Jerry Windle didn’t think he could ever be a father.

Family isn’t always the one you were born into. Blended, adoptive, and chosen families can be just as important in terms of your growth and relationships. And often, these untraditional family units can be particularly special and meaningful in a person’s life.

That’s true for this father-son duo. They found each other in an unconventional way and proved to everyone that families can be more than one thing.

An Aspiring Father

father hugging his son

Years ago, Jerry Windle didn’t think fatherhood was in the cards for him. Sure, he wanted to be a dad, but as a single gay man in the 1990s, he didn’t believe it was possible.

“I got a little bit sad and depressed about the fact that I could never have a child,” he told Good Morning America. “But I’d accepted that.”

Then he came across a magazine article about a man who adopted a child from Cambodia. The thing that stood out to him was that the article never mentioned a mother, but instead described the father-son relationship.

“I called the agency [named in the article] and just said, ‘Is it possible for a single person to adopt?’ and they said, ‘Yes,’” Windle recalled. “I got a packet of information and an application about a week later, and I took probably three days and filled out every single document, got fingerprinted, filled out my background information, I did everything.”

A Dream Come True

Very soon after Windle handed in his application, he learned about a little boy named Pisey who was in an orphanage in Cambodia. Pisey, which means “little darling” in Cambodian, immediately caught Windle’s attention and he knew that he was looking at his son.

“It was done the second I opened the envelope and saw that photograph,” he recalled. “I sent a photo of me and asked them to give it to him in a necklace and explain to him that I was his daddy and was going to be coming to get him.”

Five months later Windle brought his son, now named Jordan, home. He was ill with scabies and intestinal parasites and suffered from severe infections. But Windle was determined to get his health back up.

“When I held him in my arms that first moment, I made a promise to him that I would be the best dad I could possibly be,” he continued. “I wanted his youth to be filled with wonder and amazement. That has been my mission from Day 1.”

An Unexpected Path

When Jordan was seven, Windle signed him up for a summer aquatics class. There, someone important saw him jump off the diving board one day: Tim O’Brien. O’Brien’s father, Dr. Ron O’Brien, had been the coach of legendary diver Greg Louganis. Tim immediately asked to speak with Windle.

“He said, ‘You need to get this child into diving. He will be a national champion one day. He may even be an Olympian one day,’” Windle recalled.

So, Windle put Jordan into diving, and before he had even completed a year, he was doing memorable dives. The following year, he won the junior national championship. When he continued growing in the sport, the family moved to Indianapolis and then North Carolina so that he could receive the instruction he needed.

In 2021, Jordan made his father proud by joining the U.S. Olympic diving team. He made history by becoming the first diver of Cambodian descent to compete in the Olympics. He continues to be proud of his heritage and has a Cambodian flag tattooed on his arm for people to see when he dives. According to Windle, Jordan is treated like a rock star when he returns to the country.

As for Jordan, he told Today that he dives for his dad and how much his dad loves watching him.

“Without him making all the sacrifices that he has, and his love and support the whole time we’ve been together, I really wouldn’t be where I am today,” he told the publication. “I have him to thank for everything, all my accomplishments. It’s been an amazing journey with him, and we’re still rolling.”

There Are Many Ways to Be a Parent

This story is so heartwarming because it’s a beautiful narrative of two strangers coming together and impacting each other’s lives in an unexpected and meaningful way. It reminds us that family can be many things, so long as it’s based on love.

It also reminds us that there are many ways to be a parent. Whether you feel as though you don’t have a “conventional” family unit or you’re facing infertility issues, being a parent is something you can still experience. Fostering, adoption, volunteering with certain organizations, or even just being the best aunt or uncle are all ways to make a positive impact on a young person’s life.

You never know — with your guidance and love, odds are they, too, will go on to do great things in life.