“We were just in shock,” says Lowe, 54, about the June 12 attack that killed Melendez’s close friends Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50, and Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35.
“All of a sudden, there was this cloud of fear and uncertainty and disbelief,” he says.
Adds Melendez, who became close friends with Velazquez when he moved to the U.S. from Puerto Rico in 1997: “They were such loving, wonderful people.”
On Fathers Day, the couple had planned to barbecue and run through the sprinkler in the backyard of their Orlando home with Robert, 6, and Jacob, 3, whom the couple has fostered since 2012. Instead, Lowe, who owns Lowe and Behold, an Orlando-based event floral design company, spent the day making floral wreaths for a memorial service the city of Orlando held for the victims.
“We wanted to do anything we could to help,” says Lowe.
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While they mourned the loss of their friends and the others who died, they continued to quietly worry whether their plans to adopt the boys would indeed become official on August 11, when they were expected in court for a formal hearing.
Lowe says that during the adoption process, “A lot can happen, so we were biding our time.”
‘Always Dreamed of Having a Family’
Lowe and Melendez, 51, a performer at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, wed on January 16, 2015, ten days after Florida legalized same-sex unions.
Since they had “always dreamed of having a family,” says Lowe, they set out to get their license to become foster parents in January 2012 and began caring for the brothers that October, when Robert was two and Jacob was 12 days old.
When Robert, who loves playing soccer and wants to compete one day on his favorite show, American Ninja Warrior, arrived at his new foster home, “he came in and ate a whole tray of cookies we had baked for him, before heading into the backyard where we played ball,” says Lowe. “He was running around laughing and having the best time. He’s a little doll.”
Jacob, who loves to garden with Melendez with his own tot-sized gardening gloves and gardening tools, “was this tiny little lamb when we got him,” adds Lowe. “He was just under six pounds and so frail.”
With the arrival of children, life as the couple knew it changed dramatically. “We went from two men with a well-manicured house where everything had to be perfect, to two men with a loving home where as long as the children are comfortable, that’s all that matters,” says Lowe.
“Art work is hanging all over my kitchen cabinets. Toys are all over the house. I won’t even count how many Legos I have stepped on in my lifetime now.
“When you have children, your house becomes a home. We are so blessed.”
Melendez says Jacob loves to follow him wherever he goes in the house. “He is always there, right next to me,” he says. “Last Christmas, somebody gave him a toy vacuum cleaner, which makes noise. It won out over all the other toys. Every time I vacuum, he is vacuuming right behind me. It’s so cute.
“We just love them so much,” he says.
After Tragedy, a Pleasant Surprise
On Tuesday night, their worries about adopting the boys evaporated when their attorney emailed them that a judge had an opening in her schedule and would be able to hold the adoption hearing the following morning – two months earlier than they had expected.
“When the attorney asked if we would be able to make it, I said, ‘Yes, yes, yes!” says Lowe.
After the formal adoption hearing on Wednesday, with all four decked out in their Sunday best, they celebrated at one of the boys’ favorite hangouts: Chuck E. Cheese. “We were all so happy,” says Melendez.
Lowe and Melendez explained the adoption to the boys, saying, “We were chosen to help care for you when your family needed help, and now this is your forever home.”
“Robert yelled ‘Awesome!’ says Lowe. “They had been living with us for so long and were already so well-adjusted.”
The two dads also told them that they had a new last name: Lowe-Melendez. “When I saw the way Robert looked at me, I almost had a heart attack,” says Lowe. “I said, ‘Oh, you don t like it.’ He was kind of gritting his teeth and his mouth was all stretched out, like, ‘Errrr ” and he said, “Oh, Daddy, that s a lot of letters.”
Both dads said they had the “best night’s sleep” on Wednesday “for the first time in three years and nine months now that everything has been finalized,” says Melendez.
The timing on the hearing couldn t have come at a better time, either.
“We needed something positive going on right now,” says Melendez. “This happened at just the right moment.”
Adds Lowe: “I think God has His hand behind this to bring a little joy after such a dark period in the last week or so.
“I have seen light come out of the darkness after all of this,” he says. “The light to me has been the whole community embracing and loving one another. I hope we can show the world that love conquers all.”
It certainly does in the Lowe-Melendez household.
“People tell me the boys are so lucky, but we are the lucky ones,” says Lowe. “The best is when they say, ‘I love you, Daddy.'”