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Army basketball player given life by two fathers from Raleigh

Posted December 1, 2014

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— Army senior guard Max Lenox was held scoreless Sunday in a loss to No. 4 Duke, but playing on the hardwood at Cameron Indoor Stadium, in front of his two fathers, is an experience that cannot be measured by simple statistics.

Lenox’s story started 22 years ago when he, a black child born to a drug-addicted mother in Philadelphia, was adopted by two white gay men from North Carolina.

“We just wanted to be a normal family,” Dave Lenox said. “We didn't want (it) to be an issue.”

Max Lenox’s adoption to Dave Lenox and Nathan Merrells was aided by Lutheran Family Services in Raleigh. 

Sandy Deutsch, who helped coordinate the adoption, was asked if she was concerned about two gay white men adopting a black child. “That was probably the least of my considerations,” she said.

Deutsch instead saw love and stability.

“We just assumed acceptance everywhere we went,” Dave Lenox said. “And if people didn't have acceptance, we hoped that they had the good grace to talk about us behind our back so we didn't have to hear it; because we really didn't care what they said. We had to raise kids. We had to just be a family.”

The adoption of Max meant that Merrells also had to come out to his family. That didn't go over well with his parents -- or some Raleigh churches that refused to baptize Max.

“A, I'm gay. B, we have a child. C, he's black,” said Merrells, reflecting on that time.

But honesty, openness and determination led the family into a happy place. Pullen Memorial Baptist Church eventually welcomed Max, and his dads later adopted his sister, Erin.

“That these two men would adopt a child who had such a rough beginning and love him so deeply…” said Nancy Petty, Pullen Memorial Baptist pastor. “Max taught us all something and is still teaching us about what it is to persevere, to love.”

The family moved to Virginia in the late 90s, but unconditional love and perseverance brought the story back home for the Black Knights’ captain.

Max Lenox has faced injury and academic struggles during his time at West Point, but at season’s end, he will be graduating and entering the United States Army as an officer.

“They did two things: they saved his life and they gave him a life,” said Deutsch. “They gave him all the opportunities to be who he is.”

Max Lenox was the subject of a Sports Illustrated article last month and, after its publishing, had an opportunity to reconnect with his family. In that story, he was quoted of saying, “My parents were good to me. I kind of took pride in that I was different.”

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  • andreanicole686 Dec 2, 2014

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    Exactly, What a wonderful family. Love happy stories!

  • Freda Kerr Dec 2, 2014
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    This is such a wonderful story!! Congratulations and good luck to this young man on his future military career, and my best wishes for this whole family.

  • Pepe Silvia Dec 2, 2014

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    Because they were two dads raising a son of another race.

    Society has made a lot of progress in the last 22 years but the comment sections of this site alone shows that even now there is no shortage of people with the same attitude towards same sex couples and interracial families as this family has been no doubt been dealing with for all of Max's life.

  • Anne Walker Dec 2, 2014
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    How wonderful that this article has drawn only kind comments so far.

    I don't understand why anyone would refuse to welcome a child ---of any background, being raised by anyone.

    Hurray for the Lenox-Merrells family!

  • Martha Wommack Dec 2, 2014
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    A wonderful story of hope and love. We need more stories like this. A loving and concerned family can overcome all odds. Every child needs parents who care.....parents...not the state. This story sends a powerful message to anyone who complains about their lot in life.

  • Erika Phipps Dec 2, 2014
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    This story just does my heart so much good.

  • Tammy Rush Dec 2, 2014
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    "...or some Raleigh churches that refused to baptize Max."

    Huh? Why?

  • Sandy Swiger Dec 2, 2014
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    Just goes to show you that family comes in many ways. This fine young man had two fine dads and look how he has turned out. Good story and inspiring video. You are truly amazing Max Lenox! Thanks in advance to your service for our country.

  • Brandi Gaenzle Dec 2, 2014
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    Really enjoyed reading this story and watching the video. Very touching. And just shows you love knows no bounds... It doesn't matter about sex, race or sexual orientation. Love it.

  • Bart Iannetta Dec 2, 2014
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    Just awesome!