Starting a family was the next step for Neighbours couple Aaron Brennan (Matt Wilson) and David Tanaka (Takaya Honda) after they tied the knot in 2018 – the first same sex couple to do so in Australian TV history after gay marriage was legalised for real.
However, the road to parenthood has been a bumpy one and as the boys welcome their first foster child to their Ramsay Street home on 1st July, it’s not quite what they were expecting!
“Emmett arrives, this troubled 13-year-old boy, and it is very daunting,” says Wilson, speaking exclusively to RadioTimes.com about the storyline. “It’s hard enough taking on a foster child, you go through the training where they teach you how to handle any situation, but Aaron and David always had a baby in mind so when they get a teenager suspended from school for lashing out, they’re in over their heads and not too sure if they are the right parents for him.
“This kid is not a brat, he’s just had a tough life and thinks he knows everything. He’s been let down by the system, his family, the last household he was in didn’t work out so he finds it hard opening up and trusting anyone.”
The placement comes after a fraught vetting process for the prospective parents, highlighting the obstacles same sex couples can encounter on the fostering process the soap was keen to highlight.
“Some of the questions they were asked where very intrusive, and we’ve learnt from our research they can be aimed towards whether a same sex couple are fit to look after a foster child.
“You can look at that in many different ways but Aaron saw it in the worst light. Asking things like ‘is the absence of a mother figure in the household going to be detrimental to the child’s upbringing’ made Aaron angry to the point where he threw the woman from the agency out of the house!”
Neighbours has worked closely on the storyline with Adoption Change, a charitable organisation which works to provide safe homes for displaced, vulnerable children, co-founded by Australian actress and activist Deborra-lee Furness, wife of Hugh Jackman with whom she has adopted two children.
“From what we were told, they do try to crack you open and find out what gets to you,” explains Wilson. “If you don’t have your issues sorted in your relationship, or you’re not comfortable with yourself or as a couple, you need to sort that before you can be ready to take on a child.
“David is quick to point out it is a particularly line of questioning that is there for a purpose, and not designed to offend. He sees it for with it is. I’m sticking up for my character, but I think Aaron was right to stand up for himself in that situation even though he regrets how he reacted!”
Emmett’s arrival turns the household upside down, and Wilson says it’s part of a long-term development for his alter ego and on-screen husband as they fully explore fostering and adoption for same sex couples.
“The whole process is overwhelming and there is so much to learn for Takaya and I,” he says. “It’s not until you speak to someone involved with the process that you realise you are telling a story that really needs to be told.
“Adoption Change have taught us a great deal and it’s been a huge learning curve. In the storyline, when Emmett starts acting out and even runs away as he feels rejected, you’ll see the foster agency representative are on call to the parents at all times for any problems, so we see them quite a bit!
“They explain Emmett’s backstory to allow Aaron and David to understand why he’s behaving this way. It brings valuable information that helps the child eventually open up. The main thing is the connection between the child and parents – if that is not there, the child will never see a placement as his home.”
The plot was inspired by the soap’s producer, Jason Herbison, and his experience of adopting a child from the US with his male partner, and it was the show runner who originally reached out to Furness to consult on the storyline, and even direct some of the scenes.
Wilson is thrilled Aaron and David are finally becoming fathers, revealing he hoped back when they got hitched in that historic wedding it was on the horizon.
“I said it in interviews at the time of the wedding, but with no knowledge of if it would happen. I’m so excited as it’s a really meaty storyline with many angles and a long arc you can get your teeth into.
“I also feel Aaron has matured at long last with this storyline. I’ve been waiting years for him to grow up and learn some lessons, all it took was to have a child in his life.”