Jeff Rohrer is redefining the term blended family.
Last fall Rohrer, 60, who played for the Dallas Cowboys in the 1980s, made history as the first-known NFL player past or present to enter into a same-sex marriage when he wed Joshua Ross, 37, a celebrity aesthetician. It was a milestone in more ways than one, since Rohrer had only begun coming out to his family and friends the year before. The L.A.-based commercial producer had struggled with his sexuality for years, long after it brought his 17-year marriage with Heather Rohrer, 56, to a difficult and painful end in 2011.
But today, the retired athlete is truly happy as he raises his and Heather’s two teenage kids — daughter Isabella, 16, and son Dondillon, 15 — with both his ex-wife and his new husband, all under the same roof.
“There are all these different dynamics, and it’s working out really well so far,” says Rohrer.
Adds Heather: “Jeff and Josh are my family, and we’re a better team together than apart.”
For Rohrer, that kind of unconditional support was a lot harder to come by during his eight years (from 1982 to 1990) with the NFL — where coming out was simply not an option.
“Being gay was not a part of my life when I played football,” says Rohrer, who was raised in a traditional home by his father, Don, the chief lifeguard for L.A., and his mother, Beverly, a school superintendent. “Of course it was always inside me. But it was something I managed.”
Rohrer retired from football in 1990, and after meeting Heather at a bar where she worked in Manhattan Beach, they married in 1994. “We were everyone’s favorite couple,” she says.
They built a life in the L.A. area and started their family when Isabella was born in 2002, followed by Dondillon in 2004. Inevitably, as time went on, Rohrer’s inner conflict affected their marriage.
“It wasn’t that Jeffrey came out to me, but once I figured it out, it was obvious he was gay,” says Heather, who tried talking to her husband. “He thought it was wrong; he was so angry. He thought his children wouldn’t love him, that he’d lose his job. I tried to help him. I kept trying to tell him it was okay, that it was no big deal. But it was to him.”
They split in 2011 — and stopped speaking to each other for the next 18 months — before finally setting aside their hurt and anger for the sake of their kids and moving back in together so they could co-parent as a family in 2013. It was a turning point for Rohrer, who gradually started coming to terms with his sexuality. In 2015, Rohrer met Ross during happy hour at an L.A. restaurant. Sparks flew, but the two took their budding romance slowly. Six months into their relationship, Ross demanded to meet Rohrer’s ex-wife and kids.
“It was a very pivotal time in our relationship to be able to take that next step forward,” says Ross, whose skin-care company SkinLab has been featured on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, as Lisa Rinna, Camille Grammer and Teddi Mellencamp are all clients.
“I was totally okay with it,” says Heather.
And the kids were, too: “It wasn’t really like coming out. I pieced it together that they were dating,” says Dondillon. “And eventually he called Josh his boyfriend. I was fine with it.”
Last May Rohrer proposed to Ross, and in November they tied the knot in L.A., just days after Rohrer came out publicly in a New York Times profile. Two months before the wedding, Ross left his West Hollywood home and moved in with the family in Manhattan Beach.
“Being together for the kids is the important thing for us,” says Heather, although she admits that adjusting to their new blended family has been challenging at times. “It’s been difficult to get to this place, but it’s worth it.”
Adds Josh: “We get in our fights, but we find a way to make up. We’re just trying to do the best that we can.”
Managing a chaotic schedule for two active teenagers helps keep everybody in sync, though.
“We’re one big bundle of very strong personalities, so sometimes we butt heads,” says Isabella, “but in the end we’re always laughing.”
Indeed, “At the end of the day it’s just like any other family,” says Ross, who documents some of the family’s adventures on Instagram (@joshuaandjeffrey).
And, as a family, they’re all committed to getting over their future hurdles together.
“We’re choosing to live this way now because we love our kids so much,” says Heather. “But we’ve decided we may all live together forever.”
Adds Rohrer: “I think we will!”