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One Dad Details How His Son's Sweet Adoption Story Inspired Change

·3-min read
ROLLOUT family issue
ROLLOUT family issue

Corderro Ashton / CD Ashton Photography

David Marshall recalls clearly the first informational adoption meeting he attended in January 2015.

"It was daunting," says the 42-year-old former opera singer from Edgemere, Maryland, who, as a single gay man, did not match the agency's usual clientele. "Sitting in a sea of heterosexual couples, I thought, 'It's just me here.' "

For Marshall, the road to adoption turned out to be fairly typical — two years of waiting punctuated by agonizing doubt, until one day in March 2017 when the phone rang.

"They said, 'We have a 2-week-old boy who needs a daddy,' " he tells PEOPLE in this week's Family Issue. "I just lost it."

Today, in addition to raising his now 5-year-old son, "the joy of my life," Marshall runs a nonprofit named in his honor — Journey to Josiah (journeytojosiah.org) — which helps others (predominately Black members of the LGBTQ+  community) undertake the complicated, sometimes lonely process.

"People wanted to know how I did it," he says of his initial motivation. "One gay couple told me they didn't know it was legal. I thought to myself, 'There's bigger work here to do.' "

Through Journey to Josiah, Marshall offers prospective parents free advice on matching with agencies, navigating the foster care system, applying for grants to defray costs, handling the emotional ups and downs and more.

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courtesy david MArshal

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"I was blessed to be able to adopt, so now I need to educate others," says Marshall. "It's about passing on your blessings to others."

One couple, Shannon Hayes and his husband, Robert Jones, both 44, say Marshall offers far more than practical guidance.

"He gives us hope. He's the same as us," says Hayes. "When we get the call, we'll be prepared."

Growing up in Edgemere, Marshall always remembers wanting to be a dad. "I had two major dreams in life," he says. "One, to be an opera singer, and the other, to be a father."

He always felt he could achieve the first, and did, performing primarily with companies in New York before returning to Maryland to teach and coach voice. But becoming a dad felt less certain until January 2015, when he connected with his adoption agency.

For more on PEOPLE's 2022 Family Issue, listen below to our daily podcast PEOPLE Every Day.

"I knew I was ready. It was this internal thing inside of me that was just like, 'I have got to be a dad right now,' " he recalls. "It just couldn't wait anymore."

As the months turned into over a year wait for his son, Marshall grew concerned that a baby would not be placed with him because he was gay.

"My social worker said, 'Your child has not arrived yet,' " he recalls, "'but your child is on the way.' "

Upon meeting baby Josiah for the first time in April 2017, "I was so instantly in love," Marshall says. "Head over heels in love with him."

"It just was," he adds, "like we knew we belonged to one another."

And it is a love he wishes many more can experience. "By seeing me adopt," he says, "others now know they can do it too.''

For more on David Marshall's story, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here.