire alarm while cooking and she will sleep right through it," Marcus said. "She is a picky eater, but we would take that over being a restless sleeper any day." Some nights, Apple will crawl into their bed around 2 a.m. and snuggle between them.
Marcus carries a sleepy Apple to her drawer, where she will pick out her outfit for the day on May 30, 2017 in San Francisco, California.
Apple wipes her nose on Marcus' t-shirt as he prepares for her a spoonful of honey to ease her cough on May 30, 2017 in San Francisco, California.
Robbie, Marcus and Apple (left to right) enjoy a breakfast smoothie made by Apple and Robbie on May 30, 2017 in San Francisco, California. This is part of their morning routine.
Apple sits upon her throne in her princess dress, attempting to go to the bathroom on May 30, 2017 in San Francisco, California.
Robbie combs through Apple's hair after her bath while Marcus prepares dinner on May 30, 2017 in San Francisco, California. Marcus is the usual cook, while Robbie prepares Apple for bedtime. As a married couple, Marcus and Robbie are sure to divide their tasks evenly.
Apple dances to the song "You're Welcome" from the Disney movie "Moana" soundtrack while Marcus prepares dinner. It is a family favorite movie because it encourages young girls to be brave, independent women, as opposed to princesses who need to be saved by a man. (This mindset, though, hasn't squelched Apple's interest in sporting a dress and crown.)
Marcus sets the table for dinner as Robbie plays with Apple in the dining room on May 30, 2017 in San Francisco, California. In response to the people who are against LGBT couples fostering or adopting children, Robbie asks, "Would you step up and give a happy home to the child a gay couple could? It would help the world to have more adults on the planet to take care of all the kids who need it."
Robbie, Apple and Marcus play with Legos after dinner. Spending time together and playing is an important part of their family dynamic. "The most challenging part of raising a child in San Francisco is the devotion of time and money," Robbie explained. "I'd love to just move to some field and play with Apple all day, but we have to work. San Francisco is an expensive place to live."
Marcus, Apple and Robbie lie on couch and watch TV after dinner, winding down for the night. This, too, is another family tradition.
Robbie and Marcus swing Apple from their hands at her preschool on May 30, 2017. "Life pre-Apple..." Robbie began, eyes welling with tears. "It's almost as if we don't remember life before her. We can't imagine life without her. It makes me weepy just thinking about it. I don't know if there's anyone in life that can have that kind of impact."
There's no place like home -- Outside the many new start-ups of SoMA, transient "tent cities" dominate the sidewalks. People who cannot afford the rising cost of housing in San Francisco pitch their makeshift homes in rows dotting the cement-- a stark contrast to the wealthy tech industries popping up in the very buildings the tents border. Here, a pedestrian engrossed in her cell phone passes by two tent homes. Every so often, the city law enforcement will force them to move, sometimes erecting metal fences on the sidewalk to prevent more tents from moving in.